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Even the most fledgling innovation program have a research component. Innovation research guides decision making, problem statements, idea generation, solution sourcing, and several other points in the innovation lifecycle. And when it comes to research there are lots of ways to get the data that you need – but two common ways are surveys and crowdsourcing.

What is a survey? A survey is a research tool that gathers data from a fixed group of people to gain insights into pre-defined areas of interest.

What is crowdsourcing? Well, it combines the two words “crowd” and “outsourcing” to describe a methodology where a number of different tasks can be outsourced to a large group of “outsiders.” Sometimes, those people (the crowd) form into online communities where they submit problems, ideas, and solutions by using crowdsourcing software. Oftentimes, innovation programs will crowdsource not just the ideas, but also the skill sets and passion that are necessary to implement some of the best ideas.

When is one approach appropriate and when does the other make more sense?

Surveys are absolutely essential for gathering data around a fixed set of data points. Do you want to know what matters most to users for a feature set that you’re already building? Do you want an understanding of the make-up of your potential target market? Those are the types of questions for which you would need a survey.

But when it comes to innovation research, there are often gaps or blue oceans in the market where new products or services can create totally unlooked-for solutions. With crowdsourcing, the crowd sets the agenda and can lead you to new and surprising places.

Most innovators want to see both sets of information: the data that can tell them more about what they knew, and data that can lead them in new directions along different visionary paths. So the question is, what is the type of data that you’re looking for – fixed quantitative data or open qualitative and quantitative data?

Let’s add one caveat though. Both methods are powerful and effective tools for generating meaningful new data and ideas, but they are only part of a larger innovation strategy in which numerous other things need to function well: the ability to derive insights on that data, the ability to act on that data, the willingness to fail, the ability to communicate, and so much more.

To learn more about how crowdsourcing and surveys compare, download this complimentary infographic.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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