Image by Flickr user Mordac

Image by Flickr user Mordac

(This article originally appeared in 20UNDER40 anthologyi edited by Edward P. Clapp, and has been republished with permission.)

Spurred on by major technological advances, the number of aspiring professional artists in the United States has reached unprecedented levels and will only continue to grow. The arts’ current system of philanthropic support is woefully underequipped to evaluate this explosion of content and nurture its most promising elements—but we believe that the solution to the crisis is sitting right in front of us. Philanthropic institutions, in their efforts to provide stewardship to a thriving arts community, have largely overlooked perhaps the single most valuable resource at their disposal: audience members.

We contend that by harnessing the talents of the arts’ most knowledgeable, committed, and ethical citizens and distributing funds according to the principles of what we have termed guided crowdsourcing, grantmaking institutions can increase public investment in and engagement with the arts, increase the diversity and vibrancy of art accessible to consumers, and ensure a more meritocratic distribution of resources. We envision an online platform by which a foundation may crowdsource philanthropic decisions across a wide-ranging network of aficionados, aspiring critics, artists, and curious minds, bolstering its capacity to give fair consideration to the full range of artistic talent available and ensure that the most promising voices are heard.

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I. Choking on the Fire Hose: The Arts’ Capacity Catastrophe


In 2009, a play I directed off-off-Broadway was one of the best reviewed shows in New York at any level. It got the kind of reception that you’re told means your career will start to take off. The talent pool is so huge and the number of spots for artists so small, though, that even my really well reviewed, lines-around-the-block show doesn’t really help. I got paid $250 for six weeks of work on that show, and I made one connection with [an off-Broadway theatre]. If I am lucky (and that means really lucky, they have a lot of artists who they develop), in 3-5 years they will produce a show of mine. If they do, my pay for whatever mythical show that might be would probably be between three and five thousand dollars, and it would be for a project I had probably been working on and off on for several years. I’m in the process of leaving pursuing professional theatre to only focus on projects I care about because both the financial realities and the lifestyle created by those realities is not one I want to subject myself, my upcoming marriage, or my (a couple years down the road) child to.1

—Theater Director, age 30

An Embarrassment of Riches


The muse works feverishly in the 21st century. In the United States, more than 2 million working artists identify their primary occupation as an arts job, and another 300,000 or so earn secondary income from the arts.2 Yet those numbers only hint at a far bigger phenomenon: the ranks of those who create art, whether or not they earn any money from it, have ballooned to some 20 million adults in 2008.3 Many of those in this latter category fall under the rubric of what Charles Leadbeater and Paul Miller have called “Pro-Ams,” serious amateurs and quasi-professionals who “have a strong sense of vocation; use recognized public standards to assess performance; …[and] produce non-commodity products and services” while “spend[ing] a large share of their disposable income supporting their pastimes.”4 Thanks to historically inexpensive production and distribution technology, more artistic products can reach more people more easily than ever before: as of January 2009, for example, users were uploading the equivalent of 86,000 full-length movies to YouTube every week.

The human brain—not to mention the human lifespan—simply cannot accommodate a considered appreciation for so many contenders for its attention. Even if a music lover kept his headphones on for every minute of every day for an entire year, he wouldn’t be able to listen to more than an eighth of the 115,000 albums that were released just in the United States in 2008.5 Because we do not possess the capacity to give equal time to every artistic product that might come our way, we must rely on shortcuts. We may look for reviews and ratings of the latest movies before we decide which ones we’d like to see. We often let personal relationships guide our decisions about what art we allow into our lives. And we continually rely on the distribution systems through which we experience art—museums, galleries, radio stations, television networks, record labels, publishing houses, etc.—to narrow the field of possibilities for us so that we don’t have to spend all of our energies searching for the next great thing.

Every time we outsource these curatorial faculties to someone else, we are making a rational and perfectly defensible choice. And yet every time we do so, we contribute to a system in which those who have already cornered the market in the attention economy are the only ones in a position to reap its rewards.

The Arts’ Dirty Secret


We regard the market’s lack of capacity to evaluate all the available art as a systemic and rapidly worsening problem in the arts today. Artists take time to learn their craft and capture attention; while the market may support an “up-and-coming” artist to maturity if she is lucky, making the transition to “up-and-coming” requires nurturing that the market will not provide. Before an artist becomes well known, the “market” she encounters is not the market of consumers but rather the market for access to consumers. This market is controlled by a small number of gatekeepers—e.g., agents, journalists, literary managers, venue owners—who each face the same capacity problems described above. Even the most dedicated and hardworking individuals could not possibly keep up with the sheer volume of material demanding to be evaluated.

This tremendous competition for gatekeepers’ attention frequently forces aspiring artists into a position of having to assume considerable financial risk to have even a shot at being noticed. An increasing number are receiving pre-professional training in their work; degrees awarded in the visual and performing arts jumped an astonishing 51% between 1998 and 2007.6 Others are starting their own organizations; the number of registered 501(c)(3) arts and culture nonprofits rose 42% in the past ten years.7

Yet all of this increased training and activity comes at a steep price, one all too often borne by the artist herself. Master’s degrees at top institutions can set her back as much as $50,000 per year; internships that could provide key industry connections are frequently unpaid. Artists in the field have been known to incur crippling consumer debt in pursuit of their dreams; the award-winning film documentary Spellbound, for example, was made possible because the co-creators maxed out some 14 credit cards to finance production. Indeed, a daunting investment of direct expense and thousands of hours of time not spent earning a living are virtual requirements to develop the portfolio and reputation necessary to translate ability into success. However one defines artistic talent, it is clear that talent alone is not enough to enable an artist to support herself through her work.

It’s not just those with education debt that have a hard time being a full-time artist, but really anyone without a safety net. I know I can count on one hand the number of composers I know in our age bracket whose parents didn’t pay for their undergraduate education (at least the vast majority of it).8

—Composer, age 27

If traditional gatekeepers lack the capacity to identify and provide critical early support to artistic entrepreneurs with little pedigree but plenty of potential, there is a real concern that to compete for serious and ongoing recognition in the arts is an entitlement of the already privileged. For a sector of society that often justifies philanthropic and public subsidy by purporting to celebrate diverse voices and build bridges between people who see the world in very different ways, this is a grave problem.


Portrait of the Artist as a Young Grantee

Grantmaking institutions have a critical role to play in the market for access. Grants represent a very different kind of support from sales of tickets, stories, or sculptures. They may prove crucial for demonstrating proof-of-concept for a new venture—or simply for the development of a style, portfolio, and audience. Most important, they provide a temporary financial cushion that can allow the artist-entrepreneur to manifest her true vision rather than see it continually undermined by scarcity of equipment, materials, staffing, or time. They can make the difference in production values that ensures a serious reception from critical eyes and ears, and allow the artist an opportunity to use time that might otherwise need to be spent earning income to perfect and promote her work. In short, grants are a seemingly ideal vehicle through which to address the fundamental inequities created by the pinched market for access.

