March 11, 2013

Got Ideas? Crowdsourcing for Innovation and Community Engagement

Nonprofits’ struggle to engage the public has been going on long before the Internet came around–offering its myriad distractions into the mix. But without the input of their community and stake-holders, organizations may struggle to meet their missions and realize their potential. That’s why nonprofits have started to embrace the power of the Internet to help harness large groups in an efficient way. Nonprofits are making use of crowdsourcing and social media and email lists to spread their message, mobilize volunteers, and get down to what’s important to their communities.

Early adopters have taken advantage of electronic media to broadcast their message, but at the end of the day deeper engagement doesn’t come from more talking; it comes from better listening. My company, MindMixer, is an online crowdsourcing product that offers nonprofits, cities, schools, universities, churches, and hospitals a place to listen to what matters most to their members and constituents. Relationships are built based on an accessible and convenient two-way conversation. With nearly half-a-million participants across 250 sites, the online conversation is growing every day. Working with nonprofits and organizations in community engagement initiatives and campaigns has helped us identify some key characteristics of successful crowdsourcing.

Here are some examples of organizations working with their communities to achieve their mission:

City of Omaha

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The City of Omaha is one of the Midwest’s most connected communities. Hub of the so-called Silicon Prairie, the City is embracing its tech culture to inspire engagement among residents. The City’s website was one of MindMixer’s first sites. More than 100 topics into the life of the EngageOmaha project, the dialogue is still simmering, spanning a variety of subjects that elicit the opinions and ideas of residents and improve the city.

Nearly 1,000 ideas have been submitted on the site, and already the City has implemented 12 of them. From implementing credit card payments for metered parking to incorporating more fuel-efficient vehicles into the City’s fleet, Omaha’s ideas are becoming Omaha’s reality. City leaders are taking an active role in the conversation at EngageOmaha, showing residents that suggestions are not falling on deaf ears but are being reviewed and implemented — an integral part of the decision-making process.

MyHistoricLA

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MyHistoricLA is part of SurveyLA, a collaboration of the Getty Trust and the City’s Office of Historic Resources to find the buildings and sites in Los Angeles residents deem architecturally and culturally historic. The online forum at MyHistoricLA has empowered citizens to share these special places with city leaders, and input has been overwhelming.

Not only did LA residents identify known historic spots; they also unearthed sites the City had not previously identified: the Corralitas Red Car property, Eagle Rock City Hall, the old Route 66 tunnels along Figueroa Street, for example. The results of this interactive survey are guiding field research. Once historic sites are studied and archived, SurveyLA releases a report and publishes a blog on the SurveyLA website, bringing the engagement process full circle.

The Great Plains United Methodist Church

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The Great Plains United Methodist Church (GPUMC) wanted to better connect its 1,000 congregations across two states in preparation for its district-wide conference. The larger task at hand: Get church leaders’ input on ways to combine the current three conferences into one larger event. The GPUMC launched their crowdsourcing platform with a few simple questions about communication preferences. After finding out how best to reach church members and share important information, GPUMC mobilized those communication channels to expand the conversation and move on to more specific, in-depth questions about its annual conference. The Church has garnered more than 100 ideas in just a few short months. That input will help shape the transition to a new phase for the Church.

These three projects each show the usefulness of crowdsourcing — and the work it takes to make crowdsourcing successful.

  • There is no online conversation without outreach. Getting the word out via social and traditional media outlets is essential to getting the kind of engagement you want.
  • Not every conversation is worth joining. Great content — questions that are compelling, inspiring, and concise — is key to keeping community members coming back to your site.
  • Your community can sense when its ideas are going to die in the water. Be sure to ask questions you can respond to or act upon, and then do so on the site whenever possible.

The Internet makes the world a smaller place. Crowdsourcing makes it possible to hear and reconcile the ideas of many in a convenient and interactive way. If we can sift through the distractions of the online age, we might not only be able to build community; we might just find new ways to solve some of our society’s biggest challenges.

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Nick Bowden
Nick Bowden is the CEO and co-founder of MindMixer, an Omaha, Neb., based crowdsourcing platform currently in use in more than 250 engaged communities.
Interest Categories: Community
Tags: Community, CrowdSourcing