Wisdom of crowd: Bottom up measuring of development results

19.05.2008 | Christian Kreutz

Some days ago, I had a talk with a colleague from another development organization about web2fordev. We were asking whether web2.0 can really make a difference in development work? We both agreed it can, but we were unsure whether the organizational culture has to change first or the external pressure will push for openness?

When is the two way conversation coming then?

He made a great point -- 'blogs could provide a dialogue between headquarters of development organizations directly with projects and particular beneficiaries.' A conversation could start about what has happened, what was accomplished and what do both sides think about it. I asked him how long does he think this could take to become reality, to which he replied, "ten years."

I disagree and think it could take less time. Why? Because I think the potentials of the web will sooner or later unfold peer pressure. Don't get me wrong. I do not mean by some small tools such as blogs alone, but the ease of engagement and the new potentials for collective action. The following example show possible implications for the development sector.

The power of mapping

Inspired from a post by Erik Hersman called Activist Mapping I came up with another thought or better explanation for this kind of pressure towards development organization, for example, looking at development results -- the impact of foreign aid. Easterly describes it as a key challenge for development aid and monitoring results is high on the agenda of development organizations. Another example is the discussion around aid effectiveness and the Paris declaration.

** The great potential of collective action for transparency**

So, back to my thoughts. Check out first a project by Erik Hersman, Juliana Rotich and Daudi Were called Ushahidi and take a look at how they made it possible by all challenges that people in Kenya, during the post-election conflict, reported through their mobile phone about the critical situation. This way they collected information from all over Kenya and documented incidents such as riots, deaths, property loss, looting, rape etc. This degree of transparency was hardly achieved by the media and certainly not intended to be publicised by the government.

Bottom up measuring of development results

Now imagine the potential to measure development projects from a grassroot level. Or to collect information about how many governmental services have arrived in villages. This could be possible by harnessing the wisdom of crowd.

  • Using mobile phones to collect information.
  • Present all information on a website with maps and databases.
  • Use the website to connect the people who send information and aim to get more accurate information.

Beneficiaries of projects could collect information in teams, send feedbacks to the platform and create their own map of development projects or their timeline with accurate information on how government services are fulfilling their duties. This kind of transparency should be an all-win-situation.

Some might think this will never happen, but I think it will. It is already happening and to my understanding we are just at the beginning of this kind of collective action. What do you think?