Hours following the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, streams of text messages flew throughout the ravaged island nation with cries for help. Reports of trapped people, fires, polluted water sources, and requests for food, water, and medical supplies were transmitted in real time. Web sites were set up to help first responders react to the needs on the ground.
Two years earlier, during a post-election crisis in Kenya, a Web site, Ushahidi—meaning “testimony” in Swahili—was developed to map reports of violence. Since then the site has grown into a platform collecting and visualizing information and bringing awareness to crisis situations throughout the world, including Haiti.
These are examples of crowdsourcing, which uses the power of unconnected people with similar interests and empowers community voice toward a specific goal. In the case of Ushahidi, the Web site utilized human resources on the ground to inform authorities and the world of violence in Kenya. In Haiti, eyewitnesses strengthened relief efforts by acting as on-the-ground reporters for authorities and agencies deploying help to the earthquake’s victims.
Driving the process of crowdsourcing is social media. Twitter and Facebook, along with cell phones, are its tools. The messages are curated to deploy necessary resources and a move to action ensues.
Beginning this month, we (meaning each of you along with us) are embarking on a unique 12-month initiative called Project Crowdsourcing. The end result will be that our readers will determine the content of the December 2011 issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine.
We don’t presume that our crowdsourcing experiment has the depth of social impact that the projects in Haiti and Kenya have had. Our motivation is to build on the engineering esprit de corps. We are empowering our community of readers to tell us what’s important.
The only parameter to this project is that the ideas for articles be focused on at least one of ASME’s three strategic initiatives. That is, they should be related to energy, engineering workforce development, or global impact and outreach.
This is how Project Crowdsourcing works:
Phase I. From now through February we are conducting an online discussion to collect your ideas for articles and themes based on ASME’s three initiatives. These could be as general or as specific as you like. You can comment on the ideas that others have posted or add your own. At the end of February we will unveil a list of potential articles from the feedback you’ve given us.
Phase II. In March and April you will vote on these article ideas and determine which six you want us to publish.
Phase III. From May through November we will recruit authors for the articles and work with them to prepare the articles for publication.
Phase IV. In late November, the December 2011, crowdsourced issue of Mechanical Engineering magazine will be mailed to subscribers.
Beginning today, you can give us your comments via four methods:
 Here on MEMagazineBlog.org (leave your comments below)
 Visit the Mechanical Engineering magazine Facebook page at on.fb.me/MEMAGAZINE (please use caps)
 E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Post a comment on Twitter.com/johnfalcioni and use the hashtag #MEcrowdsource
Crowdsourcing reminds us that the ability to influence change rests within us. We look forward to your input and to what we hope will be an important dialogue.