OpenIDEO’s approach to crowdsource the best ideas from the cloud—engaging the public to tackle the world’s most challenging problems.

“Today’s challenges require the creativity of entire networks.  Open innovation allows people to collaborate at scale, and that’s changing how the world solves problems” (IDEO CEO Tim Brown).  IDEO makes its mark on the world as a global design and innovation consultancy well known for designing the first mouse for Apple and the first laptop computer.   IDEO uses design thinking as the core approach in product development transforming the design process from “designing consumer products to designing consumer experiences”[1].  The role of open innovation is critical in design thinking, a process that leads to generate and select ideas through user feedback, and multiple product/service interactions.

OpenIDEO launched in 2010, served as a spin off crowdsourcing platform of IDEO with the mission to gather people globally to collaboratively generate ideas to the world’s social challenges.  OpenIDEO adopted the “contest”[2] type of crowdsourcing by administering a series of social impact challenges.  Consequently, OpenIDEO expanded their idea generation capacity of 700 in-house designers to the wider network through the process of design thinking.  Harnessing the digital world, OpenIDEO leveraged more than 100,000 members on the platform to openly engage in the process—full-filling the IDEO’s mission to be impactful globally and adhering to the IDEO’s management process of product development – design thinking and open innovation.

These global social impact challenges became OpenIDEO’s short-term strategy in its management and product development process. These challenges addressed a wide range of social issues from partnering with United Nation Population Fund in sourcing ideas to improve access to quality reproductive health education; to partnering with the Australian Aid Agency to improve educational for youth. The process takes 3-5 months where community members in the open innovation platform share ideas, get feedback, and continuously refining the ideas.  At the end, OpenIDEO team and the sponsored organization select the top ideas for funding.




The experiences in conducting these challenges provided many valuable lessons which form a building block for OpenIDEO’s medium-term plan in maximizing the effectiveness of using crowdsourcing in the process of product development – expanding the areas of work, as well as partner organizations. The variability of ideas produced from the open innovation platform may be used to demonstrate to companies, by partnering with OpenIDEO, they are not constraint by their internal capability to generate ideas and have the ability to leverage “mass intelligence to solve problems at an affordable price”[3] . The OpenIDEO platform serves to convent actors, interest groups, and funders working creatively towards similar goals.

The main goal of an open innovation platform is to democratize innovation, OpenIDEO does its job well in soliciting ideas from the public, in the idea selection process, however, the process itself becomes constrained by the team and sponsored organization to choose only a few from hundreds of ideas submitted. This, in a sense, can paralyze the ideas that are not chosen.  To ensure that other ideas are also developed, in the short-term, OpenIDEO can become a bridge to pull in more foundation partners to support the ideas that are not chosen, and in the medium term develop an ecosystem to match skills and funding not limited to networks of institutional funders but also individuals through crowd-funding.

In addition, one can also argue that the focus of OpenIDEO and its partner execution becomes more invested in the idea generation process but lacking in the execution when the ideas are realized. Therefore, there is a question of commitment to those who enter the challenge as a competition versus the commitment to solve and take the social challenges forward. To tackle this, in addition to evaluating ideas, OpenIDEO should also measure commitment and evaluate the performance of the individual and team beyond the idea generation stage.

Key questions remain: should the open innovation process be sourced to improve on an existing idea, which can yield higher success and commitment or should the idea be one that is revolutionary? Therefore, the tension of impact will exist between giving more value to the disruptors with revolutionary ideas who may not be committed to fully execute the idea versus those who have familiarity in the space—building on what already exists.

What is the scenario for companies to adopt an open innovation platform compared to other channels to foster creative ideas? And what are the associated risks?

(788 words)

[1] Tim Brown and Joceyln Wyatt. Design Thinking for Social Innovation. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2010, vol. 8, no. 1

[2]Kevin J Boudreau and Karim R. Lakhani. Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner.  Harvard Business Review April 2O13

[3] Darren Stevens. Crowdsourcing: Pros, Cons, and More. Hongkiat. November 1, 2018.

King, Andrew, and Karim R Lakhani. Using Open Innovation to Identify the Best Ideas . MIT Sloan Management Review , 2013, pp. 41–48, Using Open Innovation to Identify the Best Ideas .

Open Innovation From Marginal to Mainstream . NESTA, 2010, pp. 4–5, Open Innovation From Marginal to Mainstream .

The Three Billion Enterprise Crowd Sourcing and the Growing Fragmented of Work. Deloitte, 2016, pp. 9–13, The Three Billion Enterprise Crowd Sourcing and the Growing Fragmented of Work.

(Credit Article Image: Fast Company).



