Skip to main content

OpenMedia's Crowdsourcing Principles

Followers of OpenMedia will know that we try our best to develop our positions and campaigns by crowdsourcing input from our community -- sometimes hundreds of thousands of Internet users. We believe that by modeling participatory processes and empowering the voices of everyday Internet users, we can show the way toward a more connected future for us all.

Here are some examples of our crowdsourced action plans for online AccessFree Expression, and Privacy, and our Internet Voice Tools on EU copyright policy and U.S. net neutrality. We even crowdsource what we should say during meetings with government ministers!

Our processes and methods of crowdsourcing are based on our belief that the best ideas come those most impacted by our work, and that the challenges we face are really the result of a democratic deficit in governing institutions. In short, we believe that if citizens rather than lobbyists are in the driver's seat of government decisions we’ll have better outcomes to the most pressing issues of our time including digital rights.

We recently noticed that we’re increasingly asked about our crowdsourcing methods by those working at other organizations and those in government who recognize the need for change. This interest in participatory processes is really exciting and we want to honour it by sharing OpenMedia’s principles for crowdsourcing below. We hope the world will begin to operate more like the web with open, participatory, and collaborative values — and we can’t make that happen on our own.

What is Crowdsourcing?

OpenMedia is a civic engagement platform for the Internet community. For us, civic engagement means crowdsourcing our internal and public-facing work based on our operating principles, the ‘advice process’ of Teal organizations and principles for effective crowdsourced engagement listed below.

Crowdsourcing, as defined by Jeff Howe, who coined the term, is "the act of taking a job 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." Mozilla’s David Asher likens a new role for organizations to that of a book editor who guides a project and provides useful feedback and input to the producer -- more of a facilitator.

If you want to dig in more, check out this piece that our founder Steve Anderson wrote about crowdsourcing back in 2010, and you can also see this write up on how we crowdsourced a Privacy Plan in Canada from the Internet Society, or the process section of our international plan for free expression.

Why Crowdsource?

It just feels right to us, but there are deeper reasons and intentions at play as well.

In modern society people are told that they do not have power, that they can’t trust other people, and that there are scarce resources they must compete to obtain. Many feel isolated and rightly alienated from hierarchical government and business bureaucracies that often seem to operate as mere conveyors of concentrated power.

The open Web (and much else) will not survive this institutional context that is fundamentally adverse to its values for long. The open Internet and its values of open collaboration and sharing can only be maintained if we reimagine our democracy and our economy.

  • We engage in crowdsourced participatory civic engagement because it is an effective approach to advocacy and community building.
  • We do it because it builds trust, shows people the power they have, and provides evidence that we can cooperate and work together to overcome challenges.
  • We do it because it helps us make better decisions and come up with more creative projects -- there’s wisdom in the crowd.
  • We do it because assaults on free expression and our privacy are only possible when there is a democratic deficit blocking the will of the governed.
  • We do it because it undermines the legitimacy of top-down governance and the often hidden power behind institutions that operate that way.
  • We do it because we are certain that when thousands of people speak up, governments listen.
  • We do it because we need a new mode of operation inspired by the open Web to spread everywhere, and our governing institutions are no exception.

OpenMedia’s Principles for Crowdsourced Engagement

*Overall guiding principle: Treat our community as busy but intelligent people. Speak to the best in people and our common values.

