Working the Crowd: How USAID Leveraged Free Labor to Map a Loan Program’s Effectiveness

Joseph Marks | NextGov | June 29, 2012

The crowd can be a great source of free labor, as long as you’ve done most of the hard work in advance and you’ve given those volunteers a good reason to participate, officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Geocenter said Thursday. The Geocenter recently tapped 145 volunteers to help pull together a map of loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries backed by USAID’s Development Credit Authority.

The resulting map will give DCA and in-country lenders a better idea of where their loans are going and how effectively they’re meeting key priorities such as alleviating rural poverty, USAID communications specialist Stephanie Grosser said. Other organizations also could draw new conclusions from the maps, she said, for instance by laying maps of poverty rates, agriculture yields and small business startup rates on top of them.

USAID sought help from the volunteers for the mapping project because the original data -- collected from lenders across the world -- contained a mix of information in the location column that made mapping problematic. The agency needed to standardize that information to the equivalent of a state-level designation, Grosser said, but didn’t have the time to do it in-house or the money to hire a contractor...