Trust critical to crowdsourcing disaster response, says paper

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As governments and relief organizations use crowdsourcing to respond to disasters, trust in the knowledge created from collective intelligence will determine whether such efforts are successful or unsuccessful, finds a paper recently published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"When FEMA or USAID uses citizen-generated knowledge to make decisions around saving and sustaining life, citizens must trust that the data used to generate those decisions were the best available at the time," writes John Crowley, report author and public policy scholar at the Wilson Center's Commons Lab.

Organizations have a serious responsibility because their decision-making process on when to use traditional mechanisms and when to supplement with crowdsourcing can either build or erode public trust, he says.

"Collective intelligence is a form of leadership: it requires asking our citizens to participate in responses as a 'whole of nation' activity," adds Crowley.

When implemented effectively, collective intelligence can help aid groups and government more quickly determine "who needs what where" and "who is doing what where," he said.

Crowley's paper proposes a grassroots for government framework based on discussions with several organizations. The design of such a framework was based on case studies of disaster response events.

By reflecting on past events Crowley uncovered some common challenges of government crowdsourcing. For example, in compliance with the Anti-Deficiency Act, USAID project managers needed to ensure that crowdsourcing activities didn't replace what was already being done by federal employees. This meant volunteers had to digitally sign an agreement to help with crowdsourcing efforts. Paperwork reduction, data collection privacy and intellectual property also had to be addressed.

While Crowley's paper starts the conversation on data collection standards and encourages common protocols for crowdsourcing for disaster relief, he says it is a dynamic document. He writes in the introduction that he'd like his text to be edited like a Wiki, rather than be a static document. Accompanying the report Crowley is actually creating a Wiki to edit a core toolkit and examine policy issues, he writes.

For more:
- ­­download the paper, "Connecting Grassroots and Government for Disaster Response" (.pdf)

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