Software requirements from a ‘crowd’ of employees increases involvement and usefulness

Case study at Royal Netherlands Marechaussee wins Best Paper Award

In his Master’s thesis, Jelle Wouters (Business Informatics) concludes that crowd-based requirements engineering (CrowdRE) can be successfully used in governmental organizations. Consulting a ‘crowd’ of users instead of only a few stakeholders increases both the involvement of employees and the usefulness of the provided requirements. The study resulted in a scientific paper that was not only accepted at the 2021 IEEE International Requirements Engineering conference, but even won the Best Paper Award in the conference’s industrial innovation track.

CrowdRE is a recent paradigm that focuses on collecting requirements for software products by using input from a crowd. Data is collected in two ways: by explicitly asking feedback to a large number of users (a crowd), and by monitoring contextual and usage data of a product. Since feedback is directly gathered from a large group of users, rather than via a few stakeholders who act as proxies, CrowdRE gives requirements engineers a more trustworthy picture of the requirements of a product.

CrowdRE in governmental organizations

Wouters’ research project was the first to focus on a governmental organization: the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, one of the four operational units of the Dutch Ministry of Defense. These organizations offer a unique context: they do not focus on profit and have to comply with several regulations that do not apply to private organizations, such as procurement laws. An organization-specific tool, called the “KMar Crowd”, was developed and used in two software development projects.

More than 520 employees actively contributed

Over a period of circa 3 months, more than 520 employees accessed the KMar Crowd and actively contributed to the development of the new software systems. 110 ideas were posted, 847 votes were cast, and the ideas were enriched with 106 comments. These numbers show that CrowdRE can successfully reach operational employees in governmental organizations, which is a difficult when using traditional RE techniques and are therefore less involved. Moreover, this is one of the largest CrowdRE studies so far.

By using the KMar Crowd, the requirement engineers could gain a unique perspective which is harder to obtain using more traditional techniques. Participants themselves indicated that they highly appreciated the way of working and would like to continue using the KMar Crowd. Over half of the posted ideas were sufficiently specific to implement in a minimal viable product, without additional work required for the requirement engineers.

Visual explanation of the Adapted CrowdRE method

Adapted CrowdRE method

The unique nature of governmental organizations required the researchers to adapt the CrowdRE method to fit the context at the KMar. For example, it was necessary to write summaries to keep the employees up-to-date without the necessity for them to read every idea. The researchers also found that the gamification element, used in previous CrowdRE studies to motivate participants, did not have an effect in this study, possible due to the specific nature of governmental organizations.

Publication

CrowdRE in a Governmental Setting: Lessons from Two Case Studies
Jelle Wouters, Rob Janssen, Bas van Hulst, John van Veenhuizen, Fabiano Dalpiaz, Sjaak Brinkkemper
29th IEEE International Requirements Engineering Conference, Industrial Innovation Track (RE'21), September 20-24, 2021