Author Archives: Matt Paulson

Top Themes from Open Nation DC

IdeaScale Gov hosted its first-ever Open Nation DC April 12 at the WeWork White House location. For us at IdeaScale, Open Nation is always our favorite week of the year. We’ve been hosting a company-wide Open Nation event in Berkeley for three years now. Open Nation DC was the first spinoff, a gov-focused version situated in the heart of IdeaScale gov work: Washington, D.C.

Much like its inspiration, Open Nation DC brought together an energetic, eclectic group of IdeaScale customers and prospects to knowledge-share, network and collaborate. The day was split into customer presentations in the morning, and IdeaScale-led workshops in the afternoon.

Customer presentations in particular are one of the coolest parts of any Open Nation. For those of us in the weeds every day, they represent a refreshing opportunity to take a step back and reflect on how the work of our customers is making people’s lives better, every day.

First up was Michael Contreras, president and CEO of Ensemble Consultancy. Contreras was formerly an IdeaScale customer in his role as an AAAS Fellow at the Department of Energy. More specifically, Contreras was an integral part of the success of DOE’s SunShot Catalyst program. Contreras dived into the importance of goal-setting and quantifiable metrics to any innovation program. However, he cautioned against avoiding “vanity metrics,” a term coined by “The Lean Startup” author Eric Ries. Instead, focus on “actionable metrics,” which are “leading indicators of achieving the aligned objectives of your innovation program.”

A key takeaway was aligning the objectives of not only the direct stakeholders but also those with “indirect influence” over the program: “Make program decisions based on metrics that are correlated with the aligned objectives of those having both direct authority and indirect influence over the continuation of the program.”

Next up were Kim Taylor and Mark Ascione of the Food and Drug Administration Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Taylor and Ascione have long been champions of crowdsourcing, as they’ve built their program from the ground up, despite that not being part of their job description. They’re two shining examples of the intrapreneurial nature of open innovation champions.

Their presentation focused on the ecosystem they’ve built from scratch internally to host sponsored challenges. Despite not having a full-time FTE on crowdsourcing, they’ve developed a system to scale into hosting nearly 100 challenges over the past four-plus years.

Their system, which includes a robust communications plan and a challenge checklist, also results in some of the best participation rates we’ve ever seen. One challenge in particular resulted in 95 percent of their target audience participating.

Batting third were the Dream Team of Concepts Communications and the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Hope Adler and Katia Albanese of Concepts Communications have long been hosting dialogues within IdeaScale that engage citizens and stakeholders to help inform disability employment policy. They’ve recently been joined by rising star Lindsey Teel from the Department of Labor. Together, they encompass the ePolicyWorks crowdsourcing team.

While their presentation focused on the nuts and bolts of running online dialogues — the importance of moderation, a robust outreach program, and idea evaluation — they also discussed the cool potential outcomes of engaging the public around this conversation. While idea “implementation” in their context can often take a while because it’s typically a policy change, Teel, who’s visually impaired herself, stressed the personal impact these changes can have: “We’re changing lives. We’re making it so people can work.”

Up fourth was a slight detour from government in Edwin Goutier, senior director of Innovation at United Way Worldwide. United Way Worldwide employs IdeaScale to source ideas both externally from the public and internally from their employees worldwide. They then rapidly prototype promising ideas, iterate upon them, and either formalize or sunset them.

Two of the key takeaways from Goutier’s presentation and UWW’s program were 1) pay close attention to participation data and pivot engagement efforts accordingly, but also 2) don’t forget to put a human face on what you’re doing. Data are informative and absolutely necessary, but you also need to “become a storyteller” when reporting up to leadership and out to the target audience.

Closing out the morning sessions was Commander Andy Howell from the U.S. Coast Guard. Commander Howell’s leadership has been integral in growing the innovation program at the U.S. Coast Guard. A turning point for the program, known as [email protected], came when they launched a Hurricanes Lessons Learned campaign to try and institutionalize knowledge gathered in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria in 2017.

A few key lessons identified by the Coast Guard in these campaigns include the efficacy of leveraging social media and cloud-based solutions in asset tracking and rescue efforts. These findings were game changers for the Coast Guard, and they’re currently being evaluated as potential fast-tracked policy changes internally.

