Tag Archives: IdeaScale

Community Feature—Fairfax County Park Authority

FCPAJust southwest of Washington, D.C., across the Potomac River, is the County of Fairfax in Virginia. Home to the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, not to mention Mount Vernon, estate of one George Washington, Fairfax County is also home to a thriving parks department known officially as the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).

The FCPA recently concluded a two-month long call to arms for Fairfax County residents to voice their opinions on their parks, as part of a long-standing commitment to evaluate the needs and interests of community members. In summer of 2014, the FCPA started their IdeaScale community out with several park authority generated prompts as conversation points about improvements, prompts like how trials are used and “I would use parks more if…” From those initial starting points, citizens added their own topics.

This seems to have been perhaps the best choice that the FCPA has made: allowing residents to collaborate on ideas that are proposed by other residents, with little or no interjection from the parks authority. For example, when somebody suggested that the county was in need of some baseball complexes to help ease the load on school baseball fields, other members jumped in with suggestions of where potential baseball complexes might fit.

Ultimately the FCPA will have to assess whether those suggestions are realistic or doable with their resources, but it surely shows the strength of crowdsourcing within a community, as all members are entirely invested in the result. It allows those ideas that are the most impactful to the most people to rise to the top based solely on the concerns of those within the community. It also illustrates the FCPA’s commitment to serving their population’s needs, that they would observe the process and not interject with naysaying and impossibilities.

Now that the information gathering stage of the evaluation is complete, the FCPA is honoring and considering the contributions of the populous by developing a survey which will be sent to 15,000 residences in early 2015. From there, the results will be tabulated and action items will be shared, with development of ideas beginning in late 2015. In the meantime, the parks authority is keeping everyone apprised with updates of the process via their website. We look forward to seeing what improvements are most essential to the Fairfax County Park Authority. What kind of changes would you like to see in your community?

The Wisdom of Crowdsourcing

tmui_webinarIn 1906, British scientist Francis Galton took a day trip to the country fair that would uncover a principle critical to the idea of crowd-listening. It was the heyday of social Darwinism, and Galton believed very little in the common man; he was of the opinion that only proper breeding and the preservation of power for the elite could maintain a healthy society; few, to his mind, were suitable to make decisions or lead others.

Happening upon a contest to guess the weight of a fat ox, he decided to put the common man’s judgment to the test: he collected all 800 guesses at the end and ran statistical tests to see how far off this random collection was. To his great surprise, the average of all the answers was just one pound away from the cow’s actual weight – much closer than any individual’s guess, including the livestock experts’.

The wisdom of crowds… or the danger of mobs?

This stunning display of accuracy gave birth to the idea of the wisdom of crowds: that the judgments of a large number of people, averaged together, tend towards a high degree of correctness. The concept has been applied to a number of fields, to explain and defend such things as democratic governance, or Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing too relies heavily on the principle.

Some, though, question whether it is wisdom that tends to define large groups, or a dangerous mob mentality. Throughout history, large groups have committed appalling acts as individuals lose all sense of personal responsibility among the mob. Where is the line? What drives a crowd to one or the other end of the spectrum? And how can we use this knowledge to better the way we do crowdsourcing?

1. Diversity: Having diversity in a group is critical to getting ‘wise’ judgments. The reason for this is integral to the reason why the wisdom of the crowd works at all – when so many different viewpoints and ideas are combined together and aggregated, underestimations and overestimations cancel out; support and opposition strike a balance; every stretched and skewed and miscalculated piece of input is accounted for by another. The more different ideas there are, the more likely this process is to happen.

In the context of crowdsourcing technology, the best way to ensure diversity is to build welcoming communities that invite people and ideas of every kind. More importantly, the platform must be accessible to a wide range of people. It can be all too easy, when you’re building a website or system, to create something that specially fits your own mental models, but to encourage diversity your creation has to be easy for anybody to understand. It’s important that no group feels like someone else is being catered to or being treated with preference, and so testing your system with a wide variety of demographics – different incomes, education levels, ethnic backgrounds, web experience, and so on – is critical.

2. Independent generation of ideas: People in groups can be prone to bandwagoning and groupthink. The loudest voice grab followers, and the most popular opinion gets more popular. Of course, when this happens, all of the different viewpoints of the individuals in the crowd are lost as they throw in their lot with someone else. To preserve the crowd’s insight and wisdom, members must make their judgments independently, with minimal social influencing. That doesn’t mean they have to be an isolated hermit to have a valid opinion, but simply that when it comes time to speak their mind, they don’t feel overly pressured. For example, come election time we are unavoidably subject to all sorts of media and popular debate, but when we cast our ballot, it is done alone in a private booth.

