City dwellers like their cities to be nice. But what constitutes ‘nice’? And how to deal with the diverse and often opposing opinions that arise when proud residents have to think about improving the quality of life in their city? One solution is to turn this difficulty into a challenge by having municipal governments use crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is “the act of taking the challenge faced by a firm and, instead of asking internal research and development departments to solve the challenge, the firm broadcasts an open call to individuals with relevant expertise outside the firm to become involved in solving the challenge.” (Majchrzak & Malhotra, 2013). We could easily translate “firm” into “city” and “individual with relevant expertise” into “proud city resident”.
Take the city of Rotterdam as an example. In 2011 the municipal government decided to initiate a City Initiative, in which residents could send in fun ideas they had for Rotterdam. A special panel would select certain ideas, after which Rotterdammers could vote for a few ideas (‘Stadsinitiatief’, n.d.). In 2011, an idea for a bridge that would connect the traffic-jammed Hofplein to a new creative cluster with many start-ups won the vote. This year it was an ice-skating rink (‘Stadsinitiatief’, n.d.).
A nice aspect of the bridge is also that people could contribute money by buying wooden planks. Names or names of organizations would then be engraved into these bridge planks. This makes the project both a crowdsourcing and a crowdfunding (‘Crowdfunding’, n.d.) project.
Although there are probably enough outrageous ideas and plans, it apparently shows that Rotterdam residents do not like such ideas. Bridges of ice-skating rinks are not the novel ideas that many theorists would hope to gain from crowd-sourcing. Simple ‘internal research and development departments’ – or in other words, civil servants – could have thought about them.
In addition to that, many Rotterdammers will probably get a feeling of slight unease when walking past the cite of the arising bridge. Why? First of all, because it is ugly. Second, because it is still not finished. Third, because it seems to run from nothing to nowhere. But most of all, because it is truly ‘our’ bridge. We picked it. We knew about its location and its aesthetics. So we cannot hate it without hating our own decision. Very frustrating and perhaps also the reason some actually pretend to like it (Liukku, 2014).
Wisdom of the crowd is useful, because the extremes balance themselves out (Surowiecki, 2004). It might be precisely for this reason that the outcomes of Rotterdam City Initiative ideas are usually so common. One idea for the 2014 contest is to turn the Rotte river into a real surfing hotspot. I highly doubt whether such a courageous idea could win.
- “Crowdfunding”. Wikipedia. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdfunding
- Liukku, A. (2014, April 7). “Luchtbrug is een icoon.” Algemeen Dagblad. Retrieved from http://www.ad.nl
- Majchrzak, A., and A. Malhotra (2013). “Towards an information systems perspective and research agenda on crowdsourcing for innovation.” Journal of Strategic Information Systems 22.4: 257-268.
- ‘Stadsinitiatief’. Retrieved from http://www.rotterdam.nl/stadsinitiatief
- Surowiecki, J., (2004). The Wisdom of the Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economics, Societies and Nations. Doubleday, New York.