This weekend, volunteers will virtually collaborate with USAID staff during the Agency’s first crowdsourcing effort. Volunteers will work online to review Agency data on specific USAID economic growth activities, and help code that data with geographic information to help the Agency map its impact. This type of public engagement builds upon new developments at the cross section of new technology and efforts to make aid data more transparent.
These new developments appeared during the 2010 Haiti where volunteer technical communities (VTC) that were empowered by Web 2.0 technologies to engage with the response effort. The World Bank noted that these VTC present a “fundamental shift” for disaster intervention that holds “great promise.” Though the UN Foundation found that the international humanitarian system was not prepared to handle a “firehose” of data from new sources, over the last two years, the information landscape has continued to evolve. The humanitarian and development sector has identified innovative ways to incorporate new data and methods into well-established work flows. VTC’s, for their part, have continued to refine their tools, their methods, and collaborate with humanitarian and development agencies to take full advantage of a wide range of data. By working together, they are creating new approaches to some of the most daunting challenges.
It is in this spirit that USAID is partnering with two volunteer technical communities for the Agency’s first crowdsourcing project: the Standby Task Force and GISCorps, winner of a 2012 President’s Volunteer Service Award. Both groups are composed of exceptionally motivated and highly skilled people from all walks of life, including: students, geographers, development and humanitarian professionals, transparency advocates, and data-hounds.
Starting Friday June 1st at noon volunteers and the public will mine data with partial or non-standard geographic information to correctly identify the appropriate location for each record. This will enable us to map and share our data. Aside from the substantive value of the data, this pilot is an example of how large development agencies can utilize crowdsourcing to open data and become more transparent. By enhancing the ways we engage with the interested public, we are suddenly able to do more and do more better.
Once our work is completed, all maps and data will be released publicly. We will also publish a case study documenting the project for interested federal agencies, humanitarian, and development organizations. We hope that by becoming more transparent in our work we will gain feedback and ideas on how to do things in new ways.