The Future Of Crowdsourcing


CrowdsourcingI am a believer in the power of exploration. It is often in the seemingly random corners of life that we find opportunity, brilliance, and possibility. In an effort to open the door to possibility for myself, I spent some time with the producers and participants of Crowdsolve Seattle– a first-of-its-kind event bringing together law enforcement, a variety of experts, as well as several hundred “regular people” from around the world who share an interest in true crime and a passion to contribute in a meaningful way.

Designed and produced by the team at Red Seat Ventures,this event extends upon the team’s prior work producing CrimeCon, a variety of events throughout the year that attract flocks of true crime fans from around the globe. “CrowdSolve came mostly out of attendee feedback over our first three CrimeCon events. Fans told us they wanted to go much deeper into a single case file for the entire experience,” says Kevin Balfe, co-founder of Red Seat Ventures.

CrowdSolve uses a process known as crowdsourcing, an open collaboration process intended to help solve problems, has gained a great deal of popularity in the last decade. Application of crowdsourcing principles have been introduced to a wide variety of situations ranging from medical research, to navigation (think Waze), and even how you book travel accommodations through Airbnb. Crowdsourcing offers an opportunity to bring together large groups of diverse individuals to solve problems with the assumption that diverse groups bringing a variety of opinions and backgrounds can make higher quality decisions than a small group of “experts”.

Types of crowdsourcing.

There are a variety of specific methods that crowdsourcing processes can take including crowd creativity, crowd voting, crowd complementors, crowd contests and challenges, and crowd innovation to name a few. While many methods of utilizing crowdsourcing are focused on microtasks, or small, repetitive tasks such as interpreting handwriting or street signs, crowdsourcing presents a promising future in helping businesses think about solving some of their most complex problems.

What does it take for crowdsourcing processes to be most effective? 

When I think about my experience designing crowdsourcing processes for my clients who are working to solve some of their most complex business challenges, three fundamental things come to mind- the crowd, the tech, and the experts. The crowd is pretty self-explanatory. They provide the new perspectives. The experts can provide valuable insight to help guide the journey for the participants. Where I, and others, see interesting opportunities to support crowdsourcing efforts is in figuring out how technological advances may aid groups in scouring large amounts to data to find clues and patterns that people may miss.

During my recent visit to the Crowdsolve event in Seattle, I had an opportunity to meet up with Sukrit Venkatagiri, a computer science doctoral student at Virginia Tech’s Crowd Intelligence Lab. Sukrit and his colleagues were at the event trying to understand how technology can best be utilized to facilitate crowdsourcing efforts in ways that help speed up the work in ethical and effective ways. Through their research, the team at Virginia Tech supports law enforcement, journalists, and human rights investigators to better integrate technology into their crowdsourcing processes in order to help them drive results. Sukrit summed it up nicely, “The future will be about combining human thought and creativity with AI’s ability to see patterns in large sets of data.”

Tips for considering crowdsourcing for your business. 

Seems simple enough. Toss a bunch of people in a room and let them have a massive brainstorming session, right? Wrong. Ensuring that you have taken the time to design your process correctly will:

  1. Clearly define your goals before you start. Since crowdsourcing requires the participation of well, crowds, you must be very intentional about clarifying and putting boundaries around your goals before you get started. In addition, figure out what success looks like for everyone. This helps narrow in on a set of goals that meets the needs of all of the participants.
  2. Ask the right question. Many people underestimate this simple concept but the ability to ask the right question at the right time is a true art. Being extremely thoughtful about the question you are trying to answer with your group can make or break the success of your crowdsourcing process.
  3. Bake in safeguards to ensure ethical and productive work for all parties affected by the process. This is something that should always be considered regardless of topic but when bringing together a crowd to work sensitive challenges like those attempted by the participants of CrowdSolve (solving actual cold cases) it is absolutely imperative that safeguards are in place to protect people, evidence, and even the potential suspects. The leaking of case files, vigilantism, or inconsiderate behavior in front of the victim’s family members (who were present during the event that I observed) can all have significant negative effects and damage your ability to crowdsource in the future.

It is not lost on me that this type of process requires a lot of trust on the part of law enforcement to open up actual case files to participants. Therefore, guardrails must be in place to ensure that confidential information is not leaked to the public or that vigilantism does not become a reality.

When I asked about what it took for law enforcement to agree to open active case files to participants, Balfe added, “Trust does not come easily (nor should it) but I think we’ve proven to law enforcement, families, victims’ rights groups, and content creators that we do things the right way. I hope we’ve shown them [law enforcement], and other jurisdictions watching, that our sole interest is in hosting an event that brings together smart, passionate, and engaged attendees with world-class experts and [that this] has the potential to provide law enforcement with new directions, leads, and ideas.”

