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The Value of Crowdsourcing … and where it might lead us

June 25, 2012

Many of the surveys undertaken by IACCM involve ‘crowdsourcing’ – that is, seeking a high volume of responses from an audience of suitably qualified or knowledgeable respondents.

Often, when presenting the results of such research, I feel that part of the audience is dismissive of the approach. They feel it lacks hard, scientific data or the rigor that comes from methods such as in-depth interviewing of acknowledged ‘experts’. I am therefore glad to see an article in The Economist (Science & Technology: The Roar of the Crowd – May 26th 2012) which hails the growing adoption of crowdsourcing by the academic community and the rapid emergence of companies that assemble ‘crowds’ which can be ‘sourced’. But the article does more than simply offer respectability to this approach – it suggests that it may often be more accurate than traditional research methods.

At IACCM, we have used crowdsourcing for three primary reasons. One is speed – it is far faster to collect data from across a global community like ours than it is to target individuals for interview. Another is scope – we endeavor always to gather and compare representative opinion spanning industries, contrasting functional perspectives and geographies. The third is accuracy – not only do we want to check comparative data, but we also know that in many cases our audience lacks accurate baseline information. Crowdsourcing is a way to establish baselines (which then support further research).

I was pleased to see each of these reasons highlighted in The Economist article. It explains how traditional research has been skewed by the nature of people interviewed or surveyed (based upon communities that have been easy to access, rather than representing the entire community). Some long-held beliefs in areas such as human psychology are being turned on their head – and this has potentially major significance for people in the world of contracts and negotiation. For example, research is finding that people with deep religious beliefs will make different moral decisions from non-believers and that US and Western European attitudes to co-operation (and to punishment for failure to co-operate) are quite distinct from those in other cultures.

Crowdsourcing is just another of the ways that global networked technology can shift our understanding of the world – at least, for those who are willing to be sufficiently open-minded to its findings. But what percentage of contracts, commercial and legal professionals possess that openness to innovation is just another issue for psychological research!


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