by Peter Holtmann
It’s been a learning curve for me of late; reading in more detail about crowdsourcing, social collaboration, social commerce, and memes. Now, I have come across some of these topics at a high level in the past, especially when related to science topics of games-based solutions to solving scientific dilemmas such as the Rosetta project.
Then I started looking at Mozilla initiatives around open-source learning and badging. “There is something in this,” I told myself, as I related this open-source learning to some of our future initiatives. I continued to dig through articles until I hit pay dirt.
Crowdsourcing; and all things meme. I see this as potential for future training and deployment of audit resources. Crowdsourcing is the use of a collective of individuals—often remotely located from the work coordinator and e-based—that work together to achieve a common goal. It has a low investment with high return and an effective control of division of labor especially when apportioning smaller chunks of work (microwork) that combine to deliver the intended outcome.
Fiendishly clever in its inception, infinitely scalable, limitless potentials, and yet still nascent stuff. It has spawned a number of other collaborative consumption genres. To name but a small few here, social commerce (eBay); reputational systems (TripAdvisor); games-based solutions (Rosetta), crowd funding (Kiva); social peer-to-peer communities (open-source learning), etc. It’s amazing stuff!
Often the demographics of the people involved in these activities are middle-class, higher educated, self-employed folk. However a growing number of low-income earners are using these social enterprises to augment what would be a subsistence lifestyle at best. India, Indonesia, and Africa have been early adopter regions.
“Where’s the beef?” I hear you ask. Why is this even relevant to our industry of auditing? Picture if you will a social network that trains its own using peer-to-peer concepts (memes). In this universe, peer education is established by training organizations that set parameters for education based on industry want and need.
The content is aggregated from social opinion gathered from peer educators who would be considered the opinion leaders for industry, or rather the critical consciousness of auditing norms.
Training could be games-based, interactive, and based on real-world scenarios that simultaneously assess knowledge and skill, and resolve or innovate industrial applications for standards. Training outcomes could be considered truly global in perspective as peer groups internationally unite to educate the students.
Now skip forward to utilization of resources globally. Certification bodies would work with industry to determine best practice; again based on peer-to-peer interactions combined with international standards. The audit scope, timing, and audit team composition would be placed into the crowdsourced audit pool. Once these parameters are established the crowd would determine the composition of audit team.
Some members would work remotely, electronically, and on micro-projects, such as desk auditing, and their results would be fed back into the crowd for further use. Other members would be onsite and utilizing an electronic pool of technical experts who would be witnessing the audit through remote tools such as Google Glass.
The audit process would be games-based and interactively walk the audit team through their assigned duties, again using their interactive audit tools such as Google Glass. E-based members of the team would ensure that all process steps are completed and could compile audit results in real-time.
Finally, audit outcomes would be a collaborative exercise presented to the auditee onsite, in real-time, by the crowd using a team member as a meeting facilitator.
Outcomes. The certification body/registrar gets a completed audit for its client and can bill immediately for final outcomes, with a minimal carbon footprint, reduced onsite costs, and the highest level of customer service.
The auditee gets a globally benchmarked audit and outcomes, has proactively contributed to the audit process, and has probably gained a multitude of new professional connections and reference points.
This vision excites me greatly. I can see it in the not-too-distant future as the only acceptable and economical way of completing audits of standards-based activities.
So what are the potential drawbacks of this system?
Quality of outcomes. Ensuring that the crowd is the right crowd for the job. Often the crowd may be volunteers who are gaining valuable experience before embarking as auditor professionals. Some crowd members may have malicious intent for whatever reasons and thus control of their outcomes and actions could present a risk.
Equitable use of resources. On a social responsibility tangent, ensuring that the crowd receives fair income for their services. Currently most crowdsourced activities are tasked by volunteers. Nothing wrong with this but when outcomes have high stakes or employ high-level skills an expectation of fee for service is implied. When stretched across the globe into different economies and cultures the “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” axiom may become blurred.
Completion of task. This may present challenges as the crowd may move with more attractive or lucrative propositions, leaving you up the creek without a paddle. Here the use of social commerce or reputational systems plays a huge roll.
Just as you would probably never buy from an eBay seller with a very low seller’s score or book accommodation at a venue with a very low reviewer rating, the same could be deployed for both the registrar and the auditor crowd.
Low scoring auditors would receive less attention from the meme leaders or the registrars; and registrars would receive little engagement in projects if their terms and conditions were below average.
Access to audit services. When considering the auditee, the same could be said if they have a low score based on any number of social parameters such as ethical treatment, environmental controls, fair pay, anti-terrorism, etc. Despite their want to become certified the crowd may refuse to opt in. This is considered as an impact on reputational capital.
What are the big pluses for this vision?
It’s global! Anyone can participate from anywhere and be local to the center of work. The division of labor offers the “wisdom of the crowd” philosophy. Everyone grows, everyone gains. Especially important for emerging skilled workforces, industries, nations, economies.
The model that incorporates centrally planned audits, conducted by autonomous agents, whose competence is regulated by a central authority places great controls and transparency into the process and removes a raft of barriers to entry for the audit and auditor profession.
Most important, innovation is nurtured and allowed to propagate through the assistance of the crowd and the community. International standards would be worked upon by the “users” and the “programmers” (yes a Tron reference).
The standards would represent the collective wisdom of all parties and the greatest problems or challenges to standardization would be resolved in a games-based environment. The final standard would be presented to the regulatory bodies (ISO, IEC, etc.) for debate and approved for implementation.
Given the vision, here let me ask of you some critical questions. These questions would determine the ability of the vision to be realized.
- Would you become involved in crowdsourcing for audits?
- Would you volunteer to create meme-based training in a games-based environment?
- Would you engage in peer-to-peer innovation of industrial standards?
If you answered yes to one or more of these, I dare say we have a start toward an exciting future.
About the author
Peter Holtmann is president and CEO of RABQSA International Inc. and has more than 10 years of experience in the service and manufacturing industries. He received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Western Sydney in Australia and has worked in industrial chemicals, surface products, environmental testing, pharmaceutical, and nutritional products. Holtmann has served on various international committees for the National Food Processors Association in the United States and on the Safe Quality Foods auditor certification review board.