To watch the full presentations, you can view them in our Open Nation DC resources library

The afternoon sessions were comprised of two hands-on workshops conducted by Innovation Strategist Sonja Sulcer and myself. Sulcer’s workshop focused on developing and tracking innovation metrics, and mine focused on developing and reporting outcomes. Both workshops were heavily participant-driven and were geared toward proving the value of an open innovation program in a quantifiable and lasting way. For more information on how to run a similar workshop with your innovation team, talk with your IdeaScale contact. Planning for Open Nation DC 2019 is already in the works! To learn more, get in touch with your friendly local Innovation Strategist or Sales Representative.

If you can’t wait until then, please consider joining us in Berkeley for our industry-wide Open Nation on October 25, 2018.

Introducing: CBS’s Wisdom of the Crowd

CBS's Wisdom of the CrowdCBS debuted a new show Sunday night called “Wisdom of the Crowd.” It’s about a tech CEO, played by Jeremy Piven, who builds a crowdsourcing platform to help find his daughter’s killer.

Sophia, as the platform is named, is essentially a network of solvers who can contribute information to help find Mia Tanner’s real killer, not unlike, minus the murder part. Ostensibly, Sophia then wades through the noise to find the tips of value.

As an Innovation Strategist at a company that also built a platform that specializes in crowdsourcing, I found the show’s premise intriguing. Not in a good way, though. I saw it as an opportunity to stretch out the ol’ snark muscles and really rip into it. While it did have its share of ridiculousness, it had a few surprising parallels to the work we do every day. I picked a few of my favorite parts from the show and connected them to our reality.

WISDOM OF THE CROWD: A few minutes into the show, Tanner (no word on whether there’s any relation to the other famous San Francisco Tanner family) used the Parable of the Ox to explain crowdsourcing to the doubting Detective Cavanaugh: “100 years ago, there was a scientist, Sir Francis Galton. He went to a county fair. He asked 800 people to guess the weight of a prize-winning ox. No one could get it exactly right. But then, when he averaged in all of the answers, they were dead on, within a half a pound. That’s what it does.”

REALITY: OK, yes, we use that story all the time.

WOTC: “Crowdsourcing is sifting through the dirt until you find the gold. 90% of anything is garbage, but 10% of everything, that’s a helluva lot of bling.”

REALITY: I get the idea, but it’s a bit extreme compared to the reality. Crowdsourcing and open innovation aren’t famine or feast. There’s a lot of room between dirt and gold.

WOTC: They were hacked like a day after releasing the platform, then they guy who hacked them literally came to their front door to introduce himself.

REALITY: That’s definitely how it works.

WOTC: Their Head of Engineering is a dreamy Brit.

REALITY: No, but our Head of Product is.

WOTC: Tanner offers $100,000,000 “to anyone that can help identify or apprehend the killer of my daughter.”

REALITY: Well, yes, incentivization is an important part of any crowdsourcing effort. However, when it’s financial, which isn’t always the case, it typically has way fewer zeros than Tanner’s bounty. Oftentimes, it’s not money at all; it’s lunch with the boss, recognition in communications materials or a banquet, or even some extra time off. For more tips on incentivization with shallower pockets than Tanner’s, check out our resource on creative, non-monetary awards.

WOTC: While it didn’t happen on the pilot, they’re probably going to find and convict the real killer.

REALITY: While we feel what IdeaScale and IdeaBuzz do is pretty sexy — finding ways to repurpose recycled glass, helping cure cancer, and helping accelerate more energy-efficient technology to market — it isn’t TV sexy, solving-murder sexy, CBS Sunday Night sexy. As Tanner put it, “People want to be a part of something meaningful.”

That, we can agree on. If you want to learn more about joining our crowdsourcing brigade, get started at or As for me, consider this my two weeks’ notice. I’m with Piven.

Common Innovation Pitfalls

barriers-to-innovationRecently, IdeaScale’s own Jeff Wong wrote about how he knows first-time innovators will be successful. Unfortunately, there’s also a flip side to that coin. Here are a handful of common mistakes I see first-time innovators making.

1. No communications plan. A successful innovation effort requires a well-thought-out, cradle-to-grave communications plan. Build pre-launch buzz, hit the launch hard, maintain excitement throughout, report on the results, and take victory laps. It’s not enough to simply announce the launch and hope the campaign’s momentum will drive itself. It takes effort throughout, and that all starts with a plan.

