Thinking Through a Crowdsourcing Initiative [2/3]

by Paul Hobcraft

thinking-crowds

Crowdsourcing does have a real potential in my mind but does seem to have some formidable issues to work through, to be well understood and managed.

Partnering with experts in this field will help overcome many of these barriers or at least have reassuring suggestions for resolving them. Let’s take a look at some of these here in this post.

Certainly, I think over time we will learn what works for us and what becomes leading practice, so we can become a lot clearer on crowdsourcing position and value to us, within our context, terms, and circumstances.

That is why it will be really hard to cite ‘best practice’ as each crowdsourcing challenge will need different inputs and will yield very different outcomes for each unique challenge or problem raised.

Continuing with my exploring crowdsourcing. Part one is here: Where is the Crowdsourcing Movement Heading? Within this second post, I want to offer some different thoughts to work through around the issues and concerns that came out in my researching the subject. There is a part three coming out in a few days to finish this mini-series off.

Let’s start here by raising some of the biggest concerns you might have over crowdsourcing?

  • Will crowdsourcing provide predictable outcomes? No, everything you do to make for a good result still might not eventually deliver on this for all the preparation work you put in. You are literally in the hands of the ‘crowd’ and how they take to it or not.
  • The management time to oversee crowd efforts will seemingly seem excessive at times but then you strike “pay dirt” and then suddenly it all seems worthwhile. Getting this clear in its resource needs and establishing the expectations needs working on, so you minimise pushback
  • You may seem to get great answers but these might only come from a narrow representation of the population and they can miscue your results, if not spotted. Finding a way to counter this needs thinking through.
  • The reactions between those placing the challenge and the crowd can turn from friendly to hostile if the management of the flow and continued acknowledgement and recognition of the contributions are not managed thoughtfully and given a constant ‘reality check’ back to the challenge to keep it always on scope, or adjusted to reflect the new thinking.
  • Sometimes a crowdsourcing problem is hijacked by a party with a cause, or it becomes more of a competition between selected individuals that influence and shape the debate. You need to intervene and sometimes be firm in imaginative ways to allow other voices to be heard and not dampened down.
  • The ability to build a greater collaboration gets ‘beaten’ back by these strongly held views that overshadow the other voices you are wanting here. Seek out all possible views, encourage diversity.
  • How do you deal with potential plagiarism, intellectual property rights or those deliberately seeking funds or engagement for their means? Is there an opportunity for scandal or a potential for fraud? Be alert to these and have some of your own experts readily on hand to refer these and clarify. This is a very tricky area to handle.

You at least do need some awareness of these traps and have some part answer too in preparation, as they can come at you fast and furious or in stealth mode that catches you unaware.

Each of these mentioned above can be potential pitfalls that might put many off but this is a significant part of why partnering with established crowdsourcing platforms can help avoid these or resolve them.

Selecting good partners to help you with managing crowdsourcing becomes important

Just simply selecting a partner to help you in hosting, assisting and providing different services can be daunting but don’t let that put you off. You can research the choices fairly well, prior any engagement with a little researching.

With the good partners, you certainly can separate their rhetoric from their strengths by judging how they are building an increasing “governance of understanding”. They are working constantly on rules, language, technology, outreach, listening, content provision and focus intent, through a robust platform and analytical ability.

Those partners are emerging stronger as crowdsourcing grows to be a partner of choice, the venue the crowd wants to ‘surge’ towards as they sense and feel the platform helps them and the contracting parties genuinely wanting to extract the best out of the crowd by addressing the pitfalls and showing the ways they have resolved these in their emerging experiences and practices.

How are you thinking through a crowdsourcing initiative?

There is a host of issues to think through. Some of these are real challenges but you need some ‘reasonable’ semblance of understanding around these often ‘knotty’ issues:

