Crowdsourcing & Smart City: A winning combination to accelerate Innovation & Sustainability

Crowdsourcing & Smart City: A winning combination to accelerate Innovation & Sustainability

Throughout history, there have been several initiatives from organisations, countries or regions to unify people, share economy and assets, or divide the responsibilities between each member of a group.

However, several initiatives that involve giving control to the masses have ended up being politicised, or created debates on whether one economic system is better than the others.

In recent years though, new forms of economy and sourcing, driven by communities of people sharing beliefs, ideals or goals have been developed; especially thanks to the internet, and a world that is more connected and more aware of the need of smart solutions everyday.

Indeed, we have been part of the success of models such as crowdfunding, the decentralisation of currencies with cryptocurrencies, and also, an important shift on the way we create and innovate thanks to crowdsourcing: a sourcing model that is empowering individuals and organisations with the help of the “crowd”.

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Understanding Crowdsourcing and Smart City

When we talk about sourcing, we are mostly talking about the individuals or companies that use their knowledge, skills and resources to complete one or more tasks within a business.

If we add the word crowd before, then we are talking not about specific individuals or companies hired, but pretty much anyone who has the skills and the motivation to contribute, whether it is pro bono or in exchange for a fixed rate.

This way, crowdsourcing can be defined as a form of sourcing where almost everybody can contribute to the completion of different tasks, whether they have been previously defined, or they have appeared out of necessity; and it mostly occurs on the internet.

One famous example of this model is Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform where businesses and individuals can publish tasks with a fixed price for users within the site to complete them. Especially, tasks that cannot be automated yet.

However, not all forms of crowdsourcing happen entirely online, as the internet is rather the key ingredient to keep everybody aligned, informed and aware of everything that is happening.

With this in mind, other forms of crowdsourcing may include initiatives from organisations, such as governments, to request people for something, such as creative and innovative solutions for cities’s concerns.

The health, new technology and energy sectors, among others, have already found their place in the challenges for innovation! You have probably heard of smart homes and “smart” gadgets such as Google Home, but what happens if we apply this technology to an entire metropolitan area? In this case, we talk about “smart cities” and crowdsourcing actively contributes to their development. 

A smart city is an urban area that uses information and communication technologies, the Internet of Things and devices to collect data and efficiently manage resources based on this data (Big Data). The resources concerned include waste management, energy efficiency, traffic and public transportation, etc. Barcelona for example, has adopted intelligent technologies in their municipalities and used crowdsourcing to best meet citizens’ needs:

Many other crowdsourcing platforms exist to help organisations and individuals around the world propose solutions for a faster digital transformation, such as Civocracy or CitizenLab.

How Crowdsourcing contributes to develop the cities of tomorrow

We are living in a smart age. We are always connected thanks to the use of smartphones, our houses are starting to become smart and the IoT is making our devices smarter, too. Now, we are also taking the first steps towards moving from our current cities to smart cities.

Using innovative technology and the internet are of course key tools for cities to become smart, but the collaboration of smart humans is more important than ever if we really want cities to adapt to our needs, rather than continue to adapt to models that are not tailored to us.

The first aspect is the integration of citizens, governments and authorities. Whether the figure of government will be maintained is something we cannot predict, but it is clear that smart governments will trust citizens, the ultimate judges of what a city really needs.

The City of London ran campaigns and contests such as the “Smart City Challenge”, offering a prize of £750,000 to developers and startups who designed the best technology applications and the most creative and efficient solutions to solve the city’s most well-known problems and necessities. The City of London launched other collaborative competitions, such as the “Smart Green Spaces” challenge and organised hackathons, such as “Climathon”.

The cities of tomorrow should also provide its inhabitants with clean, public data on areas such as energy consumption, level of pollution, traffic on the streets, etc. All of which can be public assets for anyone who would like to learn more or contribute with the city.

Cooperation and specialisation for faster innovation

We are lucky to live at this point in time, as nowadays we are able to stay connected with people all over the world, and it is possible for us to actually bring our expertise or knowledge on one or more areas to help people, organisations and projects we believe in. Furthermore, Having more than one skill is something that is highly appreciated, as opposed to years ago where we were all expected to only focus on one particular area.

Cities can leverage this to finally make it possible to find solutions for many of the problems they have faced and have historically been unable to solve, as well as continue to improve over time.

Crowdsourcing and Sustainability in Smart City development

Sustainability, renewable energy generation and consumption, and overall better energy consumption practices are all top priorities for a city to be considered smart. And these major areas are some of the ones that require the most collaboration of people.

Nowadays, with the increasing interest and initiatives to adopt renewable energy sources, a new term has been coined: prosumers. In the field of renewable energy, this term refers to those individuals and organisations producing their own energy and distributing the surplus, or consuming that of others when they haven’t generated enough.

The use of smart meters and other devices to collect data of the energy consumption in houses, buildings or industries is yet another aspect where crowdsourcing becomes fundamental, as this data can be distributed in order to generate the greatest insights in order to achieve major energy efficiency.

Data in the palms of the crowd

If there is something that smart cities are going to need, generate and consume in massive amounts, that is data. But these data must be used intelligently, openly and in a more transparent way to actually open the door to solutions and innovations from the crowd.

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AI has become a fundamental tool for businesses, companies and individuals to generate solutions in the form of business intelligence. However, while machine learning and AI can automate tasks and process data, humans are still required in order to get real insights from this data.

As such, methodologies such as DataOps can be applied at a macro scale on cities, for every citizen, and for every member of an organisation, to be able to see the data, to work with it, and hopefully, to contribute with the development of the city thanks to the information contained on the different datasets.

This is an exciting moment in time, and many of the minds who dreamed of a connected world, where almost everybody could contribute to something bigger, or for everybody to be her/his own boss, would be happy to know that this time has come already with the internet.

Crowdsourcing is just one example of the many ways we are finally embracing our collective nature. And as such, governments and citizens have the possibility, but also the responsibility of working together, generating ideas and solutions, and sharing what they know to keep on moving towards a more sustainable future.

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