Posted by: paulacunniffe | 11/15/2010

Is the Katine project really crowdsourcing?

While reading Muthukumaraswamy’s article, I felt she took a positive, almost one-sided, view of crowdsourcing. Even when speaking of UK newspaper The Guardian’s Katine project it sounded as if it could do no wrong. ‘Katine was chosen because of the nobility of the cause’ (p57).

There were a few hazy parts to his analysis. Who writes the Katine blogs?  He says Guardian journalists, then talks about local journalists (but there was an illiteracy problem). No clear answer there. Also, what is the importance of the website to the whole project? And does Muthukumaraswamy sugar coat the project, and focus only on the positive aspects?

The problem in finding additional sources for this blog post is that most of the information is published by The Guardian. So when I looked for the improvements this project had brought to Katine, I found only articles from The Guardian.

So what good came out of the whole project? The Guardian focuses on improvements to the region in terms of health, water, education etc. What about the website? I couldn’t find any information on that but I was interested to find out what improvements were made over the three years there.

This article lists the different improvements the project has brought to the Katine sub-county, including boreholes for clean water, building new classrooms etc. It seems that the website was just a by-product of the project, a way to garner publicity.

Muthukumaraswamy’s article glosses over problems or conflict between local government in Africa and those involved in the humanitarian project.

This blog is written by someone who went to Katine to monitor progress of the project, both for The Guardian and on another occasion for Amref. It gives a more frank view of the project and its weaknesses, such as conflict between The Guardian and Amref. The author questions the impact of the website, queries The Guardian’s reasons for being involved in the project and discusses the transparency of the website.

Rick Davies is an independent auditor of the Katine project. He questions how the Katine website can be used productively. I agree with him, it would be a waste if the website was left to occupy space somewhere in cyberspace but not used again. He also says that the blogs were written by local and British journalists.

Subtitle: Wisdom of crowds in specialized reporting by recruiting generalists and experts.

British and local Ugandan journalists wrote the blogs on the Katine website.They can be considered as generalists and experts. Ugandan journalists understand the difficulties in the region and British journalists blogged after visiting the area.

I just wonder can that be defined as crowdsourcing? Should crowdsourcing not be regular people contributing to newsworkers’ work? Surely journalists are not part of the crowd. They are involved in the process of newsmaking already.

The Guardian‘s website brought attention to the area and surely helped the project’s progress. I’m just not sure I would consider it crowdsourcing.



  1. Ooooh, oooh….I have a challenging question: Can the definition of crowdsourcing be dependent on the target audience?

    For example, if Ugandan journalists wrote about the subject for Ugandan people, you’re absolutely right. They would be part of the Fourth Estate system and not be crowdsourcing.

    However, when the Brits enlist Ugandan average Joes to write for British readers, that brings in a new prespective that the British journalists could not have provided. That prespective might have even been unethical for them to provide if they were getting too close to the story.

    I think crowdsourcing is going to cause a whole new chapter in the media ethics textbooks as we make decisions about how much journalists should be responsive to the whims and wants of the readers.

  2. I discussed the Katine project and thought it was interesting as well. I wonder if, simply by choosing to cover the development of the village, they aren’t glamorizing it. I think they probably left out a huge part of what was really happening. I felt like because it was reviewed by the author because of “the nobility of the cause,” he only viewed the positive, crowdsourcing aspects of the project. I found myself (this is somewhat terrible) thinking, “Really? How many of their 18 million readers really chimed in to offer their suggestions and expert opinions?” It definitely raises questions about crowdsourcing as a whole.

  3. […] It’s week 11. Here are my comments from this week: The Katrine ProjectCrowd sourcing to the beat Andgry mob with pitchforks from → Uncategorized ← Changing […]

  4. In a roundabout way, I think this can qualify as crowdsourcing. From my recollection of the article, the Guardian readers were coming together on the site to collaborate on ideas and solutions to problems in Uganda. The journalists would then report on the progress of whatever ideas were implemented.

    So, in that regard, the journalists were reporting on the results of the crowdsourcing. This is similar to the Cape Coral example, where the News-Press gave citizens access to a bunch of official documents and a platform on which to discuss what they found, then had their journalists report on it.

    I don’t think crowdsourcing requires any actual journalism to come from the crowd itself. That seems to fall more into the citizen journalism territory.

  5. This is a really good evaluation. While I did not choose to write about this case I thought it was interesting. And I agree with you that Muthukumaraswamy takes a one-sided view on crowdsourcing. Finding the Rick Davies independent audit was a great thing to take a look at as well.

  6. I agree with a lot of your points here. Muthukumarasway’s article presents a rather idealistic, surface view of crowdsourcing at points that doesn’t perhaps dig deep enough, like in this case, to see how the different parts of the process are functioning and if they are really working in tandem and toward the goals professed. The Guardian seems to be shaping the results a lot more than I would think is representative of true, transparent crowdsourcing, and as you say, we’re not really privy to what the web sites actually resulted in and are much more focused on the Guardian’s end product. Whether or not crowdsourcing should include journalists is tricky too – they’re still a part of the population in some ways, but they certainly have different motivations and highlight maybe a more professional interest than a personal one, like citizen journalists trying to gain experience; I’m not entirely decided on whether or not that discludes them from the “crowd” as sources.


  8. I, too, thought about what constitutes crowdsourcing… depending on the target audience, that is. I think it’s an interesting point, but I’m not entirely sure it matters, at least not in terms of ethics. Because regardless of the wants and desires of the audience–and the sources, which will likely overlap–the ethical challenge for journalists remains the same; information from ANY source must always be vetted with utmost scrutiny, and considered in light of motivation. Providers of information, regardless of how innocuous that information might seem, always have some motivation in revealing it. So when stepping out of the Fourth Estate, how do you keep ethics in check? That, I think, is where the ethical dilemma that’s somewhat unique to crowdsourcing comes into play. But generally speaking, I think Muthukumaraswamy’s treatment of the “nobility” of the cause is a greater cause for concern.

  9. Hi Paula
    Thanks for picking up on my Evaluating Katine blog
    You and others here may be interested to know that I wrote a posting there on the crowdsourcing issue quite early on in the life of the project, here

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