Open Innovation For Government: Answers Outside Your Org [3/5]

Crowdsourcing and co-creation are very much of the moment topics. When considering innovation and ideation within the context of crowdsourcing and co-creation, you start to enter a world of significant opportunity and complexity. In this third post on open innovation within the public sector, we will explore the emerging concept of crowdsourcing.

Open innovation in its purest sense is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas (see our previous article on this), as well as internal and external paths to market, as firms look to advance their technology. It can seem strikingly obvious to many businesses that great ideas and insight can lie beyond the boundary of the immediate organisation, and most will have been engaging segments of this crowd through all manner of approaches – surveys, focus groups, feedback forms etc. – for many years. So what is different with crowdsourcing and what benefits (and risks) can it deliver for the organisation?

Co-creation is one part of a puzzle in addition to crowdsourcing. Collectively, these two terms start to depict the evolution in collaborative engagement and ideation that takes the process of innovation with an engaged group well beyond the many-to-one relationship of a survey or feedback form and placates some of the group complexity of a focus group. We are not suggesting any of these approaches are not valid; indeed we think they are. Crowdsourcing is merely a complement or alternative approach suitable for certain situations.

There are all manner of crowdsourcing offerings now on the market, most are disruptive approaches to traditional models that open up a market place from one that may have typically been more localised to, in most cases, one that is truly global in terms of reach and scale. Later in our blog series, we will look at examples of successful crowdsourcing implementations and approaches, but I am sure that the potential of this as one approach to developing solutions, insight or products, can be huge. Lana Fisher, Marketing and Communications Manager for Social Care Systems Review at Leeds City Council, told the guardian on the subject of local innovation that governments needed to “form networks of people from the private, voluntary and public sectors to bring together a variety of thinkers and doers at all levels of seniority”. It is clear that individuals working within governments are seeing the benefits of going beyond their networks to source ideas.

We work with a number of local authorities that employ crowdsourcing to engage with their local communities in seeking to identify ideas in response to specific local challenges. This is a bold approach certainly. One of the early concerns from these local authorities was whether they would have the capacity to manage the flow of ideas, process them and also deliver on them. There is a misplaced concern that crowdsourcing means too many ideas. We believe there is no such thing as too many ideas. What there may be is a lack of process in dealing with the ideas that makes the data too cumbersome to work with, or a lack of ownership of this process. There may not be the systems in place to help evaluate the ideas and prioritise the best ones. Crowdsourcing isn’t a gateway to ‘too many ideas’, rather it offers a huge talent pool, not only as the idea creators but also as idea evaluators to help refine, challenge, build and identify the most promising ideas from all those submitted. Far from too many ideas, the collaborative set of ideas within an engaged crowd will spur enhancements to the ideas, drive creativity and ultimately value.

This is a pretty extensive topic and one we will really explore in far greater detail in later posts. This early exploration was intended to introduce the topic and consider the true potential for open crowdsourcing; with all its risks, it is also a very exciting and highly rewarding strategy when employed well. Please continue to follow this series as we will delve deeper into specific examples, strategies and applications.

image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: Simon Hill’s series on Open Innovation for Government can be found on his Innovation Excellence author page.

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Simon Hill is CEO and co-founder of Wazoku, an innovation management company; an Associate Director with the venture capital firm Find Invest Grow; and an active member of the London technology and entrepreneurial community.

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