Idea Crowdsourcing for Innovation: Fundamentals and Recommendations

  • Résumé
    The phenomenon of using mass participation to gather collective intelligence and achieve greater economic performance (i.e. crowdsourcing) is gaining global momentum with companies. This research contributes to the ongoing discussion in the crowdsourcing literature by offering a framework to explain the concept of crowdsourcing, summarize current research streams and to guide future research.
    Citation : Zhao, Z. (Avr 2019). Idea Crowdsourcing for Innovation: Fundamentals and Recommendations. Management et Datascience, 3(2).
    L'auteur : 
    • Zhenzhen Zhao
       ( - ISC Paris
    Copyright : © 2019 l'auteur. Publication sous licence Creative Commons CC BY-ND.
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    Texte complet


    Idea crowdsourcing platforms have transformed the way in which companies involve individuals in the value co-creation process. In the form of innovation design contests, idea crowdsourcing adds value both to companies and individuals thanks to collective intelligence. Füller et al. (2011) highlight this phenomenon as “a renaissance among companies (p. 261)”. According to the annual report of Eyeka (2016), one of the most developed third-party crowdsourcing platforms, top brands such as Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, Ford, Johnson & Johnson have significantly increased the practice of crowdsourcing activity with important outcomes.

    Idea crowdsourcing platforms have developed rapidly and, although they have enormous potential, further exploration is needed. This article focuses on this new practice. The aim of the present study is to offer a research framework that is useful for researchers, companies, crowdsourcing platform developers, and crowdsourcing contributors to discover and investigate the potential of value co-creation.

    In the next section, the initial concept of idea crowdsourcing is revised, followed by a proposition of a research framework by understanding idea crowdsourcing through four perspectives: phenomenon, platform, profits and prospects.


    The term crowdsourcing, initially created by Jeff Howe in 2006, is defined as “a web based business pattern, which makes best use of the individuals on the internet, through open call, and finally get innovative solutions” (Howe, 2006). This definition, however, lacks a long-term perspective by considering the crowd as a durable source. Literature highlights the importance of crowdsourcing as establishing an active, loyal and durable community (Füller et al., 2011). Starting from this, the concept of community should be integrated into the definition, as it is crucial to encourage individuals to interact and contribute among themselves and with companies after the short-term open call. Therefore, a new definition of idea crowdsourcing is proposed as “an online business pattern, which makes the best use of individuals to get innovative solutions through an open all, and transforms the innovative potential of a crowd in an organized and durable community”.


    Having revised the definition of idea crowdsourcing, this section proposes a research framework (presented in Figure 1) that illustrates idea crowdsourcing through 4P angles: phenomenon, platform, profits and prospects. This model starts by providing the social web background where idea crowdsourcing was born under the climate of user empowerment and collective intelligence, followed by presenting different schemes of platform design that aim to stimulate intrinsic and extrinsic motivations of participation; then it illustrates the outcomes of idea crowdsourcing as different benefits/profits such as creative performance, knowledge creation, and brand loyalty; finally it offers future visions of idea crowdsourcing. These perspectives are illustrated in the following section respectively.

    Figure 1. 4P Research framework on idea crowdsourcing


    User Empowerment

    The social web puts people into the center of its vision. The web 2.0 platform has been characterized by greater interaction between users, harnessing collective intelligence and promoting individual involvement in generating contents and services (Zhao et al., 2009; 2010). The trend of individual involvement is highlighted in user empowerment (Zhao et al., 2009; 2010) and has increased with the emergence of new technology. Different structures of user empowerment exist, such as (1) user-generated content (UGC), alternatively known as user-created content (UCC), refers to any form of content, such as text, images and videos, that are created and posted by users through online platforms such as Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube and social media platforms. (2) user-generated service (UGS) (Zhao et al., 2009; 2010), a concept developed from the end user development (EUD), refers to a phenomenon of creation of web applications by end-users, usually by the generation, combination, and adaption of existing services to create cost-effective services and solve problems. UGC and UGS are often individual creations, however, different from UGC that is commonly shared in a social space, in UGS, the created services are generally developed for personal usage with a few exceptions (Yao et al., 2012; Zhao et al., 2012; Zhang et al., 2010).

