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How to Run an Open Innovation Challenge in 5 Steps

18.03.2014
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“It isn't all over; everything has not been invented; the human adventure is just beginning.” ― Gene Roddenberry

A few weeks ago we shared with you ten reasons why open innovation fails. While it is great to know what not to do, we now want to share with you our favourite tips on how to run a great open innovation contest:

1. Know why you are choosing an Open Innovation challenge

There are many ways to go about gathering new ideas for your project. You could put out a call for grant submissions, or seek new ideas from your employees. What do you hope to achieve from an Open Innovation Challenge that you could not get elsewhere? Nesta provides a wonderful guide to Challenge Prizes that outline many of the benefits of running a challenge yourself. Some of our favourites are:

  • The potential to reach a diverse range of participants. People who may not have any formal qualifications, or who have not heard of your company before may have some great ideas.
  • Mobilising a community around your issue. In more traditional idea generation scenarios, only one or a small group of people have ownership over the project. In an idea contest you have the option to have multiple winners, and the option to invite other participants to continue with the project.

2. Get participants for your challenge

You should start marketing your event 2-3 months in advance. If you are hosting a hack-a-thon or tech challenge, it may seem logical to appeal to the mentally stimulating part of the project. Participants can show off their skills and put their mind to the test. But, just like the rest of us, techies have hearts too. What problem will your participants be solving in the innovation challenge? Who will it help? What is the heart of the problem they will be solving? Tell the story of the people or organisation your participants will be helping. By doing this you will attract people who genuinely care about the project, not just the prize. (The prize is important too – more on this next week!)

Now that you have got your story, here are a few practical tips to get the word out about your contest:

  • Contact popular bloggers and online publications in your industry. Ask if they are interested in writing a piece about your competition.
  • Use social media. Tweet, blog, and post about your event (do not forget to also add value to your social media accounts – do not just promote!).
  • Use your email list. If you do not have one now is a great time to start one!
  • Talk (yes, in person) to people in your industry and ask them to spread the word.
  • Get posters created to send out on the web and post around community or university campus boards in your area.

3. Choose your Open Innovation space

Lucky for you, we posted about this in detail last week here.

4. Be an active moderator

An Innovation Challenge is about harnessing the power of the crowd. As a moderator, you want to give participants the freedom to get creative and propose solutions to your problems. Yet, the moderator still sets the tone for the day. Being a passive moderator can lead to underdeveloped ideas and grumpy participants. As a moderator it is important to give clear and simple instructions, and objective feedback on projects. You may need to encourage conversation or provide background information to some groups. Do not be afraid to get involved as a moderator.

If this task seems daunting to you, it may be worthwhile to hire an external moderator who is trained to do these things.

5. Innovate

This one seems obvious, but too many times we have seen great ideas put aside and never into action. A plan of action should be developed in the earliest planning stages of your challenge. By knowing your goals and your problem, you should be able to develop an action plan for your solution. Of course, not knowing what the solution is going to be may cause problems. Yet, even having an action plan to work with the winning group and provide funding and resources for the project is a great start. Have a plan to build a strong relationship with the challenge winners, and make a commitment to implement change.

Another questions is what to do with the non-winning ideas. It is likely that many of them also had great ideas that just were not right at the current time or for the current problem. Do not just toss these ideas aside. Find a place to keep them (maybe an Open Innovation software tool?) and regularly check in with participants to keep your community strong.

Have you ever participated in an Open Innovation challenge? Share your stories and tips!

For more information on idea contests check out our resource page here

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