Crowdsourcing to address complex social problems

Even though crowdsourcing is a relatively new term (attributed to a Wired article by Jeff Howe from 2006), it’s a concept that has helped solve problems for centuries. Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary is on the of the oldest examples of crowdsourcing, albeit far before the advent of the internet. 

More recent notable examples of crowdsourcing include: 

  • Wikipedia - this online encyclopedia relies on users to submit and verify information on nearly every subject and topic known to mankind. 

  • Uber - this mobile apps allows users to submit transportation requests that are crowdsourced to cab drivers in their immediate area. 

  • AirBNB - this mobile app links vacationers with local individuals offering short-term home/condo rentals in virtually any vacation destination in the world. 


Alignment Nashville, a 501c3 organization dedicated to align community resources to support the academic success and health of children and youth, has developed a systematic way of using crowdsourcing to address complex social problems in a community. AN’s Invitation to Participate (TM) (ITP) solicits contributions of resources from the broader community to work together towards outcomes such as increasing high school graduation rates, improving kindergarten readiness, and decreasing teen pregnancy rates. By focusing on outcomes versus prescriptive solutions, the ITP process sparks creativity; instead of just doing “more of the same,” partners are encouraged to think about how they can use their resources differently. The ITP process almost always uncovers “unusual suspects” - partners that use their resources creatively and in new, different ways. 


For example, Alignment Nashville recently used its ITP crowdsourcing method to collectively address Kindergarten readiness. Partners that responded to the ITP included:

A growing number of communities are now also using this ITP crowdsourcing method through the Alignment USA network. If you are interested in learning more about how the ITP crowdsourcing method could help your community address its most complex social problems, please consider attending Alignment Institute 2015 to learn from current Alignment practitioners and leaders about how this and other tools created by Alignment Nashville/Alignment USA are helping communities address their most complex social problems. 


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