Sonically, anything you do is going to be compared to established artists whose studio budget has more zeros on the end of it than yours. And the sonic quality of the recording itself is often the first thing critics (and listeners) hear and respond to.9

—Jazz Musician, age 34

Sadly, the lack of evaluative capacity biases the philanthropic market for the arts just as it skews the commercial market. In a perfect world, foundation and agency employees would have the time and money to find grantees by continually seeking out and experiencing art in its natural habitat. In the real world, a notoriously small number of staffers at a given foundation or panel of experts from the community is often hard pressed simply to review all of the art that comes through the door.

Not surprisingly, then, grantmakers take defensive measures to protect against being overwhelmed by an inundation of requests. First, they explicitly narrow their scope through eligibility restrictions. Nearly half of foundations that support the arts refuse to accept unsolicited applications at all, and even those that do frequently consider applications only for particular art forms, geographic regions, types of artist, or types of projects.10 Until 2009, to cite an especially dramatic example, the Judith Rothschild Foundation in New York only made “grants to present, preserve, or interpret work of the highest aesthetic merit by lesser-known, recently deceased American [visual] artists.” Many grant programs additionally refuse to consider organizations without a minimum performance history or a minimum budget level, and a majority will not award monies directly to individuals, for-profit entities, or unincorporated groups.

Funders also narrow their scope implicitly through their selection process. The selection is usually made by some combination of the institution’s staff, its board of directors, and outside experts called in for the purpose (often in the form of grant panels).  Because so few individuals are involved in the decision-making process, triage strategies are unavoidable. Application reading may be divided up among the panel or staff, with the result that only one person ever reads any given organization’s entire proposal. When work samples are involved, artists’ fates can be altered forever on the basis of a five-minute (or shorter) reception of their work.

These coping mechanisms are perfectly understandable, given the sheer volume of art produced and imagined. But the unfortunate result is that institutional money is distributed with hardly more fairness than commercial money—and this is especially troublesome because of institutional grantmakers’ power beyond their purses as outsourced curators of other funding streams.  After all, for most individual donors and consumers alike, the art that they even have a chance to encounter is likely to be art that has already passed the muster of multiple professional gatekeepers. The capacity problem that hampers grantmakers’ ability to choose the most promising artists in an equitable way thus compounds itself as it reverberates through the rest of the artistic ecosystem.

The shortage of capacity and its consequences on the diversity, liveliness, and brilliance of the arts world are not going away. With the proliferation of digital distribution networks making it easier than ever to put creative work in the public eye, the defensive mechanisms that funders employ to limit intake are only going to become more and more strained. A solution is needed, fast. Fortunately, there is a cheap, practical, and responsible way for institutions to better cope with their lack of evaluative capacity: they can use crowdsourcing to harness the passion and expertise of a broader range of people dedicated to the arts.

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II. Calling for Backup: Crowdsourcing (to) the Rescue

Typically, institutions select the members of their staffs and grant panels on the basis of passion for and experience with the arts, on the theory that these qualities promote discerning judgments about the merit of applicants. But such traits are by no means limited to this narrow group. Tapping the thousands of dedicated and knowledgeable devotees of specific art forms who engage in robust discussion of the arts every day would allow foundations and agencies to go a long way towards addressing their own capacity problems—and towards opening the distribution of arts philanthropy to a broader range of deserving artists.

Our proposal draws inspiration from the phenomenon of crowdsourcing, which is the practice of outsourcing some function to the public or a significant part of it. Crowdsourcing has its roots in the open-source software movement, which designed and built complex software through the collaboration of anyone with the time, interest, and ability to contribute to a project. The best known example of this practice may be Wikipedia, which draws on the knowledge and editorial acumen of a huge pool of often anonymous volunteers to create a crowdsourced encyclopedia. Rather than relying on a handful of experts, crowdsourcing enlists dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people to do the work—and, in its purest form, to ensure the quality of the end result. The following pages explore some of the ways the commercial and philanthropic sectors have deployed crowdsourcing to direct money to worthy causes, to harness dispersed talent, and to build community.


Directing Donations

Online philanthropy markets that allow individual donors to contribute to charitable causes and micro-entrepreneurs around the world—websites like Kiva, DonorsChoose, Modest Needs, and GlobalGiving—illustrate the practice of crowdsourcing funding decisions across a large number of donors acting independently. Some of these websites aggregate small donations to fund larger projects using a mechanism for voting with dollars. For example, at Modest Needs, donors purchase points that can be allocated to specific, prequalified projects described on the site (such as the cost of a replacement water heater for a single mother). When a project has received enough donor points, the amount requested is sent to the applicant.

Similar online giving models have been employed at a smaller scale in the arts. For example, ArtistShare allows “fans to show appreciation for their favorite [musical] artist by funding their recording projects in exchange for access to the creative process, limited edition recordings, VIP access to recording sessions, and even credit listing on the CD.” Kickstarter allows individual donors to make pledges to creative projects—in the arts, journalism, design, and technology—with defined funding targets and timing. If enough pledges are received by the deadline, the project is funded; otherwise, the funds are returned to the donor.

These online mini-markets facilitate individual support for artists by providing donors more direct access to the artistic process and environment. In cases where the projects funded can be appreciated online, supporting them is not so different from buying a ticket. An alternative model of crowdsourced philanthropy that has gained more recent prominence allows individuals to exert influence on how other people’s philanthropic contributions are spent. Two recent major initiatives by corporate foundations employ this “voting without dollars” concept. JP Morgan Chase’s Chase Community Giving program gave away $5 million in early 2010 to nonprofit organizations based primarily on the votes of Facebook users. Similarly, PepsiCo diverted the $20 million it might have spent on ads during the 2010 Super Bowl to the Pepsi Refresh Project, a new monthly initiative that invites “ideas that will have a positive impact” to compete for grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000. Visitors to the site vote to determine the grant winners.