For crowdsourcing, since most web users are already alone and less likely to be unduly swayed by their peers, the important thing is to give every idea exposure. When many users are submitting ideas and views, it is easy for submissions that gain early traction to get all the attention and sweep away less prominent or later submissions. It’s a tricky problem, but there are solutions, including letting crowd members vote or comment before seeing the successfulness of posts, or displaying a randomized selection of submissions, or providing rewards for reading or voting on more submissions.

The main thing is to be conscious of how users experience and are affected by the system, so that the flaws that sometimes surface in crowd thinking can be dealt with and prevented from turning your crowd into a mob. With the right framework, the crowd can be a powerful tool to generate quality feedback and can be harnessed to do a wide variety of work.

To hear about how the wisdom of crowds is being harnessed to take the work out of website usability research, sign up for the UXCrowd webinar on December 9th with IdeaScale CEO Rob Hoehn, former Zynga user research director Rob Aseron, and usability testing service TryMyUI.

3 Goals of Sustainable Innovation

Goals of Sustainable InnovationWe’re all familiar with a contest model of crowdsourcing. A contest model often presents a targeted, prompted invitation to participate in a crowdsourcing moment, usually with a deadline. But what happens after the deadline is over? Many organizations are moving beyond that traditional contest model and aiming for sustainable innovation. Here are three goals of sustainable innovation for which to strive:

Continuous engagement. If exciting changes are happening all of the time, rather than within the deadlines of a contest, there’s much more reason to be invested. Sustainable innovation incentivizes stakeholders both inside and outside the organization to stay engaged.

Collaboration. Like a snowball rolling downhill, when innovation has no boundaries, it can grow exponentially. And like that snowball, it is made greater by as many contributions as possible. When accomplished judiciously, sustainable innovation allows for everyone at all levels of involvement with an organization to feel heard and necessary in the process.

Enacting the most impactful innovations. When there are no restrictions on innovation, there is time to fully develop and realize the best ideas, and enact those that are able to have the biggest impact.

To learn more about techniques and best practices for sustainable innovation, as well as about the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Catalyst Program, join us on December 9 for our webinar, Sustainable Innovation: Moving Beyond Slingshot Challenges.  Click here for more information, and to register for this complimentary webinar.

Four Thanksgiving Firsts That Spurred Innovation

Thanksgiving GreetingsIt’s that time of year again, when turkeys and pumpkin pies fill our dreams, and parades with building-sized balloons fill our streets. In that spirit, here are four innovative Thanksgiving firsts:

1. Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, creating a national day of thanks. This proclamation was the precedent to the first official national holiday law in 1870. Thanks Abe!

2. Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Of Thanksgiving Day parades, the oldest in the nation may not be the one you’d expect. In 1920, Ellis Gimbel of Gimbel’s in Philadelphia was looking for a way to make his Toyland the stand-out destination for shoppers, and the Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was born. This novelty paved the way for the creation of the much-loved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, which today includes over 8,000 volunteers and brings an estimated 3.5 million folks out into the streets to watch.

3. Black Friday Commercialized. Today we’re familiar with the term “Black Friday” in reference to the crazed flurry of shopping. However, the first use of the term in connection with Thanksgiving actually originated with some weary cops who had to deal with the increase of traffic on the road on that day. Trailblazing retailers spun it back to shopping using a rumor indicating that the term actually referred to the shopping day putting those retailers back in the black financially.

4. National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation. This year marks the 67th anniversary of the presentation, in which the President of the United States chooses between two turkeys and issues one an official presidential pardon. In 2012, however, President Obama utilized a new method of determining which turkey to pardon: he crowdsourced the selection! Through a vote implemented on the White House’s Facebook page, American citizens cast their ballots and turkey Cobbler triumphed.

What innovation from history are you most thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Don’t Stop Now: Why You Can’t Stop Innovating Once You Start

image curtesy of randy heinitz via flickr

image courtesy of randy heinitz via flickr

Innovation is a tough topic. It’s one of those words that is overused, over-hyped and generally misunderstood. In fact, over the past few years, a number of thought leaders published in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes and other venues have urged the elimination of the word innovation from business vocabularies.

Has the word itself become the business equivalent of cute cats and selfies?

Regardless of what you might want to replace it with, the concept is necessary even though innovators like Thomas Edison and Leonardo Da Vinci probably never used the word “innovate” in describing what they were doing.

Problems, problems
Probably one of the biggest struggles of organizations that want to innovate is coming up with a definition of innovation that actually helps them determine when they’ve been successful at innovating.

