the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.
There are many methods of accessing the knowledge that exists in a crowd (the Wikipedia article listed in the references below provides a good list of methods and examples), but three main criteria must be present and considered to help ensure the success of the endeavour: diversity, independence, and decentralization.
Diversity in this case means not just the usually understood meaning of different cultures, genders, etc. but also a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, age, education, anything that can create a difference.
The enemy of diversity is homogeneity (sameness/similarity) which leads to the illusion of invulnerability and a willingness to rationalize away opposing arguments, this in turn leads to a high likelihood of failure. It is looking at a problem from as many angles as possible that results in the best outcomes.
Independence is about keeping information sources separate so that one source for data/information/knowledge doesn't influence other sources.
Decentralization means ensuring that the decision-making process is not hierarchical, and is based on local and specific knowledge. Self-organizing, decentralized systems/networks are robust and adaptable, allowing connection and coordination without the command and control found in hierarchical systems. The closer a person is to the problem, the more likely he/she is to possess the knowledge for a good solution.
Limiting the size of the crowd has to be done by the use of judgement. How many people are enough to provide a reasonable amount of input to find a solution to the problem that is posed? Using the above criteria can help to ensure that even a small "crowd" provides useful feedback/input. It ultimately will come down to how much time you have and what resources are available.
Crowdsourcing is related to Crowdfunding, although Crowdfunding focuses solely on raising money from the crowd rather than sourcing ideas, content, etc.
There is also "wisdom of the crowd" which is the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than that of a single expert.
There is an explanation of the process of Crowdsourcing on this blog A Guide to Crowdsourcing, it is more complex than it may initially seem because of the need to inspire and motivate "the crowd" to participate in the initiative. Crowdsourcing should be well planned and thought-out in order to be successful.
There is a good discussion of Critical Success Factors for Crowdsourcing on Ross Dawson's blog, here: 11 critical success factors for crowd business model.
The "crowd" should be well defined for each particular case. In other words the crowd should understand the matter they are being asked about. In e.g. Banking industry any customer of the bank can provide an opinion on services received. However nobody will consult with the crowd from general public on specialized medical treatment or legal issues, as they need deeper upfront knowledge. the relevant crowd or community becomes more narrow. In the context of nuclear power, the crowd should have been in touch with the matter to some extend. Rosatom successfully applied the approach by clearly defining the crowd or surveyed community. These were students in nuclear science and engineering, researchers, employee of nuclear organizations. The results were promising.
There are at least five areas for concern/controversy with respect to crowdsourcing:
- The impact it has on product quality as anyone can participate
- When used in an entrepreneurial setting/context the entrepreneurs contribute less capital themselves,
- The increased number of funded ideas, means that ideas that shouldn't get funded sometimes get funded, and ties back to the concerns about quality and entrepreneurship previously mentioned
- The value and impact of the work received from the crowd, which is often significantly in excess of any remuneration they receive, and
- The ethical implications of low wages paid to crowdworkers, they are not considered employees, so there is no guarantee of a minimum wage or any other job protections that might otherwise exist in a traditional job.