Crowdsourcing Success in Boston

Published Jan-25-16

Creative outdoor furniture and an aquatic musical instrument are among the winners of a crowdsourcing contest to brighten up Boston’s public spaces.

City of Boston, United States

The Story:

Crowdsourcing Success in Boston The city of Boston has embraced crowdsourcing and open innovation, having organized numerous contests and initiatives in recent years.

In February 2014, the mayor put out a call to residents to help redesign the city's public spaces. This was a crowdsourcing contest known as the Public Space Invitational. Participants had to submit their concepts in the $1,000 to $4,500 range, along with a proposed budget for construction and implementation.

From a pool of 70 submissions, nine winners were chosen in three categories: The Streetscape, Random Awesome Designs and City Hall.

“Exciting ideas came from every corner of Boston – from top design firms to a group of students from Codman Academy”, said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “This truly was an open invitation to make our civic spaces more engaging.”

Among the winning ideas were:

• A portable reading room - a library setting at street level, with books and comfortable seating.
• Chair City Mountain - creative outdoor furniture designed to encourage play and engagement.
• Lobby Sky - a photograph printed on vinyl and stretched across the vast ceiling of City Hall’s
proposed Wi-Fi lounge. The aim is to make the area brighter and more welcoming.
• Tidraphone - a tidal vibraphone situated by a granite pier on Boston’s Fort Point Channel invites
people to interact via a musical experience. Pipes of the Tidraphone extend into the water at
various lengths. The pitch and tone of each pipe are dependent to an extent on the degree to
which they are submerged by the tides.

All the winners received funds to implement their projects, which were deployed within a year of the announcement of winners.


Shortly after the close of the Public Space Invitational contest, Boston organized a 36-hour hackathon for ways to improve the digital infrastructure. The result was Permit Finder, a web and mobile application that allows citizens to track their permit applications online in real time. Prior to this residents struggled to find out how their permit was being finalized, according to a city official.

Other crowdsourced projects in the city have included a contest to re-imagine City Hall Plaza and an invitation to academics, entrepreneurs and innovators to come up with alternative ways to remove snow during the winter.

Benefits of Civic Crowdsourced Challenges

Civic crowdsourcing challenges keep citizens engaged and involved in how their local environments look and are governed. For the authorities, harnessing the knowledge of the general public is an effective way to get immediate access to potentially brilliant ideas and to be seen to break down "them" and "us" barriers.

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