Crowdsourcing: Fostering openness and innovation

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Crowdsourcing could be interpreted as 'outsourcing to the crowd' where it is possible to extend the solution search beyond the boundaries of the industry. Image credit:
Crowdsourcing could be interpreted as 'outsourcing to the crowd' where it is possible to extend the solution search beyond the boundaries of the industry. Image credit:
Outsourcing in the nutraceutical industry has traditionally involved partnering with contract research organisations (CROs) to prove new concepts or differentiate unique product formulas - but more recently the industry has seen a shift in its use and definition of outsourcing.

The use of external resources and skill sets to generate ideas and directions has given rise to the concept of crowdsourcing.   

Collective brainstorming

Crowdsourcing could be interpreted as 'outsourcing to the crowd' in which an institution takes functions performed by employees and outsources it to an undefined, large network of people in the form of an open call.

The adoption of this approach is an evolution of market feedback, where product makers essentially ask their key demographics what they’d like to see in the future from their product offerings. Viable ideas are taken further safe in the knowledge they strike the right chord with their target audience.   

The concept has proved popular in related industries such as healthcare and has garnered support by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Its initiative, Crowds Care for Cancer, was developed with help from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to aid development of information management tools and applications.

Medable and its application ‘Together,’​ was the result of the open call. The app helps cancer survivors with transitions of care by linking them with caregivers and multiple providers on a HIPAA compliant platform. Together was built collaboratively by over 50 co-designers that included survivors, caregivers and providers and funded by Medstartr.

Crowdsourcing for the nutraceutical industry has come more in the form of how ideas are recognised, evaluated and transformed into products, harnessing a skill set located through crowdsourcing.

Smart Food smartphone app

To address the problem of obesity, a personalised messaging service using mobile applications as a potential tool combined with the collective knowledge of a dedicated crowd could be the answer.

Last year, researchers from the University of Ulster created a study​ to determine the feasibility of using experts in nutrition and non-experts to accurately identifying calories of meals from photographs as taken on a smartphone. Results of the study would then form a basis of a personalised messaging system designed to prevent obesity and effectively manage the condition using a mobile application.

Currently in the early stages of protocol development, the app has used crowdsourcing to determine the calorie content of 15 photographs depicting everyday meals. The results revealed that aggregating opinions from experts and also non-experts improved accuracy with the crowd of non-experts being more accurate in estimating calories from photographs taken on a smartphone than most individuals.

While these results looked promising, lecturer in health and interpersonal communication at Ulster University and co-author of the study, Dr Anne Moorhead, said parameters needed to be put in place to ensure accuracy.

“We need to ensure the sample is large enough as well as being valid. So validity and reliability work is important,” ​she told us.   

“Crowdsourcing has a range of advantages but in our work we are using crowdsourcing among the general public to provide motivational messages and advice.” 

EFSA – building relationships

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also embraced the concept of crowdsourcing as a means of promoting openness and transparency within the organisation.

In late 2015, it extended the deadline​ for its procurement procedure to mid-January 2016, with the intention of recruiting an external contractor to undertake a scoping exercise on food and feed risk assessment using crowdsourcing tools.

According to the tender document the pilot studies would not necessarily require the development of a crowdsourcing IT platform but the contractor would need to “assess the existing crowdsourcing platforms in order to identify systems that could be suitable for implementing the pilot studies …The results should be obtained, reviewed and presented in a report with a detailed section on lessons learnt”. 

Crowdsourcing methods, when applied to the right problem, have the potential to extend the solution search beyond normal boundaries.

In a competitive sector, businesses will have to go against the grain and foster openness to reap the rewards allowing companies to bypass knowledge-hoarders.

It’s not without its problems though. A high number of ideas require time and manpower to evaluate them. When ideas are simply ideas there is work in sifting through concepts that aren’t completely thought-through. As Dr Anne Moorhead mentioned earlier ideas need validity and reliability especially in an industry where accuracy and scientific credibility are essential.

This year, the NutraIngredients Awards have been refined and expanded to include an award for ‘outsourcing initiative of the year’.

Open to contract manufacturers, consultants, CROs, marketing agencies, and PR agencies, the award celebrates those who have achieved something special or unique as a ‘3rd party’ player.

Entries for NutraIngredients' ‘outsourcing initiative of the year’ award close Friday January 15th. Click HERE ​to find out how to enter.

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