Being at the forefront of a world-first development isn’t a common occurrence in business. So when the United Nations approaches with the idea of using crowdsourcing software to create a world-first official declaration, there is a sense of being on the brink of something special.

The project in question, Beyond 2015, is a unique global initiative designed to encourage young people to create solutions for social good and inform world leaders about their priorities for the ICT sector. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the UN’s specialised agency for responsible for information and communication technologies – was determined to make the process as inclusive as possible.

Crowdsourcing offered exactly that. It allowed young people from over 80 nations to share ideas and discuss vital issues on a massive scale. In the UN’s case, the three-month crowdsourcing project gathered 1,000 unique ideas and over 27,000 votes and comments with a staggering social media reach of over 16 million users worldwide.

Here are three reasons why turning crowdsourcing into policy works:

  • You have more ideas to pick from: There is a quantitative shift in the amount of insight you get back. By getting more ideas you’re raising the height of the Bell curve so there are more good ideas at the top.
  • The ideas that you pick will be more relevant to your users: Your ideas will be useful to the target audience because that is where they originated from.
  • Open methodology can present a more transparent and democratic system: People can see where the ideas and outcomes are coming from giving you greater user engagement and support for the policy you are creating.

The potential of crowdsourcing is phenomenal. Through social technology, organisations now have the ability to reach thousands, if not millions, of individuals worldwide and harness their insights and views in ways that have never before been possible, quickly and inexpensively.

But in order to create real value from the process there are three key lessons to consider:

  • This isn’t your statement, it’s their statement: The UN acknowledged that by initiating a crowdsourcing process, they needed to relinquish ownership of the overall statement. It now belonged to the people they were reaching out to, and exerting influence on anything could see the whole process fall apart.
  • Don’t poison the well: Reputation is everything and honesty and transparency is key. The UN had a two generation rule, which meant that every statement in final declaration document could be tracked back no more than two generations to a user generated idea or comment on the platform.
  • Be humble: Recognise that your job is to facilitate the communications by your users. You have your space to talk in another area, but when you are crowdsourcing ensure it’s all about the users and not the organisation behind it.

By following these steps above, something truly democratic and historic was produced. The final declaration was delivered to the 69th United Nations General Assembly by the President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla, and became the first ever crowdsourced document to granted official United Nations status by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

To put this into context, never before in the ITU’s 150 year history has a document they have created been formally recognised by the UN. A lesson in not relying on the ideas of a chosen few, but harnessing the combined democratic voice of thousands.