Crowdsourcing research questions in Science – why?

New research ideas and questions are usually generated by researchers specialized in their respective fields. As such, they are limited to the capability of researchers and their scientific communities to identify potential gaps in current literature. However, opening up this process to potential beneficiaries of the research (e.g., crowds of patients or medical professionals in the case of health sciences) holds the potential of identifying novel and relevant research questions that have previously not been considered. This bottom-up approach may provide important inspiration for individual researchers and research communities, and benefit the general society by linking societal challenges more closely to scientific research.

Open Innovation is a big opportunity for science and leverages new ways of cooperation. At the interface between science, business and society, new and previously uninvolved players can get a voice. When a large crowd from all over the world shares its knowledge and contributes to generating novel ideas, new solutions and especially new research questions will arise.

Lucia Malfent
Former Operational Manager LBG OIS Center (2016-2019)

What is CRIS?

"Crowdsourcing" describes the way in which individual problems or an organization’s tasks can be solved or addressed with the help of crowd-based, external knowledge carriers. This includes (but is not limited to) the use of various online platforms. Generating research questions is a key step within the scientific research cycle. To move science forward, researchers typically generate hypotheses based on the scientific literature and the knowledge currently available within their disciplinary silos. 


But this can potentially mean overlooking important societal needs of which researchers should be aware.

By applying Open Innovation in Science methods, we aim to create an environment in which knowledge that does not originate from within this discourse can be incorporated into research. With this approach, we aim to change conventional research and open up new avenues to improve science.

To address the global grande challenges, we need innovative scientific and societal solutions - science and society must work together to find these solutions. 'Open science, open innovation, open to the world' is the motto of the EU Open Science agenda. What a challenge, what an incentive for deep change.

Johannes Vogel
Director General, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Leibniz-Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity // Professor of Biodiversity and Public Science at the Humboldt University, Berlin // Chair, Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP), European Commission – DG Research & InnovationChair, European Citizen Science Association (ECSA)

Crowdsourcing Research questions in Science I

CRIS I took place within the field of mental health, pioneering the use of crowdsourcing to generate novel research questions. Analyzing secondary data and interviewing international experts, the field of mental health was carefully selected on the basis of the following criteria:

  • high prevalence rates and widespread concern on a population level (including those directly affected and their relatives, all age groups)
  • mental illnesses are subject to little research in relation to other illnesses (i.e. cancer)
  • all age groups and social classes are concerned with mental illness
  • highly relevant to health policy (the results of mental illnesses have drastic effects on society, i.e. early retirement, long-term sick leave, etc.)

Recent statistics indicate that 20% of all individuals develop a mental illness once during their lifetime. In a nutshell, research on mental illnesses is highly relevant on a public health, economic and policy level but comparably little researched.

How was CRIS I organized?

  1. First, ideas, problems and/or proposed solutions were collected from a heterogeneous and self-selected stakeholder sample – the specific focus was on patients, their relatives and caregivers (crowdsourcing process)

In a second step, the suggested problem areas, research questions and topics were clustered by our analysis team (analysis process)

  1. This step was followed by an evaluation (crowd voting + expert jury) and subsequently by
  2. selecting individual clusters of questions that serve as an inspiration for new research activities.

The CRIS I online platform was open for 11 weeks from April to July 2015. During this period, patients, their caregivers, doctors or employers could submit their unsolved problems and open research questions in the field of mental health. Submitting a contribution to CRIS I required a pre-registration on the platform. All contributions were treated as strictly confidential and were, of course, subject to data protection. Participants had the option to delete their profile after submitting their contributions. In this case, the contributions remained in the system but could not be associated with the former profile.

Main Results of CRIS I

Results in Figures

  • 400 Posts
  • 700 Text Passages
  • 446 Sub-Topics
  • 17 Main Clusters
  • 7 Research Fields

Top 3 Topics

Mental health of children and adolescents

Destigmatising mental illness

Healthcare provision for mentally ill persons

400Posts_mobile 5% of the respondents came from the rest of the world (e.g.: Switzerland, UK, Greece) 53% came from Austria 42% came from Germany 400 POSTS 7 0% of the registered participants are female 40% of the participants who voluntarily provided this information described themselves as patients, 17% as family members 60% have a university degree 400-Posts 400 POSTS 5% of the respondents came from the rest of the world (e.g.: Switzerland, UK, Greece) 42% came from Germany 60% have a university degree 70% of the registered participants are female 53% came from Austria 40% of the participants who voluntarily provided this information described themselves as patients, 17% as family members

One outcome considered particularly relevant was to study how mental illnesses of parents affect the development of their children. To be more specific, this involves:

  • Early detection / diagnosis in different developmental stages of childhood and adolescence
  • Effective prevention and strategies for building mental resilience in children and adolescents
  • Therapeutic intervention and medication including trauma therapies

Dissemination: What happened to the Results?

Based on the research questions generated, the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft hosted an Ideas Lab in May 2017. The Ideas Lab served as a catalyst to help scientists from various disciplines conceptualize and formulate research proposals within the scope of the identified research topics.









LBG provided in total € 6 million Euros over a period of four years to fund two Ludwig Boltzmann Research Groups on Mental Health for Children and Adolescents formed around the principal investigators and co-investigators arising from the Ideas Lab.

The Research Groups on Mental Health for Children and Adolescents will primarily be based at Austrian Universities.

CRIS I: Final Report

"Crowdsourcing research questions represents a paradigmatic shift in how we approach research in the health sciences.  „Tell us!“ aims to close research gaps and target unmet societal needs. From an ethical perspective, including the crowd in an innovative, bottom-up process may lead to highly relevant findings and improved results for both medical practice and research."
Alena buyx
Professor of Biomedical Ethics, Institute for Experimental Medicine, Christian-Albrechts University Kiel, Germany

Crowdsourcing Research questions in Science II

We ran our second crowdsourcing project in 2018. In this crowdsourcing project, we aimed to generate research questions within the clinical context of orthopedic Traumatology. 

Together with the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Experimental and Clinical Traumatology, we gained new insights into the field and crowdsourced a myriad of research questions drawn from expert and patient knowledge that has not yet been addressed by research.

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