The Impact of Crowdmapping on Humanitarian Response: A Structurational Analysis

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Crowdsourcing has proliferated due to the fertile ground created by advancements in digital infrastructures and social computing, which have facilitated access to the intellectual property of the masses. Despite this ever increasing proliferation, crowdsourcing remains largely underexplored in the current IS research literature, which adopts either the organisational or the crowd-action perspective; both perspectives essentially fail to provide an in-depth account of the change brought about by the phenomenon. This study explores in-depth crowdsourcing impact; in particular, those of crowdmapping initiatives. It answers the research question of whether the practices of crowdmapping impact humanitarian response and, if so, how and why. It aims to unravel the process through which crowdmapping becomes recognised and legitimised in humanitarian response. To this end, it adopts a qualitative, interpretive and process-based approach. Data collection involved semi-structured interviews, online data collection, and a review of documents and online resources. Concepts from structuration theory are adopted through which to interpret the collected data.

The analysis details how crowdmapping has gained recognition and legitimation in humanitarian response, and how dominant organisations have come to use it. It highlights how the role of the crowd has become increasingly important in humanitarian response, and how organisations have moved from a position of doubting the crowd, to requesting its involvement. The study shows that the crowd are a knowledgeable and reflexive collective. It doubts the dominating views that organisations can exercise full control over the crowd; rather, it shows the mutual control between the crowd and organisations. The findings also highlight the mutual dependency between crowdmapping and humanitarian response. Moreover, the findings shed light on the importance and diverseness of the intermediaries involved in the process of change—namely, events, networks, institutions, and technologies. The findings also highlight the complex role played by technology in the process of change, and the intrinsic motivations behind crowdmapping participation.

This study contributes to the IS crowdsourcing literature by taking a process-based interpretive approach that theoretically engages with the phenomenon to understand its impact. It concludes with its contributions to theory and practice, its limitations, and suggestions for further research.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Award date1 Oct 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016

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