Crowdsourcing for knowledge translation

What is crowdsourcing? Crowdsourcing, also referred to as citizen science and open innovation, is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by outsourcing tasks to the wider public. The tasks can be done online and are sometimes paid. The benefit of crowdsourcing is that the more people that are working on a task, the faster and more varied results you will get. 

Crowdsourcing is popular in business and advertising with platforms such as elance and 99designs leading the way, and more recently the use of crowdsourcing for scientific problem solving has started to grow. In terms of knowledge translation, crowdsourcing provides opportunities, and requires the skills, to communicate and disseminate scientific information to a broader audience.

As with crowdfunding, there have been specific organisations and platforms developed for the purpose of getting many minds to work together in solving some sticky problems. Projects include, but are not limited to, the use of citizens to identify objects in photos and video footage, identification of flora and fauna species in specific locations, tracking of sea life through photography, data analysis through game play and innovative problem solving tasks. The big data era has created more opportunities and benefits for the use of crowdfunding to solve problems by outsourcing for both people capacity and computing power.

Two great examples of crowdsourcing and citizen science are:

1. Play for a cure

Cancer Research UK developed a smartphone app that to the citizen scientists is a game, Genes in Space, where the object is to collect the fictional Element Alpha. In reality, when people play this game they are analysing real genetic data. Within the first month of launching this app players had made 1.5 million classifications by spotting patterns in the data, which would have taken a scientist six months to analyse by eye. More information on the app is available here.

2. Exxon Valdez Disaster

One of the solutions for the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 came from an open innovation website (Innocentive) that hosts online challenges that can be solved for a monetary reward. In this case a concrete worker recommended the use of a tool used in concrete pours that works to vibrate the liquid to keep it from becoming too viscous. You can see the story here.

There are several platforms hosting these scientific crowdsourcing tasks, some examples are:




Citizen Science Alliance

Have you considered using crowdsourcing to assist with your research or do you have any other interesting examples to share?