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Open Innovation Attacks Childhood Obesity

Open Innovation Attacks Childhood Obesity

In this blog, I'm going describe how OpenIDEO works with its members to create innovative solutions to social challenges.

To realize OpenIDEO's first big challenge, sponsored by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver as part of his Food Revolution, the site sought a multitude of viewpoints. Tom Hulme explains, "We wanted a diverse community. We didn't want to seed one and grow from there; we wanted to seed multiple communities." This challenge was to find innovative ways to help reduce childhood obesity and to encourage healthy eating among children.

"We looked for sector specialists," Hulme said, "bloggers in the realm of healthy eating, for example -- and educational specialists -- those who were blogging around schooling, as well as people already involved in IDEO. We directed those people with a very careful design to appeal to a very wide range of motivations."

Out of hundreds of ideas came the final 17 winning concepts that were chosen by Jamie Oliver and the OpenIDEO community. These include an after-school "cooking is fun" club, a student-run farmer's market, in-school taste-testing of healthy foods, a curriculum that features "what's for dinner" class at schools, and healthy-kid recipe cards, among many different ideas that show innovation in fostering healthy eating through a variety of approaches, from the retail level to the home to the school.

"People tend to assume that a community will have a single motivation, but they have many," Hulme said. OpenIDEO follows five principles in reaching out to the crowd:

1. Inclusiveness: OpenIDEO enables participation at all levels, disciplines and skill sets. Anyone can contribute, and ideas come from anywhere, Hulme said, "from a flight attendant coming up with the smartest idea around of how to cater on a flight, to a large German bank where we were shocked at how many of the smart ideas came from the more junior people in the IT team."

2. Community: OpenIDEO encourages feedback, discussion, self-starting groups and more. "We celebrate the community-initiated impact," Hulme told me. "We've made the site very social so that people will actually connect with other like-minded people on the platforms. We also saw that people were having conversations throughout the platforms so we adjusted the site so there could be threads."

3. Collaboration: This is an important component of innovating through crowds. In looking through the conversation threads, Hulme said, on some challenges, "we see tens of thousands of comments and effectively conversations. This is actually an interesting indicator of collaboration," rather than gauging someone's contribution by number of ideas submitted. "We've added testimonials so that people could say, 'That was a wonderful idea, you've made some good from this...' For us, collaboration and supportiveness are really important."

4. Optimism: "Optimism is worth investing in," Hulme says, "because the latent value in diverse optimistic people is astonishing."

5. Continuous improvement: "We watch emergent behaviors in the community and adapt quickly," Hulme said. "One of the things that I really press hard with our team is that we have oxygen for the serendipitous to emerge."

What drives the OpenIDEO process is something akin to what has made Wikipedia such a success. "I wondered why these people were participating in Wikipedia," Hulme told me. "What struck me was they were all participating for different reasons. People participate for self-actualization reasons -- to make themselves smarter. Some people will participate because they think it will be good for their careers. Others participate because it's good for the common cause. I looked at that and thought, what are our motivations?"

So OpenIDEO design ensures "that all those reasons for participating are aligned, so that people are pulled in a direction" toward coming up with an innovative solution to a social challenge.

One of the most rewarding challenges so far has been one in which OpenIDEO partnered with the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University to explore new ideas for encouraging bone marrow donation worldwide.

"We started with an inspiration phase, trying to understand the challenge of leukemia -- what it means to lose a loved one, understanding why it's so difficult to get a bone-marrow transplant, what the perceived barriers are to donation," Hulme said. "This taught me a lot. I learned that because people participating in this challenge finally understood this topic, one of the things they did was go out and register themselves to be bone marrow donors. So the inspiration phase almost became a solution in itself."

Some 5,000 people took part in the challenge with about 20,000 "hovering around it," Hulme said. The final number of concepts was whittled down to 10 from about 300.

In creating a community of educated, passionate people who tackle a problem and come up with well-defined, actionable solutions, here are three things to keep in mind:

1. Solutions must be actionable. That is, they must offer a solution that can be implemented.

2. Set a high hurdle for participation. Vanity metrics are "intellectual traps that force you to lower the quality," Hulme said. These metrics include counting success by number of page views. "So we raise the hurdles. And one of those hurdles is that the idea must be actionable."

3. Celebrate the community-initiated impact. "We've added a realization phase at the end of each challenge where we celebrate the stories of impact," Hulme said. "That's been really successful. When creating these platforms, you have an initial period where you have the trust of the community, and where there will be an impact. At a certain point you have to show that impact to the community to drive it back to engagement."

In my next blog I'm going to introduce you to Quirky, one of the most inventive new companies that is dedicated to the world of inventions: creating great products that people want, because they're only built if there's a real demand.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

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