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The Rhythms of Humanitarian Crowd-Solving

I am often asked about the ‘flow’ or ‘rhythm’ of humanitarian crowd-solving.  Prospects want to know about the process and get a feel for the ups and downs in resource requirements as an engagement proceeds.  This blog will answer these questions.

Figure 1.


Figure 1 shows my experience working with three global humanitarian organizations over the past few years as a Project Advisor.  This GANTT chart normalizes each engagement so that time zero is the execution date of the legal paperwork to begin the project at the humanitarian organization.  The chart simplifies the activities of each open-innovation challenge by consolidating them into the four major phases of a crowd-solving project (1. Challenge design; 2. Public solicitation of submissions; 3. Judging of submissions; and, 4. Public announcement of a winner).   The challenges are sorted by launch date for each humanitarian organization.


I want to highlight a number of things:


  1. The typical Project Advisor project engagement is two years.

  2. The amount of time required between contract execution and commencement of design work on the first challenge depends on whether an internal project team is already in place to solicit ‘good’ problems (click HERE to ready my blog about this) and whether the executive sponsors of the project already have some problems identified to submit to the crowd.  In the case of Habitat for Humanity (“HFH”), both of these were in place so they were able to begin design work almost immediately after contract execution.  In the case of the International Rescue Committee (“IRC”), they needed time to form a project team and the team needed time to solicit ‘good’ problems from their colleagues.

  3. A typical NGO project team for a humanitarian crowd-solving project is 1-2 part-time people.  A team of this size begins to run out of bandwidth if an organization tries to work on challenge design for more than 2 challenges at one time.   All 3 engagements limited themselves to a maximum of two concurrent design efforts.

  4. There is a high variance in the length of time that a specific phase requires for a particular challenge.  Across the 13 challenges where SeaFreight Labs has served as Project Advisor, the challenge design phase generally ranged from 60-150 days (excluding outliers).  The public solicitation phase ranged from 30-90 days.  Judging ranged from 60-320 days, with the longer judging periods consumed by one or more rounds of field testing.  Even the announcement phase had a large variance as it ranged from 35-150 days.


Humanitarian crowd-solving is a valuable innovation tool that is a good fit for a specific class of problems at humanitarian organizations.  Project leadership should carefully select their target problems so they are able to reap bounteous rewards from their efforts.     



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