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.
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.