Computers are great at performing repetitive tasks, but they aren't perfect. Ask a computer to transcribe a podcast, re-write a sentence, or describe an image, and you'll get mixed results. But the result of these tasks can be incredibly important, so they still need to be done.
For example, double-checking assigned case closing codes in your program's case management system. You can't write a script. You need a person to read the notes and confirm the code--a mind-numbing task when you have to do hundreds of cases at a time. But in the end it's worth it. No legal aid director wants to fail their case audit and have to put together and execute a corrective action plan.
Other businesses and nonprofit organizations have similar tedious tasks that need to get done. Several are opting to crowdsource, or divide among many people in order to conquer, the tasks. The Sunlight Foundation's Transparency Corps project, launched yesterday (June 30, 2009), is an excellent example of this concept. Supporters can volunteer for less than five minutes to help make the federal government a bit more transparent.
Intrigued by the idea of online volunteering, I checked Transparency Corps out tonight. Currently, the public can either upload a picture in support of the Read the Bill campaign, which wants Congress to post bills online for at least 72 hours before considering them, or parsing some earmark requests to grow the Sunlight Foundation's earmark database. I opted to read earmarks.
|Reading Earmarks as part of the Transparency Corps
It turned out to be an easy, entertaining task. I quickly read through several earmarks, double-checking what was pre-entered into each of the fields and making corrections, if necessary. Not having much experience with earmarks, it was interesting to see where tax revenue is going. Most requests were for road and building improvements. One earmark was $1 million for the University of Alabama Domestic Violence Law Clinic. Of the thirty earmarks that I read, the most interesting was a request for funding to make a jail ADA compliant and buy tasers. (I'm certain that it makes sense to the person who needs the money, but it struck me as an odd mix.)
So what do you think? Are there tasks that the legal aid community might consider crowdsourcing? Could the Transparency Corps be a model for our community to follow? - K