Crowdsourcing: Many new ideas come from working together

Application and benefits

Crowdsourcing services provide the basis for new ways of interaction, collaboration, knowledge creation, problem-solving, adding value and allocating tasks between various active players. The crowd thus contributes ideas, time, expertise or resources to a concept, project or issue. Successful crowdsourcing systems depend on the continuous participation of users and exist in various forms for various fields of application, whose respective remunerations and conditions also vary.

For companies in the ideas and concepts phase, for example, crowdsourcing can contribute towards a quicker, more effective and cheaper way of finding solutions to problems or optimising a new product. The access to new ideas and solutions, the opportunity of co-creation and the expansion of the organisation’s own innovation potential represents further added value for businesses. Gassmann (2013, p. 6) subdivides the numerous crowdsourcing initiatives into five different categories. The graphic below shows a more detailed view of online-based competitions on ideas platforms as a method.

Different crowdsourcing concepts according to Gassmann (2013, p. 6), modified

Method

Through an online-based ideas competition, participants are actively involved in the early phase of an innovation development process. They range from a high-level recording of requirements to specific issues and can take several weeks or months (Leopold & Bröckermann 2015, p. 33). As the graphic below illustrates, the following considerations need to be made and the following steps taken when preparing an ideas competition.

Potential course of an ideas competition, Salzburg Research 2019

At the outset, businesses need to ask themselves whether crowdsourcing is, generally speaking, the right method for their problem or task, and they need to be aware that this method requires their business to open up to the outside world, which often meets with unease. Businesses hope that crowdsourcing will provide them with an easy way of coming up with new ideas and solutions from committed participants outside the organisation.

1.) Preparation: Defining objectives and the task

If a business decides to seek a solution to an existing problem with the help of external actors through crowdsourcing, an amount of preparation is required and structures need to be created to ensure the project is successful. With this in mind, the business needs to begin by asking itself the following general questions:

  • What is the reason for the campaign?
  • What objectives are we pursuing?
  • What result should the crowdsourcing of ideas ideally bring?
  • What are our expectations regarding the final outcome (use of ideas)?
  • Is the problem even suitable for crowdsourcing?
  • How long should the campaign last?
  • Who do we want to approach to be involved?
  • Should we use an existing platform or do we need to develop a new one?

The decision regarding whether to develop a separate platform for the specific objectives, or if indeed a platform provider (intermediary) should be commissioned to do this, usually depends on the available budget. If the basic decision is to go to an external platform provider, the business needs to specify its designated requirements in a subsequent step. Ideally, various crowdsourcing platform are then selected, evaluated and compared with each other. Questions that might be relevant here include:

  • Is the platform scalable to a crowd of any size?
  • Can the platform’s workflows and processes be modified?
  • Does the platform offer a range of community activities, such as crowd evaluation, for example?
  • Can we update the crowdsourcing platform ourselves?
  • Is it easy to integrate it into different software?

At the end of the first phase, all questions should have been answered, a definitive decision for when the crowdsourcing project should start should have been made and the platform should have been chosen.

2.) Initiation: Specify the framework conditions and articulate the problem

Once key cornerstones have been clarified, the initiation phase focuses on detailed planning and preparation for the crowdsourcing campaign.

Crowdsourcing ideas works best when the subject or task is of great interest to a wider audience and when the contribution of ideas requires no specialist knowledge. You need to ensure that the question is simply stated, is not too broad, and that it does not include any possible solutions, otherwise you run the risk of receiving generic answers. This process step is particularly important as once the question has been publicly stated, you have little influence on how the problem will ultimately be interpreted.

You also need to address the question of how much value an idea has and what type of compensation (non-cash awards, results-based payments, monetary payments, benefits or exclusive information) is envisaged and appropriate. This is usually difficult to estimate and quantify prior to a crowdsourcing campaign. The expert view is that:

“Participants of crowdsourcing platforms have different reasons for disclosing their often closely-guarded ideas and sharing them with others. In many cases, it is not consideration in money or in kind, but rather intangible incentives, such as recognition, praise, and appreciation of their achievement, the possibility of demonstrating their expertise or of being able to measure themselves against others. Others are motivated by the challenge to solve a particular problem. In the context of external ideas competitions, the visibility of a prominent jury and the opportunity to be allowed to work for a well-known organisation also play a key role. However, the monetary element should not be underestimated and is relevant, not least, for the organisation’s reputation.” (Gassmann 2013, p. 127)

In this phase, consideration must also be given to where appropriate participants might be found and which networks can specifically support crowd development. Based on the target group characteristics, consideration must be given to the various online and off-line media and channels, as these make a significant contribution to the dissemination of the crowdsourcing campaign. Potential obstacles to participation should also be overcome or minimised. It may be helpful to create a persuasive presentation or description to motivate potential participants.

There is a wide range of motives for why people might want to participate in crowdsourcing. Therefore, it is not only extrinsic motivation that plays a part in participation, but also the much stronger form of intrinsic motivation, that is, the reason for people's willingness to get involved (e.g. learning something new, sharing knowledge, fun, sense of community, shared success, social recognition).