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Student comments on OpenIDEO’s approach to crowdsource the best ideas from the cloud—engaging the public to tackle the world’s most challenging problems.

  1. IDEO crowdsourcing ideas when their job is the produce ideas… laziness or brilliance?!

  2. Really great post! Enjoyed reading about open innovation in this context. I think one of the key risks around open innovation is losing sight of the original intent of the leaders. Things can get muddled as you open up with open innovation and I think it can be challenging to stay on task and on strategy. It’s a very powerful tool, but I think there are appropriate times and scenarios where it makes sense, and others where it may be more of a challenge.

  3. Viria – very thoughtful piece on open innovation! The OpenIDEO challenges remind me a lot of hackathons and how many tech firms use these types of events to both crowd-source solutions to unique business challenges and scout talent. Does IDEO also wind up hiring or rewarding contributors of the best ideas in some way? Do you think that there could be some benefit of creating financial incentives / prizes for the top ideas? I suppose one concern / problem that emerges from incentivizing more people to submit more ideas is that it takes more IDEO staff members to sift through these ideas. I wonder what the right balance / trade-off is between incentivizing the public to submit as many ideas as possible and the human cost and resources involved in reviewing / evaluating all of these ideas. The selection of the “best” idea is also likely very subjective, so I suppose that introducing financial incentives might be difficult / contentious here. In any event, very interesting read!

  4. I really like how you raise the balance between quantity and quality of ideas for OpenIDEO. I do think if they truly want to impact social change through the power of open innovation, and are marketing OpenIDEO as such, they need to take a stronger role on helping execute on the idea. This can be by simple approaches even – i) if and when funding received, the recipient needs to work on project for at least a year (or more, depending on scale) ii) IDEO will help with resources that are low-hanging fruit to help the recipient achieve her project goals (perhaps office space in international locations). iii) recipient will revert back on project outcome after a certain period of time. These actions may also help limit submissions from people who are not truly committed on executing the idea. If successful, IDEO can also look to partner with government agencies and non-profits to help with funding.

  5. Great post! Going back to the IDEO case discussion, frequent iterations to refine the idea and the divergence-convergence approach seem to be important elements of the IDEO project approach. When it comes to crowdsourcing, does it lose these two basic rules?

  6. Good job on this Viria. Regarding your question, I think that open innovation can be widely adopted as a source for innovative ideas to supplement organization’s current ideation process. This would essentially break some of the group thinking problems that happen in organizations thereby providing a fresh perspective to a problem that might be completely foreign to the person providing a solution. With that said and to your point, it is necessary to have ownership at each organization in order to have implementation of the open innovation.

  7. Viria, thank you for sharing, I enjoyed the article a lot. We can all tell how much you love IDEO!!
    I think the idea of open innovation goes along with the IDEO way. Design thinking and open innovation approach definitely bring value, but I am curious how this model is manage (not only OPEN IDEO but also IDEO in general). I believe that as IDEO opens up to any ideas, I was imaging that it is very hard to put governance and make sure to have control over the output. I believe this approach is very powerful and would love to hear your thoughts have it works further!

  8. Thanks, Viria!

    Democratizing the idea generation process is a great idea – as we know from class, higher variability in early idea generation is a benefit to the system, as only the good ideas will remain, and the cost of a new idea is rather low. I think that while there are certainly questions around commitment and success, I would use open IDEO for the biggest and most revolutionary ideas and topics. Improving existing ideas incrementally can likely be done sufficiently by IDEO staff. Revolutionary ideas may lack someone committed to execution, but that’s what IDEO’s army of consultants is for!

  9. Love the post, especially after our case on this. Think the concept of what matters more, idea generation from scratch or to improve an existing idea, is crucial. Ideo have clearly done a wonderful job at enabling idea generation through open facilitation however what I struggle with is when to know how to draw the line? Equally if all ideas are generated so freely, how do you know when you have a hit a good idea vs an unrealistic idea, beside through gut instinct? I really value your suggestion of evaluating a person on other individual performance beside idea generation as this helps move past simply the plethora of ideas someone may have.

  10. I like the OpenIDEO idea because it can bring in fresh perspectives to the company. When we have worked at the same organization for some time, we tend to be stuck in the “bubble” and this could prevent us from thinking more in a divergent manner. However, the risk here for IDEO is that the team might have to spend much more time reviewing and filtering ideas and this could lead to decreased productivity. I wonder how much incremental value OpenIDEO will bring to the company.

