How to pick a citizen idea platform

By Dustin Haisler, Manor, and Margarita Quihuis, Researcher at Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab

Today, more than ever, there has been lots of talk about open innovation, idea collection, ideation and many other terms used to describe the collection of citizen feedback. Most idea collection platforms have been lumped together and only compared on the basis of price alone. Based upon our research at Manor Labs, in collaboration with the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, we have come to the conclusion that there are two distinctly different platforms for idea collection.

Specific-Task Motivated Idea Platforms

These platforms (like Ideascale, Uservoice, etc.) are great a gathering ideas for a specific purpose. For instance, many online voting challenges have adopted these platforms to gather votes for a set period of time. After a user expends their vote or votes they are no longer motivated to return to the platform aside from seeing what ideas are on top.

  • Pros: Less Expensive Upfront Cost/ Great For Small Scale Challenges & Polls
  • Cons: Poor Idea Management / Poor Analytics

How Manor Uses: We currently employee a specific-task motivated platform for our website error pages. The voting mechanism is built into our standard error page (e404) so that if someone receives an error trying to access content on our website, they have the ability to make a suggestion at the point of failure, thus embracing specific-task motivated idea collection.

How Uses: Manor and Stanford’s Persuasive Technology team have teamed up to create, a public-facing idea generation platform. We chose IdeaScale to run the back-end because of its Web 2.0 characteristics such as single sign-ons via Facebook Connect and Open ID logins and extreme ease of use. In this particular implementation, the ideas are broken out into different categories but the focus is on Haiti disaster relief and recovery. In this kind of idea crowdsourcing where people are primed and motivated to help for altruistic reasons, elaborate game mechanics and reward systems such as found on platforms like Spigit aren’t necessary. One area where IdeaScale could improve is to allow idea contributors to auto-post to their Facebook Wall and Twitter accounts to provide social proof of their activities and thus persuade friends in their social networks to participate as well.

Structured-Idea Collection Platforms

This type of platform (like Spigit) collects and manages ideas on a board scale within multiple departments of an agency. Unlike the Specific-Task Motivated Platforms, users are free to submit ideas at any time within multiple departments. Since users are not motivated by specific-tasks, they must be motivated by a game-mechanics (ranking & rewarding of actions). In this type of platform, ideas are driven by the participants through an idea funnel.

  • Pros: Broad Idea Collection / Great Idea Management & Analytics / Less Expensive Over
  • Cons: More Expensive Upfront Costs

How Manor Uses: We currently use this platform to manage internal and external idea collection for our agency. Participants are ranked and rewarded for their participation in the platform, which provides the needed motivation to make the platform sustainable (leaderboard below). Users receive “Innobucks” for different elements of participation, such as idea submission, voting, commenting, etc. These “Innobucks” can be traded in for products or honors that offer participant a tangible benefit to participating. This mechanism of reward is vital to the sustainability of idea collection over extended periods of time.


Both platforms are great; however, focused toward corporate and internal audiences. The user interface and engagement mechanisms are sorely lacking for public-facing innovation. In the future we hope that these platforms will incorporate elements that are as engaging and persuasive as Facebook or many of the social games produced by Zynga. In the future, ideation platforms will need to have a much more social and game feel to them in order to get wide public participation. Indeed, future platforms may be built on top of Facebook because that’s where the public is. Likewise we can imagine Zynga created a new game called Cityville (ala Farmville, etc) where part of the play is ideation.

We’re at the very beginning of open innovation – comparable to where social networks were 10 years ago. There were many attempts – 6 Degrees of Separation, Ryze, Multiply, and Friendster before we began to see breakthrough applications like MySpace and then the dominant player Facebook.

Although there is significant progress to be made with open innovation in government, there are great tools currently out there for agencies to experiment and incorporation within their internal and external innovation processes. The benefits and insights gained from using these tools can only accelerate everyone’s learning curve on what works.

About Dustin Haisler

Dustin Haisler is Director of Government Innovation at Spigit. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @dustinhaisler.

13 Responses

  1. Brightidea, the leader in On-Demand Innovation and Idea Management solutions for over 10 years, has solutions that can power both what you call ‘Specific-Task Motivated Idea Platforms’ and ‘Structured-Idea Collection Platforms’. Depending on the specific needs, structure of the campaign, whether internal or external, Brighitdea’s WebStorm and Switchboard products combine to make the most comprehensive system to gather, manage, and evaluate ideas.

  2. Hi Janelle,

    Thanks for sharing the information. For research purposes, I’m interested in learning how Brightidea builds and maintains engagement within the Structured-Idea Collection process? For example, do they utilize game mechanics?

