Guide: Subject Matter Experts (or SMEs)

This guide will give you the “who, why, and how” of subject matter experts (also known as SMEs).


Who are SMEs?

An SME is a person who is an authority in a particular area or topic. Usually with a formal education or extensive work experience in the subject you are investigating. For example, an accountant would be an SME in the domain of accountancy.


Why interview SMEs?

SMEs will be able to provide a deeper understanding into the crowdsourcing topic area you are investigating. They can assist in bringing attention to barriers you may not have considered or even validate the problem you are attempting to solve. Areas to address during your interview include:

  • what work is already being done in the issue area
  • what work isn’t being done
  • what are the barriers or issues
  • what feels unsolvable
  • what is the most important problem to solve

You will want to interview somewhere between 5 to 10 SMEs in multiple fields related to your topic area to ensure you get the full picture from multiple points of view. After conducting the first batch of interviews, trends will begin to emerge. There might become a clear frontrunner of which issue or part of the issue is most important to pursue for a crowdsourcing project. You may also discover there is already extensive work being done in your topic area so you will want to dig deeper to find the space that is ripe for innovation.

Once we understand enough about the issue area and how we’re going to focus the project, we apply this information to answer the following questions:

  • What is the goal of the crowdsourcing project?
  • What does a competitor need to submit to solve it (reach the goal)?
  • What are the important criteria we will judge the submissions against?
  • What questions are still remaining?

This is an iterative process; once we think we have the guidelines drafted up, we will bring them back to our SMEs for review, asking if they think we’re asking the right questions or if our judging criteria will give the right result. If it’s an innovation competition, we want to make sure we’ve thought of all the important parameters. It’s always useful to get different perspectives on the crowdsourcing design to help find potential blind spots or different opinions.

Other reasons to interview SMEs are to gain potential competitors (either through referrals or the SMEs themselves) and get feedback on the award.

You will also want to start thinking about recruiting potential judges for your crowdsourcing project during this phase. Unless you have a strong network of contacts related to your topic area, you will want to start reaching out to judges early so you can solidify your strategy on who will be scoring the submissions. Ask your interviewees if they would have the availability and interest in being on the judging panel.


How to find SMEs?

SMEs can be found through research on the internet. You can utilize an outsourcing website such as Upwork to have the SMEs located for you. See the “Secondary Research” guide as well as the “Targeted Marketing” guide for more details on using an outsourcing website.

If you do the research yourself, try searching on networking websites such as LinkedIn or About.me, University directories, or specialized Google searches such as “artificial intelligence” engineer.


How to conduct an SME interview:

See the Interviewing Subject Matter Experts article

If you run into scheduling conflicts while trying to set up times to speak, you can also email your interview guide to the SME for them to fill out at their leisure. There’s a possibility they may take longer to get back to you if you need to go this route, so be sure to follow up on a regular basis. Sometimes you may even receive more well thought out responses when the interviewee has time to write out and reflect on the questions.