I spent my lunch time today learning about a new crowdsourcing initiative from Tom Hulme – Design Director at IDEO in London.  Crowdsourcing is using the power of the crowd and moving away from the idea of the lonely genius that knows everything. It can be used to obtain services, ideas, funds or content by soliciting contributions (generally on a voluntary basis and online) from a large group of people. This will be the first of a series of posts on how we can use crowdsourcing initiatives for urban development.

Tom founded and now runs OpenIDEO , an open innovation platform that engages a community of over 51,000 users from more than 160 countries to solve challenges for social good. I have been following for the past year a couple of crowdsourcing initiatives but found his really interesting since it follows a pre-defined process to bring solutions to a challenge using the power of the crowd and is linked to a sponsor who can make the “ideas” a reality. The crowdsourcing environment in OpenIDEO is organized around challenges (questions posed by OpenIDEO and a challenge sponsor).  Some of the sponsors include the European Commission, the Work Foundation, Barklays, USAID and Amnesty International.  The first step in the process is Inspiration. In this step people can share existing stories, tools or case studies which can help to have a better understanding of the topic and inspire new solutions. The second step is Concepting (or the idea phase) in which possible solutions are proposed and can evolve in collaboration with others. These are then voted (Applause step) and finally evaluated (Evaluation stage) using a set of criteria. From the evaluation stage a set of winning concepts are selected and then the sponsor can use these concepts to bring one or more of the ideas to life.


Image Source: openideo.com

OpenIDEO has covered challenges such as maintaining wellbeing while aging (sponsored by the Mayo Clinic), gathering information from hard-to-access areas to prevent mass violence against civilians (sponsored by USAID) and improving maternal health with mobile technologies in low-income countries (sponsored by OXFAM & Nokia). In fact, one of their recent challenges is a common urban development challenge in my working region (Europe and Central Asia): restoring the vibrancy in cities and regions facing economic decline? Among the winning ideas were: (i) Zip spaces – click to learn more– (ii) Vibrancy in a Box, and (iii) attracting Start Ups. Zip spaces proposes to rent out unused storefronts on a daily or weekly basis for pop-up art, impromptu food festivals and music jam sessions (modeled after Zipcar). One of the ideas that did not make it to the winning concepts but I thought was very cool was the Guerrilla Marketplace 🙂


Image Source: openideo.com

I think there is great potential in using the power of the crowd to bring creative solutions to urban development challenges.  In the past couple of years, cities, social entrepreneurs and even the private sector have started to develop platforms to identify challenges, produce ideas, vote and fund projects. I will discuss some of them in my following posts.  However I have a some concerns related to the use of crowdsourcing to find solutions to urban development issues. For instance I believe that results (or winning ideas) are largely influenced by the people who participate. Since most of the crowdsourcing initiatives take place on the web and are fueled by a crowd of highly educated (mostly millennium generation) volunteers, the solutions presented and prioritized represent only a small fraction of the population. This bias is a concern when cities want to identify urban challenges through crowdsourcing, crowdsource solutions for urban challenges (as in the case of OpenIdeo) or use crowd voting to prioritize certain urban policies or interventions. The winning solution or prioritized policy might be the one supported by people having the best social network and misrepresent completely the city’s population desires*. In addition, I believe volunteer crowd sourcing should not be used to solve all challenges. In some cases sector specific genius – with advanced expertise on a subject – are required to solve problems in an efficient way. What do you think? Do you know of any interesting crowd sourcing initiatives applied to urban development issues?

*Another concern deals more with the idea of who has a better understanding or is in the best position to design or select policies for the common good. If we think each individual in the city is only taking into account his desires and not the effect of its actions on the rest of the population the use of crowd voting to prioritize urban policies can be dangerous. For instance it might lead to the prioritization of investments for the use of private vehicles.

3 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing Solutions for Urban Development I: OpenIdeo.com

  1. Pingback: Crowdsourcing Solutions for Urban Development II: MI MEDELLIN | {FAVEL issues}

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