6 Steps to Effective Crowdsourcing

Author: Thomas Maiorana. Link to original: http://www.openinnovators.net/6-steps-to-effective-crowdsourcing/ (English).
Tags: collaboration, crowdsourcing, open source, краудсорсинг Submitted by FonChilipek 15.06.2009. Public material.
Советы юному краудсорсеру.

Translations of this material:

into Russian: 6 шагов к эффективному краудсорсингу. Translated in draft, editing and proof-reading required.
Submitted for translation by FonChilipek 15.06.2009


Our users have a lot to tell us. This is nothing new. User research, needfinding, and ethnography are all rooted in the idea that users can tell us a lot about how to design more effective products and services. Why? Users get us (designers) outside of our own viewpoints, they help us see the world from their point of view and they help us to develop empathy which we can then use to develop more effective products. Users have a lot to tell us. We should be listening.

And for the most part, we are. Most design firms have incorporated some sort of user research into their processes. I see some intersections of this sort of user-centered design with the growing movement of crowd sourcing. For clarity’s sake, I’m thinking of crowdsourcing as an open source model applied to products and services. The nature of a product is shifting from a static thing to one which can be manipulated, hacked and altered by users.

As users participate more in the creation of their products and services designers will face considerable challenges, but we’ll also have the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of our users. Organizations who foster this type of design stand to make great strides by tapping into large, diverse and passionate populations. But the obstacles to this type of innovation are significant. Getting users to engage and participate is just one of the issues. Organizations will also need to know how to use consumer-generated-content in a meaningful way. None of this will be a very tidy process.

So to take advantage of crowdsourcing my hunch is that we will need to adopt some of the methods from another process which is known for it’s lack of order; the ethnographic interview. By applying some of the principles of effective interviews to how we “listen” to user-generated design, we’ll be able to capitalize on the understanding and learnings from a crowdsourcing model.

Let me first give you an overview of how we use ethnography as part of design thinking. The underlying principle is that by getting a deep understanding of the right users you can gain more insights than you would from a shallow understanding of a larger number of people. Although there are many methods for gaining these deep insights, the primary one is the interview. When we conduct qualitative research we are more interested in the stories than the demographic information. Unlike statistics, these narratives are packed with meaning which we can then analyze, synthesize and use to create innovative solutions.

But to get a subject to tell us personal stories there are several things we need to do:

Be a good listener (they won’t share if they don’t feel comfortable)

Be authentic (People are really good at sensing sincerity)

Ask open ended questions (The point is to learn from them, not get confirmation on what you already know)

Pay attention to words and gestures (Since narratives are rich, it’s important to notice the nuances- everything matters)

Look for contradictions (This is where some of the most interesting insights live)

Keep at it (You can always keep looking. The more you look, the more you’ll find)

Of course, developing the skills to interview effectively is something which can take a lifetime to perfect. The people who excel in this realm are those that are able to draw meanings out of contradictory ramblings or poorly articulated thoughts and ideas. This is not to knock the interviewees. They are not trained to speak about their thoughts on washing dishes, their relationship to a savings account and the like. But that doesn’t mean that their feelings (and the way they articulate them) won’t help us uncover insights. It just means that the insights aren’t handed to us. The work of an ethnographer is to draw out these ideas and then assemble broader meanings from partially-articulated needs.

In an interview, we hear stories in familiar formats. The modes of expression are verbal and body language. But products and code are also be a forms of expression. By looking at these mediums as more than just static output, they may help us engage users in a deeper dialogue. It could, in fact, be an additional tool for our own innovation.

Doing this is no easy task. But if we think of collaborative design as a conversation, we can borrow from some of the principles of a good interview.

Step 1. Be a good listener

If we want users to “talk” with products, then we need to support those efforts as any good listener would. A good listener lets the interviewee know they are being heard without being intrusive. They show interest and offer prompts or segues when the speaker is stuck and they restate what they heard.

To replicate this for products, we first need to develop tools which will help them to feel fluid with building as we are with words. This is no small task. Although many people don’t are nervous and tongue-tied at the beginning of an interview, they usually loosen up once they feel like they are chatting with a friend. We all talk. We don’t all build. So to bridge this gap we need to make intuitive interfaces which help to encourage users along the way. We need to find ways to make them enjoy the process.

Step 2. Be Authentic

Much the way we can sniff out insincerity, a focus group masquerading as crowdsourcing will stand out like a sore thumb. In this sense, clarity and honest communication is the order of the day. This is an area where a brand’s true colors will come out. How is the initiative communicated? How do you listen to what the “user” said?

Step 3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

I continually struggle with this area as I interview. It’s far more difficult to ask an open ended question than you may think. Even when our words don’t betray a bias, our tone, cadence or emphasis may. So now let’s imagine the challenge of creating the materials for users to create without influencing what they make. It’s not going to be easy. But if we think about creating a platform for them to express themselves, we’ll learn far more than if load the deck so to speak. One of the issues here is to find ways to give them neutral tools without leaving them confused and rudderless. If you figure this one out, do let me know.

Step 4. Pay Attention to Words and Gestures

Everything Matters. When we interview we look at all the nuances of communication. To “read” user-created objects, we then need to appreciate the nuances of the physical form. And just as we need to analyse the meaning behind the mumbled phrase or cryptic gesture, we’ll need to analyze objects for not just what they communicate, but for the intent behind the communication. In many ways, we’ll be part therapist, part art critic. And of course, this will take practice.

Step 5: Look for Contradictions

In an interview, there’s always a moment where something just doesn’t make sense. That’s a great place to dig deeper. It’s usually a sign of something interesting. With user-generated products, we’ll need to do the same thing. In an interview, it’s easy enough to ask a follow up question, but as we develop products, we may refine a curious feature, send it back out into the world and observe the response.

Step 6: Keep going.

Of course, the job is never done. We’re always learning and refining. My hunch is that viewing the process of creation as a dialogue rather than a one-way conversation may provide a useful lens for creating fertile grounds for user authorship.

By creating an environment where users can create, we’ll give designers the ability to develop deeper insights and further drive innovation. I have to chuckle as I imagine it being as easy as six steps. But it’s a start. The plan is to get the conversation going. We’ll see where it goes from here.