Crowdsourcing innovation

Assistant professor of supply chain and information management with college of computer and information science Chris Riedl. Photo by Liz Linder Photography.

D’Amore-McKim School of Business Assistant Professor of Supply Chain and Information Management with the College of Computer and Information Science Chris Riedl’s research and findings around crowdsourced innovation has led to significant awards, grants, and a project for a major space agency.

Riedl won a Young Investigator’s Award from the Department of Defense for his work on collaborative research, and won an $800,000 grant to collaborate with Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University. His research identifies that crowdsourced problem solving can be improved by combining it with emergent qualities of group dynamics.

Emergence is the ability of a group to create solutions that far exceed the creative limitations of its individual members, highlighting the collective whole as much more than the sum of its parts.

Riedl and others theorize that a network of individuals can come together to make changes that surpass the ability of any one person. Often, companies use crowdsourcing as a contest to solve a challenge they may have, welcoming submissions from many problem solvers.

Riedl and his group made a breakthrough in emergent studies, testing its theory of crowdsourced emergence for a major space agency.

This research breakthrough involved finding a way to create an “emergent” process among individuals spread worldwide. This addressed some of the usual issues associated with crowdsourcing, and utilized the power of emergence.

“Not all problems can be broken down that way,” said Riedl. “So our idea was: What if we put two of them together so that we get the enormous talent pool of crowdsourcing combined with the emergent qualities of a team?”

Riedl and his team applied this concept to seek an algorithm for the optimal number of space supplies needed for a given space mission. They ran a contest through a crowdsourcing platform reaching and involving people from around the globe.

The group crowdsourcing concept was a success and the space agency is currently using the winning algorithm to determine the medical kit necessities on future missions.

“The relevance to business innovation is inescapable, according to Riedl. Not only is group creativity more effective, it can be conducted effectively online, across time zones, and among people who do not know one another. Even more important is proof that emergence can be created among groups of people who have never met and are separated by thousands of miles,” the article said.

Read more about Riedl’s research on News@Northeastern.