  11. I had similar thoughts to what you raised in this article when we did the IDEO case. A lot of times with design consultancy firms they seem to have a goal in mind of providing the most radical, creative, innovative ideas without enough consideration to the practicality of actual implementation of these ideas. It doesn’t matter if you have the best idea in the world, if the business either can’t or doesn’t want to implement it, it will all be for naught. I think ultimately it’s critical for IDEO to get buy-in from clients on their ideas in order for the whole exercise of open innovation to be worthwhile. Your question also raises an interesting point about internal versus external ideation. It’s certainly nice to get an “outside” perspective but if the other party doesn’t fully understand the business they are advising, that might contribute to the challenges of implementation that I have described.

  12. This is such a fascinating concept, and I am glad you wrote about OpenIDEO. You bring up a good point about revolutionary ideas – and how crowdsourcing can break teams out of their usual thinking/ design processes. I would be curious to see how “open” the platform really is – who is able to contribute and what are their backgrounds? From what we have covered in class, it seems that true open platforms and crowdsourced ideas need to be open to people from various backgrounds and have very little overlap in terms of thought processes or preconceived ideas.

  13. Thank you so much for this read, loved learning more about IDEO! I think using their crowdsourcing tool as a means for democratizing innovation is fantastic. It’s very akin to the open-source developer community that exists on Github, for example. When first exposed to this method of collaboration my immediate thought was there is no way any of this scales and no way people stay on track. But I was wrong! I’ve seen major projects come out of the open-source community and oftentimes the best ideas come from the tinkerers. At the same time, many of these open-source projects eventually have an enterprise company that is able to take it and commercialize and scale the idea. Depending on what you’re trying to solve I think this is also critical. Thank you again and look forward to learning more!

  14. Awesome article! It is cool to hear about innovating the process of innovation! Perhaps this is unfounded, but my main concern is trying to sort through the quantity of ideas. Is there an upper limit on the number of ideas that IDEO is willing to solicit? When does the width of the idea distribution curve become too wide and how do you choose who is able to contribute and who is not?

  15. Thank you, great read! I wonder if Ideo’s Open Innovation Platform is applicable to other areas? Would it make sense to also have Open Innovation to collect more ideas to respond to a client’s problem? How does the quality of the ideas generated by the crowds compare to the quality of the ideas generated by the Ideo team?

  16. This is a really interesting way to spur creative thinking around around difficult social challenges, but as you’ve mentioned, I wonder how this can become a more sustainable and impactful practice. I feel like anytime there is a short-term challenge or push for innovation like, this is such great energy and wonderful ideas generated. But how do you translate that into an ongoing practice and make sure those ideas are carried through execution? Does that require a different skill set or group of people? How do you get the right types of people engaged in a practice like this, and create incentives for them to grapple with these big-picture challenges? Can this be translated into a permanent line of business, or can employees rotate through on special project assignments?

  17. Great article. It is not surprising to see that IDEO has embraced open innovation given its culture of creativity, which is so open to new ideas. It makes me wonder whether companies that lack the IDEO culture will be able to implement open innovation as successfully. I just read @Joffrey Baratheon’s article on open innovation in the NFL and I am frankly skeptical that an organization like the NFL, which is perhaps at the far opposite end of the spectrum from IDEO when it comes to openness to new ideas, will be able to embrace crowdsourcing in the way that IDEO has.

  18. Thanks for highlighting this incredibly fascinating concept in practice, Viria. To address your question, what scenarios does open innovation make sense for a company, I am concerned with the ability for companies to act in a timely manner when every idea is developed through this process. Thus, I would consider this to be an important restriction. I would suggest that companies should consider this tactic in innovation when the task is so large that the company itself can’t solve the problem. The easiest example at hand, while not a company, is the open concept of the Hyperloop. The development of this project has to be so incredibly unique and different from most previous lines of thinking that it takes the entire population thinking about the challenge to make any significant progress. The unfortunate part of business today is the pace of change. The problems that most companies are concerned with are typically ones in need of immediate attention, thus the time spent crowd sourcing can be a significant pain point over the consistent long term.

  19. Thanks of sharing, Viria! This is a great insight into OI.

    I especially loved the idea of democratizing innovation. However, it seems that these projects could have a long lead time to gather ideas, feedback and multiple product iteration, and this could be a potential risk. This could be a limitation in projects that need a faster turnaround. I’d be curious to understand how IDEO manages projects that need faster turn around. Additionally, incentivizing public to participate and engage in this method could also be a risk when the sample size is relatively small.

  20. Viria, great article to read! Thanks for sharing. I really love the way IDEO leverage its design thinking process as a tool to solve social challenges, and use open innovation not only to collect ideas but also call for attention on those social challenges. I guess there are two challenges : (1) who would be responsible for taking the ideas and implement them? (2) Some challenges requires a lot of technical expertise in certain fields to come up with good solution, how to ensure those people get reached?

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