When crowdsourcing – either internally inside your organisation or externally to the public – always make sure that you build in some control into the process. Don’t let any decisions or choices reached by the crowd be totally one hundred percent binding. Occasionally crowds can be contrary.
There’s a good example of this at the moment, with UK’s National Environment Research Council (NERC) asking the public to name its new research polar exploration vessel. On the surface this looks like a great idea to to spread the word about NERC’s activities and engage supporters.
While NERC is seeking a name which is inspirational and probably associated with science or polar exploration (e.g. Aurora) instead the public have placed the truly dreadful name “Boaty McBoatface” into the lead. Now this is getting some publicity, inevitably more momentum will build up around the name. A Twitter handle is already set up.
Sensibly the NERC team are treating this with good humour and treating it as an opportunity to engage with the public, even occasionally tweeting using the #boatymcboatface hashtag. They’ve also built into the Terms and Conditions that NERC has the final say on the naming of the vessel.
Many crowdsourcing efforts such as the vote for a name, or an ideation challenge, ensure a “control” element is built-in so any final decision is up to the organisers. This is often achieved by having the initiative in two stages.
First names or ideas are suggested by and voted upon by the crowd. Instead of having the winner as the most popular chosen by the crowd, the most voted answers or ideas are then submitted to an expert panel to select the best one. Sometimes the expert panel “picks” a shortlist for the crowd to make another vote.
The advantages of this two-stage process is:
- You’re not forced into any “Boaty McBoatface” type decisions
- The added excitement of announcing the winner provides another opportunity to engage
Whatever you do, always be transparent about how you’re organising your crowdsourcing effort and be clear about the process for choosing winners.
Of course in some crowd-driven decisions it’s impossible to have an “override” or control mechanism in there, although I bet if either the Brexit vote or US elections goes a particular way we might wish we had one. As for the naming of the ship, I hope it’s not Boaty McBoatface.