Aggregating Ability

In the examples above, the “crowd” need have no particular expertise to participate fully. (Indeed, one frequent criticism of these models is that a “one person, one vote” or social-network-based approach to philanthropy can all too easily degenerate into a popularity contest with little connection to the merit of the potential recipients.) But crowdsourcing has also proved very effective at harnessing dispersed talent. In the for-profit design world, Threadless, an online T-shirt company, produces designs created and voted on by users of the website. The winning designers receive cash prizes, and the shirts nearly always sell out, generating $17 million in revenue for Threadless in 2006.11

Philanthropic foundations, too, have begun to take advantage of the expertise of passionate people from across the country and the world. Philoptima allows would-be donors to offer “design prizes” to anyone who proposes an innovative solution to a problem chosen by the donor, and “implementation prizes” to any non-profit that submits a promising plan to carry out the solution in its community. (The first design prize on this young site was offered by a new grantmaker seeking to create “a discipline-wide typology of the environmental sector.”) Since 2006, InnoCentive has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to give global development organizations access to high-quality R&D resources; Rockefeller selects the nonprofits and contributes award money to a network of scientists to solve a specific “challenge” posed by the nonprofit.

Building Community

By engaging and connecting a broad cross-section of individuals, crowdsourcing also has the potential to create a robust community and locus for lively discussion. The Yelp Elite Squad, chosen by Yelp employees from among the popular local search site’s most active contributors, benefit from invitations to exclusive offline events in addition to greater exposure for their reviews. In the nonprofit sector, several websites that make grants emphasize the creation of a forum for the discussion of social issues. Ashoka’s Changemakers initiative is a “community of action” that collaborates on solutions through discussion forums, issue groups, and competitions that reward innovative problem solving. Another site, Netsquared, connects nonprofits, grant-makers, and individual social entrepreneurs both on- and offline to foster social change. The organization sponsors in-person meetings for social innovators and engages its community in a grants program for social action projects. The finalists of its grant-making challenges are shaped by these discussions and chosen by community vote.

Putting it All Together: Guided Crowdsourcing

The very best examples of crowdsourced community—the models that illustrate the potential of the concept at its fullest—augment the tools of crowdsourcing with just enough top-down hierarchy to promote an environment of shared opportunity and responsibility. We call this model guided crowdsourcing. So far, this technique has not been explored in depth by foundations, arts-focused or otherwise, but it has been developed robustly elsewhere.

As mentioned above, Wikipedia is perhaps the oldest and most famous large-scale example of crowdsourcing on the web. While the site is most often identified with the crowdsourced labor used to generate its principal product, some 14 million encyclopedia entries in 272 languages, Wikipedia is also home to a fiercely dedicated user community that has self-organized into a meritocracy. Though the site is open to editing and revision by anyone, a small army of experienced volunteer “administrators” boast additional powers, such as the ability to make edits about living people. These users are chosen by “bureaucrats,” who themselves are selected by community consensus, and disputes among editors are resolved by a volunteer-run Arbitration Committee. These responsibilities not only keep the community’s most passionate members fully engaged; it also puts them to work to improve the community and its project.

Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign used guided crowdsourcing to establish a seamless continuum between motivated volunteers and professional staff. As part of routine campaign operations, professional field organizers would assign new volunteers, who had been recruited online, progressively more difficult tasks to test their fitness for roles carrying greater responsibility. As the campaign progressed, many early volunteers rose to full-time staff positions, providing a clear path of upward mobility for the most dedicated and effective community members. This fusing of top-down leadership with grassroots openness enabled the campaign to achieve its own capacity breakthrough by establishing a viable presence in districts, towns, and whole states that had been considered off-limits by previous Democratic contenders for executive office.

Taking its cue from these successful efforts to shape a broad-based grassroots effort with gentle guidance from the top, a foundation could invent an entirely new model of arts philanthropy—one that matches the explosion of artistic content with an explosion of critical acumen to evaluate it.

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III. Philanthropy’s Finest: The Pro-Am Program Officer Paradigm


We propose that a grantmaking institution supplement its work with guided crowdsourcing by creating an online grants management platform that will also serve as a social network, multimedia showcase, and marketplace for individual donors. By redirecting some portion of its grantmaking budget through this website, the foundation or agency can leverage the critical faculties of passionate and thoughtful arts lovers to address its capacity problem. A sophisticated set of algorithms will empower the website’s community to identify the most qualified and dedicated voices among its own ranks and elevate them to increased levels of influence on a continually renewing basis. In this way, those whose artistic judgments carry the most weight will have earned that status from their peers and colleagues.

How It Works

The process begins when an artist or artist-driven organization (nonprofit or otherwise) applies for a general operating support grant from the sponsoring foundation’s arts program—all forms of art are welcome. Rather than being sent to a program officer for review, the applicant’s materials—proposal narrative, samples of the artist’s work, a list of upcoming events or classes open to the public—will be posted online. This information will be incorporated into each applicant’s public profile on the site.

Members of the public will also be invited to create and maintain profiles. Once registered, they can view materials submitted by grant contenders and share reactions ranging from one-line comments to in-depth critiques. In order to jumpstart the conversation, ensure an initial critical mass of reviewers, and strike a constructive and intelligent tone, the foundation should reach out in advance to knowledgeable arts citizens (perhaps including some of the very gatekeepers mentioned above who might otherwise serve on grant panels) to encourage their participation on the site. The goal is to engage a broad range of art lovers in a robust conversation about the proposals under review—and about the arts more generally—thereby ensuring a better-considered distribution of grant money.


Of course, not all commentators will make equally valuable contributions to the discussion. Just like art, providing critical analysis and consistently thoughtful, informed, and credible feedback requires considerable skill and practice. In short, we want to be able to open up the process to anyone without having to open it to everyone. What qualities would we desire in those who influence resource allocation decisions in the arts? Certainly we would ask that our critics be knowledgeable in the field they review. We would also want them to be fair—not holding ideological grudges against artists or letting personal vendettas influence their judgment. We’d want them to be open-minded, not afraid to dive into unfamiliar or challenging territory when the time comes. And finally, we’d want them to be thoughtful: able and willing to appreciate nuance, and mindful of how what they are experiencing fits into a larger whole.

Technology now allows us to systematically identify and reward these qualities in a reviewer. On the website, a reviewer increases her “reputation score” by winning the respect of the community. Each user can rate individual comments and reviews based on the qualities outlined above; higher ratings increase a reviewer’s standing. To keep the conversation current and make room for new voices, the ratings of older reviews and comments will count for less over time. The reputation algorithm can also reward seeking out unreviewed proposals and commenting on a breadth of submissions. A strict honor code will require users to disclose any personal or professional connections to a project they review, with expulsion the penalty for violators. Reviews suspected of being at odds with this policy can be flagged for investigation by any site user, and the site’s administrators will take action where deemed appropriate.

