Governing crowdsourcing for unconstrained innovation problems

Michael A. Zaggl, Arvind Malhotra, Oliver Alexy, Ann Majchrzak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Research Summary: Theories of crowdsourced search suggest that firms should limit the search space from which solutions to the problem may be drawn by constraining the problem definition. In turn, problems that are not or cannot be constrained should be tackled through other means of innovation. We propose that unconstrained problems can be crowdsourced, but firms need to govern the crowds differently. Specifically, we hypothesize that firms should govern crowds for solving unconstrained problems by instructing them not just to solve the problem but also to help (re)define the problem by offering their problem frames and integrating others' frames. We find evidence for this interaction hypothesis in a field study of over a thousand participants in 20 different crowdsourcing events with interventions for the different governance approaches. Managerial Summary: Unconstrained innovation problems, which require finding a new product and a new market at the same time, are thought to be difficult to solve via crowdsourcing. We propose and test a governance approach for problem-finding, that is, (re)defining the firm's original problem statement by instructing crowds to make their problem frames explicit (by posting them) and to integrate others’ problem frames into their solution ideas. In doing so, we provide guidance for firms hoping to use crowdsourcing for both unconstrained and constrained problems. For constrained problems, as widely known, firms should govern for problem-solving only; for unconstrained problems, they should govern for problem-finding and problem-solving. Both forms of governance are “light-touch,” requiring only minimal intervention in the form of instructions for the crowd at the beginning of the crowdsourcing event.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2783-2817
Number of pages35
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • broadcast search
  • crowdsourcing
  • distributed innovation
  • idea generation
  • problem finding
  • search


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