We live in an increasingly networked world, where information flows freely through internet and mobile technologies. Online networks make sharing ideas and data faster and easier, improving communication and transparency. These shifts encourage collaboration, as well as competition, and have led to crowdsourcing. 

Crowdsourcing combines the creativity of individuals and the strength of communities. Individuals work together to accomplish tasks may not be able to accomplish alone, and organizations recognize, promote, and scale the best ideas of individuals.

Limited time, manpower, and resources no longer have to hold individuals and organizations back from innovation. Sometimes, all it may take is an internet connection and an ‘open call’ to invite in the power of the crowd. Here are 3 ways that crowdsourcing is transforming the world: 

1. It’s helping solve important problems in science and medicine 

The right mix of collaboration and competition can produce major scientific advances. In fact, organizations have been solving challenging scientific problems through crowdsourcing for centuries. In 1714, when the British government hoped to find a simple, reliable way to measure the longitudinal position of a ship at sea, they offered financial incentives to anyone who could come up with a solution. The competition inspired participants to develop numerous new technologies, from marine timekeepers to lunar telescopes.i  

Today, organizations working to find cures for deadly diseases are using crowdsourcing to speed up data analysis and move more quickly towards a cure. The need to perform simple tasks thousands of times, such as noting the color and severity of cancer cells in tens of thousands of slides, can cause bottlenecks in cancer research. By building an online application that engaged users to identify cancer cells in images, one charity was able to rapidly analyze over a million images of molecular markers in breast cancer tumors with a high degree of accuracy.ii Similarly, by setting up an online puzzle, scientists were recently able to solve a crucial problem that had stumped them for fifteen years: it took only ten days for players of the online game to discover the structure of a key protein involved in the reproduction of the HIV virus.iii   

2. It’s helping individuals and governments share data to create change 

Today’s cities are becoming more and more like crowdsourcing platforms, as local governments open up their data and challenge citizens to contribute their skills for the public good. After making its data on its terrain and transportation publically available, the city of Rennes, France put out an open call for apps that could make the city more accessible. The winning team used Rennes’ data on tens of thousands of sidewalks to build an app that maps accessible routes for people with disabilities.iv The app also uses a crowdsourcing approach to continuously improve the city: users of the app can edit and comment on the accessibility of places of interest, from streets to bus stops to parking spots, helping the city evaluate its compliance and take tangible steps towards greater accessibility.v  

This emerging concept of the city as a platform, where citizens can ‘log in’ to share their data, provide feedback on city conditions, and work to create improvements, is empowering a new population of citizen data scientists, citizen journalists, citizen app developers, and more. Through crowdsourcing, individuals are contributing their talents to help solve pressing social challenges in collaboration with elected officials. Soliciting input and innovations from the public through crowdsourcing is also helping city governments to solve pressing problems more quickly and transparently.

3. It’s empowering everyday people to become innovators

By connecting individuals with the institutional support that can translate ideas into impact, crowdsourcing can open new opportunities for innovators of all ethnicities, genders, and ages. Working alone, individuals may not have the resources to translate bright ideas into action. Today, organizations can provide the resources and financial backing to help innovators reach their potential. 

Organizations who crowdsource new ideas, publicize these ideas, and help translate them into real-world action are seeing that innovators exist in many places and defy all stereotypes. When we look at the winners of the world’s crowdsourcing challenges, we see advanced prototypes of new technologies coming from high school students, breakthroughs in science and engineering coming from women, and strategies to improve communities in crisis coming from the people within these communities themselves. 

In our 2016 University Challenge, AIG invited college students to translate their ideas into action to help create a safer future. The winning team designed and prototyped wearable devices that can help police respond more quickly and save lives during a school shooting. The team developed student ID cards that incorporate noise detectors and Bluetooth transmitters. These wearable tags can detect gunshots or bomb blasts and transmit the information they gather to ‘beacons’ located in the rooms and hallways of a school. Passing from the beacons to a central control point, information on the location of the active shooter is livestreamed to police. Armed with better information, law-enforcement teams can target the shooter more quickly and protect students more effectively. We would like to congratulate Joseph Nardone, Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Science Student at NYU, and Navindra Sawh, Mechanical Engineering Student at NYU, on their brilliant proposal to use technology to improve the safety of schools.

To learn more about how crowdsourcing is changing our world, read Part II of our series on crowdsourcing and innovation. Next up, you’ll discover how crowdsourcing is enabling organizations to incorporate more diverse perspectives, how crowdsourcing is bringing new opportunities—and new risks—to startups and investors, and how crowdsourcing is helping companies like AIG leverage great ideas and bring them to life. 

The content contained herein is intended for general informational purposes only.  Companies and individuals should not solely rely on the information or suggestions provided in this article for the prevention or mitigation of the risks discussed herein.

    i “Longitude rewards.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., 5 Sept. 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longitude_rewards. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016.

     

    ii Candido dos Reis, F. J., Lynn, S., Ali, H. R., Eccles, D., Hanby, A., Provenzano, Elena,…Pharoah, P.D.P. “Crowdsourcing the General Public for Large Scale Molecular Pathology Studies in Cancer.” EBioMedicine, vol. 2, no. 7, 2015, www.ebiomedicine.com/article/S2352-3964(15)30016-5/pdf. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016. 

     

    iii “Foldit.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., 25 May 2016, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foldit. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016.

     

    iv "What is the purpose of Open Data?” Brussels Smart City. The Smart City Portal of the Brussels-Capital Region, 24 March 2016, smartcity.brussels/news-121-what-is-the-purpose-of-open-data. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016.

     

    v Handimap.org – La ville accessible à tous. Handimap, 2016, handimap.org. Accessed 8 Aug. 2016.