Another thing that makes innovation difficult is that the products of innovation are not always accepted by the marketplace. This is a double-edged sword that makes everything more difficult from forecasting revenue and ROI, to identifying target markets, marketing messaging, and

Oftentimes, too, innovation can introduce unexpected supply chain problems.

Risk is a requirement
Innovation is incredibly risky business. This is why most companies are willing to let others do the innovating and then play follow-the leader. This “drafting the leader” approach to business strategy makes innovation doubly risky for innovators because just the act of innovating, in most cases, lowers the barriers to entry for competitors.

This means that once you start playing the innovation game, there is no stopping. If innovation is required to establish a market leadership position, it is also required, in many cases, to maintain a market leadership position. This innovation imperative, once it is adopted can hardly ever be set aside. Instead of playing an innovation tournament at the end of a season, innovation must become a full-time preoccupation for, well, ever.

That being the case, innovation becomes a much bigger challenge than simply allocating some creative thinkers, giving them a budget, equipping a secretive workspace in which they can make their magic, designating them the “Innovation Department.”

It isn’t pocket change
Innovation means change. Not incremental change, but sweeping change that requires conceptual shifts for both the introducers of the change and the consumers of the the change. This kind of change is messy and unpredictable. This kind of change hardly ever happens without a strong leader.

Sustaining an ongoing innovation effort requires investment on many levels. For an organization to build a culture that can sustainably support relentless innovation, the investments are substantial–another reason corporations would rather play second fiddle in the innovation orchestra.

Here are some of the ways organizations can prepare.

1. Diversity – One of the essentials of innovation is a diversity of inputs from a variety of perspectives. This means people with different cultural, educational, experiential and even spiritual backgrounds and world-views.

Most recruiting practices today are designed to comply with government mandated, politically correct diversity requirements, but the departments in charge of this bean counting approach to diversity will never satisfy the diversity requirements for innovation. This is, in fact, one of the conceptual shifts required.

2. Personal time – Another crucial factor in innovation is having time to reconfigure things in one’s own mental space. This activity is not something that happens in a collaborative setting; it is intensely private.

Measuring the success or productivity of this activity cannot be accomplished with traditional manufacturing-style productivity measures. There must be a liberal allowance for this type of personal investment in personal conceptual shifts, away from interactive and collaborative settings and situations.

3. Flexible organizational structure – Creative people have little use for hierarchical organizational structures with all the lines and dotted lines traditionally used in org charts. Innovators are more interested in results than reports and deliverables. Building this into the culture of an organization requires a leadership conceptual shift around what really matters most.

Creative people basically interact with everyone as a peer. The flatter an organization or team is, the more successful it is likely to be at innovation.

*     *     *

No one knows in advance which combination of people, elements, ideas, events, models, diagrams, jokes, or magazine articles are going to be the combination that pulls everything together for the next game-changing conceptual shift.

The best an organization can do is make sure there is plenty of opportunity for these things to happen in as many ways as possible and encourage them to happen as often as possible. This sounds like a big risk, but if growth is a requirement, not being configured to support and sustain innovation is much riskier.

Guest Author, Ivan SerranoThis guest post is authored by Ivan Serrano, a business journalist and infographic specialist located in Northern California.

Tomorrow is the Final Day to Submit to the Open Innovation Awards!

image curtesy of nicolas will via flickr

image courtesy of nicolas will via flickr

If you’re part of an IdeaScale community you’ve probably already heard about our second annual Open Innovation Awards. Over the past few months we’ve been asking all of you to share your success stories. We’ll be selecting a Best Moderation Strategy, Best Engagement Strategy, and a Best Innovation – all of which come with prizes… and some serious bragging rights. But the submission deadline is tomorrow Friday the 14th, and we want to hear your unique, inspiring, exceptional innovation story.

At IdeaScale we love this time of year. Hearing about the struggles and accomplishments in your innovation communities is always educational and helpful, but it’s also fun. It won’t be easy to decide who will win the titles, and the prizes that go with them, this year!

For all of you who have already submitted, or are routing for a community you know and love, finalists will be notified on December 5th, and the winners will be announced on December 19th! Can’t wait another five weeks to get your fix of innovation? You can read up on all of last year’s winners!

•   Yale

•   Marriott

•   UNCW

•   State of Minnesota

•   The Cerebral Palsy Alliance


So what are you waiting for? Submit today!

