Citizen Crowds Can Make a Big Impact on Elections

Guest post by Shelley Kuipers, Founder & CEO of Chaordix

A growing number of global brands have embraced crowdsourcing in many aspects of marketing and innovation practice. Businesses understand how the power of social groups and technologies can help them connect meaningfully with people and develop strong bonds of loyalty, yielding both insight and action. Increasingly, the public sector is following suit – the same processes and technologies can connect consumers with a brand and citizens with their governments.

Collectives such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP) are centered around the idea that governments can serve their citizens better. The initiative focuses on four main concepts: transparency, accountability, citizen involvement, and use of technology. A growing number of countries, now up to 46, have made commitments to this OGP collective in an attempt to create better lives for their citizens. But most governments have yet to leverage the full power of social technologies. Crowdsourcing critical processes such as urban planning, policy development, and budgeting can be made more accessible and transparent.

Even more, crowdsourcing offers new ways to practice democracy. In the world of one-way broadcast media, the loudest voices (and deepest pockets) still tend to get the most attention. Candidates that have been able to broadcast their messages with the most amplitude still tend to garner the greatest public attention, regardless of the accuracy or feasibility of their promises… the only thing that mattered was how many people could hear what they said. Social media and the influence of the crowd has made a big shift in this balance of power, particularly adopted by younger voters and hyper-engaged citizens.

In my hometown of Calgary, Canada, the citizen crowd made a big impact on our most recent civic election – and made waves around the world. Our 2010 civic election started off with the usual candidate types: one strong City Councilor candidate backed by the exiting Mayor; one or two strong independent candidates; and a number of relatively unknown independent candidates. The City Councilor candidate was thought to be sure to win up until only a short time before the election, when something amazing happened. One of the mostly unknown candidates, Naheed Nenshi, garnered rapid public support by leveraging social media and a highly-engaged citizen crowd to amplify his traditional campaign tactics of town hall meetings, coffee chats in people’s homes, and handshaking at local events. He came from last place to win the election with a comfortable majority. Mayor Nenshi continues to engage directly with his electorate and it’s not uncommon for the average Calgarian to exchange Twitter messages with him.

Other examples of crowdsourcing uses to improve the function of the public sphere aren’t difficult to find:

  • Iceland is approaching the final stages of a crowdsourced constitution
  • A number of American cities have used online media to request input from their citizens
  • Researchers are exploring the impacts of crowdsourcing at a federal level

Crowdsourcing allows for meaningful communication and interaction between large, complex and diverse groups. The potential impact for businesses and governments is enormous and it’s just a matter of time before we start to see more of these ideas implemented in long-term public engagements.



  1. thanks Shelley, fascinating. Love the idea of a crowd-sourced constitution. This is the sort of stuff that people imagined the internet would be used for in the pioneering days by the likes of Tim Berners-Lee. Where is this trend leading do you think? How dramatically could it shape developing democracies for example?

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