ABSTRACT

Crowdsourcing Crisis Information Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks to the public in the form of an open call. The term “crowdsourcing crisis information” was coined following the use of crowdsourcing to document the violence during and after Kenya’s hotly contested national elections in December 2007. Ushahidi (“witness” in Swahili), a non-profit organization based in Nairobi, called on the public to report acts of violence via email and SMS, so that these could be added to a Google map. At the time, the government was downplaying the extent of the violence and had placed restrictions on the media’s ability to report on the conflict. In response, Ushahidi sought to crowdsource or distribute the act of witnessing in order to counter the government’s narrative and circumvent the media’s narrative. In reality, the majority of reports added to Ushahidi’s Google map were copied and pasted from various news articles. But this first attempt at crowdsourcing crisis information highlighted the potential power of crowdsourcing to monitor and map crisis in real time and real space. Ushahidi’s crowdsourcing approach was a radical departure from methodologies like those developed by Swisspeace, which relied on networks of in-country field monitors

who were paid to fill out structured surveys on a weekly basis using a standard set of peace and conflict indicators. Swisspeace typically had several field monitors in every country they monitored. The Swisspeace model was replicated in a number of regional conflict monitoring and early warning systems such as the Conflict Early Warning and Response Network (CEWARN) in the Horn of Africa. This traditional mode of gathering and reporting crisis information has obvious limitations. For example, field monitors cannot be everywhere at the same time and thus tend to rely on national news, rather than being eyewitnesses themselves. In contrast, crowdsourcing opens up the reporting to the public.