Insights from crowdsourcing workshops

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Over the last two weeks I have delivered eight keynotes or workshops on crowdsourcing across Western Europe. Most of them have been highly interactive sessions, bringing out new ideas or highlighting common issues or concerns. Part of the intent has been to gather input from many participants on what to cover in

There is much to share. For now, I will quickly review the events I’ve run so far and highlight just one insight that was prominent in the questions or discussions from each event. Many of themes mentioned were in fact echoed across several events. I will write soon in more detail about a number of these topics.

– Ketchum Pleon Amsterdam client presentation
Insight 1: Know when to use open calls and managed crowds.

A question that frequently arises when you discuss crowdsourcing is how to manage the sheer quantity of input you can get. Of course the best approach depends on what type of crowdsourcing you are doing, but the first answer is in the filtering mechanisms that you use, which enable the most valuable input to become visible. However another approach is to use a closed crowd, where participants are selected by quality or profile. In this case you can take a “managed crowd” approach in which a more individualized approach optimizes outcomes. While many definitions of crowdsourcing refer to an ‘open call’, in fact in many siutations restricting the pool of contributors will lead to better results.

– TheNextWeb CxO Summit keynote in Amsterdam on The Future of Crowds.
Insight 2: We need to understand where crowds are and are not useful.

In Andrew Keen’s presentation following mine he said that it is individual brilliance and not crowds that drives progress. I wrote a response on why I think he is wrong. I also intend to create a framework that shows where crowds are most relevant and where they should not be used, because there are many domains where crowds are not superior to individual insight or other approaches. My evangelism for crowds does not mean I think they are always relevant. Let’s use them where they can create most value, and understand the boundaries.

– TheNextWeb Conference keynote in Amsterdam on The Future of Crowds
Insight 3: Crowd business models are moving to the center of the startup space.

TheNextWeb Conference is at heart a startup event, attracting entrepreneurs from across Europe and beyond, and crowd business models were much in evidence among those presenting there. Notable ones included Babelverse, a crowdsourced real-time translation app that won the People’s Choice award at TheNextWeb, Seedrs, which is very interesting UK-based venture in the equity crowdfunding space, and crowd photojournalism platform Immediately after my keynote (see here for video of the full presentation) I was approached with enquiries to speak at major startup conferences in Kiev and Istanbul, also showing the appetite from entrepreneurs for insights about crowdsourcing and crowd business models.

– Future of Crowdsourcing Workshop in Cologne.
Insight 4: IP governance can drive crowd product development.

In this interactive workshop following the Crowdsourcing Summit in Cologne, I asked the participants to select four topics related to crowdsourcing they wanted to examine in detail. Two of the topics were Future of Intellectual Property and Future of Product Development and Innovation. The choice was undoubtedly partly driven by the economic context in Germany, which still sports a massive trade surplus driven by product excellence, yet its traditional industrial strengths are being challenged by the East. The crossover of these two topics is a particularly pointed one, with apparently a panel discussion on IP at the Summit bringing little clarity on cross-border IP protection. I argue in Getting Results From Crowds that often too great a focus is placed on IP protection to the expense of value creation. However there are real and challenging issues to grapple with in managing IP in crowds. Those that can establish (preferably lightweight) IP governance processes have a solid foundation for using crowds successfully for product development and innovation.

– Ketchum Pleon London presentation.
Insight 5: The most valuable crowds are often communities.

The word ‘crowds’ evokes a collection of disparate people. Yet in a world of increasingly divided attention, it is very hard to get access to a crowd of people unless they feel they are engaged together and their contribution supports others’ participation. For marketers in particular the challenge is usually to coalesce a community from which distilled or aggregated insights can come. That gives the continuity to the crowd, which would otherwise disperse. Of course some kinds of crowdsourcing require maximal diversity and independence of thinking, in which case you need to be cautious about recruiting too like-minded communities. The nature of the crowd must be suited to the purpose.

– Crowdsourcing for Startups and Social Innovation at Hub Westminster London.
Insight 6: Equity crowdfunding will be a game changer for entrepreneurs.

Close to half the workshop participants were especially interested in the topic of equity crowdfunding, with the intention of either using it or potentially establishing platforms. The hype around equity crowdfunding today is probably a little premature given that it looks like some time until the first crowdfunding based on the US JOBS Bill will happen, however I’m clearly not the only one to believe that this will provide massive new opportunities for entrepreneurs, ultimately leading to a far better allocation of capital to where it can create results (if good reputation measures are allowed). We were fortunate to have Charles Armstrong at the workshop as an expert panelist, sharing his experience in equity crowdfunding in the UK. One of the legal loopholes he exploited was that while he was not allowed to say publicly that he was looking for capital from approved investors, journalists could. so prominent coverage in the mainstream press enabled them to raise Stg500,000 from the crowd, keeping Trampoline Systems afloat.

– Crowdsourcing Breakfast with Boostzone Institute in Paris.
Insight 7: New roles and structures for crowds are needed in large organizations.

It is perhaps not surprising that this extremely important theme came up particularly strongly in France, where institutional structures are still strong. Irrespective of the nature of the organization, a variety of new roles and structures are required. I am for example spending time defining the emerging role of ‘external talent manager’ and how it relates to existing functions in business units, legal, HR, risk, and IT. The rise of these kinds of new roles, however, can change the scope of current organizational roles and functions. The introduction of structures to help organizations interface externally can (and will) have a ripple effect through the entire organization.

– Crowds and the Future of Work with Fyronic in Brussels.
Insight 8: There is a massive market for effective crowd filtering mechanisms

As discussed in Insight 1, there can be real challenges in distilling the greatest possible value from massive contribution. There are many mechanisms in common use, including competitions, crowd voting, prediction markets, reputation measures, gaming, and so on, though all of these are best used in particular circumstances and have limitations, not least in how much value they can leave on the table. Developing more effective and efficient mechanisms to aggregate value from crowd contributions will be an important sector in years to come.

This list just scratches the surface of the sessions over the last two weeks. I will write more on these and other prominent crowdsourcing topics in the coming weeks and months.

(This post first appeared on the Getting Results From Crowds book website).


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