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Crowdsourcing was coined in 2006 (cite). Technically, it’s a process of collecting information, opinions, or work from a group of people (usually sourced over the Internet), and it allows sponsors to save time and money while tapping into different skills from all over the world. In practice, that definition is arguable. Examples are poorly indexed in peer-reviewed literature, and the most relevant case studies offer varying degrees of success. Usually, the missing ingredients are the specific incentives to compel the community to solve your challenge. Without those incentives, there are simply too many other options for convening online to meet or join a peer group. However, when we take the time to understand the motives of a crowd and match that understanding with compelling rewards, the results are exponential. Nothing provides more focus than challenging a crowd to solve a specific problem through a fair but rigorous competition. As a result, sponsors who adopt this approach realize many benefits.
Perhaps the most common form of crowdsourcing is found in the corporate sector, but government agencies and grant makers are increasingly embracing this model. Across the board, crowdsourcing helps: break down organizational silos (or ways of thinking) and transforms how a problem is defined (and solved); engages both insiders (employees or grantees) and outsiders (nontraditional thinkers or problem solver) in a meaningful way, providing a new pool of talent to the sponsor that can be further activated in new ways; overcomes top-down bureaucratic barriers to success, while positioning the sponsor’s brand or cause as innovative and forward thinking; and, facilitates effective collaboration and idea development that is gauged to your specific needs. These and other benefits offer a menu from which sponsors can choose to “harness the wisdom of the crowd.” For instance, for some ranking the best and brightest solutions is secondary, while convening a wide and active audience is the goal. That audience may become the asset, versus any one or more solution(s). For others, the notion of more efficiently solving a problem, while conducting an effective survey of the many optional solutions to the challenge, is paramount. Whether sponsors are activating a cause or brand or solving an important problem, everyone agrees that the rise of crowdsourcing is here to stay.
At Carrot, we believe in the diversity that crowdsourcing contests offer, not just as a means for activating new and different audiences, including those who may be underrepresented at your organization. Rather, this approach helps sponsors realize that diversity is an effective means for unlocking new talent and speeding up the problem-solving process. When we engage new and different experts, often from the most disparate fields, the pace and effectiveness of those solutions is startling. In a paper published by the Harvard Business School (Lakhani, et al.), “The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving,” we learn that complex problems (those requiring multi-variate inputs) represent some of the most appropriate challenges to solve when utilizing this approach. At the same time, we are reminded of the Disney movie, Ratatouille, in which the irascible food critic, Anton Ego, explains in the end… Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
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