With Wikistrat, crowdsourcing gets geopolitical

Aaron Stanley in the Financial Times: “In January, while the world was focused on the build up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, a team of analysts scattered around the globe huddled in front of their computer screens and forecast that ethnic strife in Ukraine would lead to the eventual incorporation of Crimea into neighbouring Russia.

Much to the surprise of western intelligence, in a matter of weeks Vladimir Putin’s troops would occupy the disputed peninsula and a referendum would be passed authorising secession from Ukraine.

That a dispersed team of thinkers – assembled by a consultancy known as Wikistrat – could out-forecast the world’s leading intelligence agencies seems almost farcical. But it is an eye-opening example of yet another way that crowdsourcing is upending conventional wisdom.

Crowdsourcing has long been heralded as a means to shake up stale thinking in corporate spheres by providing cheaper, faster means of processing information and problem solving. But now even traditionally enigmatic defence and intelligence organisations and other geopolitical soothsayers are getting in on the act by using the “wisdom of the crowd” to predict how the chips of world events might fall.

Meanwhile, companies with crucial geopolitical interests, such as energy and financial services firms, have begun commissioning crowdsourced simulations of their own from Wikistrat to better gauge investment risk.

While some intelligence agencies have experimented with crowdsourcing to gain insights from the general public, Wikistrat uses a “closed crowd” of subject experts and bills itself as the world’s first crowdsourced analytical services consultancy.

A typical simulation, run on its interactive web platform, has roughly 70 participants. The crowd’s expertise and diversity is combined with Wikistrat’s patented model of “collaborative competition” that rewards participants for the breadth and quality of their contributions. The process is designed to provide a fresh view and shatter the traditional confines of groupthink….”

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