Stories to Inspire #2: Crowdsourcing

What is the potential of crowdsourcing, especially as an innovative way to be effective within a shrinking civic space?

agenda December 16, 2016

The Spindle is a crowdsourcing platform for innovators in development to accelerate their ideas or existing innovations by making use of ‘the crowd’. However, it is not always clear what crowdsourcing is. Strange, as crowdsourcing is already being applied in multiple ways within the context of international development, and with success!

This ‘Story to Inspire’ highlights the potential of crowdsourcing, especially as an innovative way to be effective within a shrinking civic space.

More people are able to communicate and share information to more people than has ever been possible. This is fueled by technological advances in communication, which lower the transaction costs for exchanging information, forming groups, and coordinating action. This is at the core of successful crowdsourcing, which is defined by Jeff Howe, one of the first who coined the term, as “the act of taking a task traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

Today, crowdsourcing is for example used to create and increase collective knowledge, community building, collective creativity and innovation, crowdfunding, cloud labor and civic engagement. Very well-known examples of platforms that rely on crowdsourcing are Youtube, Facebook but also and Avaaz. These websites do not create all the content themselves, the success of their platform relies on the input of ‘the crowd.’ Plenty examples of crowdsourcing are also available within the context of international development, especially for election monitoring, crisis response (and the mapping of) and advocacy and human rights. For some inspiration, see the following examples:

Launched in 2010, HarassMap aims to tackle sexual harassment in Egyptian society by utilizing both geographic information system (GIS) and SMS technologies. Incidents of sexual harassment can be reported through Facebook and Twitter, through the HarassMap website, or simply by sending an SMS. The Map pinpoints all incidents and represents a new and innovative step towards documenting cases of sexual harassment in Egypt. The Map/website also serves as an alternative safe space, through which women who have been harassed or witnesses to harassment can anonymously talk about their experiences. The Map can also be used as an awareness-raising tool, and in education efforts aimed at changing behaviours and attitudes that promote harassment. (Read more here, including findings from a research report on the effectiveness of HarassMap – also compared to traditional (data collection) methods).

Similar example: IPaidABribe


Ushahidi or ‘testimony’ in Swahili, was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2008. Ushahidi was a huge success. Its initial deployment had 45,000 users in Kenya and made it possible to document hundreds of incidents of violence that would have otherwise gone unreported. It was also instrumental in bringing alleged perpetrators of reported crimes in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Since Ushahidi’s first use in Kenya in 2008, it has extended its platform to external parties, for example Harassmap. Similar example (also using Ushahidi’s platform): Reclaim Naija

The potential of crowdsourcing is not to be underestimated, especially in Africa, where mobile networks have grown exponentially. As such, crowdsourcing can serve as a good tool for participatory monitoring and evaluation, enabling development and humanitarian programs to receive feedback directly from program beneficiaries. Crowdsourcing is also increasingly seen as a new mechanism to increase accountability and foster better governance, especially so in fragile states, where traditional mechanisms of democracy, like an independent media and international diplomacy have often failed. The World Bank wrote a report about this.

The potential of crowdsourcing is not to be underestimated, especially in Africa, where mobile networks have grown exponentially.

For The Spindle, crowdsourcing is also a key tool to foster and facilitate innovations in development. When innovators in development for example have an idea they want to develop or an already existing innovation that they want to improve or upscale, then The Spindle actively facilitates their crowdsourcing initiative, with the aim to use the crowd to help innovators moving forward. Maybe crowdsourcing is also a promising tool your organisation or programs?

If you have any initatives or examples that match the current theme of The Spindle Cycle then please do share this with us. You can email your inspiration to

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