Crowdsourcing is tapping into the collective intelligence of a broad audience to complete tasks traditionally done by a single person or small group.
Generally done using the Internet, crowdsourcing is being used for a variety of tasks in marketing, product design, development and other areas.
Over the last year, we’ve seen crowdsourcing increasingly used as a business research tool. The main advantages of crowdsourcing for research are lower costs and access to a broader pool of information.
One example comes from our own work. Over the last 6 months, we’ve been researching small business innovation. A key resource for this work has been user stories submitted to the Intuit Small Business United grant contest.
Over 1,000 stories have been submitted and most include innovation examples. This database has proven to be a treasure trove of easily accessible information and case studies on small business innovation. It has greatly broadened the breadth and depth of our research.
To create a case study database of this size and quality using traditional research methods would have been prohibitively expensive.
There are many other recent examples of crowdsourced research, including:
- Small Business Trends’ crowdsourced research report Get Outrageously Creative
- Dell’s crowdsourced white paper on Digital Nomads
- Institute for the Future’s crowdsourced, collaborative research project looking at the future of science, Signtific.org.
Like all research methods, crowdsourced research has limitations. In particular, most crowdsourced research does not use a scientifically chosen sample.
But just as low cost online surveys and social media mining tools are changing how we do market research, crowdsourcing is creating innovative new ways to conduct business research.
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About the Author: Steve King is a partner at Emergent Research, a research affiliate at the Institute for the Future, and senior fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. He is a co-author of the Intuit Future of Small Business report series, and he blogs at Small Biz Labs.