Five-to-nine volunteering

I found myself on a commuter train on the way to 2gether08 on Thursday morning.

Literally hundreds of, most probably very bright, people around me were heads down, buried away in Sudoku puzzles or reading the Metro – occaisionally checking their phones or Blackberry's.

What if we could find some way of harnessing that cognitive surplus – and providing volunteering/pro-social crowd-sourcing opportunities that commuters could dip into at five-minutes-to-nine, just before they got stuck into their nine-till-five?

Just a thought…

Photo credit: Rule of thirds by pfig

12 thoughts on “Five-to-nine volunteering”

  1. I love this idea- crowdsourcing commuters…. how could it work…? Reminds me of the SETI grid or Oxford cancer screensaver idea in some way…

    I’ve often thought in the morning on the dreary train journey into Waterloo that it would sometimes be nice to have a social carriage – where people who fancy a bit of a chat could meet up and talk in the 40 mins or whatever it takes to go down. There could be rules of conduct to avoid weirdos taking over… 🙂 and of course, another benefit other than general social good would be a constituent audience for volunteering of some description… people could set up their own discussion spaces in the carriage for different activities local to the train stations passed through…

    I think there’s potential in there to do something exciting and worthwhile… fancy writing to South West trains with me …?

    However, I’m not sure that model would work so well on the tube!

  2. Great idea – you’re essentially talking about a human version of the old SETI screen saver that allowed astronomers to make use of the desktop downtime.

    I’m a big believer that volunteerism can achieve pretty much anything as long as the balance between trust & responsibility is right. The Ben Rigby (MobileVoter) project is interesting (the new book is even more so) but I’m not sure they quite have this balance right from what I’ve read online. The examples given often refer to professionals or specialists logging on via the mobile and essentially sharing their knowledge (knowledge volunteers?) as it applies to the need of a volunteer-engaging org. But I have trouble seeing how an organisation can ask for professional advice to be delivered so casually. What happens if they take the advice of a volunteer lawyer on a contract and it comes back to bite them? You can demonstrate due diligence by evidencing a track record or relationship between the host and volunteer. I’m betting that 5-15 minutes on a mobile won’t do that.

    However, the crowdsourcing angle helps. What if you ask 10, 15 or 50 lawyers for their advice – given over the mobile during a spare moment – and then take their aggregate advice into consideration then maybe this might be a trustworthy process?

    One you could even have fun thinking about a grassroots organisation that sought to have crowdsourced (ie democratic?) input on their major decision it took: what campaigns to pursue in the next year? should we accept money from this source? should we hire this or that role first? Decision could be presented in easy access mobile format. hmmmm?

    How about offering an online space for aggregated campaign petitions & letters? campaigning organisations could supply a succinct overview of what/why they’re trying to achieve and allow people to find, read and, if they agree, click send/yes/no/whatever.

    …just a thought.

  3. hi.
    Typing this on the tram into sheffield as part of my 35 min commute!
    Yes i am also interested-there is only so much metro you can read!
    What about peer reviewing podcasts or web content?
    Tweaking websites ?
    Will give it thought

  4. Thanks all for the comments – makes me think I should find a way of developing this more perhaps…

    The challenge is definitely in finding the right tasks. Tasks that can be done in 5 minute bursts – but that area meaningful enough to engage intelligent commuters, whilst being useful to non-profit organisations.

    I had thought some sort of platform could be built on top of/along the lines of amazon mechanical turk, but I’m not sure what the mechanical turk type tasks would be… (looks like we’ve got a resource here in commuter cognitive surplus… but not sure what the demand for it might be?).

    I was thinking on the London City trains that there might be some way of building virtual stock market style set ups which encourage those with financial know how to make micro-investment decisions which aggregate up in some way to something meaningful (I’ve heard also of information markets and prediction markets which might be useful here? But I don’t know all that much about them…)

    Anyone know people in volunteering organisations who might be interested in exploring all of this a bit more?

  5. Great idea Tim. A comedian on TV – it might have been Michael McIntyre – suggested that with so many people on the tube reading Metro, wouldn’t it be better for one person read it out loud so that the others can get on with something else?

  6. I think the ultimate value in this would be more of an extension of an overall volunteer recruitment & management platform with an overall aim of offering various types of volunteering (traditional 3 hr/wk, occasional 6 days/yr, sporadic ad hoc sessions or even flash mob volunteering opps!). The whole volunteering scene is already disjointed and building a standalone app that did just what we’re talking about here would seem very clever at first but might soon become just another splinter of activity.

    As for ‘people in volunteering’ can I be a start? Have just spent last two years managing a volunteer centre.

    Returning to just the idea of micro-volunteering it’s not hard to imagine this stretching to include other slightly longer levels of engagement – more than just 5-15 mins windows of opportunities. There is a movement in the US called One Brick and their primary role seems to be to maintain a volunteering opps calendar for various organisations. This allows volunteers to sign up casually as the orgs understand that they may only get 5 people for an event or they may get 20. Either way the org accepts the responsibility to be flexible.

    I’ll stop talking now – but I would be very happy to hear directly from anyone interested in putting such a system together – just follow the link above.

  7. This really helps situate the idea right – thanks Michael.

    I definitely see this as part of a ‘pathway to volunteering’ to help people engage in more opportunities.

    Perhaps it would be good to meet up for a coffee sometime and see who else is interested in exploring the idea a bit more?

  8. I found more and more often people talk about the common conscious and how to harvest the free-cognitive power of the internet community. The whole web 2.0 social networking effect clearly showed users are keen of creating content not only share one. the problem of providing a decent technological solution to the task is hindered by decades of no advancement of internet backbone infrastructure 🙁

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