As increasing numbers of people around the world rely on mobile technology, uses include healthcare, education and agriculture.

Now Harvard University academics have examined whether mobile technology can be used to explain global differences in agricultural productivity.

Shawn Allen Cole, an associate professor in the finance unit at Harvard Business School and A Nilesh Fernando from the Harvard Kennedy School looked at cotton farmers in Gujarat India where a mobile phone based agricultural consulting service has been introduced.

They found that farmers that were able to use the service were less likely to turn to advice from fellow farmers. Using the mobile phone consulting service also changed the farmers’ management practices as they were more likely to adopt more effective pesticides, spend less on hazardous pesticides and also sowed larger amounts of cumin.

The researchers found that the farmers appeared to be willing to follow the consulting service’s advice without understanding why that advice was correct and when questioned the farmers did not appear to have any improved agricultural knowledge.

The paper, The value of advice: evidence from mobile phone-based agricultural extension can be found on the Social Science Research Network website.

● Companies and organisations are beginning to recognise and act on the value of crowdsourcing – using the wisdom of crowds to gain information or solve problems. But to get the optimum response researchers from Penn State say that crowdsourcing works best when it dovetails with particular types of crowdsourcing projects.

Hanging with the right crowd: matching crowdsourcing need to crowdsourcing characteristics written by Lee Erickson, a PhD student at Penn State University College of Information Science and Technology, Irene Petrick a senior lecturer of information science and technology and Eileen Trauth, a professor in the same department, say there are four areas in which crowd sourcing is frequently used: marketing/branding, improving productivity, product or service innovation and knowledge capture.

The authors also identify the characteristics of the crowd. Its location – external or internal; the crowd’s knowledge – is it general or specific, situation or domain specific; related to products and/or services; and finally the crowd’s value – its diversity, its size or its variety. Using these characteristics the academics have designed a framework that can be applied when considering how to cultivate crowds to give the best possible solution to a business problem.

The authors say that “Gaining a better understanding of the link between organisational need and desired crowd characteristics is key to the theoretical and practical application of crowdsourcing”.

The paper can be read online at the AIS Electronic Library.

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