OpenIdeo – Using Open Innovation to Tackle the Biggest Societal Issues

OpenIDEO aims to utilize design thinking and open innovation to solve the worlds toughest problems.

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,”, accessed November 2018.

2 OpenIDEO, 2017 Impact Report,  [], 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),, Sept. 28, 2015, [], 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,”, accessed November 2018.


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Student comments on OpenIdeo – Using Open Innovation to Tackle the Biggest Societal Issues

  1. In formulating your recommendations for recruiting new members while re-engaging existing members, did you consider somehow establishing a partnership between power users and new members, instead of having one “disrupt” the other? Something like a mentorship program or team-based challenge? There would definitely be difficulties in implementation, considering the various locations where users live, but I wonder if there is value in asking community members from very different backgrounds, who don’t already know one another, to collaborate on a single solution.

  2. How else might IDEO and the OpenIDEO challenge partners incentivize users to contribute? Likes and encouraging comments only offer so much motivation and the cash prize only goes to the top submissions (but the innovation is a product of of all of the ideas and contributions).

  3. I think one of the biggest obligation is channeling in the opinions / ideas of a diverse enough group to be able to make decisions which covers every possible point of view. As you mentioned this is extremely difficult and I would put most of my focus on figuring out ways to reach out to as many different people as possible. Built-in translator and the offline program sounds great starting points for diversification, but some kind of balancing (towards these alternative ways of outreach) will be also needed, because most of the comments will probably come from very similar mindsets.

  4. Thanks for the interesting read. I love the idea of creating avenues of dialog and the exchange of ideas. While there is certainly no lack of societal issues that we face, I think the million dollar question remains – which of these are the most important? I believe open innovation can be used to not just raise issues but to prioritize and solve them as well. IDEO can be an active facilitator in on this OI forum, imparting their skills in design thinking to the communities involved.

  5. I absolutely love the idea of this company, admittedly I am a huge fan of IDEO. By opening up the challenge to a much larger network of people, I think companies will arise at some of the most interesting solution. My only worry is the time it takes to sort through all the varying feedback and the difficulty associated with iteration and implementation. In the case of IDEO we saw that their team was on the ground, iterating on sign placement, trying new arrangements of pillows and inventing new machines. I think the cash prize incentive can elevate the level of ideas that come, but increase the number of submissions as well.

  6. Really interesting read! As we saw in the HBS IDEO case, IDEO tries to generate as many ideas as possible in their exploratory phase of product development. The use of crowdsourcing to make the process funnel wider is a great strategy to increase idea generation. To this degree, I would be interested to know more about how IDEA identifies and selects societal challenges, how IDEO ensures a diverse range of ideas in the open innovation process, and how IDEO processes the ideas submitted and decides which ones to use. I’d also be curious to know how many of the ~16k ideas submitted actually made it to the next phase of the product development cycle. Are there any success stories that really stand out?

  7. This was very interesting! Thanks for sharing! It was nice to read a deep dive into a part of IDEO’s business strategy after reading a case about the company which was more high level. IDEA hinges on being a creative workplace with rapid innovation and I like that they are looking outside the walls of their own offices for inspiration to bring new ideas to life. Outside of the community manager role, I am very interested if this program is managed by one team at the company or if the submissions permeate through to all teams which then get filtered out. Similar to PLM, I am also curious to know how much of the ~16K ideas actually made it to the next stage of the product development process.

  8. This is a great application of open innovation in a much broader context than I had previously considered. I think your question about OpenIDEO’s responsibility to ensure that sponsor’s implement winning solutions is a great one. If OpenIDEO recognizes the value of its platform is driven by the participants, it needs to ensure that there is a closing of the loop and publishing / shareout of the ultimate implementation of an idea. This will drive engagement and could offset some of the perceived need for a cash reward as another form of “compensation.”

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