UOW academics develop crowd-sourcing system to promote new ideas, increase engagement

Hong Kong’s largest public transport provider has collaborated with academics from SMART Infrastructure Facility with the aim of improving productivity and staff engagement within the company.

MTR Corporation, which operates Hong Kong’s extensive railway network, has commissioned the top research minds at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility to help the company bring employee-led innovation to the fore and overcome bureaucratic barriers with the help of a new crowd-sourcing system.

It represents a new direction for MTR Corporation, which currently accommodates up to 5.5 million passengers every day and is considered one of the world’s leading public transport operators.

Andrew McClusker, Director of Rail Logistics at SMART, said the system aimed to change the workplace culture at MTR from the ground up.

“MTR came to SMART because they want to make progress. The desire to continually improve is built into their DNA. This has led them to look at how they can overcome the inertia that bureaucracy naturally creates,” Mr McClusker said.

Associate Professor Rodney Clarke (pictured), who leads SMART’s Geosocial Intelligence for Urban Resilience and Liveability research group, said the collaboration with MTR will help the corporation to put more power in the hands of staff and encourage innovation.

“We are effectively changing workplace culture, make it less hierarchically driven, and allowing ideas to percolate up. If you have a strong hierarchy, it’s difficult to encourage people speaking up and encourage innovation,” Professor Clarke said.

“The aim is to pick that one idea that is really a game-changer for the industry. It’s the people who work there, or their customers, who are probably going to be the ones who will come up with that idea.”

SMART is developing a crowd-sourcing system that uses meta-moderation for quality control. Staff members submit ideas to the system and evaluate the ideas submitted by their peers.

Staff members also evaluate other people’s assessment of ideas – known as meta-moderation – meaning more than one staff member assesses all submissions. The system eliminates the problems often associated with employee-led innovation, such as bias, bottlenecks and outlier opinions.

“The system promotes an equal playing field – ideas are promoted based on their merit, not the status of the individual behind the idea, and the result is a short list of ideas that have been crowd sourced and cross-checked, which are then put to senior management for consideration,” Professor Clarke said.

SMART is a state-of-the-art facility that brings together experts from the fields of water, energy, modelling and economics with the University’s top academics on innovative research.

Words by India Lloyd. Originally published on UOW Newsroom.