  1. Provide a clear process. A lack of a clear process and expectations to guide the crowd makes you run the risk of losing focus and getting off track. Ensuring that the experience is intentionally designed helps to ensure that you are as productive as possible.
  2. Ensure that experts are involved in the design and facilitation of the process. Having experts present to guide the crowd through the process helps keep people focused and productive and helps mitigate any risks associated with sensitive information. In addition to having experts supervising the design and facilitation of the process, identify subject matter experts to help provide valuable perspective that will help move the crowd forward.
  3. Provide data that supports the process but nothing more. One of the benefits of crowdsourcing is bringing diverse people together who aren’t experts to create new ideas to consider.In order to maximize the limited time that the crowd has to work together, provide them with the information that they need to be most effective.
  4. Provide feedback to participants. If people are going to give you their time, attention, and ideas you owe it to them to keep them looped into the outcomes of the process.
  5. Create a safe space where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas. There are many factors that may make participants feel uncomfortable opening up during your process- not being clear or transparent about how peoples’ input will be used, who will own the rights to the outcomes of the process, etc.  This is another reason it is critically important to be very intentional about the environment you create.
  6. Keep an open mind. Regardless of the process that you design, you never know what you might get from working with a crowd. Don’t discount ideas or input that you didn’t expect. One of the real benefits of this type of process is that bringing together a diverse group can lead to some really “out of the box” type solutions. Be open to letting the dialogue go where it goes. You never know what might come out of it.
  7. Check the governing law regarding intellectual property rights. One thing to be sure of before attempting any sort of crowdsourcing process for your business is to make sure that the laws pertaining to intellectual property rights are aligned with what you are hoping to get out of the process.

The business implications of crowdsourcing in the future of work. 

Many clients ask my opinion on the future of work and how technological advances such as artificial intelligence and machine learning may impact their people. This is not an easy question to answer. In my opinion, some jobs will become irrelevant, completely taken over by automation. Most jobs will continue to integrate technology in ways that make people more productive and where technology is capable of handling the more mundane and routine tasks, freeing people up to do what computers can’t. This would include freeing people up to do things that computers can’t like creativity.

In a world where the challenges we face become increasingly complex, finding methods of bringing together crowds, experts, and technology in ways that facilitate creative and beneficial solutions presents exciting opportunities where a great many “laypeople” can engage in activities that they enjoy while solving real-world challenges.

This article originally appeared in

How People Analytics Informs HR Strategy

People Analytics

Let’s face it- technology has our brains inundated with unprecedented amounts of information. As a result, we’ve developed countless platforms and pieces of technology infrastructure that keep us organized, efficient, and profitable. The advent of technology in the business world combined with its future potential makes this an exciting time for us all. Technology can rapidly access troves of data in seconds, enabling us to make decisions that are much more informed than those of yesteryear. However, we should think of these technological capabilities as tools to help us make more informed decisions, not as mechanisms to make decisions for us. Although this advice can be applied in several domains, it’s no more relevant than in the world of people analytics.

So what is “People analytics”?

People analytics, in layman’s terms, refers to the analytical method used to make decisions about human resources and human capital in an organization. People analytics informs HR strategy, hiring/downsizing efforts, and selecting the right candidates (to name a few). Fortunately, we’ve developed technological platforms that can assess and analyze certain variables to “predict” an employee’s success in his/her role. This can be done through simple correlation tables, more complex regression models, or even through advanced predictive modeling. Regardless of the method of analysis, organizations want to know they’re hiring the right person for the right role. They also want to know how to keep these people while understanding what contributes to longer tenure, or on the flip side – higher turnover.

Organizations that use people analytics to inform hiring decisions have the ability to remove objective bias. McKinsey Quarterly’s article brilliantly sums this up with, “The important advantage of the new analytics techniques…is that they are predictive, rather than reactive, and they provide more objective information than the more qualitative findings of a one-on-one discussion.” When combining skilled HR hiring professionals with the proper analytics platform, organizations can reduce bias, increase accuracy in job placement, reduce the risk inherent to hiring new people, and decrease retention expenses in the long run (as evidenced by the aforementioned article’s examples). Although people analytics is helpful to the hiring process, the data can tell you more than just the best candidate for a job.

When organizations apply people analytics to their existing workforce, they gain insight into motivates them, what leaders should continue doing, and how they might improve. For example, Fecheyr-Lippens, Schaninger, and Tanner used people analytics in a study to understand employee retention. Their data indicated that “a lack of mentoring and coaching and of ‘affiliation’ with people who have similar interests” were leading drivers of those considered a “flight risk”. Additionally, the researchers point out how predictive analytics within the realm of human resources helped organizations understand what their employees value while reducing the costs associated with turnover.

Although people analytics and predictive modeling have become more advanced, we must remember the human element in all HR decisions. Our technological capabilities should do nothing more than provide decision-makers with the most accurate and relevant data possible so they can make an informed decision. There are several risks associated with “over-datafication” when people rely too much on data and technology, but that’s a topic for another day…

Stop Guessing: How to Measure the Impact of Transformational Change

measure transformational change

Are Your Transformational Change Projects Successful?

