As discussed in Section 2.3, ad hoc actors and semi-formal groups can develop creative solutions to new and longstanding problems. The right combination of transparent information, skilled volunteers, and communications technologies can support mass collaboration between previously unconnected individuals. This blend can produce creative solutions to problems insufficiently addressed by formal aid structures (such as the example of the Russian Fires Crisis Map). These efforts tend to focus on helping the affected population directly with microwork or megawork.

The public’s ability to take creative action without permission can occasionally lead, however, to projects and efforts developed with no meaningful output. Significant effort is occasionally invested in projects that do not have sufficient ties to the situation on the ground or do not meaningfully contribute to recovery efforts. This failure can be the result of the project team’s failure to properly investigate the space before building, or a lack of meaningful channels for public participation (or both).

A successful example of mass collaboration in action can be found in the case of the Russian wildfires of 2010. Gregory Asmolov started a mutual aid collaboration platform, Russian Fires Crisis Map, when it became clear that the state-influenced Russian news media were not able to cover the full degree of the forest fires ravaging large portions of the country. Citizens took on the role of repurposing the Ushahidi platform to curate and distribute information via participatory media.

Then, as it became clear that the official government response was inept, the same organized citizens developed the Rynda.org platform to not only hold officials accountable for their inaction, but also to organize citizens to take the action the formal institutions had failed to execute. (In doing so, Rynda.org bridges the spectrum between crisis response and civic activism).

Examples like Rynda.org remind us that not all ‘crowd’ labor is rote labor. Kate Starbird has written on how volunteers converge on social media following a crisis to improvise creative solutions the way a crowd converges to problem-solve in the aftermath of a crisis in physical space. “The crowd” can rapidly decide on and execute complicated issues, and not merely by providing a corpus of opinions for someone else to average, as described by the phrase “wisdom of the crowd.” The right combination of transparent crisis information, skilled volunteers with some level of self agency, and communications technology can result in mass collaboration between previously unconnected individuals. This blend can result in creative solutions to problems insufficiently addressed by formal aid structures. The public’s ability to take creative action without permission can occasionally lead, however, to projects and efforts developed with no meaningful output. Significant effort has occasionally been invested in projects that do not have ties to the situation on the ground or do not meaningfully contribute to recovery efforts. This failure can be the result of the project team’s failure to properly investigate the space before building, or a lack of meaningful channels for public participation (or both).