10 Commandments of Effective Crowdsourcing

The central idea behind this piece is to compile a practical list of tips which can help executives make their crowdsourcing initiatives work and get the most out of them: Some of these ideas are new; but to a surprising degree the most important ones are the old things, that we probably tend to forget as we are bombarded by countless applications and ideas in the crowdsourcing space.

These tips are based on the result of a multi-year study and discussions with some of my colleagues in management consulting industry, academic friends and executives who have had a positive or negative experience with crowdsourcing. They also cover observations of more than 50 regular winner-takes-all challenges as well as online multi-stage competitions which I refer to as “innovation tournaments”. I hope this will become a starting point for our online community to share and discuss their views and enrich our mutual understanding of the emerging best practices for running effective crowdsourcing initiatives.

So without further ado, here comes the 10 commandments:

1. Make sure the nature of your problem is crowd-friendly:

Companies face many challenges and these challenges can certainly be crowdsourced. But that doesn’t mean the crowd can solve all those problems on time. There is an inherent uncertainty associated with crowdsourcing in the sense that companies don’t know if they are going to get an answer by the end of their campaign.

Therefore, it’s better for mission critical and extremely difficult issues to work with a smaller group or a  “controlled crowd” or alternatively have a plan B in place in case the crowd can’t come up with a solution on time.

2. Define your problem at the right level:

Companies can decompose an issue into smaller and more abstract problems to a level digestible by the crowd.

At its raw form, crowd might not be able to solve certain problems. Think about the optimization of a sub-system software for a satellite which might look scary for many participants in a crowdsourcing community. However, companies can decompose an issue into smaller and more abstract problems to a level digestible by the crowd. In case of the satellite example, this can be a math problem which in essence addresses the optimization challenge.

3. Make sure high performers are definitely involved:

The number of solvers participating in a crowdsourcing effort matters: It is certainly a good thing to generate a high number of ideas, but the quality of the ideas coming out of the challenge is even more important. These quality ideas typically come from high performers and experienced experts. Since in many settings, the high quality solutions are the only ones which are being picked up by the company, it is essential to involve high performers to increase the likelihood of high quality idea generation.

4. Link your problem to real value:

Often time companies launch crowdsourcing campaigns just to generate ideas. The result if a long list of ideas which are not used at all. This is a complain I have heard from many executives – They don’t like crowdsourcing campaigns to be done just for the sake of doing it.  Ideally the problem at the heart of the campaign should be aligned with issues facing the company. These problem typically come from non-innovation executives and if the focus is on such issues, the solutions will be more likely to be implemented by them.

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