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Innovation from within: empowering your workforce through crowdsourcing

Organizations can harness their workforce’s collective genius to drive innovation and create a meaningful employee experience.

In brief

  • The EY Americas Innovation team partnered with Cornell University to research how organizations can leverage innovation crowdsourcing for their unique challenges
  • The research team identified best practices for effective crowdsourcing campaigns, which can be reviewed in detail via this whitepaper

This article is co-authored by:

  • Dr. Michael Paz – Professor of Accounting and Behavioral Research at Cornell University

Additional contributors:

  • Nicole Green – Americas Innovation Culture & Ecosystems Lead, Ernst & Young LLP
  • Jennifer Kim – Manager, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP
  • Joe Gelman – Manager, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP
  • Grace Schwartz – Senior Consultant, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP
  • Carly Sappern – Senior Consultant, People Advisory Services, Ernst & Young LLP

Many organizations struggle to optimize their workforce and foster employee engagement. Crowdsourcing for innovation is a powerful tool that can address these challenges by enabling a more efficient allocation of resources and empowering employees with a sense of ownership. By leveraging the collective intelligence, skillsets, and creativity of the workforce, crowdsourcing drives innovation, fosters social connections, and uncovers breakthrough solutions that unlock new value. As organizations increasingly seek to remain competitive and adapt to rapidly changing business environments, it's critical to understand how crowdsourcing can be successfully implemented to address specific challenges.

In partnership with Cornell University, the Ernst & Young (EY) Americas Innovation team conducted extensive research to better understand how organizations can successfully implement crowdsourcing strategies tailored to their unique needs. This research reveals that crowdsourcing leads to a more efficient allocation of resources and empowers employees with a sense of ownership. In fact, larger organizations can benefit significantly from crowdsourcing as it provides a direct pipeline to source innovative ideas from all levels, thereby accelerating ideation and idea evaluation processes. Additionally, a study by the Harvard Business Review found that organizations that use crowdsourcing to innovate are more likely to outperform their peers in terms of revenue growth and market share. Through this partnership with Cornell University, the EY team has identified best practices for successfully implementing crowdsourcing strategies that can be tailored to specific organizational needs. By leveraging the collective intelligence of employees and stakeholders, organizations can realize significant value and stay competitive in today's rapidly changing business environment.

Read the full whitepaper here

Collaborative communities


To identify innovative solutions to challenges faced by clients, crowdsourcing for innovation relies on cross-organizational collaboration. The EY team focused much of their research on informal groups within organizations, otherwise known as collaborative communities. Members of these communities are diverse in rank and experience and collectively organize around a shared interest or industry. The diverse membership in collaborative communities helps to drive organic knowledge sharing and ideation.


Crowdsourcing provides a framework by which organizations can strategically tap into the power of these collaborative communities. Organizations can optimize the value of crowdsourcing and accelerate the ideation, idea evaluation, and product development pipeline by structuring ideation campaigns to target interest-driven communities instead of hosting general, open crowdsourcing campaigns. Leveraging existing collaborative communities allows organizations to easily identify diverse groups with a strong motivation to participate and the necessary skills to execute on tasks. 


Crowdsourcing structures


Among the numerous methods to engage collaborative communities in crowdsourcing, two proved to be most successful: strategic campaigns and skill-based support tasks. 


Strategic campaigns


Strategic campaigns involve targeted challenges to gather ideas and solutions from specific communities, aiming for broad scope and diverse input. Success metrics encompass both volume and quality, allowing for implementation of the best submissions while involving many participants.


Skill-based support tasks


Skill-based support tasks involve specialized communities tackling focused assignments like testing, research, and solution implementation, with success gauged by specific measurable outcomes such as functionality, gathered information, and effective solutions.

Two key methods to engage collaborative communities and activate crowdsourcing

1. Strategic campaigns

  • What: Challenges or contests used to collect trends, best practices or potential solutions for a problem
  • Who: Target intrinsically motivated communities (i.e., campaign aligns with groups interests, value set, career development goals, etc.)

