The idea that a group of people can combine their knowledge and come to more accurate conclusions than an individual is not a new one. The ‘wisdom of crowds’ concept was first discovered in 1906 by Francis Galton, a British statistician when 800 people at a fair engaged in a competition to guess the weight of a dead ox. The majority of guesses, even those made by cattle experts, were pretty far off the mark – but the collective average was only 1 pound different than the ox’s actual weight.
Crowdsourcing, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the process of obtaining information or input into a particular task or project by enlisting the services of a number of people, either paid or unpaid, continues to gain momentum, both within the event world and out. Take for example, the concept’s expansion into other sectors with entirely different goals, such as crowdfunding sites KickStarter, Crowdfunder and Crowdrise, which raise money for products, companies and charities; or this fascinating article on the CIA’s Good Judgment Project.
As the CIA’s experimental program using crowd-sourced intelligence forecasting points out:
If you take a large crowd of different people with access to different information and pool their predictions, you will be in much better shape than if you rely on a single very smart person, or even a small group of very smart people.
The benefits of crowdsourcing are clear – not only do you gain ideas from a diverse group of people and get more accurate results, but when applying it in the events space, crowdsourcing also allows you to actively engage your participants and ensures you are covering what they really want to discuss or learn.
Now that you know how powerful crowdsourcing can be, the question is how do you effectively implement crowdsourcing into your event?
Crowdsourcing during everyday meetings & events
When the goal of your meeting is problem-solving, consider involving a variety of people from different departments who have a variety of different backgrounds. The unique perspectives they bring to the table can often help shed new light on problems, leading to more creative brainstorming sessions and outcomes. AT&T offers one example of success in using this method. Its “It Can Wait” campaign was born out of a request for ideas from all employees, which were then honed and further developed by various departments.
Make sure to offer a non-verbal method of contribution (think messaging, discussion boards and polling), otherwise you won’t hear from everyone. According to Leigh Thompson, Professor of Dispute Resolutions and Organizations: “Research indicates that in a typical six-person meeting, two people do more than 60 percent of the talking. Increase the size of the group, and the problem only gets worse.” Technology is your friend and can help you solve this problem. Employing a user-friendly app that collects ideas and saves data allows everyone to easily participate with their phone or tablet and gives you a digital record of the session.
Strongly consider collecting initial ideas from the group anonymously. In internal meetings where everyone pretty much knows one another, people can still be shy about submitting their honest ideas, even if they are able to do so electronically rather than verbally.
Crowdsourcing for large conference & events
Deciding if, and how much, of your conference’s content you want to crowdsource will depend largely on your audience.
Some questions you should ask before you begin implementation.
- How many sessions will participants want to have input on?
- How much use of this method will be constructive and provide the best education for your attendees?
- How and when will your audience respond best to requests for ideas? Pre-event? During? On the first day when they’re fresh and excited? On the second after they have been inspired by thought-provoking sessions?
- What session formats are attendees looking for more of? Small? Large? Interactive? Open discussions? Panels?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you to set reasonable expectations for your event.
Once you decide to crowdsource any portion of your event, make it easy for your attendees to suggest ideas by utilizing technology, implementing a smart process, and doing plenty of promotion.
Accessible apps on attendee’s smartphones or tablets can help you capture their in-the-moment ideas instantaneously, and following a planned out process will help you keep everything as straightforward and organized as possible. A multi-part approach is often a good strategy – try beginning with an open call for suggestions where participants are free to propose an idea, and then run a series of votes on the best suggestions to refine the options.
Don’t forget to promote the opportunity to get involved! Whether you are crowdsourcing ideas before or during the conference, make sure everyone knows they are invited to contribute, and how. Use emails, social media, and in-app push notifications to get the word out.
Have you crowdsourced ideas or content for your events, large or small? Share your additional tips with us on Twitter!