It’s Time To Actively Connect Crowdsourcing Work Models and Shared Value

By April 2, 2015 March 10th, 2017 News

Michael Porter and Mark R. Kramer published the essay, “Creating Shared Value,” in Harvard Business Review in January 2011. A seminal statement in that essay: “Shared value, then, is not about personal values. Nor is it about “sharing” the value already created by firms—a redistribution approach. Instead, it is about expanding the total pool of economic and social value.”

That pool, in a very real sense, is defined by an expanding population of workers around the globe performing tasks, solving challenges, driving innovation in crowdsourcing platforms. While it may be a simplistic view to connect their framework for “Shared Value” to crowdsourcing, it may also be legitimate.

Even while Porter promotes notions of clustering and local sourcing, the reality is that new connectivity can make almost anyone anywhere “local.” Perhaps it is easier to demonstrate the societal value in a local setting and easier to hide inequality when a worker is thousands of miles away. But connectivity also facilitates transparency and communication, so a worker and his well-being can be just as “present” as is the work performed.

In the essay, there’s no mention whatsoever of crowdsourcing. But one could hardly fault the authors for neglecting this labor model even four short years ago. In that interval, the number of crowd-based platforms has increased, the kinds of work being assigned to crowds has expanded and the number of workers looking to crowd platforms for earning prospects has climbed into the many millions.

As such, the model won’t stay in the shadow for long. A recent column in The Wall Street Journal, “On-Demand Workers; We Are Not Robots,” hits broadly at fair labor practices, notes current litigation, and stirs up semantics issues as basic as the definition of employee, contractor, freelancer. The controversy has only just been initiated. Will crowdsourcing platforms be exploitative and exhaustive or will they be respectful and productive?

What the situation calls for is a willingness, teased at by Porter and Kramer, to establish ethical practices for all contract labor, particularly that hosted by crowdsourcing platforms. Self-interest is actually better served when businesses respect the society that fuels its profits. And those profits need to be redefined, per Porter & Kramer, in terms of positive societal impact, rather than merely short-term returns. From their essay, “It is not philanthropy but self-interested behavior to create economic value by creating societal value. If all companies individually pursued shared value connected to their particular businesses, society’s overall interests would be served.” Crowdsourcing can be a contributor to that societal value, rather than a exploiter.

It’s time to promote ethical crowdsourcing models — in which the hirer, the hoster and the worker all benefit equitably. To learn more and engage in the discussion, visit Medium Channel “Ethical Crowdsourcing.”