What is microtasking?

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 13 September 2016

Microtasking helps process huge amounts of data, and by tapping a wider set of individuals, an organization gets to engage a broader community and introduce them to its mission. Photo by: Laura Billings / CC BY-NC

The term “microtasking” is often associated with crowdsourcing, which involves both the use of technology and a large number of people. But there’s a difference, according to Alix Dunn, executive director at The Engine Room, a U.S.-registered charity helping organizations navigate the use of data and technology.

Crowdsourcing is more about data collection — for example, when citizens take pictures of potholes across the city and send that to the government agency in charge of keeping roads safe for motorists and pedestrians. A number of nonprofit organizations use the concept in various ways. When it launched in 2007, for example, Ushahidi used crowdsourced information to keep track of and map election-related violence in Kenya.

Microtasking, meanwhile, is a much more tightly managed process, Dunn said. Unlike crowdsourcing, organizations conducting microtasking already have the data — large amounts of it — but will need the assistance of a large number of people to process it. Think of a librarian needing volunteers to digitally archive thousands of literary works from classics to historical memoirs, or a group of scientists needing help in sifting through thousands of images of breast cancer tumors to look at best treatment options for those suffering from the same disease.

Still confused? That’s understandable. The line between the two isn’t well defined. Patrick Meier — an expert and consultant on humanitarian technology and innovation, and the brain behind the iRevolutions blog — lireferred to microtasking as “smart crowdsourcing” in one of his blog posts. Simply put, he said it’s the “process of taking a large task and breaking it down into a series of smaller tasks.”

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.


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