Social media has given voice to a new group of constituents who were unlikely to participate in public political discussions in the past. While writing your local representative is still a powerful way to connect with your elected officials, governments are starting to embrace a new trend in their project planning and spending initiatives.
Governing, Salon.com, GovExec and The Verge have all covered the trend of local governments turning to crowdsourcing to solicit feedback from constituents and create buy-in for government projects. Crowdsourcing is defined as "distributed problem solving", a means to "mine collective intelligence, assess quality and process work in parallel" and cities across the country are jumping on the trend to build richer relationships with their citizens.
Great examples of local governments using crowdsourcing to engage with their citizens:
The City of Boston is asking residents to make suggestions for the city hotline hold music that are as “uniquely Boston as you are”
New York City uses resident reports of “near miss” accidents on www.transalt.org to identify high-risk traffic trouble-spots
- Kansas City residents went beyond mere suggestions and actually crowdfunded the city’s B-cycle project to the tune of $420,000 to provide 90 sharable bikes at sharing stations across the city
We looked through Onvia’s database of government bids and RFPs at the federal, state and local level to see if there had been an uptick in crowdsourced projects over the last three years. The numbers speak for themselves – crowdsourcing references have grown steadily over the last 3 years with local showing the largest area of growth as cities, counties and school districts engage on a deeper level with their constituents.
How government contractors can benefit from the crowdsourcing trend:
Crowdsourcing presents new opportunities for vendors working with the government. While the possibilities are endless, here are a few creative ways for government contractors to use the crowdsourcing trend to their advantage in the government market.
Software Consultants: Consider using Unsolicited Proposals to proactively reach out to target agencies and learn how they are thinking about crowdsourcing in their districts. While some agencies are using existing platforms like Twitter, others are building their own platforms to solicit public input. Reaching out to agencies before their next RFP means vendors can start building agency relationships sooner and possibly help create the framework for the next successful crowdsourcing initiative in their community.
Marketing Firms: No crowdsourcing initiative is successful without participation. As marketing firms look at upcoming projects and future spending plans for their target agencies, they should consider how crowdsourcing feedback from the public could help the agency provide a more successful solution, then craft a plan to help that agency promote a campaign with direct mail, social and media campaigns.
O & M Vendors: Operations and Maintenance vendors can differentiate themselves from competitors by building a crowdsourcing program into their contract proposals to create a two-way dialog with the citizens they are serving. Vendors bidding on the maintenance & operations of a city or state park for example could build a mechanism into their proposal for citizens to offer direct feedback to the vendor and the contracting agency regarding staff service and customer satisfaction, cleaning & maintenance schedules and facility availability or resource concerns. This type of initiative will allow O & M vendors to stand out against competitors who may be offering a more traditional O & M service package.
Regional & National Vendors: Local incumbents often have an advantage when it comes to state and local bids and RFPs, but savvy regional or national players can engage local constituents effectively through social media campaigns to build a rich relationship with the community. For out of state vendors worried about a local vendor using their local status to win the bid, the out of state vendor could commit to creating and maintaining a channel to talk to the public as part of their proposal. A vibrant forum on Facebook or Twitter or a gallery of images to document the project on Pinterest can go a long way to connect local residents with a community project – even if the vendor's corporate office is out of state.