At IDEO, we’ve begin to take the software we built to create OpenIDEO and begin customising it for other firms to leverage their communities, employees, and extended networks to solve problems. We’re learning really interesting things about how the platform, called the OI Engine, can help companies reach their goals. Here’s an example from the Knight Foundation, a wonderful organisation dedicated to creating lasting change in communities, journalism, and the media.

Open technologies create convening power

The Knight Foundation’s platform is designed to encourage the best ideas to improve journalism and the media and it does so through using the open platform we’ve created with OpenIDEO and the use of grants. Winners of the Newschallenge will receive support to make their idea happen and a share of five million dollars in grant funding. Past winners include crisis mapping platform Ushahidi, FrontLineSMS a mobile platform for social change, and NextDrop, a service that provides realtime information about water availability to families in rural India.

Traditional wisdom might tell us that financial incentives used with a collaborative process just won’t work: you expect gaming of the system, toxic community behaviour, or very little cooperation. However, the behaviour we see on the newschallenge is different from OpenIDEO – less open-ended support (where the motivation seems almost altruistic), and more focused and goal–oriented feedback. This makes sense when you start to realise that most people on are contributing on top of their day job, whereas with the newschallenge, the stakes are much higher for the participants: for many, and because of the grant money, winning could mean a completely new career.

Chatting with Michael Maness recently, I was inspired by his vision: to transform the world of grant-making and foundation by making it more human-centered. One of the biggest benefits the Knight team have cited is the ability for people to convene around ideas that have been submitted. This enables people to begin to follow ideas, spot overlaps in their thinking, and for real-life teams to form.

Knight Foundation News Challenge Collaboration


In addition to this, rather than being an pure submission platform, the new platform has enabled Knight to have a process, one based on design thinking. This process means that the whole selection process can be made more transparent. It also helps reduce cost for the Knight team as they can start to push more of the work of making decisions to the community at large. Rather than be giving the community feedback on their submissions in a one to many fashion, the community helps itself spots problems, encourage new revisions, and helps provide iterative feedback to make ideas better. This also helps increase the quality of final submissions.

The final winning entries will be announced  on June 25th, and I can tell you now that it’s been a hard choice for the judges – check out the 40 entries in the evaluation phase to see the quality of submissions.