3 Challenges to Innovation Without Borders

IdeaScale blog readers are probably very familiar with the idea of innovation without borders – a theory similar to open innovation – in which all ideas can come from anywhere (internal or external – regardless of job title, discipline, or mission) and those ideas can also be made into a reality by anyone. However, there are some concerns that people have when opening up dialogue on a global level. Before implementing any open innovation technology solution, organizations should be able to answer concerns in three main areas:

Security. This dialogue might be transparent, but maintaining a secure network is crucial to the network’s trust of you and protection of private information associated with these accounts. Make sure that your innovation platform has top-level security (as well as scalability).

Global Collaboration. Accessibility is probably the most important part of any innovation without borders initiative since engagement is the key to success. Is your dialogue open to people of all languages, people of all abilities, is it present in more than just a social forum, can you share ideas in an offline context?

Evaluation Capability. It’s a great idea, but is it right for you? This is the question that every business needs to answer when they’re looking at potential new innovations. Maybe it would be a great new feature – but the technology doesn’t exist yet or maybe it would be a great new process – but it’s not possible to institute for financial reasons. Evaluating each idea for its business relevance as well as its ROI should be part of any innovation program.

If you’re interested in learning more about “Innovation without Borders,” register for a complimentary webinar with guests from Accenture, IdeaScale, and the former CTO of the United States of America. The online session will be followed with a live Q&A.

Support the Vote: 3 Reasons IdeaScale Loves Voting

In case you hadn’t heard, IdeaScale loves voting! It’s part of crowdsourcing, part of our platform and part of our culture here at work. In fact, anyone who wants to take a free vacation day on Election Day in order to volunteer at the polls is welcome to do so. This year, nearly two-thirds of the home office will be volunteering at precincts all around the Bay Area on November 4th.

But why are we so jazzed about voting? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but here are a few:

1. Voting is so natural that instances of it are even observable in the animal kingdom. Some studies have noted that “consensus decision making is common in non-human animals, and that cooperation between group members in the decision-making process is likely to be the norm (more so than monarchal and dictatorial approaches to decision-making). Can voting be classified as a “certified organic” process?

2. Voting has some serious precedent. The right to vote originated in ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy. Democracy came about in the fifth century BC. Even now in Greece, anyone over the age of 18 is required to vote.

3. It’s going to change a lot in the next 50 years. Voting has been a part of us for a long time, but with the digital age in full swing, it’s never been easier to feel the power of a groundswell movement. What voting looks like now is just the beginning and it will continue to evolve in numerous ways as the technology develops and becomes more integrated into numerous processes.

We hope that if you’re in the Bay Area, we run into you in our precincts. Or that we don’t, because you’ve already mailed in your ballot. And our now well-trained team of volunteers can educate you on ranked-choice voting or provisional ballots or any other questions that you might have.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @IdeaScale for poll station selfies and updates throughout the day on November 4th and, in the meantime, please enjoy this Rock the Vote message from Lil’ Jon and friends.

The Value of a Value Proposition

value propositionIt is not uncommon in the Bay Area to have people skip right over some of the most commonly thought of questions for entrepreneurs. Things like “what’s your great idea?” or “give me your elevator pitch” fall by the wayside in favor of a different question: what is your value proposition?

To be fair, if you’re developing a truly innovative great idea – you’re going to come up against all those questions eventually, but the value proposition is something that lies at the heart of it all and is something that separates an idea from a business.

For those of you who don’t want to do the googling, I’ll tell you that Wikipedia defines a value proposition as “a promise of value to be delivered and acknowledged and a belief from the customer that value will be appealed and experienced […] Creating a value proposition is a part of business strategy. Kaplan and Norton say ‘Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.’”

There are numerous ways to get at answers that help shape not just a value proposition, but an entire business plan. However, the Enterprise Development Group is a team of expert thinkers, facilitators and trainers who have been consulting since 1986 have developed a template for organizations to refine their ideas and turn them into articulate business plans that has been utilized by numerous businesses large and small. The template is called CO-STAR.

CO-STAR is a series of questions that must be answered in order to articulate an innovation’s value proposition. When applied, this template helps companies answer questions like: Will the idea be relevant to a customer? Will there be a market for it? How is it taking advantage of an emerging trend or a new technology? Is it better than other available alternatives? What kind of returns can be expected? Once articulated, it is easier to develop market-worthy ventures.

This is why IdeaScale created the CO-STAR module within the innovation management tool, so that this kind of business plan thinking can be applied to every great idea. If you want to learn more about CO-STAR and how it can help propel your brand forward, join IdeaScale in hosting EDG and BBC in a webinar about converting great ideas into great business plans. This complimentary webinar will take place on October 21st at 9 a.m. PST and be followed by a live Q&A. Register today.