Economic competitiveness relies upon innovation and organizations are increasingly pursuing open innovation through crowdsourcing. Though several models have arisen for how to tap into the crowd for ideas, little research has been done to understand and assess this new phenomenon. Previous work has investigated relatively simple crowd-sourcing techniques such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, but additional web-enabled platforms for organizing large numbers of individuals to contribute ideas and solutions to a client's innovation challenges have been developed. Firms providing such platforms for crowdsourcing are now competing with traditional innovation consultancies and together serve as intermediaries for open innovation. This project investigates and compares the socio-technical systems that these open innovation intermediaries have created.
Successful innovation requires translating and integrating ideas in science, engineering, design, and business originating from diverse organizations, industries, and countries. The current literature on this process focuses on collocated teams with little attention paid to organizational aspects the emergent technology-brokering phenomenon. This research extends the theory of technology brokering to this new form of virtual organization, building a more general framework of how technology brokering occurs and the role of individual backgrounds, organizational practices, and social networks in spanning multiple boundaries. It will explore the tradeoffs involved in increased reliance on codified methods to support technology brokering and investigate the role of institutional contexts in shaping the relative positions and organizational practices of technology brokers. Through in-depth, multi-site field studies this project will develop a theory of how technology brokering is accomplished in the new era of crowdsourcing and document this new phenomenon.
As web use has grown, new web-enabled methods have been developed for collecting ideas from the large globally distributed population of inventors. Crowdsourcing can be an effective innovation technique and these new platforms are being used to find solutions for such diverse problems as cleaning up oil spills, improving diaper absorbency, finding biomarkers for diseases, and designing new rail services. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of crowdsourcing for various types of problems can help firms optimize their innovation processes and enhance economic competitiveness. Successful crowdsourcing also provides intellectual and economic opportunities for members of underrepresented groups and for scientists and engineers in impoverished regions. Research results will be disseminated broadly through curricular materials appropriate for undergraduate and MBA and through a cross-disciplinary research workshop focused on the crowdsourcing of innovation.