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Crowdsourcing: a new tool for policy-making?

Abstract

Crowdsourcing is rapidly evolving and applied in situations where ideas, labour, opinion or expertise of large groups of people is used. Crowdsourcing is now used in various policy-making initiatives; however, this use has usually focused on open collaboration platforms and specific stages of the policy process, such as agenda-setting and policy evaluations. Other forms of crowdsourcing have been neglected in policy-making, with a few exceptions. This article examines crowdsourcing as a tool for policy-making and explores the nuances of the technology and its use and implications for different stages of the policy process. The article addresses questions surrounding the role of crowdsourcing and whether it can be considered as a policy tool or as a technological enabler and investigates the current trends and future directions of crowdsourcing.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    These categorisations are not exclusive or exhaustive, but useful for considering the different roles crowdsourcing can take in the policy cycle. For a review of the state of the art in crowdsourcing, see Prpić (2016).

  2. 2.

    With respect to their offline identities. However, researchers such as Lease et al. (2013) have previously demonstrated that a significant amount of information can be exposed about the workers through the VLM websites.

  3. 3.

    https://www.kaggle.com/competitions.

  4. 4.

    https://about.twitter.com/company.

  5. 5.

    Various classification attempts and corresponding models of the policy processes exist, of which perhaps the most popular is the use of sequential interrelated stages as a policy cycle. In this article, based on the efforts of Stone (1988) and Howlett et al. (1995), the policy cycle is seen as a sequence of steps in which agenda-setting, problem definition, policy design, policy implementation, policy enforcement and policy evaluations are carried out in an iterative manner (Taeihagh et al. 2009).

  6. 6.

    Even in the case of online surveys, the speed at which a worker can carry out a microtask is much faster than an online survey (Prpić et al. 2014).

  7. 7.

    Expert crowdsourcing, mainly through competition-based platforms (and future high-skilled VLMs sites once their use becomes more mainstream) and non-expert crowdsourcing through the use of VLMs. OC platforms provide access to both expert and non-expert crowds, but require a more sustained effort in attracting and maintaining them. It is worth nothing recent research by Bonazzi et al. (2017) demonstrates a successful combined engagement of expert and non-expert crowds in scenario planning.

  8. 8.

    OC platforms, for instance, have amplified unscientific and unsubstantiated claims regarding MMR vaccination, resulting in a significant increase in outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles in the UK and the USA (Perry 2013).

  9. 9.

    A potential worrying development in case of massive adoption of crowdsourcing (such as in the examples italicized in Table 5) is the difficulty in upholding oversight and keeping organisations accountable in future, especially if block-chain technology is used as the level of anonymity can increase. Block-chain technology such as Bitcoin is not anonymous, but in comparison with traditional means of monetary exchange (in the hands of expert individuals) it has a higher level of anonymity as it does not require sending and receiving personally identifiable information: https://bitcoin.org/en/protect-your-privacy.

  10. 10.

    As a crude measure at the time of finalising this manuscript in November 2017, 469 papers have the term “crowdsourcing” in the title AND mention the term “revolution” in their text. There are also 16,800 academic papers that mention crowdsourcing AND revolution in their text.

  11. 11.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/paul-krugman-responds-to-internet-quote-2013-12/?IR=T.

  12. 12.

    Different forms of crowdsourcing and sharing economy share commonalities in terms of the use of reputation systems and IT, the reliance on crowds and the exchange of information and currency (Taeihagh 2017a). The literature in one domain, however, often ignores the other or treats it in a singular form rather than considering the different types that fall under the umbrella term. Sometimes, moreover, a platform is categorised both as a sharing economy and as a crowdsourcing platform by different scholars, particularly when the topic of the study relates to VLMs and OCs (particularly commons such as Wikipedia). Westerbeek (2016) explicitly differentiates between crowdsourcing and sharing economy platforms by stating the one-on-one, peer-to-peer aspect to be the most important part of a sharing economy, and that this is not present in crowdsourcing. Other scholars distinguish between them by pointing out that if a labour market platform for instance provides a virtual service that can be performed online (such as Amazon Mturk), that platform is a crowdsourcing platform; in contrast, if it provides a physical service to be performed locally, it is a sharing economy platform (such as TaskRabbit) (Gansky 2010; De Groen, Maselli and Fabo 2016; Aloisi 2015; Rauch and Schleicher 2015). With these new developments in crowdsourcing, however, the line between crowdsourcing and sharing economy platforms seems to be gradually blurring which provides further evidence that as Prpić and Shukla (2016) point out, there is a potential for unifying these fields with development of generalisable frameworks for studying IT-mediated crowds.

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Taeihagh, A. Crowdsourcing: a new tool for policy-making?. Policy Sci 50, 629–647 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-017-9303-3

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Keywords

  • Crowdsourcing
  • Public policy
  • Policy instrument
  • Policy tool
  • Policy process
  • Policy cycle
  • Open collaboration
  • Virtual labour markets
  • Tournaments
  • Competition