    Collective Intelligence

    Collective intelligence is defined as shared intelligence that emerges from collective efforts to reach a consensus decision with collaboration and competition of many individuals. Idea crowdsourcing can be considered as a combination of user empowerment and collective intelligence (Figure 2). Different from UGC or UGS that are commonly created and used by individuals themselves, in idea crowdsourcing, innovative ideas or products are created together with “the crowd” for another entity such as a company or a brand. Increasing numbers of organizations seek to capture this trend to generate innovative ideas thanks to “collective intelligence” or the “wisdom of crowds” through dedicated websites. The rise of social web incorporates its potential to become a platform for innovation, by creating virtual relationships and breaking down barriers between organizations and creative people with different skills. This statement is shared by all the contemporary literature review about social media and crowdsourcing platforms. Idea crowdsourcing process is often stimulated by an open call addressed to a non-selective crowd of ordinary users. It is important for companies to integrate external stakeholders who are a more valuable source of ideas than internal experts who tend to fix their source of creativity on their domain-related knowledge (Zhao et al., 2016b).

    Figure 2. Idea crowdsourcing phenomenon: a combination of user empowerment and collective intelligence


    Extensive research has been conducted on idea crowdsourcing platforms from various perspectives. There is an ongoing debate among crowdsourcing scholars concerning the most appropriate mechanisms to establish an engaging and durable idea crowdsourcing platform, as the activation of motivation is the biggest challenge in idea crowdsourcing platforms. This sub-section summarizes existing research streams and identifies research gaps.

    Coopetitive Climate

    The first research stream aims to establish a coopetitive environment to stimulate crowds. Creativity scholars use the term “creative climate” to define an environment that integrates a set of factors that stimulate creativity. Zhao et al. (2016b) investigate how a coopetitive climate, which is a combination of competition and cooperation environment, influences creative performance comparing with a pure competitive climate and a pure cooperative climate. Empirical results show that participants generate more ideas and more creative ideas in coopetitive climate than in other climates (Zhao et al., 2016b); moreover, the attitude towards the organization is better in coopetitive climate than in others (Zhao et al., 2016a). Similar studies have been conducted by comparing competitive and cooperative features in designing idea crowdsourcing platforms, without using the concept “climate” (Elmoukhliss et al., 2017; Renard et al., 2016). The idea behind the coopetitive platform design is that participants support and challenge each other at the same time, by cooperating and developing a positive sense of competition (Zhao et al., 2016b).


    The second research stream highlights that an enjoyable creative experience is one of the most important factors in evoking participants’ creativity and motivation (Füller et al., 2011). Motivation factors as playfulness (Zhao and Renard, 2018), recognition, satisfaction, and accomplishment engage participants and make platform “a vibrant source of great connections and innovations” (Füller et al., 2011, p. 260). Within this trend, gamification, which refers to an engaging scheme in a non-game context with a set of elements associated with games (such as point scoring, leaderboard, badge, rules of play), has started to be integrated into crowdsourcing studies. Different from the approach of coopetition mechanism that offers a holistic view of the creative climate, gamification focuses on a set of precise game elements and features to establish a playful environment.

    Co-creation Experience

    While the above research streams focus on platform schemes, the third research stream highlights participants’ motivations by proposing the concept of co-creation experience (Füller et al., 2011). When participants provide feedback on submitted ideas, when they explore and establish relationships through comments, these actions are likely to enhance the feelings of autonomy, competence, enjoyment, and sense of the community, i.e. four elements of co-creation experience (Füller et al., 2011). The empirical evidence shows that co-creation experience significantly impacts the number of contributions by individuals as well as the quality of submitted designs (Füller et al., 2011).

    User Roles

    The fourth research stream focuses on user roles. Within the idea crowdsourcing platforms, individuals’ perceptions, preferences and decisions are not only based on information and suggestions presented by companies/brands, but are mainly influenced by ideas generated by other individuals and social interactions among them. This is the reason why empirical evidence aims to understand individuals’ roles in crowdsourcing and how these roles impact on their self-creativity processes. Several typologies of user roles exist by considering literature from online communities: for example: (1) visitors, novices, regulars, leaders and elders according to participant’s life cycle evolution within a community; (2) tourists, minglers, devotees and insiders based on different levels of social ties and consumption activities; (3) lurkers and posters based on users’ delivered contributions (Haikel-Elsabeh et al., 2018). A few crowdsourcing scholars try to bring above user typologies in idea crowdsourcing platforms to generate a new typology of user roles dedicated to crowdsourcing platforms, i.e. socializer, idea generator, master, efficient contributor, passive idea generator and passive commentator (Füller et al., 2014).

    Research Gap 1 – Brand Community Management

    Literature on crowdsourcing platforms commonly focuses on appropriate mechanism, few scholars address a brand perspective to explore how to manage the crowd and virtual community.

    Virtual community refers to a group of individuals who interact through social networks to pursue mutual interests. As mentioned in the revised definition, the building process of a community is crucial for brands to prompt the value co-creation in the long term.

    The social design model identifies two core elements to establish a virtual community: identity and conversation. Identity puts individual as the heart of the community component. It reflects the need for individuals to be recognized as independent, successful and competent people, who are able to establish and engage in a perceived sense of community (Huang and Benyoucef, 2013). The reputation is important at this stage, as it assures the identification of the self between the community members, and fulfills an important individual need for uniqueness (Zhao et al, working paper). The second element, conversation, is supported by convenient communication tools such as allowing individuals to generate, share, discuss, like and vote information. All these design tools concur to establish relationships in real time which produce social effects, prompting engagement on virtual platforms (Huang and Benyoucef, 2013).

    Virtual community management from a brand perspective is lacking in the current literature. Similar to brands’ social media channels, brand should develop reputation and activity systems in order to constantly update the community. At the same time, brand should interact with the contributors to develop a close and trusting relationship, through an idea guide profile who manages the community. The actual need in brand community management corresponds to leveraging relational resources of individuals in a durable long-term vision. It can be underlined that the most important factor of the virtual community is the management of social influence and reputation, by stimulating a “coopetitive climate” (Zhao et al., 2016b).

    Research Gap 2 – Design Features

    User-driven innovation has started to be studied from individuals’ perspective, by trying to conceptualize and realize design tools starting from individuals’ needs (Füller et al., 2011). Although extensive literature has identified certain features in order to design idea crowdsourcing platforms, however, no study to date has conducted an exhaustive analysis of a holistic view of design features of idea crowdsourcing platforms, to highlight the actual need in design to balance and manage the funnel of value co-creation. There is not yet a shared design model, though some common trends exist, such as generic tasks, multi-format submission possibility, monetary incentives and timelines. A design model is missing to guide idea crowdsourcing platform managers to implement functionalities, stimulate motivations of individuals, manage the virtual community and integrate the brand strategy (Zhao and Oberoi, working paper). A research agenda for this missing gap could be conducted with the following metrics (1) a heuristic evaluation to assess usability problems of current crowdsourcing platforms (Zhao, working paper); (2) qualitative research to understand participants’ attitude to the proposed design features; (3) experiments to explore how the design features impact on participants’ engagement and performance; and (4) a crowdsourcing prototype to validate the proposed design framework and relevant design principles.


    In this section, crowdsourcing platform outcomes are provided with identified research gaps.

    Creative Performance

    It is obvious that the most desirable outcome from value co-creation is innovative ideas, which are benefited from brands and individuals. Literature commonly uses the term “creative performance”, “creative contribution” or “creativity” with regard to innovative ideas (Füller et al., 2011; Zhao et al., 2016). Empirical studies demonstrate different factors that impact on creative performance, such as coopetitive climate (Zhao et al., 2016), and co-creation experience (Füller et al., 2011).

