In an increasingly connected world, what is a global company’s obligation to solve societal issues and how do they accomplish this? For IDEO, a leading product design firm, the answer is OpenIdeo. OpenIDEO, an open innovation platform, was founded in 2010 with the goal of connecting people to solve a wide range of high impact, global problems. OpenIDEO partners with companies to create a “challenge” centered around one societal problem that is opened to the entire community to create a solution via design thinking. The design thinking process includes exploratory, concepting, and prototyping phases.1 Through the various challenges, OpenIDEO has many learnings that have impacted process improvement and product development.
The OpenIDEO platform has allowed the company to scale their design thinking model across the world. To date, 58 challenges have been completed and over 16,232 ideas were submitted.2 Because open communities only succeed if there is engagement, the platform was designed to encourage contributions from the community members by rewarding high quality work with likes, feedback, comments and recognition.7 It has become clear that the power of collaboration leads to more innovative solutions, developed at a quicker pace. OpenIDEO is providing a better understanding of users and increasingly relevant places to prototype ideas. Some of the key tasks in design thinking include gathering data, understanding the user and the context of the problem. OpenIDEO has allowed for an expanded network to contribute to this exploratory phase, resulting in a greater, global understanding of a problem. Even though there might on average be less quality ideas, the diversity and breadth of ideas contributed and variety in methods used to conceptualize them drives an overall more innovative solution.3 The geographical diversity of OpenIDEO members gives a larger testing ground for the prototyping phase. The community members will be able to test out concepts and provide feedback based on different cultures, climates and other contextual factors. Additionally, the OpenIDEO community has become a vast resource for internal IDEO teams to bring new ideas and concepts into their product development process.6
Moving forward, OpenIDEO has three focus areas to increase the impact of the platform: prioritizing inclusion, supporting scale and changing systems.2 OpenIdeo is building tools to ensure that new, diverse members are contributing and joining the community. Because the value of the platform is driven by the participants, it is vital to cycle in new users from different geographical, socio-economic, religious and political backgrounds to continue to submit diverse ideas. They have created a Community Manager role, an employee or community member, that is responsible for reaching out and involving different members.4 They are also experimenting with tapping into social media channels like Facebook to recruit users in specific regions or industries. A medium-term initiative will be to create offline programs that remove the barriers for participation for certain groups of users.2 To help scale innovation, OpenIDEO has begun offering cash prizes to the users who come up with the Top Ideas and is providing mentorship, trainings and more overall support. The goal is to ensure that as many users as possible are getting value from the process. Additionally, OpenIDEO wants to shift the power structure and relationships in the social sector by connecting unlikely parties. OpenIDEO has also launched focused initiatives dedicated to one issue, such as extreme poverty, and is looking to create more for other issues including climate change.5
In addition to the strategy and actions outlined above, I recommend that OpenIDEO creates tools that not only recruit new members but re-engages and excites existing users. OpenIDEO has a core group of users that account for the most activity during the concept phase.4 In addition to recruiting new members, they must go a step further to ensure that the new members disrupt these power users. There should be incentives for the peripheral members to contribute more which could be accomplished by using a data algorithm to recommend challenges specifically catered to their strengths. Additionally, OpenIDEO should implement a feedback loop to members who contributed to a challenge so that they feel like real impact was made and are more likely to contribute again. My final recommendation is to create a real time text translator on the platform to bridge the language barrier between users.
As OpenIDEO continues to scale and tackle bigger societal issues, I am concerned whether they can maintain the close knit, team environment present within their community or whether they are biting off more they can chew. What obligation does OpenIDEO have to it’s community to ensure sponsors implement solutions? Will the cash prize incentive change the collaborative nature of the OpenIDEO platform? (767 words)
1 OpenIDEO, “Approach,” https://www.openideo.com/approach, accessed November 2018.
2 OpenIDEO, 2017 Impact Report, [https://oi2-openideo-rwd-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/generic_file/6d21258d-f1e2-4611-8ad3-d2b040401cac.pdf?utm_source=Direct], accessed November 2018.
3 Andrew King and Karim Lakhani, “Using Open Innovation to Identify the Best Ideas,” MIT Slaon Management Review, 44, nos. 1 (Fall2013) p. 41-48, ABI/INFORM via ProQuest, accessed November 2018.
4 Mark Fuge, “Analysis of Collaborative Design Networks: A Case Study of OpenIDEO,” Journal of Computing and Informational Science in Engineering, 14, nos. 2 (June 2014), ABI/INFORM via ASME, accessed November 2018.
5 Jason Rissman, “Celebrating Five Years,” OpenIDEO Stories (blog), OpenIDEO.com, Sept. 28, 2015, [https://stories.openideo.com/celebrating-five-years-7182d3e79ab1], accessed November 2018.
6 Chris Luebkeman, “Design is Our Answer: An Interview with Leading Design Thinker Tim Brown,” Architectrual Design, 85, nos. 6 (July 2015) p. 34, ABI/INFORM via Wiley Online Library, accessed November 2018.
7 OpenIDEO, “Frequently Asked Questions,” https://challenges.openideo.com/faq, accessed November 2018.