Crowdsourcing “in reverse”: asking crowds to ask questions

It’s important to understand that crowdsourcing is first and foremost a question, a question that you ask a large and, ideally, diversified crowd of people. And for as long as it’s well-thought-out, properly defined, and clearly articulated, it doesn’t really matter what this question is about. It can be a question about a solution to a problem, something crowdsourcing is mostly known for; it can also be a question about the problem itself.

I call asking questions about a problem crowdsourcing “in reverse.” A few years ago, researchers at Harvard Medical School proved the effectiveness of this approach. They asked the crowd the following question: what do we not know to cure Type 1 diabetes? In other words, are there “neglected” problems that for whatever reasons were off the radars of the existing Type 1 diabetes research groups? What questions need to be asked to accelerate the rate of Type 1 diabetes research?

Interestingly, among 12 winning contributions, there was one submitted by a diabetes patient. Although lacking appropriate scientific background, this person has provided a unique perspective on the type of challenges faced by diabetes patients, a perspective that can’t be offered by a healthy individual.

Such approach—using crowdsourcing to combine scientific knowledge of doctors with experiential knowledge of patients—has been expanded and further developed by researchers at the Open Innovation in Science Center in Vienna, Austria. They addressed the issue of mental health and illness, a subject that is highly relevant from the public health, economic and policy points of view, yet relatively under-researched when compared to other medical conditions (such as cancer, for example).

During the submission period, which lasted for 11 weeks in spring-summer 2015, patients, their caregivers, doctors, and other medical professionals were asked to highlight unresolved problems and open research questions in the field of mental health. Characteristically, 40% of the received contributions were submitted by people who described themselves as patients.

The crowdsourcing campaign has identified an area of mental health research that hasn’t received sufficient attention so far: mental health of children and adolescents with mentally ill parents. To fill the gap, two research projects addressing this issue have since been launched with a total funding of six million euros over the period of four years.

The Center’s next target is the field of orthopedic traumatology. By launching a crowdsourcing campaign called “Tell Us!”, the researchers want to generate novel and original research questions, both from experts and patients, that have previously not been properly addressed in the area of traumatology research. As with the previous project, all “out-of-the-box” questions, ideas and hypotheses will be fed back into the scientific workflow.

The project will begin in early May 2018 and last for two months. If you believe (as I do) that this particular way of using crowdsourcing makes a lot of sense, please, help spread the word about the project. The project website is

I’d like to thank Benjamin Missbach (, Project Manager at the Open Innovation in Science Center, for introducing me to the “Tell Us!” project. I’m also grateful to him for his comments on this piece.

The image credit:

p.s. To subscribe to my monthly newsletter on crowdsourcing, go to

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
This entry was posted in Crowdsourcing, Health Care and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Crowdsourcing “in reverse”: asking crowds to ask questions

  1. Pingback: What we read this week (2 March 2018) – BMJ Digital

  2. Carolina Hidalgo says:

    Its a wonderful idea, many patients who suffer every day will be beneficiated from this new more humanity approache.
    I live in Costa Rica, central América, it is possible my participation in this process to make research questions?

    • Dear Carolina,
      Thank you for your nice comment. The “Tell Us!” project is going live on May 8. I suggest that you go to their website, register for participation and contribute your questions. Alternatively, you may choose to contact Benjamin Missbach, the manager of the project; his email address is at the bottom of the post.
      Best regards,

    • benjaminmissbach says:

      Dear Carolina! thank you very much for this nice comment. We would love to receive research questions from you — as mentioned by Eugene, the online goes live on the 8th of May. In the meantime, check out our website where you can sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about the project:

      also if you want to know more details, please don’t hesitate and get in touch with me via email —


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