Can the Wisdom of Crowds Help Solve the Refugee Crisis in Europe?

(A longer version of this piece originally appeared on the Qmarkets blog)

The refugee crisis that keeps timagesormenting Europe, as serious as it is, has two additional troubling features. First, despite the fact that the humanitarian situation in the Middle East has been worsening for quite some time, the current crisis came seemingly out of the blue. Second, there is no doubt that it won’t be miraculously resolved anytime soon.

Now, governments across Europe have to deal with the cost and logistical nightmare of settling hundreds of thousands of migrants. All that amidst difficult economic situation in many European countries; all that while facing a sizeable opposition at home from citizens concerned about financial and demographic consequences of accepting so many people of different religious and cultural backgrounds.

And as if this wasn’t enough, European leaders must also begin a search for a long-term solution to the crisis. An intrinsic part of this solution should be creating a system capable of reliably predicting when and where the next humanitarian disaster will take place.

Can politicians and experts alone make this happen? Not likely, given the scope of the problem and the urgency of the required response. It’s therefore time for European governments to turn to another source of wisdom: the wisdom of crowds. A framework must be created to systematically use crowdsourcing to look for solutions to the refugee crises, the current and the future.

Two forms of crowdsourcing approaches seem particularly relevant in this context. The first is the so-called prediction markets, the stock-exchange-like platforms aimed at predicting the probability of events by assigning a market value to each prediction. Corporations are using such platforms to forecast success rates of future products and estimate sales volumes. Similar prediction market can be created to monitor the humanitarian situation around the globe (including the Middle East) assessing the probability of a refugee crisis in any country of concern at any given point of time. Software for running and managing prediction markets is already commercially available.

Another approach would be using the wisdom of crowds to come up with long-term solutions to the refugee crisis. European citizens should be invited to contribute their ideas on every aspect of dealing with the massive inflow migrants from non-European countries, including country quotas for refugee redistribution, final destinations for arriving migrants and on-the-ground logistics of settling and assimilating the newcomers. Again, idea management software exists to allow collecting useful ideas, building upon them and then presenting them for a vote to identify the ones with the highest public support.

Admittedly, using crowdsourcing to solve complex socioeconomic problems, in a rapid and effective way, is not easy: one has only to remember the largely unsuccessful BP’s oil spill crowdsourcing campaign to deal with the consequences of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster. Yet, examples of skillful application of crowdsourcing to solving the world’s most pressing problems, such as the Ebola outbreak, also exist. There is therefore every reason to believe that if applied properly, crowdsourcing will help solve the refugee crisis in Europe too.

Image credit: independent.co.uk

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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