How crowdsourcing can benefit EU policy making

Key takeaways from our Crowdsourcing Masterclass on forecasting, crisis response, citizen science and democratic renewal.

On 19 September 2023, we brought together 6 experts on crowd forecasting, citizen science and governmental crisis response to share their insights on how crowdsourcing is helping governments, scientists and the civil sector produce more informed, legitimate and impactful policy.

Key takeaways from our crowdsourcing masterclass

To govern is to predict, and crowds outperform experts when it comes to forecasting

Used both by the US intelligence community to anticipate geopolitical events, and public health institutions to predict the severity of infectious diseases, crowd forecasting excels at gathering information on complex questions. But today, very few EU institutions or member states use a crowd based approach to forecasting. Emile Servan-Schreiber, cognitive scientist and pioneer of prediction markets, made a strong case for crowd forecasting’s track record of accurate predictions that outperform the best individual experts again and again.

Read Emile Servan-Schreiber’s case study on Crowd forecasting infectious disease outbreaks


Crowdsourcing requires a mindset shift from public officials

Why do so few policy makers adopt crowdsourcing techniques, even though experience shows crowdsourcing can generate (much) more robust insights? For our speakers, this is a matter of mindset, a generational gap among public servants.

Using crowdsourcing for policy making requires an openness to being challenged by external perspectives and adopting technologies that involve large numbers of participants. It requires letting go. Collective intelligence is not about collecting all and any opinions, but rather about recognizing citizens as experts in their own field. This relies on having faith in the power of cognitive diversity.

And crowdsourcing requires identifying the reasons why external stakeholders might want to get engaged in order to design the right crowdsourcing method.

Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something.

Use crowdsourcing at all stages of the policy making cycle

Crowdsourcing can contribute in the problem definition phase (through crowd forecasting, citizen science…). It can help generate solutions (e.g. through public challenges). Assya Kavrakova, Director of the European Citizen Action Service, emphasized how the CODE Europe and DIGIDEM projects(the first-ever transnational project on crowdsourcing legislation in 10 European cities) involve citizens in the different phases of problem mapping, problem solving, ideas selection and policy formulation.

Crowdsourcing can also help monitor the implementation of legislation. Dr Gitte Kragh shared the example of expedition cruises on the Arctic to show the potential of citizen science applied to environmental policies’ monitoring.

Find out more about the CODE Europe and DIGIDEM projects

Read Gitte Kragh’s case study on monitoring Svalbard’s and Greenland’s environment by expedition cruises

Crowdsourcing can improve the legitimacy of public decisions

Crowdsourcing has the potential to increase trust towards institutions and the legitimacy of policies: input, throughput, output and emotions legitimacy, also with sentiment analysis.

Read Stephen Boucher’s chapter on Collective Intelligence and Change in Government

The Iroquois Confederacy was a successful model of collective thinking that allowed for political power to be integrated from the bottom-up and gave women a prominent role in the community.

The Gikuyu society in Kenya used a practice-based approach to civic education. They taught behavior through games and songs, which helped young people understand the importance of working together and following rules. This was reinforced through community actions like volunteering for tasks. The system was maintained through habit, peer pressure, and civic stories and songs.

The Athenians used a combination of civic tribes, a council of 500 (the Boulē), an assembly (the Ekklēsia), and citizen juries to organize their collective intelligence. The tribes connected individuals to valuable information and expertise outside of their families. The council was chosen by lottery to ensure diversity in representation. The assembly allowed any – male and free – citizen to attend and speak, and decisions were made by majority vote. Juries were selected by sortition.

Crowdsourcing can be made even smarter with careful curation of who contributes

How can we make crowdsourcing even smarter?

  1. By curating a smaller set of citizens and experts who will be better suited to identify solutions. For instance, the algorithm of Hypermind’s crowdforecasting platform weighs preferentially “superforecasters” who have a consistent track record of making better predictions. Similarly, the GovLab’s smarter crowdsourcing initiatives combine
  2. By harnessing AI technology to better combine quantitative and qualitative data.

Read Anirudh Dinesh’s case study on Smarter crowdsourcing to tackle COVID-19

Discover how The Governance Lab improves governemnt crisis response on complex public probelms like Covid, Zika and corruption.

Civil society organizations and social innovators can be “crowdsourcers”

Civil society organizations and social innovators can promote crowdsourcing initiatives, because they are in touch with communities at grassroots level. They can therefore act as gatekeepers, making sure that citizens know about crowdsourcing initiatives and get involved. Yannick Fischer of Ashoka Belgium shared how Ashoka’s network members fighting for democracy at their local level across the EU. Alain Boribon, co-founder of the Citizenfund, made it clear that the logic of crowdsourcing in social innovation is as relevant and serves as an inspiration for a more sustainable and fair economy.

More resources on the Masterclass:

Stephen Boucher
Founder of Smarter Together and Dreamocracy - collective creativity for the common good

Gitte Kragh
Postdoc, Aarhus University. Ecologist, NORDECO.
Co-Founder, Citizen Science Netværket.

Anirudh Dinesh
Research Fellow at The Governance Lab

Emile Servan-Schreiber
Hypermind CEO, Affiliate Professor at the School of Collective Intelligence


Missed our masterclass? Access the full presentation here

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