    Thanks in advance,


  3. Hey Chris,

    Sorry about that; however, I’m working on a more extensive and detailed guide to open innovation platforms and I’d love to include Delib’s in it. Let’s touch base soon so I can get some information from you to get started.



  4. Dustin, philosophically and practically (and factually, as our results are showing this) it is – and I can’t be explicit enough about this – not the platform that allows users and leaders to get the outcome they desire from ideation/innovation management. PubilVate has a platform that is closer to Spigit than others mentioned but the part that we promote (whether organizations use us or not) is that the process, support, and tools (one of which is the platform and, yes, we would advocate – and have – a platform that is reasonably robust in receiving ideas and able to push the right ideas towards implementation at the right time) is far more important for achieving your outcome that just a platform. This is particularly profound and important in the public sector given elements of ideation that are unique; governance, recognition, review and approval structure, and culture, to name a few. I would also agree with Janelle in the sense that each innovation and collaboration engagement – if done properly in our opinion – has its own DNA and needs to be structured as such.

    So, while I agree with your comparison (and if you are adding to it we would certainly like to be included), we would also say that the platform is one-dimension of a multi-dimension solution. Ultimately, for organizations considering ideation or not happy with the results they are achieving, they need to ensure that they have a life-cycle solution aligned to the community they want to leverage.


  5. As a co-author I appreciate all the comments! This article didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how to spur ideation and open innovation.

    Both Dustin and I have been experimenting and wrestling with these issues:

    * How to get the public involved in better governance?
    * What is the process/mechanism/tools that make it *easy* for them to get involved and stay involved?
    * How does government incorporate this feedback and turn it into actionable tasks?
    * How do you close the feedback loop so the public gets a sense of self efficacy? That their ideas become solutions which in turn spurs the public to come up with more ideas? (Crowdsourced government solutions)

    When we started experimenting, we immediately ran into some basic issues. For instance, with Ideas4Haiti, getting people to login became a big deal. Any web 2.0 site developer will tell you that you lose an enormous amount of people at the login stage. So even though a platform might have the right list of features, the user experience can make a huge difference in engagement. This is even before we get people to submit ideas. So a platform that uses Facebook login becomes key.

    Other issues include motivation. In the Persuasive Technology Lab we talk about putting “hot triggers in front of motivated people.’ The donate for Haiti buttons that have popped up all over the web are a prime example of this. People are motivated to help and the ‘Donate Now’ button lets them act on this immediately.

    So, what is the motivation for people to submit ideas? When are people primed? Right now, the only tools we have readily available for open gov idea is platforms such as Spigit, BrightIdea, IdeaScale, etc.

    Is it better to have mobile apps like SeeClickFix have a ‘suggestion’ button instead? How do we get these mobile apps widely distributed among the citizenry?

    I better stop now — this is becoming a new blog article. :-)

    Please comment. I’m interested in your thoughts.

    – Margarita

  6. I found this very intriguing as i am new to open innovation platforms and ideation that asks for external input, i realized that the “issue” at hand is customer’s realizing that they have to co-create,

    but the motivation factor i think isn’t making it only easier but a sense that there needs to be a customer manifesto of some kind that educates why you must participate and the overall good it will do.

  7. Geordie,

    Thanks for the feedback!

    I do believe that the platform is one significant component of a larger multi-dimensional process as you described; however, the capabilities and structure of the platform can significantly hinder the overall process. I would be interested in talking with you in more detail about PubliVate, as Margarita and I continue to expand our research on idea generation platforms.

    Best regards,

    T 512.272.5555

  8. Spiro,
    exactly! We can’t rely on ‘if you build it they will come’ as a strategy. This notion of open innovation in the government space is very nascent and will take time to socialize. I think simple mobile apps like SeeClickFix and FixMyPothole will become the first links in a chain of behaviors among citizens.

    We’re looking for minimum viable behavior change here – what is the easiest first step that a citizen can take, turn it into a habit then a ritual and then build on top of that.

    Manor Labs is fascinating to me because it’s looking to create a behavior change from within AND without – to get city employees to see themselves as contributors and innovators rather than paycheck collecting civil servants while also inviting the public to interact with the government beyond the ballot box.

    We’re very interested in games (see Byron Reeves’ work at Stanford – and how game mechanics – points, trophies, recognitions, dashboards and leveling up act as persuasive motivators to get people to continue playing and re-engaging. Manor Labs is using Spigit as a testbed to see if game mechanics are valid in a government context.

    Let’s keep the conversation going.

    – Margarita


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.