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Workshop: Crowd Wisdom

Over the last years the ideas behind the wisdom and power of the crowds gained popularity. Two persepectives are here taken into deeper considertation: How does crowd sourcing enable innovation and how do new forms of collaboration apply for solving regulatory problems at the intersection of knowledge, politics, technology and participation.

The draft papers
The workshop was based on two papers. One was authored by Katarina Stanoevska and focused on current practices and trends in crowdsourcing, especially in fields where people/consumers jointly innovate. Her paper introduces the various instruments and methods that have recently come to life and points out how these reshape methods for innovation. The other paper was written by Malte Ziewitz and focuses on actual and potential forms of crowdsourcing as a means to solve regulatory problems. He describes some selected applications of crowdsourcing schemes in the field of regulation, categorizing these and lays out paths for future research at the intersection of knowledge, politics, technology and participation.

Please find the latest version of each paper under these links.
Enabled Innovation – Instruments and Methods of Internet-based Collaborative Innovation:

Can Crowd Wisdom Solve Regulatory Problems?:

The workshop
In the first half of the workshop, Katarina presented an encompassing overview on current crowdsourcing practices. Starting from a conceptual perspective, she gave an overview of traditional forms of user-involvement in innovation, explained industries’ motives for making use of crowd knowledge and showed the relevance of the development that more active/participatory users are becoming the innovators: innovation is being democratized. The latter, says Katarina, must have an effect on how industry and users interact in the new century. The notion of crowdsourcing has been defined as a company-initiated structured way to involve customers in production processes through a website, where tasks once performed by employees now are accomplished by using a large network of people.

She showed different types of crowdsourcing, like idea games, problem solving, crowd casting or prediction and gave an overview on what tasks might be crowd sourced and what roles intermediaries play between users and companies. Overall, Katarina stated that crowdsourcing is becoming an established process that adds value for companies. Moreover, it is seen as an optimal way of communicating to the most important stakeholders (i.e. the customers). However, she also pointed out some limitations of crowdsourcing: Tasks are given in advance and based on the assumption that the crowd can be directed. One of the future questions will be if the concept of crowdsourcing can be used for inventing really new, maybe even disruptive innovations. Right now, one needs to know the question in order to get reasonable answers through this concept. First developments in such a direction are the emergent types of user-initiated crowdsourcing (her soon-to-be-legendary example: Swiss “Zwiebel-Ringli”!).

During the second half of the workshop, Malte presented his crowd-sourced approach to crowdsourcing with a specific emphasis on fields where this concept has been used to solve regulatory questions or problems. He showed some historical, some newer approaches, their respective advantages and limitations or even risks and pulled together quite an amount of different words for crowd wisdom as a techno-scientific solution to regulatory problems: “wiki government” (Noveck), “infotopia” (Sunstein), “peer production” (Benkler), “civic technologies” (Zittrain). Malte came to the conclusion that we have here a research field in the very construction. By using four different current examples he tried to derive an abstract categorization of different concepts in regulatory crowdsourcing (facilitator; policy area; expected user contribution; regulatory purpose). In the end, Malte pointed out the broader perspective on relations between crowdsourcing, knowledge and politics as well as crowd management/facilitation. He stated that crowds currently are mostly seen as an engineering problem, i.e. the wisdom only emerges when facilitated by the right technological solutions and suggested that we might attend to crowdsourcing as an ongoing social and material practice in general.

Discussion and remarks
After each lecture a lively discussion took place that resulted in some important remarks. We want to emphasize four of them:

Relations between crowdsourcing and democracy
Several remarks concerned democratic theory and its critical application to crowdsourcing concepts, or – more broadly – how these challenge our notions of democracy and participation: First, participation in and access to crowdsourcing seems limited. Second, and depending on the specific approach, wisdom of the crowd sometimes results in one winner and many losers, which might be a problem for long-term incentivation. Sometimes, you might not even want to have democratic principles during the decision process. This refers to the costs in terms of the legitimacy of the results, especially when it comes to minority opinions. Catchwords in this field have been “democracy of groups” and “issue-centered democracy”.

Limitations and drawbacks of crowdsourcing
When everybody can participate you do not have the guarantee that expert knowledge is generated, and there is no guarantee of correctness. You might face behavioural problems due to anonymity. Another limitation is that you have to reach a critical mass regarding the number of crowd participants; this is somewhat harder to achieve for smaller projects/unknown brands/uninteresting topics.

Procedural and organizational crowd-steering
Many of the above mentioned remarks refer to controlling the crowd to support/foster/manage participation, results-orientation and incentivation. Crowds have to be informed, prepared and structured/organized to actually work. Someone has to draw the final decision; what is the role and the relevance of crowd managers and leaders? What are the rules of crowdsourcing? What is the day‐to‐day work that goes into establishing, maintaining and participating in a crowd wisdom schemes in practice?

Crowdsourcing ethics
Some remarks referred to the possible degradation of labour through the integration of unskilled labour in crowdsourcing or to potential cases where such conceps are being used for bad things. Those remarks made clear that crowd-based approaches might sometimes have ethical relevance. Hence, the ethics of crowdsourcing have to be addressed in future.