Get More Ideas From the Crowd

These five techniques for writing problem statements can improve results from crowdsourced challenges.

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An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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The rise of crowdsourcing platforms as a potential source for innovative ideas presents a challenge: How do you attract contributors to work on your particular problem?1 Past research has demonstrated the importance of well-crafted problem statements as a means to attract more innovative solutions.2 But what really goes into a problem statement that engages the crowd? Do the statements that attract a large number of proposed ideas share common elements?

Our research sought to answer these questions by unpacking problem statements, word by word, to identify the characteristics that attract the most idea submissions. Our analysis points to guidelines for managers tapping crowdsourcing sites on do’s and don’ts when writing a problem statement meant to attract solutions from creative freelancers.

We used data from Eÿeka, an online crowdsourcing platform focused on creative projects. Our findings are based on an analysis of 362 unique problem statements posted by 85 companies between 2016 and 2018. The statements sought ideas for marketing and social media campaigns, solutions to complex issues, proposals for products, and recommendations for entering new markets. The average number of responses received for each statement was 88; the highest number received was 370 and the lowest was five. We found that those receiving an above-average number of submissions shared some common elements — and we also identified four approaches to avoid when presenting a challenge to the crowd.

Five Ways to Engage Creatives

Our research found that the problem statements that attracted an above-average number of proposals used one or more of the following five techniques to pique freelancers’ interest and engage them with the problem.

Personalize the problem. Statements that address freelancers as “you” and explicitly ask them to solve the problem as if they were the customer are very effective in attracting more ideas.

For example, a company wanted to invent a new coffee drink. “We are sure you’ve known these moments in the afternoons when you just need to take a break from sleepiness, stress, or anxiety,” the statement noted. It described the coffee shop environment and referred to the opportunity to “enjoy some sweet time all by yourself or maybe sharing this moment with your friends.” And it concluded with a direct appeal: “We’d like to invent a new range of cold and sweet, ready-to-drink, milk-based coffee that people will love.



An MIT SMR initiative exploring how technology is reshaping the practice of management.
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1. S. Schäfer, D. Antons, D. Lüttgens, et al., “Talk to Your Crowd: Principles for Effective Communication in Crowdsourcing,” Research-Technology Management 60, no. 4 (July-Aug. 2017): 33-42.

2. P. Pollok, D. Lüttgens, and F.T. Piller, “Attracting Solutions in Crowdsourcing Contests: The Role of Knowledge Distance, Identity Disclosure, and Seeker Status,” Research Policy 48, no. 1 (February 2019): 98-114.

3. D. Hoffeld, “Want to Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears a Question?” Fast Company, Feb. 21, 2017,

4. G. Calic and S. Hélie, “Creative Sparks or Paralysis Traps? The Effects of Contradictions on Creative Processing and Creative Products,” Frontiers in Psychology 9 (Aug. 21, 2018): 1-17.

5. Pollok, Lüttgens, and Piller, “Attracting Solutions.”

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