What Is the Problem? Crowdsourcing Research Questions in Science
49 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2020
Date Written: May 11, 2020
Scientific research has for a long time been performed by professional scientists in a distinct institutional context. Recently, however, scientists have started to cross institutional boundaries by involving the general public (the crowd) directly in research. This crowd involvement tends to be confined to empirical stages of research process (e.g., data collection and processing) and it is not clear whether the crowd can also contribute to conceptual stages of the research process, in particular the formulation of research questions (RQs). Drawing on theories of problem solving and knowledge production, we first develop a framework that ties dimensions of research question quality to different types of experiential and scientific knowledge. We also discuss potential benefits and challenges of involving the crowd in RQ formulation and theorize how knowledge interventions affect RQ quality. We then use data from a field experiment in the medical sciences to explore features of research questions generated by the crowd and to test the effectiveness of knowledge interventions. Our results show that crowd members can generate high-quality research questions that differ from those typically produced in scientific research, although most RQs are plain problem restatements. More importantly, we show that the quality of crowd-generated RQs can be improved through simple interventions that provide crowd members with different types of scientific knowledge they are otherwise lacking. We discuss contributions to the literatures on the organization of science and distributed knowledge production, as well as implications for practitioners and policy makers.
Keywords: Organization of science, knowledge production, problem finding, crowdsourcing, field experiments
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