The ultimate cheat sheet for crowdsourcing ideas

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by Steve Denning

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Crowdsourcing ideas isn’t as simple as asking a question and posting it to your company website or social media page. At Chaordix, we have spent the last 10 years collaborating with our customers to design and implement successful crowdsourcing challenges. We have now put together the definitive cheat sheet on crowdsourcing ideas.

First and foremost, we use the term ‘Challenge’ in this cheat sheet to refer to a crowdsourcing campaign, but that might be somewhat of a misnomer. What we call a challenge is more of a collaboration activity - something that has a beginning and an end - and part of a bigger open innovation initiative.

Step 1: Select a Crowd-Worthy Challenge

  • Think of the innovation challenge as a Collaboration Assignment. Experience shows that the most successful challenges are based on questions that are:
  • Realistic - the effort, skill level required match the available time and audience expertise
  • Objective - the challenge clearly aligns with a business objective, is a real problem and solving it will be of value to the organization.
  • Specific - an audience is much more likely to participate when they are very clear on the expectations and when the request is tangible.
  • Engaging - healthy innovation communities are built on interesting programming, regularly updated content, and hearty, facilitated discussions.
  • Ask: What concrete thing are you trying to achieve? What do you want the crowd to help you with?

Step 2: Frame the Challenge and Write the Brief

  • Start with a statement that provides parameters and building blocks to encourage ideation.
  • The statement cannot be too broad, or too blue-sky. It must provide constraints. You cannot simply open the floor up to ideas, because then the crowd does not fully understand what it is exactly you are asking for.
  • Offer a solution as part of the challenge - so the community can then add to it or be inspired by it.
  • You should ask a great question - one that cannot easily be answered and is not simple or obvious.

Read Next: 7 tips for managing an open innovation program or crowdsourcing contest

Step 3: Select Challenge Phases

  • Any challenge must have a beginning and an end. This is a natural, human expectation, and allows for a challenge to be developed, pushed live, and then reviewed after.
  • The beginning of a challenge can be where you set the stage for people to collaborate and for ideas to collide. Here, ideas can be pre-selected, either by the company/organization, or by the community.
  • In the middle of the challenge, the community can be encouraged to vet the ideas submitted thus far, and, with the guidance of moderators, help identify or rank the ideas that are ‘better’ than others.
  • At the end, organizations can collaborate with the communities as to what comes next after ideas have been selected. It is important that companies must offer full transparency and commit to the use of the ideas that have been put forward.

Step 4: Add Complementary Activities

  • Engage the community throughout the innovation challenge with activities that keep them involved in the process. Lighter-weight activities such as quizzes, polls, short surveys and related discussion topics are a great place to start.
  • Don’t forget about the observers! In any given community, around 90% of its members will be observers who may not offer their own ideas, but may support the ones that develop as they are submitted during the challenge. These community members are just as invested in the challenge, so make sure they are involved in the process.

Step 5: Promote the Challenge and Recruit the Crowd

  • Although the community may already be comprised either of stakeholders (in an internal company challenge) or fans (in an external challenge), you may have to recruit a subset of this crowd for the challenge you are running, as the audience might differ depending on your needs.
  • Do you need experts for the challenge, or at least a certain expertise or baseline of understanding to participate?
  • Or, can members of the crowd self-identify and choose to participate?
  • Do you need to recruit more people externally to join your community?
  • Incentivizing the crowd is also essential. Recognition plays the biggest role in keeping people engaged and active.
  • Recognition can be internal to the community, or external, such as when LEGO Ideas winners get their names attached to their creations when they are developed and commercialized
  • Contemporary research shows that while monetary incentives are appreciated, they are not always the main motivator to participate in challenges

Check Out: 5 open innovation mistakes to avoid

Step 6: Managing, Reviewing and Scoring Ideas

  • There must be critical evaluation of the challenge throughout the process.
  • Are there enough quality ideas coming through?
  • Do you need to extend the challenge? Or should you end it earlier?
  • Are any of the ideas ready for the next phase of development?
  • Involve the community in the vetting process. Enable the crowd to vet ideas through:
  • Supplying a survey on the challenge
  • Vetting current ideas and choosing their favorites
  • Voting on ideas that have been pre-selected by the company
  • Announcing the winners of your challenge is a major incentive for members of the crowd. This will show appreciation for their involvement and may entice them to participate in future challenges.

Step 7: Implementing ideas and crowdsourced products

  • An open innovation challenge must have an implementation plan in place. Companies must identify the roadblocks and/or opportunities that have come up after the challenge. Here are some questions to ask:
  • What is needed for your company to act on the ideas presented?
  • Who, within the organization, needs to champion these ideas to move them forward?
  • What do we need to implement this idea, and do we have the resources to do so?
  • For external innovation challenges, such as those for new product development, the community can still participate in the next step. Bring the crowd further along in the journey and have them involved in the implementation steps such as:
  • Go-to-market strategy
  • Community-generated marketing content
  • Prototyping
  • Pricing

Check out our Innovation & Crowdsourcing page for more.

Step 8: Reviewing performance and insights

  • As with any corporate initiative, an innovation challenge must be reviewed at the end of the campaign. Time-bound challenges are motivating, and bookends give the company a chance to reflect on what has happened. Some questions to ask:
  • Did the challenge meet expectations?
  • What could we have done differently?
  • Were there any unexpected results, and can we follow this lead?
  • These takeaways can then inform the plans for the next innovation challenge.

Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to a successful crowdsourcing campaign.

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