Does Crowdsourcing Occur Offline?

This week’s topic in Tech621 is about Crowdsourcing and online participation. As I read I noticed that this concept of crowdsourcing is a tool used by policymakers when making policy. Adopting the concept that people can create the best solutions is definitely visible in the literature in the social sciences. As I looked through the cases put forth by Barbham (2008), I noticed that the same concepts have been used in political and policy decision-making.

To delve into this concept, I must first define crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the idea that the people together, can help to create a very good product or outcome. For example online a website like iStockphoto takes professional photographers to create very inexpensive stock photos they can upload and sell. Photographers, both professional and amateur submit photos to bring inexpensive solutions for stock-photo needs. Crowdsourcing can also create innovative products with open source development (Oreg and Nov 2008). For example, Libre Office, is a product that could be seen as comprable to the Microsoft Office Suite*.

This type of behavior can possibly be seen offline as well. There is a concept of crowd-sourcing that occurs in policy decision-making that happens offline. Aldrich (2008) writes about the tool of “civil society” that a policymaker can employ. Civil society itself in social science literature takes on many different definitions, but in this case it implies the different groups of people within a larger society that can collectively work towards common goals. In the siting of controversial environmental facilities (such as nuclear power plants, waste incinerators, etc.), Aldrich suggests that the community work with the government to create solutions for controversial sites.

The problem that occurs is that there are competing interests when the state plans and coerces the public for its gain. For example in the case of Charles du Gaulle Airport in Paris, France the government was able to seize the necessary land without much resistance (Aldrich 2008). This creates a restriction that may have not occurred within the Internet culture where transparency is a widely accepted and highly valued norm. In the US, it is suggested and sometimes expected that there will be public input because the solutions will be percieved to be more agreeable**.

There’s no denying that the crowdsourcing that occurs on the Internet is unique. It creates products with open source programming, and quality products in online participation. In the offline world crowdsourcing takes a different form, especially in politics. Crowdsourcing definitely exists, but it may take more of a form where there are more constraints. It may in fact be a difference in values of transparency.

*-Full Disclosure: I use Libre Office on my home computer. The point I’m making is that Libre Office and Microsoft Office are similar utilities on the surface.

**-Also in comparing France to the US, there are Constitutional rights to property, whereas France interprets property differently.


  • Aldrich, Daniel. 2008. Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West. Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Brabham, Daren C. 2008. “Crowdsourcing as a Model for Problem Solving: An Introduction and Cases.” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14 (1): 75-90.
  • Oreg, Shaul, and Oded Nov. 2008. “Exploring Motivations for Contributing to Open Source Initiatives: The Roles of Contribution Context and Personal Values.” Computers in Human Behavior 24 (2008): 2055-2073.

About Mike Brownstein

I'm a Political Science MA student, and taking Tech 621 at Purdue University
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6 Responses to Does Crowdsourcing Occur Offline?

  1. Mihaela says:

    After class, do you still feel these two concepts are the same?

  2. I feel like it is a lot more clear now, these are two very different topics

  3. Pingback: Crowdsourcing Revisited | The Internet Industrial Complex

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