Relevant questions that a business should be answering at this stage include:

  • How can I narrow down my problem and my question accurately?
  • How does the question need to be worded, so that the answers are in line with my expectations?
  • Where will I find my participants?
    • Should an in-house crowd be set up and should this be involved once, or again in future, with questions in the innovation process?
    • Is there a crowd that exists already (networks, stakeholders, etc.) that we can appeal to?
  • What incentives or forms of motivation do the participants need in order to participate in the campaign or competition?
  • Which adequate forms of payment or compensation will participants receive?
  • How can I make the target audience aware of my competition?
  • Which online/off-line channels will be used for addressing the crowd?

Once you have moved into the second phase and have formulated the question and specified any incentives/compensation, you can publish the question online.

3.) Publication using an individual or existing crowdsourcing platform

Accessibility and user-friendliness are crucial for developing and setting up a crowdsourcing platform. Once you have chosen the platform and developed and clarified all details of coordination, then this is the phase in which you can publish your campaign. From this point on, the campaign usually runs from 4 to 8 weeks. During this time, participants can continually submit, develop and evaluate ideas. It may also be possible to extend the campaign (Gassmann 2013, p. 123f).

4.) Generating ideas using the crowd

Ideas submitted should be borne in mind and further development should be supported between participants and moderators. All ideas are welcome, be they big or small. The 1-9-90 rule can also be used here as a guide, which says that the majority of participants will not contribute any ideas and will quietly just read along (according to Nielsen, the degree of participation on the social web can be split as follows: 1% authors, 9% commenters and 90% readers; 2006). Only one percent of the crowd will actively participate and develop ideas. It is therefore even more important to involve as many participants as possible in ideas generation (Schaffert and Wieden-Bischof 2009, p. 37).

Despite the opportunity and advantage of obtaining ideas from a wide range of participants, the ideas collected may not give the initiator any direct indications about the steps that should follow. However, it is particularly important to provide all participants with the relevant information about how their contributions will be used or how they have helped and what you plan to do with them next. This ensures a healthy community relationship (Schaffert and Wieden-Bischof 2009, p. 63).

5.) Evaluation and selection of the best ideas by the community and an expert jury

Some platform providers are already offering community and independent expert jury voting during the ideas submission phase to evaluate ideas. With community voting, the crowd itself agrees on which idea is the best for its purposes. Community voting can, for example, also count as a vote on the jury. The ideas are evaluated based on predefined criteria.

Relevant questions that a business should be answering at this stage include:

  • Which criteria will be used to evaluate ideas submitted?
  • Who is involved in the evaluation and selection?
  • How many jury members are there in all?
  • Who is interested in the project outcome?
  • What will happen with the ideas?
  • How will awards be allocated fairly?

6.) Rewarding ideas

After completion of the submission phase, the ideas submitted need to be evaluated and the best solution is rewarded based on fair remuneration. The most active members should also be recognised and praised. The award frequently takes place as part of a closing ceremony. If this is not the case, the worst-case scenario would be to result in damage to the organisation’s reputation, as (external) voluntary participants must normally concede the rights to their solutions. It is ultimately a matter of transforming the selected and rewarded ideas into useful outputs for the organisation (Gassmann 2013, p. 127).

Tips for fairness

A policy for fair cooperation between platform operators in the crowd should encourage trustworthy teamwork. The principles to be considered here include:

  • Specify clear objectives, taking account of framework conditions
  • Ensure integrity of the crowdsourcing offer
  • Transparency to create the necessary trust
  • A platform that is appealing, motivating and intuitive to use
  • Remove barriers to participation and technical hurdles
  • Offer conditions of participation that inspire confidence and are clear to understand and transparent
  • Open, honest, respectful and sincere conduct (code of conduct)
  • Manage, appreciate and support the community (active dialogue, further development of ideas)
  • Use a variety of channels to obtain qualified participants
  • Motivate participants, create incentives and offer fair reward
  • Specify the period of the campaign
  • Review achievement of target
  • Impartial, transparent and compliant jury process
  • Respect data and personal privacy
  • Ensure regulated execution, handover and subsequent work

Further reading and sources

  • Crowdsourcing Verband e.V.(2017): Paid Crowdsourcing for the Better. Guideline for a prosperous and fair cooperation between companies, clients and crowdworkers. Available in English online at: http://www.crowdsourcing-code.de/ (Dezember 2018).
  • Gassmann, Oliver (2013): Crowdsourcing - Innovationsmanagement mit Schwarmintelligenz. Interaktiv Ideen finden, kollektives Wissen effektiv nutzen. Includes case studies and checklists. 2nd edition, Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich.
  • Nielsen Jakob (2006): Jakob Nielsen: Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. In: Nielsen Norman Group. 9 October 2006. Cited online at: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ein-Prozent-Regel_(Internet)#cite_note-nielsen2006-5
  • Sandra Schaffert and Diana Wieden-Bischof (2009): Erfolgreicher Aufbau von Communitys. Konzepte, Szenarien und Handlungsempfehlungen. Volume 1 in the “Social Media” range, published by Georg Güntner and Sebastian Schaffert. Online at: https://www.salzburgresearch.at/2009/studie-erfolgreicher-aufbau-von-online-communitys/