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Crowdsourcing: Bringing Thousands of New Ideas into the Process

Forrester’s Clay Richardson just published a piece at the ebizQ site that connects the dots between business process management and crowdsourcing.

As he points out, there are profound benefits that can come out of a well-organized crowdsourcing process: the internal social network alone “presents a treasure trove of influence,” and he urges business process professionals to “must integrate social network analysis techniques into their process improvement efforts.” Crowdsourced guidance can become the key enabler for agile response and process-exception handling, he adds.

What is crowdsourcing, and how do you bake it into your day-to-day operations? Crowdsourcing is a process that looks to broader communities — both inside and outside the organization — to tackle vexing business problems. Often, there’s an incentive offered to provide motivation.

Consider some interesting examples of organizations employing crowdsourcing:

Organizers of Digitalkoot (Digital Volunteers) report that more than 25,000 volunteers from across Europe and the globe have been partaking in the digitization of historical collections at the National Library of Finland.The Digitalkoot program enlists online volunteers, via crowdsourcing, to help digitize millions of pages of archive material. OCR readers miss a lot of content. Through two online games, volunteers complete small portions of work, or microtasks, to help correctly digitize historical content. The national library reports that the volunteers have already completed more than two million individual tasks, totaling 1,700 hours of work.

At GE Research, 85 employees bought and sold “stock” in 62 new product ideas. The project with the greatest value at the end of this prediction-market experiment would receive $50,000 in research funding.

The Oil Spill Recovery Institute, established by Congress after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, issued a $20,000 challenge to a network of 175,000 “solvers” from 200 countries around the world to come up with a solution for cleaning up Prince William Sound. After three months, a construction engineer from the Midwest came up with the winning answer that solved the problem.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has turned to crowdsourcing in a big way. Recently, the space agency awarded a retired engineer in an online competition seeking formulas for predicting solar flares. Close to 600 people examined the challenge, five submitted entries, and the winner of the $30,000 incentive, a retired radio frequency engineer, developed a solution that allows for a 24-hour forecast window of solar flare event onset with 75 percent accuracy.

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