Value proposition 

  • Upskilling opportunities
  • Product development
  • Employee contribution and pride

2. Skill-based tasks

  • What: Complete specific, measurable tasks that are usually technical in nature (i.e., product testing, coding, etc.)
  • Who: Target participants that have a specific skill or background knowledge to close a capability gap

Value proposition 

  • Idea generation and disruptive thinking
  • Employee engagement and agency
  • Interest and value-based connectivity

Create a meaningful employee experience 

Implementing a crowdsourcing capability has the power to redefine the employee experience and foster a culture of agency and innovation within an organization. This approach enables employees to contribute their unique perspectives and ideas, promoting a sense of ownership and collaboration that drives creativity and engagement.

Best practices in crowdsourcing 

Through extensive research and experimentation, the EY team has identified reliable strategies to help organizations maximize the benefits realized from their crowdsourcing initiatives:

  1. Create an easily accessible and intuitive crowdsourcing user experience, presented with a clear purpose to minimize barriers to entry and encourage employees to participate
  2. Engineer crowdsourcing prompts strategically to stimulate curiosity, avoiding prescriptive language that may limit the diversity or creativity of responses
  3. Frame crowdsourcing challenges around the target audience’s interests and offer incentives to participants that align with the desired outcome and perceived level of effort required
  4. Facilitate collaboration within the crowdsourcing challenge to encourage knowledge sharing, critical thinking, and upskilling which allows participants to naturally assume different persona types that uniquely contribute to the success of the initiative. Enabling teaming across diverse roles such as ideators, enhancers, leaders and more will result in more creative and comprehensive solutions. 

Exploring incentives and motivation in crowdsourcing 

Companies can strategically leverage extrinsic and intrinsic incentives to optimize engagement and productivity in innovation crowdsourcing campaigns. There may be overlaps, for example, intrinsic motivations to pursue career enhancing opportunities can be tied to downstream financial benefits that result from career success. Ultimately, different incentive structures will be most effective depending on the culture, target audience, and intended outcome.

Effect of incentives and motivation on crowdsourcing
This infographic maps the effects of incentives and motivation on innovation crowdsourcing. Intrinsic incentives include Social, Competitive Drive, and Personal Values. Extrinsic incentives include Financial and Material and Socialization. Combining extrinsic and intrinsic incentives leads to improved Engagement (Idea quantity) and Productivity (Idea quality).

When crowdsourcing tasks are complex and require creativity or problem-solving skills, financial incentives may reduce innovativeness by narrowing individuals' focus to the reward rather than inspiring them to explore a range of potential solutions. 

Intrinsic motivations and social incentives effectively promote engagement in crowdsourcing. In post campaign surveys, participants overwhelmingly highlighted intrinsic reasons as the impetuous for participation.

Both organizations and employees benefit from idea crowdsourcing

Impactful innovation crowdsourcing campaigns can drive value creation for the company and cultivate a meaningful employee experience.

By implementing crowdsourcing capabilities, organizations are better able to harness the potential of their workforce and create a positive and fulfilling work environment.

As a result, employees can experience greater job satisfaction which can lead to increased innovation and productivity. Crowdsourcing also provides meaningful opportunities for employees with excess capacity to contribute to the company’s long-term success. By engaging employees and demonstrating their value through crowdsourcing, organizations can improve employee retention rates as satisfied and motivated employees are more likely to remain committed to their careers and stay with the company over the long term.

Given these benefits, the EY team plans to continue research into the optimization of crowdsourcing capabilities, assessing how various strategies and incentive levers may yield the most impactful campaigns for organizations and their employees.


Effective crowdsourcing initiatives can yield substantial value for companies and enhance the employee experience. Integrating crowdsourcing into operations allows organizations to tap into their workforce's potential and cultivate a positive work atmosphere, fostering job satisfaction. This can in turn enhance innovation and productivity, benefiting both employees and the company. Additionally, crowdsourcing provides an avenue for employees with spare capacity to contribute to long-term success. This engagement bolsters retention rates, as content and motivated staff tend to stay committed. The EY team plans to further explore optimizing crowdsourcing, assessing strategies and incentives for optimal impact.

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