MoveOn.org and Crowdsourcing: A Chat with Peter Koechley

“On one level, everything MoveOn.org does is crowdsourced activism.”
–Peter Koechley, MoveOn.org

 

Last week Peter Koechley, MoveOn.org’s Campaign Innovation Director, gave me 3 great examples of how MoveOn.org has used crowdsourcing:

1. They recently created a We Can’t Afford to Wait Photo Petition.

MoveOn.org emailed all 5 million of their members and asked them to download a poster template, take a photo of themselves holding their poster, and upload it to MoveOn.org.

A smaller group of particularly active members, about 5,000, were asked to vet the photo entries and sort them as appropriate, inappropriate, or excellent using a custom-made online tool.

Using crowdsourcing in this way helps MoveOn.org keep its staff small. They have 5 million members, but only about 20 paid staff. Combing through the 9,000 We Can’t Afford to Wait photos would have taken a lot of time for one staff person, but it only took 30 minutes for all of the photos to be sorted by members. Wow!

“It’s super simple, but incredibly useful,” said Koechley, “And the action of doing it is actually pretty fun. You find that you plan on doing three photos, and you end up doing 20.”

2. During the 2008 Presidential campaign, MoveOn.org held a 6-week Obama in 30 Seconds video contest.

Although MoveOn.org has paid ad makers they work with, according to Koechley, “You get a different caliber of ad, and a different quality of storytelling, and a different feel when it is member-created-advertising.”

Similar to the We Can’t Wait photo petition, MoveOn.org used members to sort and vet the 1100 video entries. 5.5 million votes were cast by MoveOn.org members in order to select the 15 finalists. The winning video was chosen by a panel of judges.

3. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, MoveOn.org created HurricaneHousing.org.

HurricaneHousing.org connected displaced people with MoveOn.org members who were offering a place to stay in their homes. “With crowdsourcing in general, said Koechley, you think, ‘What time, efforts, or assets does this big group of people have, and how can they use them to the most effect?’ In this case, it was an extra room.” Nearly 30,000 people were housed through connections made on HurricaneHousing.org.

Success stories like these can make you think that crowdsourcing can solve all of our problems, but as Koechley observed, “Just because there is a bunch of work, it doesn’t mean that people want to do it.” Two key elements to successful crowdsourcing campaigns are:

  1. Choose tasks that are fun, interesting, and/or meaningful
  2. Make the system people interact with easy to use

According to Koechley, the biggest challenge in setting up a crowdsourcing project is creating the systems people will use to participate. “It’s not worth building the process and setting it up if you aren’t going to use it multiple times,” he advised.

When I asked him how MoveOn.org could use a tool like The Extraordinaries’ iPhone app, he said that MoveOn.org needs help with political and legislative research. As an advocacy organization, MoveOn.org requires knowledge and understanding of everyone in Congress, and they don’t have enough research staff to be constantly updating information.

He wasn’t sure how the research could be crowdsourced though, “There is probably some clever way to crowdsource it, but we haven’t cracked that nut yet. There is a constant monitoring of what is going on in Washington. It is a little bit hard to figure out how to break that down into crowdsourcing tasks, but it’s also hard to keep tabs on every issue from every department and agency when you have a tiny staff.”

He also had some kind words for The Extraordinaries:

“The reason I think that the Extraordinaries is cool is just because it kinda comes from where MoveOn.org comes from which is, ‘How do you make it possible for people whose hearts are in the right place to take action in politics easily?’ How do you make being engaged in politics in a powerful and impactful way easy for regular people? It seems like for a wider pool of interests, that is what The Extraordinaries is doing, making doing good in just a few minutes in a busy life easy.”

What do you think are key elements to successful crowdsourcing campaigns? How do you think MoveOn.org’s political and legislative research could be crowdsourced?

Britt Bravo also blogs at Have Fun * Do Good, BlogHer.com, WE tv’s WE Volunteer blog, and the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship blog. She is a Big Vision Consultant.


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