Problemsourcing initiative gets the academic once-over

By Peter Kerr 24/04/2013 3


Open innovation and crowdsourcing are two relatively recent ways of finding solutions to (often) technical challenges experienced by companies.

There’s particular issues which need resolving when using the power of the crowd; along with the hope that someone has a usable answer.

Victoria (University) Business School in Wellington has, in the academic way that adheres to such publications’ rules, identified many of the pros and cons of open innovation and crowd sourcing in a hot-off-the-press paper recently published in ‘Technology Innovation Management Review’, see here.

Sally Davenport, Stephen Cummings, Urs Daellenbach and Charles Campbell have turned open innovation and crowd sourcing on its head with their paper and exploration; ‘Problemsourcing: Local Open Innovation for R&D Organizations’.

They’ve coined the term ‘problemsourcing’ – and given the rigour with which peer review is maintained – you have to presume they’re first.

“Problemsourcing is akin to crowdsourcing in reverse in that the open call initiator, not the crowd, holds the problem-solving capabilities, and the crowd-members offer not solutions but promising problems that would create substantial value if solved.”

The paper uses (the late) Industrial Research Ltd’s 2009 initiative ‘What’s Your Problem New Zealand’ as the model around which its authors explore problemsolving as a new open innovation practice – and in particular how the WYPNZ? competition for $1 million of research spending addresses eight key issues.
• Project delays
• Solution quality
• Ambiguous liability
• Temporary relationship
• Professional challenge
• Identity clash
• Exploitation and reputation effects
• Losers disenfranchised

The writers conclude that the success of WYPNZ? at this stage is measured primarily by the range of high-quality problems that were proposed as well as the sheer number of companies (in a small country) that, by submitting problems, indicated an interest in participating in such a process.

They point out: “With crowdsourcing, innovative activity is distributed somewhere in the crowd, but with problemsourcing, it remains firmly within the boundaries of the R&D organization, which we propose mitigates many of the risks and pitfalls associated with typical crowdsourcing initiatives.”

IRL ensured that its selected challenge had a fit with its own science and research resources, could make a difference to the country (and its economic health) and had a degree of sexiness (sticK, not Victoria Business School’s terminology) that would resonate with the general public and business alike. Resene Paints, and its wish to create a sustainable-base paint was the ultimate winner.

As Callaghan Innovation comes into being (and taking note of BusinessDesk journalist Pattrick Smellie’s recent article suggesting we give CI a chance to find its feet) the Davenport et al paper would be good reading for its people.

WYPNZ? was one of a number of IRL initiatives that lifted science and research beyond the white lab coat concept.

It spurred some companies which had never thought of R&D as a part of their business, to reconsider. It also brought (as the paper points out) many, many more partnering research opportunities IRL’s way.

WYPNZ? also dovetailed strongly, as you’d expect being its instigator, with IRL’s strengths.

But most of all it was fun.

And that’s an ‘f’ word we should allow ourselves, along with another one – failure.


3 Responses to “Problemsourcing initiative gets the academic once-over”

  • Looking deep into WYPNZ and the analysis of those who entered, I note the apparent inversion of applicants to finalists.

    Something like 60+% of applicants had less than 20 employees. But 6 of the 10 finalists had more than 100 employees.

    Again, it gives the lie that SMEs don’t have ideas. The problem is, as is pointed out, that they lack the ability to articulate or even describe their problems enough to get anywhere.

    I find that extremely sad. But the potential is enormous!!! I DO hope CI allow them to be heard.

  • Obvious question, is the winner Resene happy with the outcome, and has extra value been produced?. One company I’ve interacted with expressed concern about the high cost of using IRL/CI resources, so I suspect the WYPNZ selection process also included an ability to provide resources to get IRL/CI staff up to speed and also progress any research outcome, hence the trend to favour larger entities.

    On a slightly related note about longer term research, how are the science challenges going?. Last I heard, they plan on posting 224 submissions online. I’m curious how many of those were from existing research providers and how many were from the public.

    I’d actually expected a larger number of submissions, but perhaps the “make P manufacture safer” and “faster growing, more potent, cannabis” have been weeded out.

  • The “funny” thing to note here: WYPNZ was an innovative, arguably brave, initiative for IRL that exposed a large appetite for their services in the NZ business community. It was a trial out of their own dosh, but it’s very oversubscription was then used as a stick to prove how IRL was failing to meet the needs of NZ business or, as pg 33 of the Powering Innovation report put it, was “symptomatic of the present inability of IRL to fully engage with industry as broadly and deeply as it could”.