Many minds make better work.

I am always impressed by the ideas that come from a collective passion for a project. I like to watch clever people solve problems, elevating teams with their ingenuity and helping to build a better community in the knowledge industry. One of my favorite things to do is read through constructive (underline, highlight, bold, triple emphasize constructive) comments online. Open source software forums, innovation blogs, and advice pages are some of my favorite online places to spend time. Of course, there is garbage to be filtered out, but when I find nuggets of wisdom, it’s inspiring.

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Crowdsourcing has a foothold in the professional world, too. Not only do companies use online portfolios (like this one from Zendesk) to tout and refine their products, they’re encouraging companies to develop community forums to take functionality even further (another example from Zendesk) by asking questions, requesting features, and troubleshooting problems.  When the data in these sites are collated, a very useful overview develops; one that welcomes not only industry success stories, but customer experience stories, both of which help companies to remain competitive.

Rachel Spilka, from UW Milwaukee, wrote about this trend back in 2010 in her book “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice.”  In looking at internal business cases, she wrote “using databases to publish content lets the company welcome contributions from people outside the technical communications department, including those who work for the company in technical and marketing capacities and customers who have developed expertise with the products and services who have a first hand user’s perspective” (29).  In my professional experience, this is the norm, one that has provided value and reduced duplicate work.  One tool I’ve used to encourage this type of inter-departmental communication is Confluence, part of Atlassian’s suite of products.  Their product allows teams to publish project tables, wiki pages, schedules, historical data and trends, and knowledge bases. Each of these publications comes with a comment section at the bottom.  Anyone could comment on any page at my company.  This helped most notably, in my mind, when designers were working through a project and someone from customer service chimed in with concerns or praises about how a change may impact the customer experience.  Their knowledge of the UI and developers’ knowledge of system dependencies helped to find an acceptable solution, thus avoiding costly redesigns and disagreements before they happened. I also saw a very scary maintenance schedule altered after a conflict between teams surfaced.  Because one team’s schedules and plans were published, others could search for key words to ensure their own work in the same network spaces weren’t at risk. Instead of weeks of undoing the changes and follow up meetings, the teams simply changed their schedules by 4 hours each, allowing both of them to do their work in the same 24-hour window without incident. 

I’m curious about positive, specific experiences others have had with crowdsourcing.  Do you have an example of a clever solution that was contributed by a user?  Perhaps a responsive employee helped to prevent a problem?  I could use a dose of human ingenuity and innovation.

About Kim Smith mccroryk0613 Grad School: Technical and Professional Communications Madison, WI

Posted on October 28, 2020, in Technology, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Hi Kim,
    My examples is going to relate more to social media than workplace solutions. Earlier in my career, I worked as a digital marketing manager for an online pet brand. Each year, in December, we would do a major charity drive and we used crowdsourcing to select the charity. Once we had a top 5 (based on user comments and likes), we ran a poll to allow users to vote on who they thought we should select for the December charity. Customers could both purchase products donate to the chose charity so it was import we chose a “fan favorite”. The December charity selection was always successful because we let our customers choose. People would become very actively involved in the decision, as would the various charities. However, the most clever and game-changing suggestion was when a customer submitted that we should choose military working dogs for our charity that year. The suggestion made it onto the poll and received a significant amount of the vote. We actually saw so much support for military working dogs, they became our permanent December charity. We started a larger year-round charity program that selected different pet charities each month. December, however, was always reserved for military dogs.
    A lot of what we read this week deals, at its core, change influenced by technology. The ability to purchase products and support military working dogs had become so much easier with the ability to order products online. We could then work with military representatives to get the products from our warehouse and into, some years, Afghanistan. The inclusion of technology with charity work has made a profound and impactful change. The outreach and ability to support have grown with websites like GoFundMe or a digital presence for charities like Doctors without Borders. It’s also a major benefit that platforms like social media can help to spread charity efforts and needs. The progression of social media also allows us to connect on a global level bringing awareness so grassroots and local efforts that may have traditionally only functioned in a specific region.

  2. Kim,

    I loved that you mentioned the type of workflow where numerous divisions could comment on projects and ideas in the making.Currently, at me job we don’t have a smooth system like that and it’s infuriating. We have mailings that have been approved previously and have been mailing for weeks, and then in one weekly proof, our editor finds an error. Having her eyes on the project in the beginning stage would have saved a lot of areas time and money. Hearing from the writers, designers, people in marketing, those in print, and data analysis, all would provide input that one or two people might easily overlook. I don’t think having numerous people with different specialties being involved would slow down or clog the process, but bring to light concerns that may have been overlooked. One collaboration tool that I used last semester with a group project was Trello. You could list lots of to-dos for yourself and others, see the stages of the projects, while also being able to comment on others’ work. It was a great way to project manage!

    • Kim Smith mccroryk0613

      I think that the success of a blended project team has a lot to do with timing. Numerous people with different specialties provide great insight, but adding them too far along in the project can cause a lot of delays and insurmountable arguments that should have been dealt with much earlier in the project.

  3. Late comment, but in my reviewing of undergrad paper proposals I returned to the online journal First Monday to see what their latest issues focused on and saw the article “Crowdfunding during COVID-19: An international comparison of online fundraising” that might give you the dose of human ingenuity and innovation that you crave?

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