Every quarter, the professional staff of the foundation will review the reputation scores of community members and choose a crop of users to elevate to Curator status. Selection will be based primarily on peer reviews, but the staff will have final say and responsibility over who is given this privilege. A clear set of guiding principles will be developed and shared to ensure that the choice is as fair and transparent as possible. Curators receive an allowance of “points” to distribute to various projects on the site, usually limited to the discipline or area of the Curator’s expertise. Curators are identified by (real) name to other users so as to foster a sense of accountability, and their profiles show how they have chosen to distribute their points. So long as a Curator maintains a minimum reputation score by contributing new high-quality reviews, he will continue to receive new points each quarter.

As a project accumulates points from Curators, it receives more prominent attention on the site. It might show up earlier in search results, appear in lists of recommendations presented to users who have written reviews of similar projects, or be highlighted on the home page. But since Curators maintain their reputation (and aspiring Curators gain their reputation) in part by reviewing proposals that have failed to attract comments from others, the attention never becomes too concentrated on a lucky few.

When it comes time to award the grants each quarter, the collective judgment of the Curators is used as the groundwork for the decision-making process. This approach ensures that organizations cannot win awards simply by bombarding their mailing lists with requests for votes, because the crowd exerts its influence indirectly through Curators selected on the basis of sustained, high-quality contributions. While it is still ultimately the responsibility of the foundation’s board of directors to choose recipients, we anticipate that adjustments will be made only in exceptional cases—that, essentially, the heavy lifting will have been done by the crowd.

Meanwhile, the very best contributors—the stars of the site—may be engaged by the foundation as paid Editors. Editors are part-time, contract employees who are sent out on assignment to see and review specific public events in their area associated with proposals on the site. Their reviews are highlighted prominently to give their expert work maximum exposure. This system allows the foundation to send trusted reviewers to distant events without having to pay exorbitant travel costs; meanwhile, the writer receives a financial incentive for exceptional ongoing service to the site and the arts community.

Of course, artists, administrators, and contributors won’t be the site’s only audience. Since work samples will represent an important part of many applications, the platform will also be a convenient way for the public to discover new artists and ensembles, guided by the judgments of a myriad of devotees. Each proposal uploaded will give passersby the opportunity to contribute their own money in addition to any comments they may have. As such, the site has the potential to become the first effective online donor marketplace for the arts. The sponsoring foundation could even give donors the option of tacking on a small “tip” to each donation to help defray the site’s (minimal) operating costs.

It is worth emphasizing that, despite the many roles website users will play in the grant process, they will not replace the foundation staff. One or more program officers will need to be in charge of the website and accountable to the board of directors for its successful operation. They will oversee the website to ensure that the ongoing discussion remains frank, thoughtful, and passionate—but not vicious or counterproductive. Such a desirable culture will not develop automatically; fostering it will mean setting and continually revising rules and procedures, reminding users of the funding priorities established by the foundation and engaging in dialogue about those priorities when appropriate, selecting Curators wisely on the basis of peer reviews, expelling users who violate the standards of the community, and developing a method to evaluate and report on the grants made through the site, both to the board and back to the users. Furthermore, we do not anticipate that this model would or should supplant a foundation’s or the field’s traditional grantmaking entirely. “Leadership”-level awards to major service organizations or institutions with a national profile do not face the same kinds of capacity challenges as grants to smaller producing and presenting entities or individual artists, and may require a greater level of expertise in evaluating factors such as financial health and long-term sustainability than a nonprofessional program officer may be able to provide. Thus, we see this approach as one element in a broader portfolio of strategies to optimally support the arts.


Few good ideas come to fruition without resources, and this one is no exception. The platform should be sponsored by a major foundation or institution with a substantial initial investment (we suggest at least $1 million) to signal seriousness of purpose and ensure a meaningful level of support to the artists and organizations involved. Although it would be possible to pilot the system in a limited geographical area or with only certain disciplines at first, the concept can only reach its true potential if a certain critical mass is achieved—enough to make it worth artists’ while to ensure representation on the site and worth reviewers’ while to contribute their time and curiosity to making it thrive.

We anticipate that this system will be highly sustainable. Once the infrastructure is in place, the website will be inexpensive to maintain, and may well prove cheaper than more traditional methods of distributing funds. The powerful incentives provided to both artists (access to a source of funding coupled with real-time feedback on their proposals) and reviewers (the opportunity to gain notoriety, influence, and even material compensation for doing something they love) should be sufficient to maintain interest on all sides.

Finally, the greatest beauty of the site is that there is ample opportunity to experiment with various approaches until just the right formula is found. If the original algorithm for calculating reputation scores turns out to be ineffective, it can be changed. If the rules against reviewing the work of friends turn out to be too draconian, they can be adjusted. If the foundation decides it wants to give Curators actual dollars to distribute instead of abstract points, that is an easy fix. Meanwhile, if the system proves successful, the sponsoring foundation could invite other funders to contribute their resources to the pool, making even deeper impact possible.

Program theory for guided crowdsourcing platform


Figure I: Program theory for a guided crowdsourcing platform for the arts.

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Summing Up

Our guided crowdsourcing model is designed to integrate many virtues of existing crowdsourcing concepts: giving small-scale projects access to new pools of capital; aggregating the expertise and labor of users; and creating a social space for strangers who share a common interest. When combined and applied to the arts, this triple crowdsourcing carries several special advantages:

  • First, it addresses the lack of evaluative capacity in the philanthropic market, enabling a more meritocratic distribution of grants and thus a more vibrant and socioeconomically diverse artistic community.
  • Second, because of the structural role of grantmaking institutions, the website indirectly addresses the lack of capacity in the commercial market: the path to commercial success will be made a little less arbitrary through the work of our volunteer curators.
  • Third, the robust community we hope to facilitate will double as a feedback mechanism for artists and artist-driven organizations, enhancing the production of art even before grants are awarded.
  • Fourth, the site will serve as an incubator for critical talent, identifying and empowering new commentators who can establish a reputation as informed adjudicators, while providing a new outlet for more experienced voices at a time when the job market for critics is rapidly shrinking.
  • Fifth, by rewarding contributions that can serve as examples of critical analysis at its best, the site will encourage a more thoughtful and articulate public conversation about the arts. In so doing, it facilitates the establishment of a new breed of Pro-Am curators to match the convergence of amateur and professional in artistic creation and performance.

We expect that, if successful, this model will result in a more equitable distribution of philanthropic funds that always takes into account the actual work product rather than reputation alone; be based on the opinions of acknowledged leaders in the community who continually earn their standing among their peers; and fairly consider the efforts of far more artists and artist-driven organizations than would ever be possible otherwise. If really successful, the model could actually increase the size of the philanthropic market by providing what amounts to the first functioning donor marketplace for artists and arts organizations.

