Collaborative decentralised crowd innovation to address complex social problems


This project will explore the emerging technology-enabled phenomenon of self-organised crowd innovation for addressing complex social problems.

Crowds can solve complex problems that individual actors, and even states, cannot (Afuah and Tucci, 2012; Majchrzak and Malhotra 2020). For example, crowds have contributed to innovation creation for leading businesses, including: Cisco, Procter & Gamble, Sony, Starbucks, and Unilever (Bonabeau and Meyer, 2001; Hossain and Islam 2015). Crowds have also solved problems in traditionally specialised areas such as medicine, astrophysics, and mathematics, including crowd development of the SARS vaccine (Surowiecki, 2004), Galaxy Zoo to collect astronomical data (Franzoni and Sauermann, 2014), and transformation of the City of Vienna through decentralised crowd principles (Kornberger et al. 2017). However, the use of crowd innovations has been limited to individuals separately depositing ideas for consideration and inherently lacking initiative in the design, control, and sharing of ideas. In contrast, recent studies have started to challenge these assumptions, suggesting that the above view makes crowd innovation underproductive and calls for a collaborative, flexible approach that is engaged in the decentralised sharing of ideas and innovations (Majchrzak and Malhotra 2020).

This research will be focused on advancing knowledge of crowd-powered innovation for social problems such as fighting propaganda and institution inefficiency.

Case study: Belarus

In the context of Belarus, intensive crowd innovation is allowing citizens to address current social and political problems. Following evidence of fraud in the presidential election in August 2020, multiple government functions in security, economy, healthcare, and information provision have become counter-productive toward its citizens (e.g., continuous arrests, repression, business delicensing, massive dismissal of employees including healthcare workers, shut down of independent media and press, digital surveillance, and information propaganda). Under these conditions, over 500,000 citizens (out of 9.4 million population) have been engaging in an innovation-producing crowd via multiple chats on the platform Telegram. These various, continuously evolving, and mostly anonymous chat groups self-organise to collect, verify, and exchange information, coordinate activities, and provide help to those affected by the disfunctions of the government. Participants of diverse Telegram chats have also co-produced innovative solutions by developing aggregative channels, news bots, and bots. Further, information systems applications and knowledge databases and digital newspapers have been developed, diverse activities visualised, and collective online actions have enabled security and anonymity of the chat participants. This project will utilise big data analysis to explore the decentralised practices that enable knowledge sharing and innovative development within Telegram chats and to map these communities.

As the first step, a pilot study will be conducted in partnership with the Centre for European Transformation (CET), Belarus, on how particular social groups (e.g., retired people, students, women, healthcare workers, urban groups) are involved in crowd innovation and fighting online misinformation.