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Why people join crowdsourcing projects redux

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Why people join crowdsourcing projects redux

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As open innovation, or crowdsourcing, has grown in popularity, so too have the attempts to understand the topic.  Of particular interest has been just what it is that motivates participants to take part in these competitions.  Whilst the outcome of these topics is no doubt of interest to those directly involved in crowdsourcing itself, it is also of particular interest to managers as a whole, as it provides invaluable insight into what prompts people to undertake a task when the traditional levers of control are not present.

Industry experience suggests that the motivation of participants is typically falling into one of four categories:

  1. For money
  2. For a social good
  3. For fame
  4. For the experience

The academic literature however has tended to focus primarily on the intrinsic factors.  A Georgia Tech study for instance, found that most users on the Zooniverse website were there because of a love of the task.  They found, perhaps not surprisingly, that intrinsic factors included “enjoyment of solving challenging problems, from curiosity about the object or task, or from anticipated feelings of competence once a problem has been solved.”

Another study explored the role of extrinsic factors when participants in crowdsourcing were required to collaborate with one another.  They found that whilst a cash incentive, in this case a $1,000 prize, resulted in a doubling of overall effort levels, it had no impact at all on levels of collaboration.

The focus of that study was an open source software project, which was also the niche chosen for a study published recently by researchers from Duke and the London School of Economics.  It suggests that the most productive contributors to a project were attracted by the amount of control they were given over that project.

The researchers scoured over data from SourceForge, and in particular things such as whether contributions were credited publicly, whether the project had a corporate sponsor and what kind of licensing the project used – all factors that the researchers believed would influence the kind of person attracted to the project.

There was a predictable variance across particular types of project, but one consistent factor in attracting strong contributors was the the role of reputation.  Projects that regularly credited contributors for instance, would attract more contributors.

Giving credit is probably something that most sponsors can do quite easily.  Giving up a degree of control however is something much trickier.  The researchers found that developers who mostly contribute to openly licensed projects, or who contributed anonymously, were far more productive than those who mostly contributed to more commercially oriented projects.

So what lessons can this give us, both for those of us running open innovation projects, and for those managing talented employees?  Once again, this latest piece of research highlights the enormous value of intrinsic motivation.  It also highlights the value placed by talented people in the freedom to go about their work in a way that makes them happy, and getting the recognition they feel their work deserves.

If you can factor both of those into your own talent management practices, then it suggests that you’ll do much better, both at attracting talented people, and retaining them.

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