I’m reading this fantastic book called Reality is broken by Jane McGonigal. It’s about how games and game design concepts can be used to reinforce positive behaviors and ultimately change the world for the better. In a chapter about the potential for social good of group play online, she talks about how a british newspaper called The Guardian used crowdsourcing to help expose fraud in the British Parliament. It’s such an inspiring story!
In 2009, information leaked that some British Members of Parliament (MPs) were charging lavish personal expenses to their expense accounts, and that this was part of a larger culture of fraud in the British Parliament. Examples of these personal expenses were renovations to 2nd homes, duck ponds, extremely over reported travel expenses, etc. Taxpayers were naturally upset, and the public demanded that the government release documents detailing all of these expenses. The government obliged, but released the documents in a completely unusable format. There were thousands of image files of scanned receipts, scribbled notes, and post its, making it basically impossible for reporters to parse through it. That’s where the crowd sourcing came in.
The Guardian posted all of the documents online and asked its readers to help it comb through the documents for suspicious looking charges. The interface showed a progress bar and made use of leader boards to encourage users to help journalists scan these documents. Users flocked to the site and made quick work of the documents. In the end, it was discovered that this activity effectively costed taxpayers somewhere around ￡80M/year and more than doubled the salaries of some Mps. These findings caused multiple Mps to resign or receive disciplinary action). Here’s a piece of info I really liked from The guardian’s post-mortem What we learned:
David Clelland, Labour MP for Tyne Bridge, has a robotic vacuum cleaner, the iRobot Roomba 560. The £224.99 robot vacuum cleaner contains an automatic sensor to guide itself around the home - a tool that could prove useful in delving through the 40,000 pages of expense claims. According to the promotional material, it “reaches deep into corners to remove and detect” dirt.
The crowd sourcing interface has since been taken down, but I was able to find some screen captures of it. Heres a few more links if you’re interested:
What a great piece of history.