OpenIDEO – Community Contests for Designing Good
OpenIDEO is an online community platform where creative thinkers from all walks of life collaborate to solve social problems. This project from the newly created nonprofit arm of “design and innovation firm” IDEO leverages crowdsourced innovation, the design thinking of IDEO staff and the experience of mission-driven organizations to address critical social issues.
The site was launched in 2010 with a challenge from celebrity chef and healthy-eating proponent Jamie Oliver. Since then they have collaborated with a number of organizations ranging from The Grameen Creative Lab to Oxfam. The challenges have covered improving sanitation in low-income urban communities; increasing the number of registered bone marrow donors; and connecting food production and consumption.
The process of developing these creative approaches to thorny problems starts with IDEO.org partnering with a social benefit organization. Once the two sides identify an issue that can benefit from the partnerships, they invite the community of “ideators” to come up with new solutions.
The community-driven site approaches the collaboration in stages; inspiration, conception, evaluation and implementation. In the inspiration phase, the community gathers and share material, such as articles, blog posts, pictures, prototypes, and project descriptions, on- and offline that relate to the issue. This stage helps to familiarize everyone involved with what has been tried before and what existing concepts might be applicable to the challenge at hand.
Once the creative juices are flowing, the concept phase opens. Community members post descriptions of their ideas along with supplementary material, like sketches, diagrams or photos of the concept. The ideas are refined, sometimes in relationship to one another, and then they go into the evaluation stage where the community votes on each submission The top-rated ideas go on to be evaluated by IDEO and the organizing partner. The winning selections get funding and support to be implemented by the team that developed them, IDEO and the sponsoring partner.
The community involved in OpenIDEO is thriving. The discussion forums on the Webby-winning site are lively and the impact of the innovation process extends beyond the site. A professor from Wells College in Aurora, New York recently incorporated OpenIDEO into her undergraduate classes. Napkin Labs has taken the IDEO model and applied it to creating web apps. You can keep up to date on what’s going within the OpenIDEO community and beyond on their Field Notes blog.
Not everyone believes wholeheartedly in the challenge or collaboration approach. Leading designer John Thackara has written about 10 ways in which design competitions can be made better. The folks at OpenIDEO have made an explicit commitment to staying “in beta”, regularly reevaluating and refining their innovation process. In fact, their most recent challenge focuses on how to increase the social impact of OpenIDEO itself.
If you want to join the community of creative thinkers working to design social change, you can sign up here. Social change organizations that would like to partner with IDEO to tackle problems for the social good can e-mail ideas to: firstname.lastname@example.org