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Co-Operative Crowdsourcing: One Small Step for British Business, One Giant Leap for Collaborative Economics

As the financial year draws to a close, many companies around the world will be reviewing the successes and challenges of the past year in order to set an appropriate strategy for the one due to start on the 1st of April. The standard way of going about this for most is for board directors to put their heads together, crunch data, make the decisions, and trickle the strategy down throughout the business.

A Different Route

However, last month one of the UK’s most well-recognised high street businesses The Co-Operative Group revealed it was tackling the process slightly differently. Instead of following the standard, it would be asking the public, customers, colleagues and members about their views on the future of the Group and the big issues facing communities across the UK. Here at Mindjet we refer to this as “open innovation,” because it involves both internal and external influencers. We were particularly excited to hear about this project, as this is what we work on with businesses of all sizes, day in and day out.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Co-Op , it consists of a family of businesses in various industries, including grocery stories, insurance, funeral care, and pharmacies to build a solid presence on local high streets around the country. Rather than being owned by shareholders, the Group is run by its members, who share ownership and make decisions democratically.

It will be doing so through an online questionnaire hosted by You Gov, rather than a using a formal crowdsourcing solution. These views will feed directly into the Group’s wider strategic review, the results of which will be unveiled in May. You can read its official announcement here.

As this is the most publicised open crowdsourcing initiative of its kind, it’s caused quite a stir in the media, with The Independent, The Guardian, The Telegraph, and Marketing all analysing the Group’s reasons for doing so. It’s encountered a fair bit of criticism, with some claiming it’s just a PR stunt, and others questioning whether it signals just how much the business has lost its way after reporting some rather worrisome earnings results. The Group has responded to these qualms by explaining that, as a mutual organisation looking to better serve the communities in which it operates, this kind of open engagement is vital.

Building a Foundation

From our standpoint it’s great to see such an established British business taking its first steps into structured crowdsourcing. We’ve been working behind the scenes with organisations such as Cisco, Citi and the UN Refugee Agency to enable repeatable crowdsourced innovation and business success for many years. As my colleague Arwen Petty explained recently here, the concept of a collaborative economy is gaining ground around the world. This being when control moves from corporation to customer, so that the business’ direction is a direct result of consumer behaviour; instead of being based on the business’ interpretation of what the market needs.

So when you think about it, what The Co-Op is doing really does make sense. Why use data and guess-work to work out what your customers want when you can just ask them? I look forward to seeing what the outcome of the project is in May and how it influences their business success in 2014.

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