While guided crowdsourcing cannot guarantee all aspiring artists a living, by empowering a new and unprecedentedly large group of thoughtful consumers of the arts to help decide whose dreams deserve to be transformed into reality, it can provide more equality of opportunity than could ever be possible under the current status quo—and guarantee the rest of us richer artistic offerings than ever before.

It’s time to appoint the next generation of arts program officers: us.

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i. Clapp, E. P., ed. 20UNDER40: Re-Inventing the Arts and Arts Education for the 21st Century. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2010: 81-97.

1. Anonymous. Personal communication. February 21, 2010. All of the individuals whose views appear in this article are critically acclaimed emerging artists under 40 years of age, and are quoted with permission.

2. Gaquin, D. Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, 2008: 1; See also National Endowment for the Arts. Artists in a Year of Recession. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, 2009, and; Davis, J. A. & Smith, T. W. General Social Surveys: 1972-2008. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center, 2009.

3. Williams, K. & Keen, D. 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts, 2009: 43.

4. Leadbeater, C. & Miller, P. The Pro-Am Revolution. London: DEMOS, 2004: 21-22.

5. This calculation is based on a conservative estimate of 40 minutes in length per album.

6. Kusher, R. J. & Cohen, R. National Arts Index 2009. Washington, DC: Americans for the Arts, 2009: 62.

7. Ibid: 49.

8. Anonymous. Personal communication. February 20, 2010.

9. Anonymous. Personal communication. February 22, 2010.

10. Foundation Center. “Foundation Directory Online” (n.d.). As of April 2010, only 1.3% of arts funders in the database accept applications with no geographic restrictions.

11. Howe, J. “Join the Crowd.” The Independent (London), (September 2, 2008): 2.

  • A philanthropic institution acting as stewards of community sentiments: what a novel idea (<– that's serious, not sarcasm). So in theory, yes, crowdsourcing could be a good model for (as you point out, some) grantmaking. Here were the first 8 challenges that came to mind (in no particular order):

    1. Contributor diversity. Wikipedia fails at sourcing local content (, and fails at gender diversity among contributors ( Getting a representative sample of “the community” to contribute their critique of these projects is fraught. This is a case where the digital divide becomes a source of real concern. On a related note-Kiva has more diversity of ‘contributors’ (funders) because Kiva is one of the only ways an individual can direct funds at another individual on the other side of the world. Not the case with arts funding. So the question becomes: are the community members dedicated enough to the arts to contribute to this website *different* from community members who contribute funds directly to arts organizations? This is one of my bigger problems with Kickstarter: contributors tend to stay loyal to a single project, they don’t surf around the site looking for what they might want to fund. Which brings us to…

    2. Contributor motivation. You have the initial problem of simply getting “the community” interested in checking the website, and a secondary problem of keeping them interested once they arrive. I’m a pretty dedicated arts patron and arts professional, and I can’t imagine reviewing more than a handful of proposals at a time. Wikipedia editors tend to focus on a narrow scope of topics, and gain a sense of ownership over those topics. With a constantly rotating list of funding requests, it would be harder to maintain that same sense of ownership. Game mechanics can help solve some of this (, but it’s a battle of constant tweaking. No matter what, you’re going to have 100 lurkers for every 1 contributor, so you have to generate massive traffic to get any traction. The founders of Jumo haven’t figured out how to crack this nut yet, and Chris Hughes has a pretty brilliant track record.

    3. Eligibility of projects. Your instinct seems to be to go wide with the selection of projects to attract a large possible audience. I would suggest just the opposite. I think one of the huge benefits of kickstarter right now is how they limit the content on their site. You have to fit into an ‘artistic’ bucket, and even if you fit in a bucket doesn’t mean you get a project page. I think you would have to narrow the scope (& # of possible projects to fund) in the beginning. In other words, if you think you’re going to have 100 contributors in the first go-round, isn’t it better to have 15 proposals for them to review instead of 100? You need scale for *each proposal* in order to get scale for the entire site.

    4. Getting the algorithm right. Quora is struggling with this idea of surfacing the ‘best’ contributors and contributions right now ( It’s not quite so easy as “just create an algorithm.” They’re using a variety of methods like ‘rate the rater,’ ‘contributor bios change based on the topic they’re contributing to (so I can be listed as an expert in one area and a novice in a different area),’ trying to teach/model what ‘best responses’ looks like, etc ( But distinguishing the best contributors is as difficult as distinguishing the best proposals.

    5. Finding the right program officers/foundations. Your word choice suggests this would be a funding model for a *current* philanthropic institution to take on-I disagree. I think you would need either an entirely new institution, or at least for an incumbent to spin off a new company (as Ashoka did with Changemakers). I think the power of the purse strings in the current model would be too big a shift for current program officers. Their new job, as you describe, is one of community manager-facilitating discussions among the crowd, and technical expert-understanding and improving the underlying mechanics of crowdsourcing. Very different from the relationship building they do with institutions, project management & tracking, and critical field thinking they do now.

    6. Timing. I think timing is a critical issue here. Most competitions have timing deadlines purposefully built to inspire engagement *right now,* but your mention of general operating support doesn’t seem to lend itself to this type of quick cyclical funding. In other words, Kickstarter projects that succeed tend to have 30 days or less funding timelines. Changemakers contests have voting periods of 30 days. So does the model become “any arts company can apply for funding, but once your project is online, you only have 30 days to qualify”?

    7. Scaling communities. You propose that this new model might be cheaper to run than a traditional funding model. But the larger your community gets, the more community managers you need. And if you have a networked community, your community managers would need to scale exponentially with the growth of contributors. I don’t think this is the case with a traditional funding model: just because you have more grant panels, or more applications, doesn’t mean you have to drastically increase the number of program officers-because those program officers don’t interact directly with every proposer/decision-maker.

    8. Metrics for winning proposals. I didn’t spot anywhere in the model by what metrics proposals actually rise to the top of the stack. Is it traffic on the page? A rating of the proposals merits? What makes for a ‘good’ proposal? As we’ve seen, ‘art’ is notoriously difficult to judge against an objective standard. It seems that the funder would have to propose the criteria for what makes the ‘best’ proposals. The ability of a ‘pro-am’ critic to distinguish among the criteria is questionable (as you mentioned, depending on what that criteria is). Vocalo (, a crowdsourced, user generated radio station struggles with this: inspiring its community of contributors to care about the “right” projects-instead, they often get sidetracked into petty personal issues.