  • Resource Focus – not being able to align resources, culture and systems to drive interest.
  • Technology – not having the right platform to host the activity or the bandwidth, to handle the flows both in and then back out then lacking a clear analytical capability to manage and build from this as a  set of data insights.
  • Listening – not listening enough, not paying consistent attention but staying tuned-out and lacking the ability to respond, and build quickly enough on a promising idea to draw out more contributions from the community.
  • Content – not providing frequent and interesting content to build, feed off and interact with. Not clarifying or framing enough at the beginning or along the way.
  • Constrained Outreach – not broad enough, constrained in resources, feedback or reaction so it quickly ‘dies’ as it is not ‘dynamic’ enough to gain the attention and attract a representative crowd so the result delivers poor value back.
  • Lacking a crowdsourcing culture – without dedicated passion within the group that is there driving the effort, or lacking the knowledge to fuel and build from incoming knowledge ‘just enough’ to build and connect this further stops the build. A climate of trust comes from this dedication and empowerment, and openly engaging within communities.
  • Lacking community management – which has to span initla resourcing, hosting, engagement, dialogues, responding to conversations at different peak and lull periods requires a strong resource commitment plan.
  • Rules and Governance that are not strong enough in their guidelines for all within the community to understand where the lines are and might become crossed. Or having experience in handling fast flowing legal, regulatory and management oversight issues, or simply knowing when to quickly refer these to those that can decide.
  • A lack of comprehensive tools – to provide all the necessary features to attract, tap into depth and enable customer engagement and feeling of contributions being read, and actively worked upon.

Then you have the internal ones to think through

How are you going to attract in the broader management understanding within your organisation in accepting this activity to achieve a greater engagement through crowdsourcing techniques to tap into the wisdom that lies within?

For instance, before you mount any internal crowdsourcing you need to have thought through different issues to have some good answers to some of the potential pitfalls or of barriers that might be raised on crowdsourcing:

  • Not being able to internalize the benefits and bring those inside the organisation to yield a tangible ‘commercial’ or problem solved, the ideas remain just simply ideas.
  • The challenge although intellectually interesting, lacks the strategic focus that ties this to solving the business or social need specifically.
  • The lack of incentives both to those participating and in rewarding for the results ‘kills’ the end result.
  • Poor measurements that were unable to track, monitor and access success as the return on the investment limit any momentum going forward.
  • In all your determination to structure the crowd activity, you can overlook that important part of a sense of identity. You fail to present your business in a real, human, personable and trustworthy way and leave it too vague and open enough, to not ‘draw-in’ as you would have liked.

Reading these I am sure it seems a daunting list but getting some sense or feeling towards each of these allows for a stronger result.

Then, we have the internal obstacles to overcome or address

They include:

  1. Will the organisation adopt crowdsourcing as valuable to have? What silo’s of ‘threat’ need addressing?
  2. Will there really be enough staff to manage this and all the demands placed on them to be engaged, open and responsive to those outside contributing in?
  3. The senior managers that worry over a possible set of perceived risks, moving reluctantly from a status quo or a sense of losing control. How do you address these real concerns?
  4. Suddenly having challenges or problems moving from the inside to the outside has to be managed, will the company culture accept this desire to be open enough on issues, challenges or problems it wants to find solutions to without ‘tipping its hat’ to the competition?
  5. A sudden flow of ideas coming in will mean more legal, regulatory and management engagement than normal as the crowd may expect a fast reaction, and they won’t recognise the internal hurdles or considerations involved. This becomes part of crowd management.
  6. The sudden availability of technical skills or expertise, ready for a good honest dialogue often puts those experts on the spot, this needs handling carefully.
  7. Many crowdsourcing initiatives fail, you need to internally gain acceptance that this can happen and certainly will. You need to condition acceptance if they appreciate the real potential of the “raw” value potential. It is like VC investing, one big win dwarfs the losses of many promising ideas that did not make it but you needed seeding to try.

Launching a crowd initiative can have significant ‘added’ benefits

With all the obstacles, barriers and issues presented here, it might make you wonder if crowdsourcing is worth the effort. Clearly, crowdsourcing is not for everyone. Diving straight in might seem a great idea but the gradual learning approach by building scale and size in the challenge or problem to solve is a preferred route in my opinion.

Crowdsourcing does have a potential for delivering a different viewpoint on solving challenges, issues and complex problems but does have some formidable issues to be well  thought through.

I hope this ‘list of lists’ helps prompt you to become aware, to think about and attempt to work through these so you are in good shape to get real value out of your crowdsourcing engagements that all can value, extract something and appreciate.

A final post on crowdsourcing is next up in a few days time. Part one is here Where is the Crowdsourcing Movement Heading? [1/3]

image credit: creatorbase.com
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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities. Find him @paul4innovating

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