5 incredible crowdsourcing examples

George Denison
|July 4, 2024

Imagine solving communication delays for astronauts in deep space or overturning decades-old scientific theories—all by tapping into the skills and insights of everyday people. Crowdsourcing has revolutionized how we tackle complex problems, drawing on the collective skills and expertise of diverse groups.

In this blog, we explore five crowdsourcing examples that show what’s possible with the power of the many.

What is crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is getting a large group of people to work on a task or project. You're not just relying on a few experts here. It involves tapping into the power of a diverse pool of people to harness their skills, input, and ideas.

You can use crowdsourcing for almost any research project. Some examples include:

  • Gathering opinions on social issues.
  • Solving complex scientific problems.
  • Developing and refining new products.

Crowdsourcing isn't just about gathering information – it's about collaboration. When people with varied backgrounds and experiences come together to tackle challenges, you can find solutions that otherwise wouldn't have been possible.

5 incredible examples of crowdsourcing

From developing technology for space travel to improving AI systems, here are some of our favorite examples of crowdsourcing.


1. Helping astronauts talk to Earth

Braided Communications, a Scottish space startup, wants to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem. How can astronauts in deep space have natural conversations with people on Earth?

Space agencies planning crewed missions to Mars face a communication challenge. If an astronaut on Mars wants to talk to someone on Earth, delays range from four to 22 minutes. This creates operational difficulties - and can affect the health and performance of the crew.

So, Braided created a new tool for astronauts to talk to Earth called Space Braiding. And they used the power of the crowd to develop and test it.

This was a complex longitudinal study that needed a large sample size. They recruited 267 participants from Prolific, who took part in two weeks of time-delayed communication experiments using Braided’s groundbreaking tool.

Pairs that used the tool completed tasks 19% faster on average compared to current practices, with no extra effort or fatigue. This study shows how crowdsourcing can help solve complex problems - and push the boundaries of space technology.


2. Breaking the latent inhibition effect

Latent inhibition is an effect where we learn about a new stimulus faster than one we’re familiar with. For years, this has been key to understanding certain mental health conditions.

Professor Mark Haselgrove and his team at the University of Nottingham wanted to see if they could reverse this effect. What if people could learn familiar stimuli faster than new ones?

With the power of crowdsourcing, they turned latent inhibition on its head.

Using powerful Open Science Tools and participants recruited online, they ran reaction time tasks. Participants identified target stimuli among familiar and novel cues.

The online experiments were a success. By subtly changing the novelty of the experiment, they proved that they could reverse the latent inhibition effect.

Experiments of this scale wouldn’t be possible with a traditional in-person lab setup. Online crowdsourcing enabled Haselgrove and his team to get the sample size and diversity they needed.

They successfully challenged a theory that has been held for decades. This will help further our understanding of conditions such as schizophrenia.


3. Making AI more democratic

The Meaning Alignment Institute (MAI) is dedicated to ensuring that AI and human values align. In 2023, it received a grant from OpenAI to test a new, more democratic way of deciding which rules should guide AI systems.

To validate their method, MAI crowdsourced over 500 participants online via Prolific. They were asked to talk to an AI chatbot, offering guidance on handling tough topics like abortion and parenting. At the end of the task, they could see where their responses fit on a growing ‘moral graph.’

Despite their different backgrounds, the participants shared common values in their responses. MAI plans to scale its approach and create a more extensive moral graph to help refine AI models based on shared human values.

MAI was working toward a tight deadline for this experiment. Using personal networks to find participants wouldn’t have been fast enough. Thanks to crowdsourcing, they could quickly recruit 500 people and finish this project in three months.

AI is evolving rapidly. MAI’s experiment is a brilliant example of how the speed and scale of crowdsourcing can help ensure AI models stay aligned with humanity’s best interests.


4. Researching opinions about the climate crisis

Crowdsourcing can be a way to investigate people’s behaviors and beliefs on a wide scale.

This project, run by researchers at Columbia University and Northwestern University, is a perfect example. They wanted to discover what happens when false beliefs about climate change have a tangible cost.

They recruited 1,005 participants online and asked them to bet up to $1 daily on climate-related events. Scientific information was provided to help them make informed decisions as they predicted events like the hottest or wettest month.

This involved running a study every day for 60 days. Researchers needed to communicate with participants quickly, both individually and in large groups, throughout the research. Plus, a significant amount of the participants needed to stick with the research to the end. No easy feat.

But the power of crowdsourcing platforms made it possible. Using Prolific, the researchers achieved a retention rate of 66%, a low drop-off rate for such as long and involved study.


5. Developing a revolutionary app for brain health

In this crowdsourcing example, BrainEye used the power of the crowd to develop a pioneering app that safeguards brain health.

The smartphone app uses eye-tracking technology to capture eye movements in real-time. These are then analyzed and converted into data that can be used to help with healthcare decision-making.

BrainEye needed participants to test and validate their product, quickly. Traditional in-person research would be costly and hard to scale. So, they turned to online crowdsourcing.

By recruiting participants via Prolific and integrating their app with the platform, they gathered the data they needed within an hour, with no quality compromises. They validated their product swiftly and gather healthy population data. Insights from Prolific also helped identify device-specific issues, like slower response times, which were promptly addressed.

The proven power of crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a powerful tool in research, driving innovation and breakthroughs across diverse fields. It enables collaboration, bringing together innovative ideas and in-depth expertise. This collective intelligence helps researchers solve complex challenges faster.

You’ve seen just a handful of stories that show the impact it can have, from testing space technology to making AI more democratic and breaking scientific phenomenon. Check out our case studies page to discover even more inspiring examples of crowdsourcing.