By Daniel Hunter

Barack Obama famously crowd-sourced the finance for his election campaign - a powerful example of the ability of new technology to create a great aggregate result out of lots of small voluntary actions.

But this process is not as new as it seems: Sir James Murray used a similar approach to creating the Oxford English Dictionary back in 1897.

So while crowd-sourcing is a new and sexy concept, it really refers to the age-old process of recruiting groups to complete tasks that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for one person to complete alone.

According to chartered psychologist and author of ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management’ this is particularly pertinent within organisations that want to change their culture or some sort of staff behaviour. By crowd-sourcing the change, rather than trying to ‘encourage’ it, the process can be faster, easier and less traumatic for all concerned.

What is clearly important here is the voluntary nature of the participation rather than necessarily the paid/unpaid divide. In other words crowd-sourcing can be said to occur when people are not compelled to do the tasks by a job contract, but volunteer to be part of an organisational project. It is this volunteer element that makes Appreciative Inquiry a form of crowd-sourcing for organisational change.

So how do you use the principles of Appreciative Inquiry in order to crowd-source change?

1) Voluntary attendance: People are invited to attend the Appreciative Inquiry event. The event topic, the nature of the event, and the invitation have to be sufficiently compelling that people prioritise being there of their own volition. When people make an active choice to invest their time in the event, they are keen to get a good return on that.

2) Voluntary participation: The voluntarism principle needs to extend to participation in any and every particular activity or discussion that is planned for the day.

3) Voluntary contribution: One form of crowd-sourcing is the wisdom of the crowd. Calling on collective intelligence is a key feature of large group processes. However people are free to chose whether and what to contribute; so the event needs to create an atmosphere where people feel safe and trusting and so desire to share information and dreams and to build connection and intimacy. And of course the general principle doesn’t hold in every case, sometimes expert knowledge is more valuable and accurate than ‘the general view’.

4) Voluntary further action: With most Appreciative Inquiry based events, at some point there is a shift from the process in the day to actions in the future. Often this involves forming project or work groups to progress activity. Again group membership needs to be voluntary. The desire to contribute to changing things for the future needs to stem from the motivation and community built during the day.

By using Appreciative Inquiry in this way you are essentially creating a form of in-house crowd-sourcing around the challenges of organisational change or adaptation.

The ideal outcome of an Appreciative Inquiry event is that everyone is so affected by the event process, discussions, and aspirations that they are motivated to make small changes in their own behaviour on a day to day basis that will aggregate to a bigger shift, and even transformation within the organisation as a whole. Just like Obama’s fundraising — lots of small donations lead to a large campaign chest.

Crowd-sourcing is a great way to get big things to happen with a small amount of effort from many people — and Appreciative Inquiry is a great way of bringing this into your organisation.

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