Impressions About Crowdsourcing From #OUI2014 at Harvard Business School

HBS drone picture OUI2014 croppedImage via

From July 28th to 30th, Harvard Business School organized the 12th Open and User Innovation Conference, a leading academic conference in which around 200 researchers from various disciplines (innovation, management, marketing, IP right management etc.) met in order to exchange recent research findings and plans related to innovation and crowdsourcing. The community tweeted eagerly about it, but if you don’t feel like going through the 600+ tweets about #OUI2014 to see what has been said, then here’s a post with impressions from the conference.

What has been discussed

Whether it’s called crowdsourcing or open innovation, the growth of methods for yoking together groups of experts in various fields to work on vexing problems or groundbreaking ideas has become one of the hottest areas of academic research, as the blog HBS Working Knowledge explains. During the 3 days of the conference, about 80 presentations about current research were presented to 190 attendees, with titles like « Does God Play Dice—Randomness Versus Deterministic Explanations of Crowdsourcing Success » or « Is The Crowdsourcing World Flat? Unpacking The Geography of Crowd Capital » (the latter was based on eYeka data, see below in this post).

Whether it’s called crowdsourcing or open innovation, [it] has become one of the hottest areas of academic research (HBS Working Knowledge)

In addition to crowdsourcing, contests, open innovation, or user innovations—improvements made to existing products that come from the people who use them – the conference started a track about crowdfunding this year. Crowdfunding has quickly grown as a research topic, mirroring the rising interest from artists to venture capitalists alike, and some pioneering research about crowdfunding comes from institutions like MIT and Wharton.

4 of the 16 sessions were about crowdsourcing (a fifth on crowdfunding), making this the major theme of the conference — by far the most popular in terms of submissions (Joel West)

Conference co-organizer Karim Lakhani, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and leading researcher in the field, underlined that the rise of crowdsourcing platforms (like eYeka, ndlr) constitutes an unprecedented chance for researchers to better understand innovative and creative behavior across the globe. Not only can they have access to publicly accessible data to analyze it, but they can also conduct real-world experiments that get them out of the laboratory settings, and see in what conditions users innovate better in online environments.

The rise of crowdsourcing platforms constitutes an unprecedented chance for researchers to better understand innovative behavior

Impressions from the conference

Let me share some impressions from the conference. Check out the above link to Tweet Binder to see a summary of the Twitter activity of #OUI2014 (a really cool tool!). But let me walk you through a couple of tweets of conference attendees to summarize the conference for you, busy crowdsourcing-interested reader.

On Monday, HBS’s Karim Lakhani kicked things off by introducing the attendees to the conference. He explained that the conference organizers received many papers, among which 122 had been accepted, and that Harvard Business School’s current buildings have been designed in an architecture competition in the 1920s.

Cornelius Herstatt from the University of Hamburg (Germany) explained, in another plenary talk, what the promising research areas in user innovation were. He explained that there is plenty of work to do, from a micro level (the individual) to the macro level (the countries and cultures), to better understand user innovation:

The track about contests and crowdsourcing had a couple of very interesting talks, including some testimonials US state agencies like NASA which use crowdsourcing to solve complex problems faster and better than internally. In the below photo, you can see Dr. Jeffrey R. Davis, Director of the Human Health and Performance Directorate at NASA, who explained that this open approach to problem solving did cause some internal resistance, which he would address earlier if he would have to run the same type of initiatives again.

We also presented a study about the geographical distribution of crowd participation on Monday afternoon. Read more about it on my blog, or see some pictures here:

 On Day 2, Wharton’s Ethan Mollick kicked off the day with a talk about crowdfunding, which was a “track” for the first time since OUI exists. He summarized recent research about crowdfunding, in which he is one of the leading academics.

After the plenary sessions of the morning, which allow you to wake up nicely with some insights from the field’s most respected specialists, we went to the break-out sessions, or “tracks,” in which researchers presented their research papers again. Vienna’s Nik Franke presented a paper I already blogged about, which provocatively claims that participation in crowdsourcing is not controllable and due to a large part to random factors.

Later, MIT’s Christian Catalini presented his research about crowdfunding, which he started before all the craze about crowdfunding actually started. His research finds that projects are often created during holiday season, when students have time to experiment. He also has a great paper about the geography of crowdfunding, using French data, and another one using data on a global level (see my tweet). See his research here, and here’s a tweet about his talk:

Tuesday evening we had our last dinner at Spangler Hall:

 Wednesday, our 3rd and last day kicked off with a plenary talk by the father of User Innovation, Eric Von Hippel, who presented the latest research trends when it comes to innovative user activity.

Aachen’s Frank Piller talked about Open Innovation, and Munich’s Joachim Henkel presented some of its research about Open Source Software. The below photo shows, among other things, an advertisement in which Microsoft mocked the open source approach, explaining that it could lead to uncontrollable outcomes and alter service or product quality. We know today that some of their strategic positions were not very forward-thinking…

At the end we did something really cool: we gathered in front of HBS’s Baker Library for a photo – as well as a drone snapshot. The HBS team did not only take a (traditional) photo of the OUI 2014 attendants, but also a cool drone video:

In a nutshell

Taking a step back, here what’s important to have in mind: After the early stream of research which looked at the motivations of participants (2000’s), the new wave looks at the conditions in which participants perform best in crowdsourcing (2010’s). When it comes to crowdsourcing, a lot of research indeed looks at the efforts of participants, either in competitive or collaborative settings.

After early research, which looked at the motivations of participants, the new wave looks at the conditions in which participants perform best

We’re in an age where it might be easier than ever to conduct research about this. Previously, you researchers had to look at sports competitions or simulations conducted in labs; today, crowdsourcing platforms will allow us to learn so much more about human behavior. Conference organizer Karim Lakhani underlined that much more can be done thanks to the data of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding platforms, which can provide rich information about creativity and innovation in this world… not talking about the potential for experimentations, which is also huge.

What will the future hold?

Next year’s edition of the conference will take place in Lisbon, tentatively in the middle of July. I don’t know if I will be there, but I know that Lisbon is a great city. Pedro Oliveira, who will be host in Lisbon, really convinced the crowd that it would be worthwhile coming (the venue – to be confirmed – might be a very prestigious monument of the Portuguese capital).

A final note

Please note that this is a selection of talks and impressions that are based on my impressions and interests, not an exhaustive review of what has been said. There were many interesting talks that I did not cover here, or that I did not attend at all (because there are parallel “tracks” running in academic conferences, you can’t be everywhere!) so I invite you to get in touch with me if you have questions.

If you’re shy, or if you would like to sift through the papers and/or slides that were presented, go through the tweets of other attendees, the conference’s Book of Abstracts or all the slides. Enjoy!

The conference took part at HBS's "Aldrich Hall" (shout out to our community manager Aldrich!)

The conference took part at HBS’s « Aldrich Hall » (shout out to our community manager Aldrich!)

About Yannig

Yannig was Marketing Manager at eYeka, responsible for PR, communication and research. Interested in marketing, innovation and design-related topics, he also loves to free his head by cycling, running, reading or drawing. Yannig, who holds an MSc from ESSCA School of Management and a PhD from University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, tweets under @YannigRoth and blogs at
This entry was posted in Events, Research and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Impressions About Crowdsourcing From #OUI2014 at Harvard Business School

  1. Joel West says:

    Of course I spotted the grammatical error in my tweet (« it’s » instead of « its ») after my tweet, but I never thought it would be quoted in an article or I would have re-issued it.

    I want to blame it on iPhone autocorrect (i.e. auto-error). Yeah, that’s it!

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse de messagerie ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *