This is a post that was written for www.communiquelive.com/features
Evenus, thought to be Socrates’s poetry instructor, is often quoted as having said: “The crowd gives the leader new strength.” This has never been truer today. Non-profit organizations, companies and governments that heed his advice and try to harness the power of the crowds will emerge as the next generation’s leaders.
It is important to begin with a basic understanding of what ‘crowdsourcing’ really is. We will then focus on some of the current trends and look more specifically at how the healthcare sector could benefit tremendously from this approach.
Jeff Howe, the person credited with coining the term and author of the book Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, talks about four types of crowdsourcing: collective intelligence, crowdcreation, voting and crowdfunding.
• Collective intelligence essentially means that if two brains are smarter than one, then 1,000 brains should be infinitely smarter still
• Crowdcreation is submitting creative ideas to crowds and selecting the best idea or presentation
• Voting, as in political voting, is the same process used to make decisions on everything from improvement ideas to ‘best recommendations’ on diets
• Crowdfunding is the crowd deciding to fund a purchase or collectively financing a social cause.
In the digital era, with the advent of new technologies like Google’s Sidewiki (beta launched September 2009), companies are now subject to crowdsourced content and opinions whether they are even aware of this or even participate in the process or not.
By making the decision to participate in the crowdsourcing process and putting in place mechanisms and personnel to manage this and reward the crowds, companies are exposed to a wealth of information. This treasure trove of actionable, up-to-the minute corporate data could be the holy grail of businesses that recognize the need and currently pay for market research projects, clinical trials, product development ideation or process re-engineering.
From the perspective of having up-to-date information on customers, markets and research data, it is no longer necessary to rely on last year’s studies or clinical trials.
These new ‘key opinion leaders’, brand champions or tribal chiefs are ready, willing and able to participate in these processes right along with you. And they probably already are, whether you choose to listen and participate or not. By taking the time to get involved with your crowds and tribes, you’ll benefit from a reiterative process.
Emma Johnson, the award-winning business journalist, quotes Howe in a recent article about crowdsourcing on the business website Entrepreneur.com: “Increasingly, customers expect to have a say in the products they consume – especially Gen Yers, who’ve grown up in an age of Amazon.com reviews and YouTube.
Anyone under the age of 25 doesn’t need to read my book – they live it.” Howe also says: “And anyone dealing with that demographic as vendors needs to understand that world.”
So how can the health sector benefit from this powerful process?
Every day, healthcare websites are popping up and offering various crowdsourcing options for patients and caregivers, doctors and pharmaceutical companies, federal, state and local governments. It’s becoming such a movement that even payers and non-profits are getting involved. The importance of crowdsourcing is becoming abundantly clear. It can benefit all that are involved on all sides of the paradigm.
Many innovative uses are turning the power of one into a power for all. Sites such as Flutrackr or Google’s FluTrends use crowdsourced data to, in one case, track flu outbreaks and the other, to estimate flu trends. Both models have fantastic uses in a number of healthcare situations. For retail focus, doctors could stock up for likely demand; for pharma companies, plant production could be increased, and for federal, state or local governments, the need to anticipate school closures or to stock up on necessary equipment such as facemasks is easy to predict.
Patients can now access websites that allow them to connect on a disease category or on a caregiver basis such as 23andMe.com. This is a personal testing site for which you can perform a comprehensive at-home DNA test by swabbing your mouth and sending it in for results on if you are likely to experience more than 100 conditions including heart attack and cancer. 23andMe.com is in a position to crowdsource genome research and is doing so on an aggregated basis for Parkinson’s and pre-eclampsia.
Want to comment on healthcare reform? There are websites that ask the crowd to help address healthcare reform issues. Makingmedicinesmarter.org is a new website from Medco that invites comments from visitors about reducing healthcare costs and expanding coverage.
One crowdsourcing tool that intrigues me is the Pharmer’s Market. The New York Times recently cited this online prediction market in the article Seeking a Shorter Path to New Drugs. Pharmer’s Market uses crowdsourcing to predict the success of a drug. The tool was developed by the combined efforts of a small team from the Sloan School of Management at MIT and Harvard Business School. This online market invites drug industry experts, such as biomedical researchers, to anonymously bet, using virtual dollars, on the possibility that specific breast cancer drugs, undergoing clinical trials, will meet failure or success.
Ragu Bharadwaj, one of the creators of Pharmer’s Market when he was an MIT graduate student, explained the value of the betting: researchers can evaluate whether the collective intelligence derived from the experts may serve as a handy predictive tool for drug companies.
Crowdsourcing and the FDA
Having seen how some major pharma companies and insurers are actively involved and engaging in this new space, let’s take a look at some possibilities for the federal government.
The FDA has been making a lot of noise recently about many things. Among the most recent newsworthy events involving the FDA, which monitors both food and drug safety issues, was a peanut butter recall. Director of FDA web communications, Sanjay Koyani, and his team did a remarkable job with the dissemination of information to consumers and professionals around the peanut butter recall and the affected products.
Koyani‘s team have become prolific users of Twitter and other social media tools to communicate directly with professionals and the general public. This has produced remarkable results both in terms of the speed of disseminating information and educating the public on an issue. Equally notable was the effort on the part of many citizens to aid in the dissemination of this information and to ‘pick up the torch’ on behalf of the FDA in informing and educating citizens. Thus, social media and crowdsourced presentations demonstrating again how it can achieve its goals.
Koyani and the FDA deserve to be commended for wholeheartedly embracing the power of digital communications to accomplish their outreach and educational goals in a much more timely fashion that ultimately results in professionals and citizens who are more quickly informed and better educated. Koyani was quick to point out that the direction of Aneesh Chopra, the first US Federal chief technology officer, has been instrumental in encouraging government agencies to do so.
Is it time for the FDA to do more and go the extra mile for the benefit of professionals, citizens and corporations that fall under its purview? With the advent of digital technology and crowdsourcing, it is now possible for the FDA to play a proactive role in the recognition of drug and food issues.
It is entirely possible that we would have an FDA that is better informed and able to deal with these issues as they are gestating and before they reach the local or even national level.
Building on its fine experience in distri-buting important information, the FDA could begin to actively engage in the dialogue and collection of relevant data on a much larger scale. Reviewing crowdsourcing tools such as Flutrackr and Google’s health, it is hard not to imagine a world where our federal agencies could become proactive in managing and averting public dangers.
For years we have heard about ‘chatter’, mostly from our intelligence and military organizations. Chatter could very well be used to make us more intelligent about matters of public health regarding both drug and food safety, helping to both anticipate and collect data on potential public dangers.
Having seen the clear benefits of crowdsourcing in healthcare, I hope you too believe in its benefits and become its champion.