To bridge the gap between academia, industry and the public at large, crowdsourcing for all food-related problems could be a good fit. Making case studies revolving around food science publicly available may lead to efficient problem-solving platforms. Crowdsourcing could be a new trend for engaging all players in the food industry, even food scientists.
By: Mustafa Yavuz
Before jumping into this topic, it would be better to explain what crowdsourcing is. As described by Wikipedia, “Crowdsourcing is a sourcing model in which individuals or organizations obtain goods and services, including ideas and finances, from a large, relatively open and often rapidly-evolving group of internet users; it divides work between participants to achieve a cumulative result. The word crowdsourcing was coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson” (1). I will mostly focus on the non-profit version of crowdsourcing.
Frankly speaking, I was not familiar with the term until I watched a docuseries on Netflix called Diagnosis. In this series, patients suffering from hard-to-diagnose diseases have been depicted in a story including all details of the patient’s history. While publishing the patient’s story, all walks of life somehow have been participating to predict the causes behind the disease and recommend possible treatment to heal the patient. What fascinated me about Diagnosis is the collective and cumulative ideas created by people who were not even medical professionals. Instead of looking to experts, ideas were being drawn from the public crowd and were used to help patients suffering from disease. That crowdsourcing got people involved in a particular issue was intriguing to me since there is a potential to implement crowdsourcing for food scientists who are desperately and passionately looking for answers to big, small, or even specific questions.
For the rest of the article, I will try to explore how crowdsourcing can be a tool or platform between food scientists and among the public.
Image by TerroVesalainen from Pixabay
Having graduated with a B.S. degree from Food Engineering, I started a milk company in which we were dealing with serious problems such as shelf life and microbial spoilage. I had many questions in my mind. Sharing similar concerns with me, one of my classmates who was working in a cheese company was desperately seeking a solution so that they were able to valorize waste from the cheesemaking process. I strongly believe that such industrial cases or case studies ought to be discussed by all parties of industry and academia and beyond.
I have to admit that IFT has been doing a great job. Even though there are good blogs such as Science Meets Food, we need efficient communication of food technology ideas through a common platform. There are multiple food blogs that ask questions regarding specific cases, but the authors on those blogs are anonymous. Ideas in those blogs sometimes lack evidence or references. With this in mind, the glaring results of crowdsourcing can be a new hub for food scientists in industry and academia. Simply putting out a problem and collecting ideas sourced from the public would be the way to go.
Perhaps we can shape the research based on industrial needs through a crowdsourcing model as well.
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay
Another striking approach can be taken towards crowdsourcing. As we know, we are facing global problems regarding food waste, malnutrition or food deterioration, even legislation. We do have so many controversial issues that are usually addressed by experts. By throwing out a question regarding existing problems we are facing today, an open call for long-standing difficulties related to food will have a huge impact. As food scientists are developing novel technologies for the sake of good manufacturing, we will have more opportunities to put them into action and rectify the situation. In doing so, the science will not stay on paper. Crowdsourcing could be a tool to communicate with the public so that food scientists can funnel scientific knowledge into crowdsourcing.
Taken together, crowdsourcing could be a quintessential new tool among food scientists’ communication with all parties involved.
There are, however, some downsides of crowdsourcing. One particular problem could be how to sort out numerous ideas received from participants. Given the large number of potential participants, administrative support is a must and can be costly. That`s why some crowd-sourcing platforms use the assistance of voluntarily experts. On top of that, the ownership of intellectual property can be another sticky issue. Crowdsourced ideas may be previously patented, or there may be attempts by participants on crowdsourcing platforms to retain ownership rights to ideas. It is challenging problem, but I think administrative and legal support teams could handle this one, as well.
Even though there are some risks and limitations to run a crowd-sourcing platform, it is worth to try it. Since crowdsourcing is an open field to express ideas, and everybody can benefit from it, why not food scientists?!