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The Exciting Possibilities of Crowdsourcing


November 10, 2014 by Byron Katsuyama
Category: Social Media

The Exciting Possibilities of Crowdsourcing

Each week I  scan the Web for interesting and useful news, blog posts, articles, and reports from a variety of local government related sources and post them to the “In Focus” section of MRSC’s homepage. Four recent articles that caught my attention focus on ways that data from social media sites and crowdsourcing tools can be used to provide critical real time information to aid local governments in responding to public health threats and disasters. Together, these articles highlight a growing trend toward the use of social media and crowdsourcing tools to enhance local government monitoring capabilities and to better target public health and disaster response resources.

Crowdsourced Monitoring of Disease Outbreaks

This article on Government Technology’s site, Crowdsourcing App Tracks Flu Activity, reports on a new crowdsourcing app, Flu Near You, that can be used by public health officials to monitor flu outbreaks in real time. The app collects reports of flu symptoms from users that are analyzed and transferred to a map that can be used to quickly identify concentrations of flu cases in a given community. Google’s Flu Trends web service is another example of how crowdsourcing can be used to help predict flu outbreaks. The service tracks and analyzes the use of flu-related search terms by Google users as an indicator of flu activity.

Targeting Health Code Violators Through Social Media Analytics

An article recently appearing in American City & County, Social Media and Public Health, profiles a new program called Foodborne Chicago that monitors Twitter traffic for tweets that mention “food poisoning” and related symptoms of foodborne illness and then contacts users with follow-up questions that help to identify restaurants where potential health code violations are taking place. The Chicago Department of Public Health has successfully used the crowdsourced system to identify a number of health code violations that might have otherwise gone undetected.

New Disaster-Specific Tool from Facebook

A recent Emergency Management article, Facebook Debuts Safety Check Feature for Disasters, focuses on a new disaster-specific tool from Facebook called “Safety Check” that will allow users to check in with friends and family to let them know that they are OK in the aftermath of a disaster. To address privacy concerns, Facebook says that only friends and family will be able to see a user’s safety status. It’s easy, though, to imagine a version that protects the identity of users but still allows an overview of safety status reports in affected areas. For now, Facebook’s new feature will be one more way (the Red Cross has a similar web-based service) to address one of the critical challenges facing friends and families following a disaster – reconnecting with loved ones to make sure they are OK.

Social Media Use During the Oso Disaster

Social media monitoring was used to some extent during the March 22 Oso mudslide disaster in Snohomish County. While the county’s emergency services department primarily used Twitter to push disaster-related information out to the public, their #530slide hashtag also provided a way for county officials to monitor the types of questions people were asking and any misinformation that was circulating. This allowed them to quickly correct false rumors and keep everyone better informed on events. For more on social media use during the Oso disaster, see The Story Behind #530slide: Social Media During Emergency Response, Emergency Management, April 16, 2014.

Have you heard of other ways that crowdsourcing is being used to aid local governments in responding to public health threats and disasters? Please share your insights on the comment form below.

Image from "Flu Near You" app, screenshot from iTunes.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron began work at the Center as a Research Assistant in July 1978. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. from the University of Washington's Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance. After completing his M.P.A., Byron joined MRSC's consulting staff as a Public Policy and Management Consultant concentrating on municipal administration and policy analysis. Byron is responsible for research in such areas as emerging local government issues, best practices, strategic planning, performance measurement, and local government management. In addition to his consulting duties, Byron also maintains the "Focus" section of MRSC's website and is editor of our "In Focus" and "Ask MRSC" e-newsletters. He also coordinates our HR, Planning, Finance, Government Performance, and Council/Commission Advisors. In his own community of Kirkland, Byron also served for eight years as a member of the city's planning commission. Byron is a member of the Washington City/County Management Association (WCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

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