  1. Show Malleability:
    1. Demonstrate how the political system and society is malleable, and that civic actions in the community have an impact.
    2. Show a compelling THEORY OF CHANGE that works. Research shows that those who do not take action are held back because they did not believe that their actions would have an impact.
    3. Provide a roadmap that shows how the process will work - how they will get from A to B and make a difference. Illustrate the theory of change as much as possible.
      1. Imagine if you bought Ikea furniture but weren’t given instructions. When we ask people to send a message to regulators, we also say that if you submit a message we’ll attend a hearing on your behalf and that the combination of citizens speaking out, alongside expert testimony, will create a powerful force.
    4. Clearly illustrate that we can work together to create a positive vision for the future and bring it fruition.
  2. Give Recognition:
    1. Cynicism is our greatest enemy. As much as possible put on display the impact participants are making in the world.
    2. Take the time to recognize those who contribute to your project.
      1. Research shows people want the satisfaction of an emotional meaningful experience. Recognizing those who make efforts in your project is a great way to model a participatory process and to keep our community engaged over the long term.
    3. It may be obvious to recognize large policy changes, but it’s just as important to show how participants have an impact on smaller pieces of our work, such as when our efforts are picked up in the media. No victory is too small to recognize.
    4. Understand participants and the community as the protagonist of the story. Good or bad, the world really does change based on how and in what ways we participate in our society. Let’s remind ourselves of this fact.
    5. Communicate and popularize the idea that we all have a right to participate in decisions that affect our daily lives.
  3. Be Accessible:
    1. Meet people where they are at: provide a range of activities at different levels of engagement.
    2. As a general principle make communications accessible and link to more in-depth materials for the keeners. You have to get people in the door before you can meet them and build a relationship.
    3. Structure the participation so that people can engage at the level they are comfortable with.
      1. Petitions, written letters/phone calls, social media engagement, surveys/interactive tools, in-person events/canvassing, creating their own content and becoming community leaders in their own right.
    4. Some members of our community will be very knowledgeable and have a lot of time and energy for our projects. It’s important to facilitate those deeply engaged in your processes — these participants are leaders in the making. Others just want the facts and a simple way to identify with the project — these folks just want to raise their hand with us and we should respect that.
  4. Build Relationships:
    1. Build relationships and communities not just lists or data points. Look at your first interaction as an introduction and your communications as a dialogue.
    2. Relationships should have meaning and purpose. (For example, the purpose could be to be working together to stop online censorship.)
    3. Facilitate lateral communication between members of our community. At OpenMedia we invest in capacity to support community conversations on our website and social media.
    4. Look for opportunities for deeper and more frequent engagement and pull it into the mix of our project.
      1. Example: while we were working on our Casting an Open Net report we had a meeting with the Industry Minister come up out of the blue. Instead of just holding a regular meeting, we crowdsourced the questions we asked the minister and used the community input we received for our report. That wasn’t planned in advance but we saw it as an opportunity for deeper input and engagement.
    5. Find opportunities to let community members know how valuable their contributions are and give back when you can (Hold events and meetups, workshops, webinars, make sure they’re included, prizes, etc).
  5. Share Ownership:
    1. People in our society have been told that they do not have control over decisions that govern our society. Our communications and interaction with our community should reinforce a sense of agency, power, and collective ownership.
    2. Citizens should be at the centre of decision-making. Be iterative and flexible in response to our community to reinforce their ownership of our work.
      1. Example: We often shift tactics and messaging after monitoring feedback on social media and email.
    3. Give community members as much control as you can within your mission, principles, and values.
    4. Look at all interactions as an opportunity to listen and get input.
    5. Let participants shape their relationship with you. Whenever possible provide an option for participants to choose how much, when, and how they’d like to interact with you. Ensure you listen when people give you feedback about how your relationship is progressing and do your best to adapt.

*Ask for input, be curious about what you’ll receive, listen, recognize the contributions.

Our main types of crowdsourcing:

  1. Ongoing dialogue: This is the lowest effort method and simply requires reviewing online/offline community input review and thought before producing output. This is roughly the method we used for Casting an Open Net and at OpenMedia we mostly do this without thinking about it. We have Slack channels devoted to this form of input. This mode of crowdsourcing does require ongoing dialogue with the community obviously.
  2. Comment Threading: Pulling demonstrative comments from our community into blogs and other content. The comment in this blog is a good example. There’s no better way for us to operate as a community platform than to ensure direct community comments are included in our content.
  3. Thematic Input: Call for community input through email and/or blogs or social media and break down comments into rough themes. Use the themes to instruct presentations and key meetings. Here’s an outreach example, and an example of a crowdsourced presentation.
    1. We sometimes use our Internet Voice tool to collect input for this method.
  4. Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis: See the methodology section here. We collect input through various methods including our Internet Voice Tool and Crowdsourcing tool.
  5. Crowdsourced Plans: Usually our Crowdsource reports and policy plans include all of the above. We basically see every interaction with our community as an input point we use to shape our detailed policy proposals. Our Privacy Plan in Canada is good example.

These principles are part of a living document and we welcome input by emailFacebook or Twitter.

Thanks to Reilly Yeo who was involved in our crowdsourced processes in our early work as well as the Crowdsourcing Masterclass sessions that she taught with our founder Steve Anderson. Thanks also to community engagement specialist Dave Meslin, OpenMedia’s current Community Engagement Specialist Soledad Vega, and the entire OpenMedia team and collaborators past and present.