top of page

Towards an inclusive disaster response?

Crowdsourcing and open data

There is an assumption that participatory technologies, such as crowdsourcing and open data, automatically 'empower' citizens in times of disaster and help responders target those most in need. This article explains why this is not necessarily the case.


A critical perspective on participatory tech

Over the last twenty years, participatory technologies (such as crowdsourcing platforms based on open data) have become increasingly popular in disaster  management. The aim of such initiatives is often to  'empower' citizens by giving them a role and a voice in disaster management - and to help responders get the local situational knowledge they require to effectively target those who are most in need. This article shows that this does not happen automatically and discusses why such initiatives can have the unintended effect of further marginalising citizens who were already in a vulnerable position. 

In the article 'Questioning Big Data', we analyse how crisis data sets are constructed by way of crowdsourcing through open data platforms. We look at the different local and global actors involved and show how information gets transformed as it moves between the different groups of contributors. We show how some local actors (especially marginalised groups) are increasingly excluded from the information flow as it transforms - and from the process of interpreting and using the crowdsourced crisis data. We also show how the process renders these local actors less visible to responders.

Please cite as follows:

Mulder, F., Ferguson, J., Groenewegen, P., Boersma, K., & Wolbers, J. (2016). Questioning Big Data: Crowdsourcing crisis data towards an inclusive humanitarian response. Big Data & Society, 3(2),

DOI: 10.1177/2053951716662054.

bottom of page