Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab

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.