The African continent is certainly in a good position to utilise knowledge and skills sourced through or funded by a “crowd”, as it can rely on a strong link between tradition and innovation.
Whether to provide help in times of economic hardships or to demonstrate common solidarity with the community, alternative or complementary financing models on the principle of the Tontine (1), for example, have a tradition that is well embedded in African culture, which allows a wide range of regional development projects and new businesses to be established. Flexibility and ingenuity act as highly valued partners to this.
These ‘free’ communal practices to generate knowledge and a social economy are being augmented today by the rapidly increasing availability of digital tools and social networks, in particular via mobile telephones.
It can therefore be said that the necessary conditions for crowdsourcing, namely using and promoting collective intelligence, are already firmly embedded in the various cultures of the African continent.
The expansion of these new practices is a side-effect of: the access to tools (with low cost playing a major role in this; cf. Aakash, the Chinese-Indian tablet) (2), the increasing implementation of infrastructure networks (c. the fibre-optic project, West Africa Cable System) (3) and above all the adoption and application of appropriate models and legislation on open data (e.g. producing user-generated content, cf. Ushabili, the project by the Kenyan and Moroccan governments to put information online in 2011) (4).
But what do we mean when we talk about crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing takes various forms in Africa:
– Crowdfunding, otherwise known as a request for donations or financing, usually splits across a group of private individuals, is carried out via a dedicated online platform to help fund a particular project or to help setting up a business venture. Numerous platforms of this type are currently being set up in Africa, in particular around the creative industries (music, film), but also in the context of innovative start-ups. For example, CrowVC (5) recently signed a partnership agreement with MLAB to promote crowdfunding among Kenyan businesspeople.
– Distributed work, whereby a team based around the globe brings its expertise and knowledge to the implementation of a project. Africa plays an increasingly active part in this sort of model, and it is common to see the cooperative platform Samasource cited as a reference.
– Distributed knowledge, whereby information is collected and then disseminated via the medium of connected people. Ushabili (6), born out of the political instability in Kenya in 2007, a provider of information about instances of injustice and social unrest, has become a reference point for this type of crowdsourcing in Africa and the geolocation of information has become a formidable tool for the public to exert pressure on the political sphere.
– Collaborative tools used by a user community to manage a project. Combining resources creates lasting savings and at the same time optimises software and content. This is the case, for example, within the networks of those in charge of telecentres such as those in the Maghreb countries or, indeed, in Burundi*.
A fundamental challenge:
What sort of regulatory model is needed for crowdsourcing applications?
It seems as though the traditional activities of the African nations have all the necessary ingredients to enable development of these new digital ecosystems, which have a tendency to colonise the economic space within the global village quickly, with a capital Q.
More than any other continent, Africa could be the ideal place to experiment with a new economy based on the creation of collective intelligence. There are so few Africans currently online that there is little content produced by Africans for Africans, according to Google (7), which has been investing heavily in Africa for a short while. There is a potential market here of 500 million mobile phone users and future users of the Internet – producers of information, services and content.
This initiative from the Silicon Valley giant clearly shows the strategic challenge posed by the value of information, content and services shared by Internet users themselves.
The question for the future of crowdsourcing on the continent, and indeed throughout the digital universe, is that of defining and applying an appropriate regulatory structure which is both polycentric and sustainable. How to choose between the strategies used by Google or those of projects being developed under Commons licences (8). It should be noted that the African Wikipedia (9) has not been taken to heart by the native communities, and that the Afripedia project, recently launched externally, the fruit of a partnership between Wikimédia France, the Institut Français and the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie, has little chance of success in its current offline form on a USB drive.
An asset for educational projects on the continent?
Although such initiatives involving online participation in projects have recently been multiplying on the continent of Africa, they are still limited to well-defined sectors and are not well enough represented in the fields of education and training and of pedagogic innovation.
This might be why, in October 2011, UNESCO launched the Education for All Crowdsourcing Challenge prize, which invited developers all over the world to suggest educational apps for mobile phones. The Education Time Bank project developed by Eric Kontona (10) from Kenya was one of the winners of this prize. Using short, personalised interactive sessions based on sharing knowledge in order to receive knowledge, it aims to encourage adolescents and adults to learn about highly specialised topics.
eLearning Africa 2013 offers a real possibility for Africans with a stake in crowdsourcing for pedagogical innovation to present their ideas, projects and strategies, and once more to confirm the continent’s dynamism in the context of ICT and educational development.