    I don’t have any answers to these questions/challenges, but I do think I could solve a challenge you presented “A strict honor code will require users to disclose any personal or professional connections to a project they review, with expulsion the penalty for violators.” Logging into this website with Facebook Connect (although that gets us back to the challenges inherent in #1) could help with this. Most of our professional/personal connections are in some way referenced on Facebook. By mandating the use of our ‘real’ identity as contributors, and you can actually crowdsource the honesty function: allow others to search for our potential sources of conflicts of interest.

    I found this article on why a crowdsourcing venture capital website failed particularly insightful: .

    In the end, I’m still not sure that crowdsourcing solves the underlying problems you mention at the beginning of your post: you have a large number of people who need access to a small number of people who themselves have access to a large pool of capital. I’m still not sure how this ‘lack of evaluative capacity’ is linked to younger/poorer artists not getting access to this pool of capital. In venture capital you have a similar problem: lots of requests, a few gatekeepers; and funding goes disproportionately to younger/unknown people–in that case because the VCs have greater opportunity for exploitation of the relationship the earlier they get access access to the person who needs money.

    Don’t get me wrong: crowdsourced philanthropy is a worthwhile possibility of exploring, but I don’t think it would necessarily address this issue of ‘fairness’ that you seem concerned by. But I could be wrong. My brain kind of hurts after thinking about all this.

    • My brain is killing me! I just read the post, and 2 minutes later came your reply. Now I have to take a nap.

    • Thanks for the lengthy and thoughtful comment, Devon. I have a number of reactions, but I’ll try and organize them a bit here.

      The point on which you and I disagree the most is about the scalability of the model (your #s 3 and 7). Before I go on, though, I want to clarify one of your assertions. You write, “In other words, if you think you’re going to have 100 contributors in the first go-round, isn’t it better to have 15 proposals for them to review instead of 100? ” You mean 15 proposals for each of them to review, right (i.e., 1500 total proposals)? ‘Cause if you’re talking about limiting it to 15 total proposals for 100 people, that seems like hella overkill to me.

      Anyway, I’m not too worried about the number of proposals to contributors growing all that much faster than a 15:1 ratio. (Note that this is not the same as the lurker to contributor ratio!) My issue with the suggestion to limit eligibility is that eliminating artificial restrictions on eligibility is one of the key means in which we envision the system promoting fairness. Now, in the startup phase, I could see this being available in a certain geographic area or for a certain discipline (and we mention this possibility in the article). But if you set an arbitrary cap on the number of proposals that will be accepted by the site, who’s going to decide who gets left in and who gets left out? In effect, you have to introduce another curatorial layer before the curators have a crack at the proposals, and that is problematic for all the reasons we outline in the first section of the article.

      That’s why this whole thing is designed for scalability, and why your point #7 confuses me. I don’t understand why community managers would need to grow exponentially with the growth of the site. What interactions do you envision them having on a day-to-day basis with the site users? We were thinking that they would choose who gets elevated to Curator status (on, say, a quarterly basis), occasionally remind all users of the Foundation’s grantmaking criteria, occasionally tweak the reputation algorithms, ban users when needed, w0rk with Editors on assignments, and that’s about it. If you think the status quo is more scalable than that, trust me, you haven’t spent much time running grant panels. :)


      The point on which we most agree is your first one about contributor diversity. I do think there is a significant danger that this site could attract more educated, white, affluent males than are represented in the general population. Part of that has to do with who arts patrons are, although in that regard disproportionate participation by men might actually help to equalize the gender gap rather than worsen it. I guess my main response is that these issues are far, far bigger than anything this website can hope to affect on its own. Conquering the digital divide is an effort that is already well underway and is best addressed by major government policy initiatives with private sector cooperation, in my opinion. To stop the kind of trend we see at Wikipedia will require a wholesale, nationwide reassessment of how we teach young girls to “own” and occupy public space and authority so that they feel the same entitlement to do so as men; Wikipedia is just the online version of boys speaking up more often and for longer in class (and their teachers letting them). In the meantime, there are any number of stopgap measures that community managers could take to source more diverse contributors – and the prospect of a more scalable model offers too many benefits to ignore.


      A few responses to your other points (and I believe Daniel will be chiming in as well):

      #2 and #4: I think we recognize that significant tinkering with the reputation algorithm will be necessary, and this is not scary to us (in fact, it’s kind of exciting!). Also, having a high lurker-to-contributor ratio is totally fine as long as the contributors are high-quality — we’d much rather have small battalion of really smart and dedicated people than an entire army of spammers and morons. The gaming mechanics slide presentation you linked to is awesome, by the way.

      #6 (timing): I was thinking that proposals would be evaluated on a quarterly basis (at least that seemed a good interval for elevating Curators), but I’m somewhat open-minded. We could even set it up so that projects set their own timeline within certain parameters, as they do on Kickstarter. I’m not sure why you think it’s so critical, though… doesn’t this fall into the category of things that can be tinkered with if necessary?

      #5: I guess we’ll find out whether a foundation can take this on. Some certainly would be better equipped to than others. But having met a bunch of program officers, in general I have more faith than you in their attitudes (especially the younger ones). And I do strongly believe that a substantial initial (and ongoing) investment of the kind that only an institutional funder can really provide is needed to provide credibility and momentum.

      #8. Obviously, it’s impossible to say what the metrics should be without knowing in advance who the foundation partner would be. The criteria certainly would not be page traffic or any other “popularity” statistic – the purpose of this is to systematize finding hidden gems, not to validate things that already have all the attention they need. The best answer I can give is that the foundation would need to have and regularly communicate clear criteria for the proposals that it’s looking for, and hopefully listen periodically to feedback from the community on the appropriateness of those criteria.

      Re: Facebook Connect – very cool idea. Agree that it exacerbates #1 though.

      Re: the cautionary tale of the VC crowdsourcing initiative – what’s interesting about that article is that the founder notes that it wasn’t choosing the ideas where the crowd failed – it was executing the ideas. In our platform, the proposers and executors of the ideas are one and the same, so this suggests we need to design it so that the quality of the team is one of the criteria for judgment along with the criteria for the idea.

      Re: the comparison with VCs and not addressing fairness – I would say that the reason you see that difference in the venture capital world is because the incentives are very different. As you note, investors want access to people they can exploit for their own gain. Arts gatekeepers, by contrast, have lots of incentive to focus attention on already well-known names. It puts butts in seats, it gets people reading magazines or blogs, it reduces the amount of work you have to do to curate. If a gatekeeper were to “discover” an unknown artist who then makes it big, their discovery might yield them some brownie points, but certainly not enormous personal profits. That’s a pretty big difference between the VC world and the arts.

  • Daniel Reid

    Thanks for you deeply thought-provoking comments, Devon. Ian, I largely agree with your responses – I, too, think that the opportunity to play around with variables like the reputation algorithm to foster a diverse and vibrant community of critics is very exciting, no matter how challenging. But I thought I’d chime in on the issues of metrics and fairness.

