Best Practices: Conduct Crowd Engagement and Outreach With an Eye Toward Diversity

diversity in crowdsourcing
Research shows that diversity increases the intelligence of the crowd

If you want to geek out on the theory and mathematics, here is a great 10 minute video by Professor Scott Page at the University of Michigan, describing the Diversity Prediction Theorem, which describes precisely (in mathematical terms) how diversity increases the accuracy of a crowd when making predictions or estimates.  

Without getting into the mathematics, the key takeaway is basically the following: when many different people approach the problem from many different angles, the average of their solutions, or the consensus, tends to be closer to the actual solution than any one individual’s estimate. Thus the “wisdom of the crowd” stems directly from the diversity in how we see the world.

You have likely heard the classic example: if many people estimate the weight of an ox, and they are all somewhat off the mark, as long as they are quite diverse in their approach, the crowd overall can come up with an accurate estimate for the ox’s weight.  However, the converse is also true. If many people think alike, but they are all off the mark, then the consensus will be dead wrong. This is called the “madness of the crowd” and gives us all the more reason to ensure diversity of your crowd.

As innovators, we are often asking questions that have no right answer, or many right answers. In this case, having just one regimented perspective represented in your crowd, you run the risk of missing or overlooking important elements of the problem. You limit the possible solutions that you could uncover. On the other hand, enhancing the diversity of the crowd will help you capture a larger spectrum of possible solutions. A software platform, like IdeaScale, can help you manage, filter and refine these myriad solutions so that you can efficiently select and implement top solutions.  

Another important consideration is:what kind of diversity are you working to enhance? Are you aiming for diversity in expertise, geography, age, gender, political party, nationality, ethnicity, income level, education level, interests, hobbies, etc.?  The key is to enhance diversity in an area that is relevant to the question at hand. For some technical questions, it may be more important to gather ideas from people in different disciplines rather than ideas from people with different nationalities. Whereas, for some policy questions it would be more important to get ideas from people with different socioeconomic backgrounds rather than people with different hobbies.

So as a community admin or moderator, how do you enhance diversity in your crowd?

  • Brainstorm and Network: Make a list of the diverse groups of people that you already have in your organization’s rolodex. Create a list of other people outside your network that you would like to reach. Leverage your existing network and build new partnerships to gain access to new crowds and new audiences.
  • Invitations: Invite people to your community who will approach the problem, challenge, or campaign from different angles or perspectives.
  • Outreach: Be sure to conduct outreach to diverse audiences by diversifying your communication channels and messaging.
  • Channels: Use diverse communication channels (social media, blogs, emails, events, posters) to reach different kinds of people. Some people are more receptive to new information while working at the computer, while others are more receptive while attending events or wandering the halls of the institution. Meet people where they are.
  • Communication: Always consider your audience when drafting your communications. Use messaging, visuals, and language specifically tailored to each target group you wish to engage.
  • Incentives and Rewards: select your carrots and sticks with consideration for the different priorities, needs, and interests of different groups of people. A person is only motivated by a specific reward if they find value in that reward, so keep in mind that the reward you select will determine the kind of people who engage. Conversely, it will also determine the people who choose not to engage. So be sure to think about all the different audiences you want engaging with your crowdsourcing effort and what each audience values.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Whitney Bernstein, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale.

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