Crowdsourcing – The best solutions do not always come from experts

The German government describes the #WirVersusVirus Hackathon as “one of the largest and most successful community campaigns against the coronavirus and its effects.” Together, people of all ages and professions searched for solutions – and numerous great projects were created. TUM Professor Dr. Joachim Henkel also believes that the best solutions do not always come from experts, but often from people who work outside the field of the respective problem. We interviewed him about crowdsourcing.


Professor Henkel, what exactly is crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing means that activities usually performed within the company are outsourced to an unknown number of people, typically using the internet. Many contributors can make small contributions at a time, as in Amazon’s Mechnical Turk. Other projects aim at identifying a few solvers in a large group of people who can make significant contributions. Examples include innovation platforms such as and, most recently, the German government’s hackathon #WirversusVirus and the “Give a breath – Challenge” by Munich Re, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and Innosabi, whose goal is the development of components for respiratory equipment.

To what extent is crowdsourcing used especially in times of crisis?

The urgency of innovation increases in times of crisis. This makes it particularly important to identify many ideas that could help with overcoming the crisis. Crowdsourcing is ideally suited for this, especially since people are more willing to make their ideas available in times of crisis. But crowdsourcing is also a valuable method of innovation management in normal times.

What are the advantages of crowdsourcing compared to outsourcing – or compared to traditional innovation development?

Crowdsourcing makes use of the diversity of ideas and competencies in the addressed group. The suggestions submitted are often unexpected and surprising. Research on innovation platforms, for example, shows that the best solutions often come from people who work outside the field of the respective problem. In addition, crowdsourcing can also be a marketing tool: by inviting the targeted customer group to submit proposals, they learn about the company and its products at the same time.


Prof. Dr. Henkel (*1965) was appointed full professor at TUM School of Management in 2004. Working in the field of technology and innovation management, he studies technology acquisitions, digitalization, open and user innovation, and patent management.

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