Monday, 10 June 2013

Crowdsourcing – Open Collaboration & Results

“No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”
                                                                           Bill Joy, Co-founder Sun Micro Systems

A lot of my posts recently have been discussing issues around a culture of collaboration amongst the various stakeholders in education and considering some of the strategies that start ups employ.

This week I joined #YthEmpChat which is organized by @Charharagain and they were discussing this very issue and, given my interest in this area, I felt compelled to wade in.
Some of the discussion revolved around the idea of we know that organizations should be collaborating more but what can be done to encourage more collaboration. 

By coincidence San Francisco had their annual Start Up Edu Weekend where education leaders and EdTech start ups and VCs came together to see if they could "design the school of the future in 54 hours."

So I thought I would share some of the successful examples of collaboration I am aware of. Welcome to the world of possibilities that is... crowdsourcing.

What is Crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing isn’t a single strategy. It’s an umbrella term for a highly varied group of approaches that share one obvious attribute in common: they all depend on some contribution from the crowd. But the nature of the contributions can differ tremendously.

Why Crowdsourcing?
In 1945 the economist F A Hayek, economist wrote a paper called “The Use of Knowledge in Society, he observed that;

"Each member of society can have only a small fraction of the knowledge possessed by all, and each is therefore ignorant of most of the facts on which the working of society rests… civilization rests on the fact that we all benefit from knowledge which we do not possess. And one of the ways in which civilization helps us to overcome that limitation on the extent of individual knowledge is by conquering ignorance, not by the acquisition of more knowledge, but by the utilization of knowledge which is and which remains widely dispersed among individuals" 

Why Get Involved with Crowdsourcing?
One of the most successful crowdsourced initiatives is the open source Linux program (more on Linux below), where a community of coders self organized to improve and develop software. Something that I couldn’t understand when I first heard about crowdsourcing was the motivation with these community members?

Here is a group that would be working in IT all day, then clock off and go home and do some more coding… on someone else’s program… for reasons other than for financial remuneration… what’s going on here? 

Then I saw a comment which clarified this and makes perfect sense;

The knowledge economy and the internet enables the sharing of information and a diversely talented, highly skilled workforce. Add to this the fact that job satisfaction rates are at an all time low, this leaves people feeling over educated and under fulfilled. Is it any wonder people are seeking more meaningful work outside the confines of the workplace?

If techs are working on code that does not challenge them, then crowdsourcing makes perfect sense… as does the inspired idea behind any company that offers 20% time where people spend 1 day a week to explore challenges that could benefit the organization but, is of interest and that the individual, as they choose and leads on the project.

Open source software was born in Bell Labs in the 1960s along with Unix, “An operating system around which a fellowship could develop.” A culture of close collaboration and sharing of software enhancements emerged which went way beyond the fixing of bugs. Fellows were motivated more by the desire to do interesting work and to impress each other than any notion of business efficiency.

In 1991 Linus Torvalds was a graduate student in Helsinki and he released the source code for a program he called Linux on an internet news group and persuaded 100 like minded hackers to join him.

The result of this way of working is truly staggering. In 2008 the global Linux market reached $35.7 billion a year. None of this could have happened cost effectively within a single company’s, or even consortium’s, proprietary software development.

To compile the millions of lines of source code in Red Hat Linux (the first important Linux product) would have taken 8,000 man years of conventional development time at a cost of $1.08 billion a year.

Innovation Jam
This model has not gone unnoticed by the corporate world and they have enjoyed some fantastic results with this model. The crowds collective opinion can be terribly effective.

In 2006 IBM held an “innovation jam” which the company billed at “the largest brainstorming session ever,” more than 150,000 people from 104 countries posted more than 46,000 ideas. Later that year the company announced it would spend $100 million to create 10 new businesses based on ideas suggested during the Innovation Jam.

Proctor and Gamble
Proctor and Gamble have found that the pace of innovation has doubled in the last 5 years and its army of 7,500 researchers is no longer enough to sustain its lead. P&G’s CEO instructed business unit leaders to source 50% of their new product ideas from outside the company using platforms like Innocentive.

Co-Create with Customers
In 2005, Eric von Hippel, head of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at MIT Sloan School of Management, published Democratizing Innovation, which demonstrated how customers were taking the process of innovation into their own hands. “Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfect) agents.

The pace of change and demands of customers are such that companies can no longer depend on internal capabilities to meet external needs. Nor can they depend only on tightly coupled relationships with a handful of business partners to keep up with customer desires for speed and innovation.

Companies must engage and co-create in a dynamic fashion with everyone – partners, competitors, educators, government and – most importantly – customers. 

Some companies are embracing this change and enter into a creative relationship with their customers, even going so far as to provide them with the tools to help design the end product. The company then institutes the innovation and sells it back to the customer, who is, in this case, also a supplier. The customer may or may not receive direct compensation for his input. Either way, the real pay off lies in an improved product, a result from which all parties benefit.

Before launching any crowdsourcing initiative, one of the first steps is to determine what the ultimate goal is: Do you want to draw upon your customers to help design a new product? Are you trying to create a new platform for your community?

Regardless of the overall aim, in the latest report I am working on I look at the relationship between Education and EdTech suppliers. I will highlight a number of areas that I think could be improved upon and my research and findings will argue that this kind of collaboration has a number of benefits for all stakeholders.

While there is a lot of collaboration within FE amongst educators, is there as much collaboration as there could be with suppliers? After all it’s easy to spot the services that work with education in the R&D stages, which is the best way for suppliers to achieve “product-market fit” 

Crowdsourcing in Education
There are examples of this in education for example;
  • The Californian Department of Education thinks it can harness the insights and spare time of its teachers to make high quality educational materials available to every aspiring student while saving local tax payer over $400 million every year. The Californian Open Source TextbookProject runs on the same software that powers Wikipeadia. It’s already running a pilot program to create a world history for 10th Grade history classes.
  • Companies like Learn Zillion have a “Dream Team” of 200 educators who they get together to discuss their latest ideas and trial their latest products. 
  • There are also a number of “Hack Education” events planned, one of which was held at Edinburgh’s Tech Cube and others at London’s EdTech Incubator. The results? At the  Edinburgh event educators, government reps, techs, edu suppliers and start ups came together and in the space of one weekend produced this website - Learner Journey Data Jam
This type of co-creation and collaboration seems to be in its early stages but does look extremely promising… there was also a really exciting development announced today.

Co-Creation of Products in FE
I was very excited to hear about OCR launching a new initiative to help teachers design and create innovative educational technology for use in the classroom.

This project will be ran in collaboration with where educators will have the opportunity to become more involved with the development of the kind of services they’d like to see being used in the classroom.

If successful then FE could be set to join tech companies like IBM, Sun Microsystems and top universities like MIT, where hundreds of great ideas get developed as a result of some Innovation Jams or developing free open source educational materials that anyone can use and large communities of educators can improve.

If you liked this post and would like to explore these ideas further you may be interested in Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe, Wikinomics by Don Tapscott, Flip by Peter Sheahan and Winners and Losers of the Internet by Keiran Levis

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