A short history of crowdsourcing
Friday, June 24th, 2011

You’ve probably heard of “crowdsourcing” – a way for organizations to solve tough challenges by tapping-into the knowledge of their broad communities.While social media and web technologies provide governments, businesses and other organizations with tools to crowdsource more rapidly and collaboratively, crowdsourcing itself isn’t new.

In a great blog, DesignCrowd researched some of the most well known examples of crowdsourcing.  They think the first case could date all the way back to 1714 in England.  And, of all the examples they describe, it’s this one – the invention of the Marine Pocket Clock – that I find the most interesting.  Here’s the story.

1714: The Longitude Prize

In 1714, sailors in the British navy had a problem.  The motion of a ship through the waves meant that traditional clocks with a pendulum couldn’t keep accurate time, which they needed to for navigation purposes.  If they didn’t know where they were, captains and their unlucky crews could sail right into reefs or other dangers.

The Admiralty couldn’t find a solution so, in perhaps the first example of crowdsourcing, they issued a challenge to the public.  For a prize of £20,000 (US $4.7 million in today’s money), everyday citizens were asked for their solutions to this tough problem.

And it worked!  The winning response was received from a Mr. John Harrison, the son of a carpenter.

What does this tell us?

I really like this story because it shows some of the fundamental principles behind crowdsourcing:

  1. People outside an organization are willing to help solve a problem
  2. Organizations don’t have all the answers… sometimes they need to leverage the knowledge of people outside
  3. Even the most technical and seemingly impossible problems can be solved, and from the most unlikely sources

While the term “crowdsourcing” is new, the idea that organizations can look outside for help has a long and interesting history.

– Ellis Westwood –

Note: My thanks to DesignCrowd for the original blog that inspired this one.

There is a telltale upswing in the interest and curiosity surrounding a 95 year old football event that splits the city apart in distinct loyalties every time it is held. The decibel is on the ascendance once again as debates intensify on which one of the two East Bengal or Mohun Bagan will emerge victorious ahead of their 338th meeting at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday evening.. Primatologist and host of Nat Geo WILD! Mireya Mayor recently published a book on her journey from NFL cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer. She joins Boyd Wholesale NFL Jerseys in the studio cheap oakleys to talk about one of her most challenging adventures: an expedition across Tanzania to trace Sir Henry Morton Stanley’s route in search of David Livingstone a fake oakleys journey which was documented by the History Channel in Expedition Africa. Instead, it’s two grown men and a child standing around in their underwear with just a Santa mask between them. And can we also talk about Santa mask choices? Maybe next time a little less eyebrow raising and come hither whistling? Thanks.. It also means cheap jerseys if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. To streamline and regulate Little League drafts, the international organization includes draft rules in its annual Official Rules Baratas Ray Ban and Playing Regulations. All Little League organizations are required to follow the published rules on drafting of players. Showcasing three homes makes it easier for our audience to “play along” and guess which one the family will select. It’s part of the joy of the “House Hunters'” viewing experience. Today, the Patriots announced a new website called The Wells Report In Context, which includes the findings of biophysicist Roderick MacKinnon, who offers his own explanation for why fake ray bans footballs used by the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts had different air pressure levels at halftime. (In short, MacKinnon cites different gauges and insufficient data but his report is detailed, so feel free to read it yourself.). Perform at least one exercise that targets each muscle group in your upper body during each workout. To keep your workouts from getting stale, select a different exercise for each workout. There is soreness to it. But there is a lot of things in the shoulder that can affect the quarterback. The hosts beat Argentina 4 2 in Montevideo to win the first World Cup. The Cheap Oakleys tournament has grown steadily in popularity ever since the 2002 World Cup had an average worldwide television audience of 314.1 million people per game. You know, it’s something that’s still part of our culture and people hold on to some of these ideas and practices just out of habit and saying that, well, that’s the way it always was. But things have to change.”.
  1. Great article, I wonder about the history of crowd sourcing in the public engagement. Where a specific price/reward is replaced with civic improvements? Any thoughts?

  2. Nathan Freed says:

    Hi Ellis,

    Thanks for sharing the story of the early uses for public engagement. What I find interesting is some things don’t change. As in 1714, it seems that we need to provide some monetary or in-kind incentive to engage the masses. What’s Ascentum’s perspective with using monetary incentives? What do you think are the minimum requirements for truly intrinsic participation?

  3. Ellis Westwood says:

    Hi Nathan! Great to hear from you, and a tough question…!

    We sometimes offer a modest honorarium, of $50 – $100, for members of the public who take part in full or half-day dialogue events. This helps cover the costs of travel and parking, plus seeks to recognize that we value their time and perspective.

    Online, participation requires less time commitment. I have used prize incentives to give people an additional reason to take part; there could be prizes for the winning idea or for the top 3 or 5 ideas. Basically, we want to incentivize participants’ best thinking.

    But, in the end, each person is going to make their own decision about whether to take part in an engagement, and this is going to be different depending on the person. Some will take part just because they care about the topic or issue, others because they are encouraged to do so by a friend.

    I think the one minimum requirement is that there is a clear “return on participation” – a clear commitment by the host to carefully review what they hear from participants, whether online or in-person, and to use what they hear to better inform their decisions. So, essentially, if people believe their voice will be heard and can make a difference, they will thinking about participating. And, I think this is even more important than prizes or financial incentives.

  4. We at Ideavibes have been doing work with our crowdsourcing platform in the area of citizen engagement and find that results with and without incentives tend to be the same if the campaign is properly designed and people see the benefits of having their voice heard. For many, this means of consultation is more democratic as it bypasses many of the problems with public consultations and special interest groups.


  5. Ellis Westwood says:

    Hi Paul,

    Yes, that’s our experience too. It may also depend on the project, target audience and objectives. I find each of my projects is different and requires new thinking.

    In terms of the process being democratic, I think our government clients value hearing from both organized groups or stakeholders as well as individual members of the public. If the process is designed well, both aggregated and individual interests can participate fairly and equally.