Crowdsourcing, could this be the groovy new name for staff ideas schemes?

Recently someone important told me that Crowdsourcing was “old hat, and we’ve moved on from that”. What they had moved on to wasn’t explained but I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of Crowdsourcing in the world I occupy.

Fortunately I went to an IdeasUK event last week which was focussed on how social media can be used in staff ideas schemes (incidentally this was on an upper floor of the HSBC tower in Canary Wharf. It was awesome…. just wanted to say that). Over the day I came around to thinking that staff ideas schemes are essentially a form of Crowdsourcing. If you look at the definition from the perspective of staff ideas schemes I think it works. Wikipedia tells us Crowdsourcing is:

  • the act of sourcing tasks (improvement ideas, innovations, different ways of doing things, developing solutions etc);
  • traditionally performed by specific individuals (executives, innovation team, head office types etc);
  • to a group of people or community, (people doing the job on the front line, anyone who knows how things work or what the customers want);
  •  through an open call, (just go and ask all staff, and listen to them).

When you think about it there is nothing to stop any organisation implementing this approach (many successful ones already do). The availability of social media collaboration and sharing tools just make it easier. Two examples of organisations where this approach has been used more widely with customers are Dell with IdeaStorm and Psion with Ingenuity Working.

On Dell IdeaStorm anyone can register and post an idea relevant to Dell. The rest of the community are then able to promote, demote and comment upon ideas, giving Dell an idea of what matters to people. Dell also provides updates on the progress of ideas which is explained in this Dell IdeaStorm from Idea to Reality video. The statistics for the engagement of people with IdeaStorm are impressive, in January 2012 the community had:

  • Contributed 16,640 ideas;
  • Promoted 750,642 times;
  • Posted 94,493 comments.

Dell had implemented 480 of the ideas submitted over the five years since it was created. A great deal has been written on the web about IdeaStorm, which is probably an indicator of its significance in the context of Crowdsourcing and social media.

Psion IngenuityWorking is an open innovation community hosted by Psion who manufacture mobile handheld computers (like the ones the delivery courier gets you to sign). The Forrester Groundswell Awards describe it as an “open online community, the ecosystem where Psion and its customers, resellers and developer partners meet, collaborate and work together to create the most customer-specific solutions in the industry”. It’s worth reading the Forrester article as it also reflects how highly the community rates itself. “With over 12,000 registered users in the community, the site receives over 60,000 visitors per month. Adoption has been so successful that it has more visitors to its community than its corporate website (”  The CEO of Psion, John Conoley spoke at the Ideas UK last November and backed up the ideas of an open innovation business model, using the principles of social media and Crowdsourcing, with some impressive figures on what it had done for the bottom line.

For me, it’s a very short step from what has been done by Dell and Psion to using these approaches within an organisation, with your own staff. This was something I saw at the visit to HSBC which I’ll be writing about next.

There is some risk associated with Crowdsourcing, not everyone is a fan of it. Issues such as undermining the value of legitimate developers and designers and uncertainty over intellectual property copyright are all real issues.  Other factors such as ‘premature convergence’ by the crowd around a specific idea rather than letting multiple ‘safe to fail’ pilots fail’ pilots operate (Trojan Mice) have been mentioned by people like Dave Snowden. But I’m sure you can work that out for yourself.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Staff idea schemes are effectively a form of Crowdsourcing.
  2. Social media approaches and platforms allow this to be done much more effectively and on a much larger scale.
  3. Crowdsourcing could be a groovy new name you could used if you want to jazz up or re-invigorate a flagging ideas scheme.

PS. If you are wondering about the ‘Guess the Jellybeans’ graphic, this is relevant to some of the ideas behind Crowdsourcing. It’s worth having a look at The Wisdom of Crowds book by James Surowiecki for a good explanation of the jar of Jellybeans example, plus many others, and the principles of how the wisdom of the crowd works.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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