This report was developed by Social Entrepreneurship to Spur Health (SESH) and the Social Innovation in Health Initiative (SIHI). The development of this guide was supported by TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases. The report was also supported by the following grants: National Key Research and Development Program, National Institutes of Health, UNC-South China STD Research Training Center, UNC Center for AIDS Research.
The purpose of this guide is to provide practical advice on designing, implementing, and evaluating crowdsourcing activities for health. In some settings, a group of diverse individuals can solve problems that individuals alone are unable to solve. Crowdsourcing is the process of having a large group, including experts and non-experts, solve a problem and then share the solution with the public. Challenge contests are one tool for crowdsourcing. These contests issue open calls to solicit new ideas, images, or strategies from the public. Many contests have focused on improving health, but there is little guidance in this area.
Crowdsourcing for health challenges allows a group to solve a problem; solutions are then shared with the public. This type of crowdsourcing differs from others because it explicitly focuses on generating public benefit. By tapping into the vast wealth of public creativity, crowdsourcing shifts traditionally individual tasks to large groups through challenge contests, hackathons, and other methods. For the purposes of this guide, crowdfunding or other aspects related to crowdsourcing are not discussed.
This guide focuses on challenge contests for health and health research in which the public responds to an open call for suggestions. The organization of such contests involves six stages: organizing a steering committee, soliciting entries, promoting the contest, judging entries, recognizing excellent entries, and sharing entries. Challenge contests are increasingly used to improve public health. A small but growing body of literature demonstrates their effectiveness.4 For example, contests have been used to develop more locally-responsive sexual health messages and create participatory services for accelerating emergency responses. A systematic review of crowdsourcing contests identified two overarching categories:
- process-oriented contests focused on community mobilization and mass engagement in a health topic;
- outcome-oriented contests focused on creating high-quality outputs.
Challenge contests may help to generate more creative and people-centered health services. By including the public at multiple stages (for instance, on steering committees, judging panels, and as contributors), challenge contests provide an opportunity for increasing health equity and community engagement.
There are few resources describing the methodology of challenge contests for health and health research. Methods are important because this field is relatively new and there have been many divergent approaches to organizing contests. This practical guide should help organizers to design and evaluate crowdsourcing contests to improve health.