Sociological approaches to collectivism have always viewed the crowd as a change agent. On the one extreme as a source of problems, on the other extreme a wise, collaborative and innovative problem solver, a generator of collective intelligence.
Theories of the Crowd
Source: Wexler M. N. (2011) Reconfiguring the sociology of the crowd: exploring crowdsourcing.
To rely on the wisdom of crowds can be costly. Probably the earliest example of crowdsourcing is related to an English carpenter and clock maker of the 18th century, called John Harrison who invented the marine chronometer and was awarded £15,000.
The phenomenal sum of money (Longitude Prize) was established after Edmond Halley and Isaac Newton had failed to come up with a solution to determine ships' longitude at sea. Since then similar crowdsourcing exercises have followed five main stages: 1) decision to crowdsource; 2) broadcast a call with instructions; 3) collecting inputs from the crowd; 4) filter inputs; 5) decide on future arrangements.
As for typologies of crowdsourcing the innovation consultant Jeffery Philips (http://innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.au/) differentiates directed or suggestive calls, while the space can be open (Participative) or close (Invitational). It points to the following four ideal types:
- Suggestive Participative Crowdsourcing is open to anyone and acts as a social media, therefore selection process must be clear and time consuming. It leads to incremental innovation since larger groups tend to reject ideas if they are too radical. In terms of organisation it needs continuous feedback or else the community will not come back
- Suggestive Invitational Crowdsourcing participants are carefully selected for a short event because of their belief, insight or expertise. It can lead to “groupthink” if the crowd is not diversified enough, but selection and evaluation tends to be simpler
- Directed Invitational Crowdsourcing pre-defines participant, typically experts
- Directed Participative Crowdsourcing is about a specific problem where anyone who cares about the topic can participate. This taps into the passion and interest of people who want to voice their opinion. Selection and evaluation is simpler as the challenge is framed. Typically it attracts a lot of passionate participants depending on the predefined topic
Although there is a strong desire among the public to participate in the analysis of scientific data, it can be challenging to make the tasks stimulating enough. The power of the crowd is often superior to the best software and computational infrastructure available if the crowd is equipped with the right tool to connect them to data.
Best practice examples for crowdsourcing:
- Brainflight developed by Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology is a crowd-sourcing effort to create games to help map the wiring of the brain - http://brainflight.org/
- Amazon Mechanical Turk enables the posting of tasks taken up by 'workers' for a nominal fee. The structure of the service limits the types of analyses that can be performed, but the ability to restrict workers to those who have passed specified qualification requirements can be valuable - https://www.mturk.com/mturk/
According to Mark N. Wexler (2011) the position taken by advocates is too rosy when it predicts a future in which the use of crowdsourcing will increasingly be open commerce and public sector organisations to a new and democratic forum for valuable ideas and public participation. He suggests that attention be paid to how the semantics are put to use:
Work on crowdsourcing pushes classical interest in collective behaviour towards a recognition of the virtual property issues embedded in network-based forms of organised (and managed) collective intelligence. It reaffirms the importance to sociologists of: the rising relevance of networks; the shift in attention to the significance and future value to be realised by those organising and motivating virtual projects and/or communities; the commercialisation if not commoditisation, via virtual property, of internet-enhanced forms of collective intelligence and the continuing erosion of the once clear boundary between work and leisure in society. […] Crowdsourcing uses the communal bonds of shared interest and a “community” sense of coherence and affect to establish the voluntary origins (moral grounds) virtual property. Moreover, it assures that those making the call (Figure 1), not responding to it, are the rightful owners of the virtual property. It employs the web-based documents (e-mails, videos and text-based chat mode) to establish the legal grounds for its centrality in building and investing in the generative crowd.
By definition Crowdfunding is the collective effort of a large number of people to pool resources with small contributions for supporting other people or organizational efforts via the social media, mobile and web applications to generate ideas, money, input, decision, and customers. Crowdfunding extends from donation (a donor contract without existential reward), through reward (purchase contract for some type of product or service) and lending (credit contract, repaid with interest), to equity (shareholding contract, shares, equity-like instruments or revenue sharing in the project/business, potential up-side at exit).
Evolving ICT completely changed the modes of science outreach that traditionally extended from public science talks, through science museums to a classroom visit by a scientist. Social media platforms (such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Rockethub) offer platforms and tools for asking the public to willingly invest their money in a particular research project – especially in the most innovative and high-risk research ideas with the biggest societal impact in the future. Such audience building and fundraising campaigns for scientists result in public engagement directly from non-scientists. Scientist-crowdfunders regularly interact with their audiences through blog posts, virtual lab meetings, online surveys, which substantially increases their social impact.
SciCafe 2.0 offers conceptual frameworks and the, Citizens’ Say Platform through the European Observatory for Crowdsourcing to help scientist-crowdfunders to effectively find their audiences.SciCafe2.0, Collective Awareness Platform, will offer better crowdsourcing instruments and supports deeper engagemnt in the field of social life, energy, sustainable environment, health, transportation, etc.
A short animated film by Crowdsourcing.org, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-38uPkyH9vI
Wexler M. N. Reconfiguring the sociology of the crowd: exploring crowdsourcing. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 31, No. 1/2. (2011), pp. 6-20
Jain, Radhika, Investigation of Governance Mechanisms for Crowdsourcing Initiatives (2010). AMCIS 2010 Proceedings. Paper 557.