Crowd-sourcing and tagging: an application of knowledge management to continuous process improvement and innovation

Guest blog by Matthew Loxton1

This discussion is about Process Improvement from a Knowledge Management perspective, but rather than covering the topic from the stratosphere, I have chosen to dig into a very specific and somewhat narrow slice – the use of internal crowdsourcing and tagging as a conduit to producing (and encouraging) process and other improvements.

There are two pathways involved in how knowledge and process-improvement work together:

–      Ongoing or incremental process improvement in the Kaizen spirit, where small incremental changes are made by the practitioner in response to observations. This is essentially a “heads-down” effort that can result in building changes in the business process-flow (with[i] or without process tools).

–      Big-bang innovations that could lead to paradigmatic changes in anything from processes/procedures, to methods, to products, to strategic direction. Usually these come about not through maturing ideas in a domain or Community of Practice (CoP)[ii], but through importing an idea from an external domain where it was matured – most likely in an entirely different application.

In this blog I will address both of these with a common infrastructure and approach, but before we get started, there is a video that I need you to watch – because I am going to base the discussion on what Clay Shirky presented at TED Talks entitled “How Social Media Can Make History[iii]

Identifying controlled vocabulary to make it easier for people to share their knowledge

What I want you to imagine is combining a Controlled Vocabulary, Tagging, and the kind of internet behavior that Shirky described in the video.  By using your entire staff (and possibly partners, customers, and visitors) as a crowdsourced monitoring system for process improvement, you can have process improvement built into the framework itself and make use of the goodwill and cognitive excess that the people possess.

Imagine for instance that you settle on the tag #Fail as a term to describe something that is wrong – this could be anything from a problem in a parking bay, to something misstated on the corporate intranet, to a broken manhole cover on the factory floor.

With a smidgen of software tools to display a crowdmap, reports tagged as #fail can come from any number of sources – internal twitter-type text messages, images or video captured with cellphones, PC screenshots, emails, and so on.

Instead of having to first find the right form, fill it out, and send it to the correct department, the individual has a single place to go and a simple mechanism to tag something using whatever capture medium they have at hand or find convenient. Using a controlled vocabulary shortens the amount of description needed, and using tagging based on a controlled vocabulary enables easy capture without requiring a significant investment of effort by the individual – both making participation more likely.

Using tagging to address errors, failures and to innovate

The same mechanism used to tag errors and failures can be used to celebrate something[iv], to draw attention to something innovative, or to ask for help by simply using the internal vocabulary with which everyone should already be familiar.

Since tagging isn’t limited to canonical structure, several tagwords can be used in conjunction either by the originator or by any subsequent handlers of the message or contributors. It also easily enables “me-too” behavior in which a situation that gets reported by one person can trigger recognition by others, who can then in turn add information as a refinement or as further information.

For example, let’s say that a screenshot of an error message is captured with tagwords of #fail and #IT.

The IT department would be able to pluck the incident from the tag cloud, know who sent it and where they are, and then further code it with tagwords to refine the responsible IT group like #serverteam, and right down to the responsible individual, #bjones.

If more people recognize the situation as something they have encountered, they can simply add to that, and both geographical and rate information would be immediately apparent.

Using tagging in this fashion also enables big-bang innovations by creating a messaging portal through which paradigmatic innovations can penetrate the organization.  A person can notice a method or concept or product matured elsewhere, capture it in any way that is convenient and immediate, and tag it so that it can be noticed and reacted to within the organization.


Building on foundational Knowledge Management principles like knowledge-sharing behavior and tagging, and using them in this way across the intranet to foster and enable improvement can not only save costs, but can lead to dramatic innovations with far-reaching effects for the organization.


  1. Matthew Loxton was previously Global Director, Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom.  He is currently seeking a Management Position in Knowledge Management or Organizational Development at an innovative organization.  You can find out more about Matthew at
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog


[i] Using a tool allows the next enactment of the process to be created without any special training or even announcement having to take place

[ii] The friction between CoPs generates both new ideas, and exposure to ideas that have matured in other disciplines or geographies by stepwise changes. The region where CoPs overlap usually has practitioners who can translate from one domain to another.

[iii] []

[iv] As per Dean Kamen’s statement that “you get what you celebrate”