Does Crowdsourcing Really Surface the Best Insights in an Organization?

Waggl’s crowdsourcing platform harnesses employee insights for organizations to understand and address their greatest pain points immediately. When employees share their voice, and leaders listen, an ongoing cycle of powerful, collective engagement is spurred across an organization.

However, there is a concern that crowdsourcing can lead to groupthink and strategic manipulation. We interviewed social scientist Dr. Christine Mele to address this concern in relation to Waggl’s platform. Dr. Mele holds a PhD in Political Science from Florida State University and a BS in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Mele specializes in mathematical modeling, game theory, data analysis, statistics, and econometrics.

We sat down with Christine to hear more about some of the tough questions we receive from crowdsourcing skeptics to get her academic and practical responses.

Q&A on Crowdsourcing with a Game Theory Expert

Does crowdsourcing introduce the risk of groupthink or strategic manipulation?

Dr. Mele: Yes, while crowdsourcing lets us take advantage of the broad insights and skills across an organization in real-time, these downsides do exist with any open information gathering methodology.

How is crowdsourcing vulnerable to groupthink?

Dr. Mele: Vulnerability to groupthink was demonstrated famously in 1951 by psychologist Solomon Asch. Asch designed a test where each participant was asked to match the length of a line to three different length options. This was an easy task as the lines were extremely different lengths. However, when “fake” participants answered incorrectly, the real participants confirmed this incorrect answer at least 1/3 of the time (Berger, 2016).  

The Lorenz et al (2011) study provides an updated example. Participants were supposed to measure certain quantities in geography such as “population density in Switzerland,” or quantities of crime such as “murders in Switzerland.” As participants were given information about how others answered, they tended towards building a consensus rather than providing what they deemed the accurate answer.

How does Waggl address this downside?

Dr. Mele: Both examples evidence that providing participants limited information minimizes this vulnerability. In both cases, participants fell prey to groupthink because they were informed of others’ choices. Waggl steers employees away from this downside by prompting them to provide their initial comments without seeing others’ responses first.

Waggl also minimizes this downside by ensuring that all employee voices can be heard. This 2004 study by Scott Page and Lu Hong demonstrates that a broader, diverse group of problem solvers produce the most accurate guess. This benefit of diverse views was demonstrated in Asch’s line example as well. Hearing just one dissenting voice on the line length prompted participants to guess the correct answer. With Waggl, organizations can seek input from their entire employee base. The broader the Waggl pulse, the more diverse employee voices are elevated to counterbalance potential groupthink.

How is crowdsourcing susceptible to strategic manipulation?

Dr. Mele: Crowdsourcing is susceptible to strategic manipulation when tied to a competition with a prize for the “winner”. In 1936, John Maynard Keynes was interested in explaining price fluctuations in equity markets. He used an analogy, known today as the “Keynesian Beauty Contest”, to examine rational behavior in groups. In this famous analogy, a newspaper asked readers to select the six most attractive faces from a hundred photographs. They offered a prize to the winner who selected the most popular faces. In this situation, the reader did not select the person they found most beautiful. They selected the person they believed the other readers would find most beautiful. Therefore, the winner’s success was based on their perception of others’ preferences.  

This 2014 study by Naroditskiy et al in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface compares the the power and efficiency of crowdsourcing with the risk of strategic manipulation when voters compete openly for a prize. These researchers found that competitors become more vulnerable to sabotaging each other, and hence the chance for strategic manipulation increases, when the competitors’ progress is transparent.

How does Waggl address strategic manipulation?

Dr. Mele: As studies show, all traditional surveys that rank preferences are susceptible to some level of strategic manipulation.

However, Waggl’s platform isn’t subjected to the same manipulation referenced in the Keynesian Beauty Contest above. Waggl voters aren’t voting on contestants who have no relation to themselves simply to win a prize. By answering open-ended questions in Waggl, employees are attempting to “win” having an action they genuinely care about be prioritized by their manager. If an employee is concerned with compensation, they aren’t incentivized to comment on career development instead.

However, employees might shift their preference ranking to maximize their chance of “winning” an action they care about, even if it’s their secondary priority rather than their first. For example, if they feel both career development and compensation are priorities, they might write a comment about compensation if they believe most employees will prioritize this more. This may result in their “winning” their second priority rather than their first. In this case, strategic manipulation doesn’t lead them to comment on an action that is irrelevant to them. Instead they may “win” the important action they believe has the greatest consensus.

Given this, why choose Waggl for surfacing an organization’s best insights?

Dr. Mele: Waggl takes into account the potential downsides of crowdsourcing. Our platform counterbalances these with the value of providing organizations real-time actionable insights directly related to improving their performance and profitability.

While traditional surveys contain the same groupthink and strategic manipulation risks, they also require coders manually analyzing every open-ended answer to aggregate areas for improvement. Waggl’s platform eliminates this requirement. Waggl collects, synthesizes and presents organizations in real-time with their top priorities and guidance on ways to achieve them. Furthermore, the transparency and inclusion Waggl promotes across organizations continually motivates and aligns employees to do their best work together.

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