Getting the most out of people power will work better if you consider some basic principles before launching your ideas challenge.
By sharing your challenge with the world (or at least your staff/citizens), you are showing you have respect and interest in their experience, knowledge and time. How you treat their ideas will demonstrate the level of courtesy they will afford you in the future. Do you take the time to comment thoughtfully, ask questions or generally respond to participants? Do you ensure other users are commenting or collaborating appropriately? Do you allow users to flag inappropriate content? Do you encourage attribution of inspiration or appropriated concepts?
Ensuring that you create a space of respect between your team and users and in the community will translate in the quality of the participation.
When the word “Challenge” comes up, the first question for participants is usually, “what is the prize?”. Money is an obvious incentive, but not always appropriate, particularly for challenges internal to an organisation or that are funded by the public purse. Careful consideration of what the participating audience will value most will influence both the quantity and quality of responses. The time participants put in will be commensurate with compensation vs. the anticipated likelihood of winning.
Alternatives to cash might include: inclusion on the resultant project team – and the time and permission to work on the project; a job opportunity; a speaking opportunity; advertising space; some form of public recognition; or a donated prize such as a voucher or hotel stay.
What you do with a winning idea will affect future challenges. If your prize is awesome that might be enough to see people coming back, but in many cases you’ll be relying on some level of altruism and public-interest. People participating with government want to know their idea made a difference. Be clear upfront about how ideas will be used. Will you be funding the winner? Will winning ideas go into a further round of incubation before they get funded? Do you expect people to form teams and take ownership of the ideas themselves? Will you provide any guidance or other resources?
How you carry-through and conclude your challenge can also provide a rich starting point when you are communicating the next one. Seeing how an idea made an impact will inspire greater participation and quality of ideas.
Establishing a communications plan is an obvious, but often overlooked, part of the process. Getting people to the challenge site relies on a careful understanding of the audience, value proposition and the standard marketing mix. Make sure you time your challenge for a period when your audience is likely to have a little downtime. Running a challenge for accountants just after the financial year end is unlikely to get the desired response, for example. What are your audiences’ cycles? When and where do they want to hear from you? How would they like to be reminded? And once you have their attention (and ideas) how will you communicate regarding winners and future challenges?
You are putting a lot of time and energy into designing and running your challenge, so make sure that you carefully consider your marketing efforts to make the most of the opportunity.
Like any new venture, getting people to pay attention is hard and comes at a cost. Once you have participants – an engaged community – be sure to nurture them. There is significantly less effort required on your part if you don’t have to explain the whole process to a new group each time. Those who participate and have a good experience are also your biggest potential advocates for gathering in new participants. How can you build their relationship to you and your future? Consider how you might reward or acknowledge those who put considerable effort into their submissions and encourage them to return again. How might you build their capability to improve their contributions at the same time?
Having an appropriate length of innovation cycle will help avoid process fatigue as well as burnout in your team. Innovation challenges take considerable emotional energy to run, so ensure your team is fully geared up to support the community when they show up.
Involving the community in creating new challenges may also help transfer some of the work to the broader group and energise them to participate as well. If the opportunity suits, invite engaged members to help you form your challenges, as well as participate in them.