The United States Army has recently begun experiments using crowdsourcing online to gather information that can be useful in daily operations, both at home and abroad. The Army has established a new website, located at www.ArmyCoCreate.com that allows soldiers, leadership, engineers and designers to collaborate on issues and equipment that are important to soldiers and the missions that the Army is tasked to complete.
The Army's Rapid Equipping Force Division (REF) was established in 2002 to help create new and better equipment for soldiers to use in the wartime theater of operations. The Division researches issues that are discovered in the wartime environment, and looks for solutions to help solve the problems and give soldiers updated and upgraded equipment so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability. The Army's crowdsourcing website was established in August as a joint effort between the REF and Local Motors, a group of crowdsourcing experts. The collaboration is strictly for unclassified projects at this time, but eventually may expand to classified issues.
The idea behind the new site was to get the input of soldiers on what items and equipment they really need to perform their wartime missions. While military experts can provide some insight into these requirements, nothing can replace first-hand information from the soldiers who have boots on the ground every day. The Army then added a mixture of designers and engineers to take the soldiers ideas and bring them to fruition. There are also military leaders involved in the process, to make sure everything goes smoothly and budgetary and other restrictions are adhered to; for military equipment and operations, budget constraints are not the only aspect to be considered, but are a huge consideration with any project.
The website isn't a free-for-all forum or message board where everyone just posts whatever, whenever. As with all military operations, the site does have rules of engagement and protocols in place for participation. The Army's crowdsourcing site allows input from all involved parties that are authorized to participate, in order to identify problems facing soldiers downrange. The participants then identify potential solutions. Once these solutions are identified, participants will work together on the project to work out any issues before it is put into practice. Next up is the prototype; designers and engineers put together a working prototype to test it and see if it is a viable piece of equipment that can be put into Army inventory. These prototypes will be introduced in two separate conferences, one to be held in December 2013, and the other scheduled for January, 2014.
The Army's crowdsourcing website was originally intended as a temporary, short-term experiment to see what kind of results would come from the project. The Army planned to keep the site online for a few months and then re-evaluate. However, experts say the program has gone well so far, and there are no plans to end the project any time soon. The Army expects a tight turn-around on solutions, of 90 to 180 days, ideally, but no longer than six months. Once this timeframe has ended, the Army will re-evaluate the crowdsourcing venture to see if it is a viable long-term solution to help benefit soldiers and give them what they need to perform their jobs.
Army leaders have said the crowdsourcing project has been a great success so far, but the project is still in its infancy. Soldiers who are involved in the collaborations appreciate having input on the problems they face in the wartime theater and feel like leadership cares about their needs when deployed.