    One of the things I like best about the crowdsourcing site we propose is that it is pluralist – it largely defers to participants’ own criteria for artistic merit. I’m inclined to believe that, ultimately, aesthetic preferences are subjective. If you accept this, even in a relatively weak form, then the site’s lack of detailed metrics for evaluating proposals may be a virtue. Indeed, what makes for good art is at the core of the conversation we hope the site will foster – and it seems to me a good thing that this conversation will extend beyond the traditional gatekeepers of philanthropic funds.

    Of course, there need to be rules. We wouldn’t want Curators to endorse proposals on the basis of personal connections (and we’ve talked at a high level about policies to help prevent this). But I very much like the idea that what makes for winning proposals is the support of multiple Curators who have themselves been selected based on users’ (various) ideas of what makes insightful criticism.

    I don’t mean to be naive about how difficult it will be to avoid the petty personal politics you refer to, Devon – I know it’s not as simple as asking people to judge only on “artistic merit.” But this is a fundamental challenge for any grantmaking institution, it seems to me. A lot will depend on fostering the right kind of community and contributions from the beginning. The world of blogs may be a useful parallel here – there are those whose comments sections host lively and intelligent debate on topics relevant to the main posts, and there are those that seem to foster primarily snark and ad hominem attacks. We’ve given some thought to how to end up at the former (and Ian has some experience in this area), but it is a question very much worthy of debate. Thank you for the links on this topic!

    Finally, I want to address your point about fairness and how we envision the crowdsourcing site helping expand access to grant money and, thus, artisitic success. To reframe the argument of the article slightly, I see corwdsourcing as expanding access or fairness by effectively expanding the evaluative capacity of the grantmaking world. If more people who have the power to direct grants to organizations or individuals – or to call the attention of those who do to worthy projects – more artists will get a hearing at the first level of gatekeeping that is philanthropy. Our system won’t be free of the bias in the current system toward artists that can afford, say, expensive recording equipment, but to the extent that there is more evaluative time in the system, it is more likely that someone with pull will be able to listen beyond record quality to hear promise.

    But I wonder how persuasive you find that argument…

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  • Hey guys,

    Thanks for your thoughtful responses. I wanted to repeat again–I think this guided crowdsource model is intriguing, and in the right circumstances might just work; regardless certainly worthy to explore. My intent is listing some of the challenges I think you’ll face was to indeed inspire tweaks to the model, not try to shoot down the idea.

    On Scalability , Ian threw out a number of 1,500 proposals over the course of a quarter, and I’m going to run with it a bit. Let’s say you want 4 people to make comments on each proposal, so that’s 6,000 actions required. But wait, those actions won’t be perfectly distributed across every proposal, so maybe it’s more like 12,000 actions total so that you get *at least* 4 comments per proposal. Let’s assume on average, contributors are willing to comment on 5 different proposals every quarter. So, you would need 2,400 contributors. If there are 100 lurkers for every contributor, you need unique visitors to the site sitting at about 240,000+ each quarter. That’s about 4 times the number of uniques for or, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 times the uniques for or So what I’m saying is, you might think about what you could do inspire that amount of traffic (and how to cope with having less traffic than you need in the early days/months/years of the site), or how to equitably restrict the number of proposals at any given time. Unless of course you’re not worried about every project getting reviewed/commented on–but that seems to go against your ‘evaluative capacity’ idea. In other words, if a Kickstarter project doesn’t get a single donation, it’s no skin off KS’s back. But it seems like your model is trying to prioritize multiple people reviewing every proposal.

    You might think about rewarding (in game mechanics terms, not monetarily) contributors who are the first or last (assuming there’s some minimum # of reviews you want a proposal to have) to comment on a proposal…I worry about you having a good ‘discovery mechanism’ for older/obscure proposals. Because what happens when the quarter deadline is up, and half of your proposals haven’t been commented on by anyone?

    On Contributor Diversity , you seem to brush this off a little quickly as something you couldn’t address. Grant panels (I assume more generally, and at least from what little I’ve seen) seek out panel members with some nod towards diversity (experience, background, etc). If you simply throw open the gates and let come what (who) may, I think you’re right you’ll end up with mostly a narrow range of contributors. The solution there might be to then *seek out* diverse contributors. For example, reward (again, not monetarily) contributors who bring friends who are different from themselves to the platform (I could see a model where I have a fill out a profile in order to contribute–I fall into the female/20s/theatre-person/new york city/masters degree, etc buckets. I promote the site to my friends, if someone joins because of me who is male, or not in their 20s, or not in the theatre world, or not in new york city, etc buckets, then I get points or whatever.).

    On the issue of Timing : I think you have two forces working against each other here. I’m guessing (though I admit I can’t find data on it), that on average, wikipedia articles that have been around longer are on average more accurate than those that have been posted more recently (most likely: there’s an upward slope that plateaus). Cumulative *quality information* takes time. On the other hand, you have Threadless limiting design review to 7 days, Changemakers to 30 days, etc. This constant turnover means bad projects/ideas disappear relatively quickly, there’s a reason for me as a contributor to return to your site often, and it effectively limits the number of proposals for anyone to comment on to those that have been submitted in the past 7 days/30 days, etc. I was under the impression reading your initial post that you were interested in funding general operating support more so than individual projects. The decision to fund gen opps typically comes with the (funder’s) desire for *quality information* about the org, which I think would take more time to acquire. All I mean to say is this model seems best geared toward project-based (short-term) support.

    “If more people who have the power to direct grants to organizations or individuals – or to call the attention of those who do to worthy projects – more artists will get a hearing at the first level of gatekeeping that is philanthropy. “ The assumptions I hear in that argument that I’m not convinced of (yet?) are that a critical mass of people exist who *want to influence institutional philanthropy* but don’t know how, or have tried and failed, and that this critical mass of people will be *so different* from your current average grant panel that they will select different kinds of artists to be funded.

    • Interesting comments on contributor diversity and timing, and I mostly agree. In the interests of brevity I’ll hold off on further discussion except to say that, at the scale of projects and organizations we’re mostly talking about, I’m not sure the distinction between general operating support and project support is all that meaningful from the funder’s perspective. So I think the shorter timeline is appropriate so long as it’s not so short as to make meaningful dialogue and evaluation impractical.

