Crowdsourcing needs confines

Last week I went on a media planning course. Once the introductions, overviews and drinking socialising was done with, we got down to business with developing a media strategy for a new value range of products. In an afternoon.

It was incredibly challenging (especially considering we were all researchers) but extremely rewarding. We eventually found the balance between inspiration and insight, and came up with a half-decent plan.

In effect, the brief we were working on was being crowdsourced.

I have some problems with crowdsourcing, which I have written about before. It can work, but needs certain circumstances. A major problem we faced was a problem many crowdsourced projects face – finding the right dynamic.

We were placed in small groups of peers, each from a different background (media agency/ research agency/ software company etc). We had little knowledge of one another, and by dint of being peers there was no natural leader. By my nature, I work in a fast scatter gun fashion. Others are slower but more methodical and thorough. Both are equally valid, but it can be difficult to get them to complement one another.

We essentially needed a project manager to direct us.

Crowdsourcing has many benefits. But for it to be effective it needs to be tightly structured with the constituent elements clearly demarcated. A leader needs to fashion a coherent and cohesive central vision by pulling the pieces together to ensure that the final product is greater than the sum of its parts.

Take brainstorming as an example. I love brainstorming (I try to avoid “thought showers”). It is a great way to create ideas and to bounce them off different people and thoughts. But it needs a facilitator to carefully select the participants, to steer discussion and to ultimately make sense of the outputs.

And projects need project managers. Impetus comes from ownership. A project manager doesn’t necessarily have to possess total authority, but that person needs to keep the cogs whirring/plates spinning/pick appropriate metaphor. They need to delegate tasks to the most appropriate individuals, identify the weak links, keep the project focused, and ensure the deadlines are in sight.

But while the project manager doesn’t need total authority, he or she does need some. The Apprentice neatly shows the problems a leader picked from a group of peers encounters, and that was the challenge we faced on our course (though thankfully we largely managed to keep it good-natured).

Newspapers need editors. Exhibitions need curators. And projects need managers. Crowds have power, but that power needs someone to harness it.

sk

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