How do Scientists Select Problems to Solve? Evidence from InnoCentive Problem-Solving Challenges
How do scientific problem solvers choose which problems to work on? In open innovation approaches, firms broadcast problems that they cannot solve internally to a 'crowd' of potential problem solvers. We use data from 1,253 scientific problems broadcast to over 160,000 solvers on the InnoCentive platform to show how solvers match to problems in an open innovation setting. Using a measure of the degree of proximity between problems and solvers in knowledge space and drawing upon multiple observations for the same individual over time, we show how broadcast search induces varying levels of expertise among solvers at each stage of the problem-solving process. In more traditional firm settings, managers who are faced with assigning workers to problems typically look for experts in the field, but our evidence suggests that there is likely a benefit to having relative 'outsiders' working on problems as well.
Ina Ganguli is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University and part of the Harvard Business School-Harvard Medical School Innovation Lab. In the Fall of 2012, she will join the Stockholm School of Economics as an Assistant Professor. Her research areas are labor economics, the economics of science and innovation, international development and economic history. She was previously a U.S. Embassy Policy Specialist in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine, and a Bundestag International Parliamentary Program Fellow in Germany. Ina holds a PhD from Harvard University, a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences from Northwestern University.