Video: Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A central step in enabling companies to harness the immense potential of crowdsourcing is to have a sound understanding of the behaviour of the individuals that make up the crowd. New research by Oguz Ali Acar of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) enhances our understanding of crowd’s behavior, and reveals that monetary rewards in crowdsourcing do not necessarily motivate the crowd and that crowd’s expertise does not always bring better solutions to complex innovation problems. Acar also discovered that young and male members of the crowd experience highest levels of fears of their ideas being misused.

A man sitting in his office next to a laptop

Why your company might fail at crowdsourcing

With his dissertation Crowdsourcing for Innovation: Unpacking Motivational, Knowledge and Relational Mechanisms of Innovative Behavior in Crowdsourcing PlatformsOguz Ali Acar found that using larger amounts of monetary rewards to motivate the crowd is not effective at all under certain circumstances. Some crowd members are motivated by prosocial reasons, such as wanting to help others, in which case money will not be effective, and could even backfire.

In addition to helping others, crowds also engage in creative activities because of other non-monetary reasons: they enjoy solving problems and creating ideas, they want to learn new things and they want to gain reputation for their contributions. It is of great importance to acknowledge and take into consideration such diversity in motivations in order to effectively encourage the crowd to engage in creative activities. 

Oguz Ali Acar also found that being an expert in a certain field of knowledge does not necessarily contribute to a better performance. Expertise only has a positive effect on performance when crowd members also look into a wide variety of knowledge domains for solving the problem. Although this kind of broad search was required for the performance-enhancing effects of expertise, breadth of the search was not enough on its own. For such positive effects, experts should also be shallow in the problem domain and those outside of it, but should be deep in domains that are related to the problem domain such as those at the boundaries of the problem domain. Organizers of crowdsourcing initiatives can benefit from these findings by encouraging specific approaches for solving problems.

Third, Acar reveals some members of the crowd might fear potential opportunistic behaviour which can be a critical factor determining success or failure of crowdsourcing initiative as members of the crowd  are unlikely to share their valuable knowledge when they fear their ideas being misused. Specifically, women and older people have significantly less fears due to potential opportunistic behaviour when disclosing their knowledge. In other words, young males experience the highest levels of fears, and this is the largest demographic group in most of the crowdsourcing platforms. What business can learn from this is that certain groups of users in crowdsourcing platforms need more attention to be motivated to disclose their ideas and solutions. Companies might benefit from being transparent about what happens with the ideas and solutions shared by the crowd, and from taking a proactive approach to inform male and younger participants regarding how the potential opportunistic behaviour will be avoided.

The internet and the advance of communication technologies have brought unprecedented opportunities for harnessing the creative potential of people all over the world. In an attempt to utilize this potential to explore breakthrough new product ideas and find solutions to challenging innovation problems, companies make extensive use of crowdsourcing practices. The main purpose of this dissertation is to contribute to a greater understanding of the dynamics of crowdsourcing by providing a comprehensive investigation of the behavioral factors that influence innovative behavior and the performance of the crowd. In particular, Acar examines motivational, knowledge and relational mechanisms of crowd engagement, creativity and knowledge-sharing behavior. He demonstrates that crowd members engage in new product ideation and innovative problem solving for different reasons, such as intrinsic, extrinsic, prosocial and learning motivation, and that monetary rewards impact creativity in different ways, according to individuals’ prosocial motivation. In addition, Acar finds that a crowd member’s performance in solving innovation problems is a consequence of the interplay between their expertise and how broadly and deeply they search for solutions. Finally, Acar shows that the fear of opportunism by others – the main relational risk attached to disclosing knowledge in crowdsourcing platforms – is not uniform among crowd members, and trust in the owner of the crowdsourcing platform is central in assuaging such fears.

Oguz Ali Acar

Former Researcher

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University

Related articles

RSM Discovery

Want to elevate your business to the next level using the latest research? RSM Discovery is your online research platform. Read the latest insights from the best researchers in the field of business. You can also subscribe to the newsletter to receive a bimonthly highlight with the most popular articles.

Do you want to learn more about this subject?

Check out these RSM education programmes

Your contact for more information:

Danielle Baan

Science Communication and Media Officer

Portrait of Erika Harriford-McLaren

Erika Harriford-McLaren

Corporate Communications & PR Manager

Erasmus University campus in autumn, showcasing its iconic red trees, viewed from across the campus pool.