      I do want to jump in one more time on scalability, though, because it is pretty important to the integrity of our idea that this system be more efficient than what funders do now. I think we have somewhat different expectations for how many people will engage on proposals. Frankly, I’d be pretty happy if we had one comment for each proposal, not four, which reduces the requirements in your scenario by 75%. With 1500 projects up for evaluation each quarter and serious money at stake, getting the equivalent of the visitors to doesn’t seem like an insurmountable goal to me. Not easy, of course, but within the bounds of reason. Even though one-comment-per-proposal is not perfect from the standpoint of the goals we’re trying to achieve, I’d argue it’s a lot better than the status quo, in which you see power-law relationships all over the place (i.e., a small minority of projects getting tons of attention and the vast majority receiving very little). If we can both bring more (qualified) people into the evaluation process and work to redistribute their attentions more equitably, that’s a net win for fairness in my opinion. (Another thing to keep in mind is that there will definitely be a power-law relationship in contributor dedication as well. If 30 really good and highly motivated people review an average of 30 proposals each and are diligent about avoiding duplication, the other 570 contributors only have to review about one apiece to meet the target.)

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  • Interesting and timely, and good to have things laid out in such detail.

    I agree with Devon, I think this is an idea worth pursuing, but it needs some honing.

    Some brief off-the-cuff comments:

    1. Knight News Challenge has introduced a rudimentary form of what you are proposing, in which visitors to the site can rate proposals before the submission deadline (applicants are given the choice of opening their proposals to the rating process or not). It appears that these ratings would not necessarily factor in to the eventual assessment of the proposals by the conventional panel of experts – but they might be just hedging their bets at this early stage, which seems prudent enough:

    2. Ian seems to hold a perception of Arts gatekeepers as a monolithic group:

    In my experience, there are many non-profit arts “gatekeepers” (Note: I’ve never come across that term before in such a context, so am guessing what you mean by that – hence the quotation marks) whose main reasons and motivation for doing what they do are not at all what you describe. A key difference – perhaps THE key difference – between a VC and an arts administrator is the responsibility for and dedication to advancing the mission of the organization. It’s easy to find “gatekeepers” who are very keen indeed on featuring emerging artists, and understand full well the importance this has for advancing the mission of their arts organization – no matter how much work it involves. But they are prevented from doing so by budgetary restrictions which have just been getting worse in recent years, not just in the US but internationally (it used to be that vast swathes of Europe were by and large immune, but no longer). So the motivations that you cite are, for them, imposed from outside. And the dedication to the artistic mission that DOES provide the core motivation for these people goes way beyond getting brownie points.

    I say this because for your idea to work – and again, I think it’s a very good and very timely one, if problematic – I think it’s important that it be tightly targeted on a specific area or areas of the broader arts ecology if it is going to fly. The intervention you are proposing would work best if it was calibrated with everything else that’s going on, if it could both fertilize untended areas of arts activity and at the same time feed off more abundant areas of the arts ecology.

    Crucially, I think a good number of the people who I think you are calling “gatekeepers” could actually be good allies in making that work. And the way to achieve that is to find out who they are and how you can help them overcome the obstacles that are preventing them from providing more resources for the support and commissioning of new work by emerging artists, as they so fervently want to do.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful perspective, Kit. I think we are actually in complete agreement about the promise of current gatekeepers serving as allies for a system like this. One of the biggest potential advantages it offers over the status quo is simply that it provides a central hub for opinion. If critics, booking agents, literary readers, and the like were to simply write up short reactions to artistic projects that they were reviewing anyway as part of their jobs, we would have in short order a pretty substantial repository of public reviews of that work. The fact that so many curative and evaluative acts currently happen independently of each other is a huge loss and waste for the sector.

  • A la this article:—time-for-techstars.php

    What if every time I (public user) logged into the website, I was presented with 2 random proposals (within the same funding category, as need be) to compare/contrast, and ultimately recommend? These ‘hot or not’ style matching algorithms are much simpler to write (and turn out to be fairly addictive, at least with pictures involved), it would in large part negate the possibility of personal affiliations swaying opinions (since the selections are randomly given to me instead of me seeking out my favorites), and it solves a piece of the metrics problem since it’s a little easier to compare 1 thing to a 2nd thing instead of 1 thing to all other things.

  • The idea of “guided crowdsourcing” has some parallels to Nina Simon’s idea of “facilitating” engagement as a way of increasing the likelihood and the value of engagement with curated works of art. At her Nodem talk she compares inviting museum visitors to draw on blank pieces of paper vs. giving them prints of exhibited pieces and tracing paper to help them get started ( At PlaceMatters our work is focused on community decision-making, and we are driven by the view that engaging and empowering community members is essential to good, durable decisions, but we are pretty skeptical that radical crowdsourcing is likely to produce good community decisions. “Guiding” or “facilitating” the participation and engagement make all the difference: making sure participants have the information they need to understand the options and offer thoughtful, informed input. This seems like the same core challenge here (in addition to those that Devon and others brought up): engaging and empowering your participants while guiding their participation closely enough that you really do get high-quality evaluations. It’s an intriguing idea . . . best of luck!

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  • Shaurya Saluja

    Very interesting indeed! and extremely innovative.
    How about harnessing crowdfunding for International Undergraduate education at the World’s top colleges!

    Does an admission into one of the world’s best colleges guarantee that a person will be able to study there? No. Admission into Oxford University means nothing to an international student if he can not get funded to attend it. For a local resident getting admitted almost means he / she will get funded and will attend the college he / she has worked hard to get into. But not so for an international prospective student. Is this a level playing field?
    Take the case of US. Getting to study at Georgia Tech is a dream for a Nano tech enthusiast who probably wants to use the research in nano tech to come back and startup a Solar Tech and solve a pressing problem for a developing country which needs to feed it’s hunger for economic growth through a stable and renewable energy resource. Well, even if he / she secures an admission it will remain a dream since the costs of an out of state student (at UG level) is 80K more than a in-state resident. Also if he / she happens to be an international student there is no “Federal Aid” or any other “International Aid” worth talking of to get him to attend the dream college DESPITE having secured an extremely selective admission from among a much larger pool of “international” applicants. Crowdfunding can help level the playing field.

    Are you aware if this is happening? There are highly capable people out there whose lives could get transformed in unimaginable ways in turn empowering these youth leaders to be real change agents!

    • Really interesting idea. I’m not familiar with any crowdfunding (or, perhaps a better term for our idea, crowd-curating) models for choosing recipients of higher education scholarships. My experience certainly has been that international students at top colleges tend to come from very affluent backgrounds, due to the lack of support available for their study while in the States. That doesn’t sound like a level playing field to me.

  • Great idea worked out in amazing detail. I had been wondering how government funders could use crowdfunding themselves while avoiding conflicts of interest and bogus voting – but I lazily put it in the too hard basket. I think you have come up with the solution.

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