Monday, September 9, 2013

Crowdsourcing For Results: Why & How

Over the years I've learned that "normal" management is slow and full of bureaucratic drag. Crowdsourcing works much better, for four reasons:

  • Urgency: It has to get done. It works better if the pressure is real rather than invented.
  • Meaning: The people doing the work are emotionally invested in the result.
  • Empowerment: Members can take the lead on getting results because there is no time for mystifying, depressing and even demeaning bureaucratic red tape.
  • Temporary Nature of the Work: Knowing the project is time-limited means you can push yourself through the adrenaline rush to get it done, and then relax when it's over.
Trevor Owens, of the Library of Congress, recently wrote a paper on four essential elements of crowdsourcing for cultural heritage institutions and presented it to us at the National Archives. Some parts of the below reflect my own translation of his framework, but the concepts are essentially from Owens' paper:

  • Participant Motivation: Some leaders yell "fire, fire" continually and think that creates a sense of urgency for their employees. Instead, it just burns out their adrenal glands. Owens points out that motivation comes from a sense of purpose that goes beyond money. Think about why the project matters on a higher level and communicate that.
  • The Desire to Be Consulted: People don't want to live as drones; they are living accumulations of experience and knowledge and they want to participate in life as thinking human beings whose opinions matter. Crowdsourcing projects give them an opportunity to do just that.
  • Human Computation: You want to isolate the things that people can do as versus machines - e.g. their cognitive ability to process and make meaning out of information. An example would be tagging data; a machine does not possess the ability that people have to look at words in a nuanced and contextual way.
  • Tools as Scaffolding: If you want people to accomplish an important knowledge goal together quickly, it is critical that they have a usable technology base to hold them up. Many applications are confusing, slow, and generally cumbersome to the user when they could be elegant and speed the process along. The simpler the better.

Of course, crowdsourcing has many applications beyond management in a knowledge organization. Essentially it is a means of rebuilding capacity in a time when resources are scarce. However, by integrating this method into existing institutional settings we can become more fluid in its use and hopefully go far beyond -- alleviating social and economic problems that often seem so big as to be unfixable.

* All opinions my own.