2 million heads are better than one

collective-creativity-250As the UK government prepares for some of the deepest public sector spending cuts in living memory – in an attempt to reduce the £155bn budget deficit – it could consider how citizen crowds can help to reduce waste and set spending priorities.

New social initiatives like www.seeclickfix.com make use of existing communities and the power of ‘distributed sensing’ to help people report and track non-emergency issues online – from potholes in the road to broken windows. In simple terms, government can’t be everywhere at once, but people frequently are. If you give them a way to report issues as they see them and aggregate problems at a community or national level, patterns emerge that help budget holders to prioritize what gets fixed first. In other words, just like Trip Advisor aggregates consumer hotel reviews to help you pick the best one, the most reported problems reveal what communities are genuinely worried about. Not only does this cut down on the need for government employees pounding the streets – appropriate given plans to cut 600,000 public sector jobs in the UK – but it improves citizen engagement and a sense of pride in where they live.

This is a great example of crowd-sourcing in practice and gives us some clues about what brands and business could do in these challenging times. Just as citizens are keen to report potholes, employees can spot and record opportunities for cost saving or reducing waste in their organizations – a great way to drive engagement and living corporate values in practice. Passionate consumers can also be relied upon to record and feed back sub-optimal brand experiences from product performance to a retail visit – taking the idea of ‘mystery shopping’ to its logical conclusion. By finding patterns, distributed sensing helps to make meaning out of individual data points and capture the true potential of consumer and employee participation. If people have an opinion or volunteer a problem when they notice it, brands can now build that intelligence into their strategies to deliver even better experiences or reduce waste.

This week, Nick Clegg has said of his coalition partnership with David Cameron that ‘two heads are better than one’. Crowd-sourced problem setting like www.seeclickfix.com hints that in some cases, 2 million heads might be better than one marketing department.

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