Fall 2019

Online Policies for Efficient Volunteer Crowdsourcing

Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2021 12:50 pm1:20 pm

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Scott Rodilitz (Yale University)



Nonprofit crowdsourcing platforms such as food recovery organizations rely on volunteers to perform time-sensitive tasks. Thus, their success crucially depends on efficient volunteer utilization and engagement. To encourage volunteers to complete a task, platforms use nudging mechanisms to notify a subset of volunteers with the hope that at least one of them responds positively. However, since excessive notifications may reduce volunteer engagement, the platform faces a trade-off between notifying more volunteers for the current task and saving them for future ones. Motivated by these applications, we introduce the online volunteer notification problem, a generalization of online stochastic bipartite matching where tasks arrive following a known time-varying distribution over task types. Upon arrival of a task, the platform notifies a subset of volunteers with the objective of minimizing the number of missed tasks. To capture each volunteer's adverse reaction to excessive notifications, we assume that a notification triggers a random period of inactivity, during which she will ignore all notifications. However, if a volunteer is active and notified, she will perform the task with a given pair-specific match probability that captures her preference for the task. We develop two online randomized policies that achieve constant-factor guarantees which are close to the upper bound we establish for the performance of any online policy. Our policies as well as hardness results are parameterized by the minimum discrete hazard rate of the inter-activity time distribution. The design of our policies relies on two modifications of an ex-ante feasible solution: (i) properly scaling down the notification probability prescribed by the ex-ante solution, and (ii) sparsifying that solution. Further, in collaboration with Food Rescue U.S., a volunteer-based food recovery platform, we demonstrate the effectiveness of our policies by testing them on the platform's data from various locations across the U.S.