The crowd makes the decision


Watch out Howard Stern: your role as judge on America’s Got Talent could be in jeopardy, thanks to Crowdsourcing — a proven, web-powered way to raise money and troubleshoot problems. And, this may be just the beginning. Research published in the K@W newsletter (a Wharton Business School publication) shows organizations can now gain significant value by leveraging the crowd to make important decisions on which projects to focus on or which creative execution to choose.

Crowdsourcing is the online process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or funding by soliciting contributions from a large group of people outside of an organization or its supplier network. Raising money, in particular, is very popular. One of its leading platforms, Kickstarter has raised more than $1-billion in pledges for 135,000 projects from 5.7 million donors, a Wikipedia posting notes. Offering an alternative to bank or venture financing is one thing, but can the wisdom of the crowd compete with experts to decide which projects to pursue or talent to back?

New research Professors Ethan Mollick (Wharton) and Ramana Nanda (Harvard) looked at this question by analyzing how theatre projects get funded, and later performed in market. Studying these types of decisions is a good test of crowdsourcing’s potential because they require both a subjective (i.e. artistic taste) and objective assessment (i.e. determine the long-run success of the project). Importantly, the U.S. arts world is a good test bed for evaluating crowdsourcing decisions. Since 2012, more money has gone to the arts through crowdfunding than the government-run National Endowment of the Arts.

The researchers compared the funding decisions by theatre experts and the crowd on six projects. The experts were experienced judges who worked for the NEA. The crowd was participants in a Kickstarter campaign. The findings were thought-provoking. The decisions of the experts and crowd were very similar with a 57% to 62% concurrence on the choices. Yet, decision alignment does not automatically translate into good decisions.

To measure the quality of the choices, the researchers also analyzed the economic impact of the successful theater projects. They found that many of them evolved from a one-night only event into recurring performances that, in some cases, provided dozens of employment opportunities not to mention long-term revenues.

Implications for companies Crowdsourcing decision-making is an appealing tack for many companies. Many decisions, especially ones with subjective criteria, can benefit from multiple lenses that remove the bias of internal experts (e.g., the ‘not invented here’ syndrome), or produce additional opinions when expertise is lacking. Tapping the crowd can be faster and less expensive than finding subject matter experts or using consultants. Finally, relying on the crowd could avoid the internal politicking that comes with high-stakes choices that lack objective data.

A variety of decisions can be made by the crowd. For example, marketers can use it to help them choose the brand messages or advertising creative that best resonates with their target audience. Furthermore, venture capitalists can leverage a community of technologists or consumers to help them decide which startups to fund. Importantly, tapping the crowd does not negate the importance of internal experts, who can still be used to make sure the crowd’s choice passes the ‘common sense test’ and that decisions incorporate all the data.

Tapping an external community, however, will not be ideal in every situation. Many leaders will be unwilling to outsource major decisions given their egos or risk aversion. Furthermore, using the crowd for smaller decisions like picking advertising creative could be impractical and demotivating to staff. Finally, leveraging the crowd may lead to poor results if not properly executed.

Starting out While this research is encouraging, its conclusions should be validated for different situations and industries. One way to do this is to compare the internal decision with the crowd’s choice. To do this, it is best to begin with a pilot. The pilot would have a clear objective with well-defined and articulated choices. To maximize the crowd’s value, the target decision should integrate both subjective and objective evaluations. Managers should also carefully pick the community they want to leverage, within the right online platform. Special attention should be paid to maintaining confidentiality and intellectual property requirements before reaching out publicly. When the pilot is finished, managers should compare the results of each decision and the impact of each process.

For now, Howard Stern can rest easy. Crowdsourcing decisions will never replace thorough analysis, time-tested judgment and gut feel. However, these qualities come with a price, which is often high in terms of cost, time and hassle. If crowdsourcing can be validated for other use cases, then tapping wisdom of the crowd will become an important decision support tool.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc., web site.

Advertisements

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: