Crowdsourcing & Open Innovation

The Laboratory of Innovation Science at Harvard is currently working on a number of studies, experiments, and projects that center around Crowdsourcing & Open Innovation. Such initiatives allow for the optimization of research for solutions to complex problems by calling on the crowd, instead of limiting knowledge to what is available within an organization.

Listed below are some examples of research which have greatly benefited from utilizing exterior knowledge and not limiting resources to those employed in-house, including a number of crowdsourcing challenges from our partners at NASA, the Broad Institute, and others. Browse LISH’s Crowdsourcing & Open Innovation projects and papers below.

If you are looking to run a crowdsourcing challenge, LISH's Find A Crowdsourcing Platform can help you find a platform that meets your needs.


Andrea Blasco, Olivia S. Jung, Karim R. Lakhani, and Michael Menietti. 2016. Motivating Effort in Contributing to Public Goods Inside Organizations: Field Experimental Evidence. National Bureau of Economic Research. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We investigate the factors driving workers’ decisions to generate public goods inside an organization through a randomized solicitation of workplace improvement proposals in a medical center with 1200 employees. We find that pecuniary incentives, such as winning a prize, generate a threefold increase in participation compared to non-pecuniary incentives alone, such as prestige or recognition. Participation is also increased by a solicitation appealing to improving the workplace. However, emphasizing the patient mission of the organization led to countervailing effects on participation. Overall, these results are consistent with workers having multiple underlying motivations to contribute to public goods inside the organization consisting of a combination of pecuniary and altruistic incentives associated with the mission of the organization.

Kevin J. Boudreau and Karim R. Lakhani. 2016. “Innovation Experiments: Researching Technical Advance, Knowledge Production, and the Design of Supporting Institutions.” In Innovation Policy and the Economy, 16: Pp. 135-167. Chicago, IL. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper discusses several challenges in designing field experiments to better understand how organizational and institutional design shapes innovation outcomes and the production of knowledge. We proceed to describe the field experimental research program carried out by our Crowd Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University to clarify how we have attempted to address these research design challenges. This program has simultaneously solved important practical innovation problems for partner organizations, like NASA and Harvard Medical School (HMS), while contributing research advances, particularly in relation to innovation contests and tournaments. We conclude by proceeding to highlight the opportunity for the scholarly community to develop a “science of innovation” that utilized field experiments as means to generate knowledge.

Christoph Riedl, Richard Zanibbi, Marti A. Hearst, Siyu Zhu, Michael Menietti, Jason Crusan, Ivan Metelsky, and Karim R. Lakhani. 2016. “Detecting Figures and Part Labels in Patents: Competition-Based Development of Image Processing Algorithms.” International Journal on Document Analysis and Recognition (IJDAR), 19, 2, Pp. 155-172. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Most United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent documents contain drawing pages which describe inventions graphically. By convention and by rule, these drawings contain figures and parts that are annotated with numbered labels but not with text. As a result, readers must scan the document to find the description of a given part label. To make progress toward automatic creation of ‘tool-tips’ and hyperlinks from part labels to their associated descriptions, the USPTO hosted a monthlong online competition in which participants developed algorithms to detect figures and diagram part labels. The challenge drew 232 teams of two, of which 70 teams (30 %) submitted solutions. An unusual feature was that each patent was represented by a 300-dpi page scan along with an HTML file containing patent text, allowing integration of text processing and graphics recognition in participant algorithms. The design and performance of the top-5 systems are presented along with a system developed after the competition, illustrating that the winning teams produced near state-of-the-art results under strict time and computation constraints. The first place system used the provided HTML text, obtaining a harmonic mean of recall and precision (F-measure) of 88.57 % for figure region detection, 78.81 % for figure regions with correctly recognized figure titles, and 70.98 % for part label detection and recognition. Data and source code for the top-5 systems are available through the online UCI Machine Learning Repository to support follow-on work by others in the document recognition community.

Kevin J. Boudreau, Karim R. Lakhani, and Michael Menietti. 2016. “Performance Responses to Competition Across Skill-Levels in Rank Order Tournaments: Field Evidence and Implications for Tournament Design.” The RAND Journal of Economics, 47, 1, Pp. 140-165. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Tournaments are widely used in the economy to organize production and innovation. We study individual data on 2775 contestants in 755 software algorithm development contests with random assignment. The performance response to added contestants varies nonmonotonically across contestants of different abilities, precisely conforming to theoretical predictions. Most participants respond negatively, whereas the highest-skilled contestants respond positively. In counterfactual simulations, we interpret a number of tournament design policies (number of competitors, prize allocation and structure, number of divisions, open entry) and assess their effectiveness in shaping optimal tournament outcomes for a designer.

Dietmar Harhoff and Karim R. Lakhani. 2016. Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities, and Open Innovation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The last two decades have witnessed an extraordinary growth of new models of managing and organizing the innovation process, which emphasize users over producers. Large parts of the knowledge economy now routinely rely on users, communities, and open innovation approaches to solve important technological and organizational problems. This view of innovation, pioneered by the economist Eric von Hippel, counters the dominant paradigm, which casts the profit-seeking incentives of firms as the main driver of technical change. In a series of influential writings, von Hippel and colleagues found empirical evidence that flatly contradicted the producer-centered model of innovation. Since then, the study of user-driven innovation has continued and expanded, with further empirical exploration of a distributed model of innovation that includes communities and platforms in a variety of contexts and with the development of theory to explain the economic underpinnings of this still emerging paradigm. This volume provides a comprehensive and multidisciplinary view of the field of user and open innovation, reflecting advances in the field over the last several decades.

The contributors—including many colleagues of Eric von Hippel—offer both theoretical and empirical perspectives from such diverse fields as economics, the history of science and technology, law, management, and policy. The empirical contexts for their studies range from household goods to financial services. After discussing the fundamentals of user innovation, the contributors cover communities and innovation; legal aspects of user and community innovation; new roles for user innovators; user interactions with firms; and user innovation in practice, describing experiments, toolkits, and crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

Karim R. Lakhani, Anne-Laure Fayard, Natalia Levina, and Greta Friar. 2015. OpenIDEO. Harvard Business School Teaching Notes. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Teaching Note for HBS Case 612-066.

The case describes OpenIDEO, an online offshoot of IDEO, one of the world's leading product design firms. OpenIDEO leverages IDEO's innovative design process and an online community to create solutions for social issues. Emphasis is placed on comparing the IDEO and OpenIDEO processes using real-world project examples. For IDEO this includes the redesign of Air New Zealand's long haul flights. For OpenIDEO this includes increasing bone marrow donor registrations and improving personal sanitation in Ghana. In addition, the importance of fostering a collaborative online environment is explored.