Crowdsourcing: A Practitioner's Guide

Crowdsourcing is a type of sourcing model leveraging a large group of people in an open forum to gain access to various goods or services.  The use of crowds is being leveraged more and more, due to the shift from traditional in-house innovation to open innovation, with the intent to accelerate innovation.  The use of crowdsourcing to solve business problems comes in many different forms such as crowdfunding, crowd-coding, crowd creation, and crowd-ideation. Crowdsourcing is also one of the best ways to establish and cultivate an innovation culture within an organization.  The decision to use crowdsourcing comes from your desire to create breakthrough innovative products or services.

During our March TechConnex - Innovation Peer Group, our focus was crowd ideation. We were thrilled to have two thought leaders in crowdsourcing, Don Morrison, Executive Vice-President of Spigit, the #1 idea management software for crowdsourcing ideas for enterprise innovation, and Renee Pearson, a Fortune 500 innovation leader and practitioner of crowdsourcing. 

Many companies offer an online idea submission form to collect ideas for any problem or need at any point in time – often referred to as the “black box”.  As a crowdsourcing best practice for ideation, it is most effective to utilize a time-bound event or challenge targeted at a specific problem, question, or strategy.  In Renee’s experience, “time-bound challenges for ideation provide focus and clarity in idea submission and are extremely effective in identifying the best ideas while improving the culture and engagement of the crowd.”.

Ideation challenges can be either internal (i.e. your employees) or external (i.e. client, supplier, partner, consumer, and the general public). The most effective challenges leverage a framework to consistently manage and respond to the ideas as they are submitted.  For example, an idea collection phase, followed by a feedback phase for voting and comments, idea comparison phases, and expert review phases all ensure the best ideas surface to the top.  It also guarantees each and every idea gets the same amount of time, consideration, and attention.  Don defines, “innovation as an outcome of an ideation process. Therefore, managing ideation is vitally important in achieving the right outcome.”

A winning idea is not solely about a successful winning idea eventually launched in the market, but an idea that the company chooses to pursue at any capacity at the end of their challenge. According to a recent study, “ideation rate is equal to number of winning ideas divided by the number of active users."  The study highlighted the correlation of business results with the ideation rate, ultimately demonstrating the need to increase the number of active users, to gain more ideas and find more winning ideas.  Key messages to consider are;      

  1. Innovation is not a once a year moonshot project

  2. Delegating innovation to a small team isn’t as effective as broadening the pool of participants

  3. Employee engagement isn’t measured by every employee contributing ideas

  4. Think external – rarely do the best ideas solely exist within your organization

“It is never the first idea, but the end of the idea”, Don stated. Use ideation to build a culture of innovation, increase employee engagement, collaboration, and creativity with your employees.  

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