    Research Gap – 1 Brand Loyalty

    As previously discussed, few studies focus on brand perspective when considering idea crowdsourcing. Concept such as brand loyalty has rarely explored in idea crowdsourcing platforms but extensively studied in other forms of virtual communities such as social media. For example, Haikel-Elsabeh et al. (2018) highlight the important roles of brand engagement and brand community involvement on brand endorsement. Future research should consider brand initiated idea crowdsourcing platform as a brand community and explore more constructs related to brands such as customer engagement and brand loyalty.

    Research Gap – 2 Knowledge Creation

    Knowledge creation literature focuses on understanding the process of how to create knowledge within an organization. A conceptualization of the knowledge creation process within crowdsourcing platforms is required because of the increasing importance of knowledge being created outside organizations and on such platforms. However, a comprehensive understanding of how crowdsourcing platforms manage their features to create knowledge is missing. One of the ongoing works is to investigate features that guide crowdsourcing platform managers in implementing functionalities to motivate and manage virtual communities in order to create explicit and tacit knowledge through the knowledge creation process, i.e. socialization, combination, externalization, and internalization (Zhao and Oberoi, working paper).


    In the end, the prospects section presents a potential evolution of idea crowdsourcing platforms with two perspectives: mobile crowdsourcing and crowdsourcing commerce.

    From Web to Mobile Crowdsourcing

    The development of mobile applications has represented a challenge for companies or brands to innovate products through a new channel (Zhao and Balagué, 2015, Zhao and Huang, working paper). Today idea crowdsourcing is commonly implemented as web platforms, however, the process of value creation can be supported by certain mobile features as they make the co-creation of products easier and more flexible (Zhao and Balagué, 2017). For example, the camera and voice sensor allow individuals to take pictures and upload ideas with audio explanations. In the shampoo market, certain companies have encouraged consumers to take and share photos with their mobiles to express hair appearance in order to develop new shampoo products. Another mobile feature that can facilitate idea crowdsourcing is location awareness, to find geo-located community members with a mutual interest or benefit (Zhao, Renard and Lejeale, working paper).

    A New Social Commerce Model – Crowdsourcing Commerce

    Though several business models exist for idea crowdsourcing platforms, benefits gained from the collective innovations are commonly held by companies and not contributors (for example, most contributors get an amount of monetary reward; LEGO shares 1% revenue with product creators). Balagué and Zhao (2017) present four main social commerce models through two dimensions: individual/collective buying and product sharing. One evolution in this field should consider the transformation of social commerce to crowdsourcing commerce by adding a commerce layer directly in idea crowdsourcing platforms, i.e. contributors are allowed to fix a price of their created products (or community members are allowed to bid for innovative products) under certain rules so consumers can purchase directly from contributors. In this sense, a brand and product-centered commerce environment turns into a social and individual-centered one.


    As a combination of end-user empowerment and collective intelligence, the idea crowdsourcing phenomenon is gaining importance thanks to several factors: the openness of companies towards ordinary users, the added value of individuals’ creativity in the innovation process, the creation of loyal virtual communities. Idea crowdsourcing process involves various actors, including companies/brands, community members and platform, who all participate in value co-creation, i.e. the possibility to take part as active peers to a democratized and playful innovation process by submitting self-creativity, taking part in the evaluation process, and building an interactive communication. Table 1 matches the proposed research framework with the different actors.

    Idea crowdsourcing should be designed with appropriate mechanisms by allowing an enjoyable and coopetitive experience for both individuals and companies/brands, which in turn impacts on creative performance, knowledge creation and brand loyalty, to build an organized and durable community.

    Table 1. 4P research framework: perspective from different actors


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    I thank Valeria Borelli, project manager at Groupe GR and graduate MBA student at ISC Paris Business School. Her curiosity and passion for the subject inspired and initiated this research.

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