Nod your head if you have ever heard, seen or (heaven forbid), quoted this statistic: “70% of change efforts fail.”

You nodded, right? Let’s face it; the 70% failure statistic is dramatic. It builds the case for hiring experienced change practitioners. It cautions implementers to learn about change management practices and integrate them into their tactical tasks.

Unfortunately, it’s a made-up number. Back in the 90s, Michael Hammer speculated about the success rate of re-engineering projects and since then, authors and speakers have cited 70% as the failure rate for all types of change programs. Several change practitioners have dug into the change archives and vigorously refuted it. (See here, here and here.) Yet, it persists.

Even if no one had refuted the number, I stopped believing it years ago. As a measurement practitioner, I have found that:

  • Few organizations are disciplined or adept at identifying measures of success at the outset of their projects;
  • The data to measure success is often difficult to collect;
  • The evidence of success can rarely be attributed solely to the change effort;
  • Leaders move the finish line or unexpected circumstances cause it to move;
  • The initial sponsor leaves and her replacement does not revisit the measures.

Given all this evidence against it, how can anyone state with such certainty that 70% of change projects fail?

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Knowledge Management: Did You Know?

knowledge management benefits

It’s funny how things go in cycles. What was critically important to us last year may not be a concern to us today. And things we used to take for granted, we now cannot fathom living without.

Think about the Internet. Most of us weren’t even aware of it until the mid 90’s, but where would we be today without it? Although I type here from the comfort of my office chair, my office is at home and I rarely need to venture into NYC thanks to technology. My office material comes from and my calls are handled over a VOIP platform. All driven by the web.

Knowledge management is a similar area you’ve probably never paid attention to. Maybe you haven’t heard about it yet, but knowledge management is already affecting how you live and work.

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Our 7 Best Organizational Culture Articles of 2016

7 best organizational culture articles 2016

Since day one, my goal as marketing manager at gothamCulture has been to promote our team’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of workplace culture.

We have a diverse group of folks here, with over sixty years combined experience in culture change, leadership development, and strategic planning for both private and public organizations of all sizes. We understand that while most people know what organizational culture is, not everyone is an expert on the subject, and we take great pride in our relatable approach to helping leaders learn to navigate today’s ever-changing business landscape.

I strive to make this blog a hub of valuable information that reflects this relatable expertise, and over the past year, we’ve written some great articles that do just that.

Here, I’ve collected our seven most popular articles about organizational culture change for 2016. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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Responsible Data Consumption: How to Know Enough Not to Be Dangerous

Responsible Data Consumption: How to Know Enough Not to Be Dangerous

No matter where you sit in your organization, you can’t escape the push to use data to inform your next steps and strategy, nor should you. The amount of data available at your fingertips may vary, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that you have enough to help you improve decision-making, both for yourself and your organization.

“But I’m not a trained researcher, or a data scientist, or a….” I hear you begin to clamber.

Luckily, you don’t need letters after your name to be a smart consumer of data and findings. You only need patience and confidence as you thoughtfully consider the information in front of you. Remember that while you may not be a statistical wizard, you do bring your own flavor of insight and expertise to the table.

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How Artificial Intelligence is Redefining the Future of Work

How Artificial Intelligence is Redefining the Future of Work

In a world where the term “big data” is being thrown around like the next coming, many business leaders still struggle to understand how more information is going to help them make better decisions that drive their businesses forward.

But the real challenge goes well beyond merely accessing more data. The key is accessing data in the right way, at the right time, and in the right format to generate beneficial insights.

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How to Overcome the Biggest Barriers to a Lean Office

lean office

Lean methodology is a common sense approach to increasing customer satisfaction, decreasing costs and improving the quality of products and services, concurrently. In order to accomplish this, organizations must create full transparency and be clear about what metrics matter to their overall performance. This sounds so easy and straightforward, so why aren’t we all doing it?

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Culture and Engagement Apps: How to Find the Best Fit For Your Organization

Culture and Engagement Apps: How to Find the Best Fit For Your Organization

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ve probably noticed there are no shortage of applications out there offering relief from your people-related woes. These apps offer everything from employee engagement to company culture, to stakeholder communications and pulse surveying and peer feedback in order to solve a wide breadth of people-related challenges in your organization.

But, where to start? If you are a business leader who has taken on the task of trying to identify the right tools for your organization, you no doubt came to the realization that there are an endless number of app companies that want to pitch you.

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People Analytics: Why Methodology Matters More than Data

People Analytics: Why Methodology Matters More than Data

There is a lot of talk lately about data, especially big data, and how it can be used to help organizations learn more about the people connected to them: employees and customers. The term data science gets tossed around casually, now that we have the tools and computing power to trivially handle these massive, often unstructured, data sets.

Luckily, in addition to the recent influx of interest, there are many established experts in this space who are helping to guide the conversation about how people data should, and should not be used, both from an ethical and practical standpoint.

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