2. No goals set or wrong goals set. A lack of goal-setting in and of itself is egregious. However, what I see more often is setting the wrong goals. Number of ideas collected is a good first step, but if you can’t show what those ideas have done for the organization, you’re not speaking leadership’s language. Focus on outcomes that effect real change. In other words, don’t focus on number of ideas collected, focus on number of ideas implemented and their quantifiable positive effects on the organization.

3. In that same vein, no thinking past ideation. I often see first-time innovators bit by the crowdsourcing bug, and they come to us to scratch that itch. “I heard about this crowdsourcing thing. How can I get me some?” Problem is, ideation — or the simple posting of and voting on the crowd’s ideas — is only the first step. It’s determining what you’ll do with those ideas and how they’ll change your organization for the better that will help build a truly sustainable innovation program.

4. Not developing a diverse incentivization program, or not having any incentivization program at all. People are motivated in a variety of different ways. Thinking through and employing an incentivization program commensurate with that diversity will help maximize and maintain engagement.

5. No sincere commitment from the top down to a true culture change. This one is probably the most important, because you can do 1-4 right, but if this isn’t in place, no innovation program will last. One of my journalism professors once talked about the impending demise — or at best, adaptation — of newspapers as a slow-burning process, “It takes a long time to stop a steaming ship.” The same is true of an organizational culture change. It doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why a commitment from leadership to truly driving this change is so important. If this commitment isn’t sincere and deeply rooted, funding will falter, morale will sink, and the program will flounder.

Those are just a few of the most common ones I see. There are many more that can halt an innovation program in its tracks. Download this infographic to see a few more.

But fret not, friends! You’re not alone. We’re here to help. We, too, have fallen victim to these common pitfalls over the years. However, we’ve learned from them, and because of that, we’ve made significant improvements in our offerings to help you avoid them: We’ve taken a step back and beefed up our onboarding process, we’ve bolstered our offerings to include innovation management and design-thinking workshops, and one of our key company goals this year — from sales and marketing to product — is to be more outcome-driven rather than getting caught up in the minutiae of building out features for their own sake.

One of the main principles of open innovation is that failure is part of the process. However, the key is to fail fast, and to learn from it. We’ve all failed in our pursuit of innovation perfection. Let’s learn from it, recalibrate and try again.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Matt Paulson, Innovation Architect at IdeaScale.

Game-Changing Innovations in Sports


Most of the time here at IdeaScale, we post crowdsourcing and innovation management thought pieces and best practices. As a nerd in that space, I gobble those up. But I also moonlight as a sports nerd. So, as I was watching the Olympics last week, specifically the high jump, I was reminded that innovation isn’t only relevant to companies, non-profits and government organizations. Innovation is constantly changing the sports we all love, too.

Like “a fish flopping in a boat”

Dflopick Fosbury was a mediocre high school high jumper in the early 60s. As a sophomore, he had trouble even qualifying for high school track meets. Five years later, he was an Olympic gold medalist and Olympic record holder in the high jump. How? A method now known as the Fosbury Flop, an innovation that forever changed the sport of high jumping.

Like most outliers, Fosbury benefited from serendipity. In the early 1960s, most high jump pits were being converted from sand to a softer foam rubber. Unhappy with the body position and coordination required by the dominant techniques of the time, Fosbury was enabled to experiment with a technique that resulted in him landing on his back after clearing the bar.

After a bit of tinkering, the Fosbury Flop was born. It wasn’t immediately embraced, as is the case with most game-changing innovations. A local newspaper covering one of his high school track meets said that Fosbury looked like “a fish flopping in a boat.”

However, now more than 50 years after Fosbury first started developing it, the Fosbury Flop is still the overwhelmingly dominant high-jumping technique. If you’re unfamiliar with what it looks like, watch Canada’s Derek Drouin use it to win the gold medal in Rio last week.

The Forward Pass

the forward passIn America, the NFL is gargantuan. The Super Bowl is perennially the most-watched broadcast in the United States. In fact, of the 20 most-watched broadcasts in American history, 18 of them are Super Bowls. Only the M*A*S*H and Cheers finales break up the monopoly.

But the game as we know it today wouldn’t be without the innovation of the forward pass.

More than 100 years ago, American football looked much more like rugby. The ball would be snapped, and a bunch of big guys wearing sorry excuses for pads would run into each other until someone tackled the ball carrier. The dust would clear, hopefully everyone would still be alive, and they’d do it again.

In 1906, following an exceptionally dangerous year in which 18 players had been killed, President Teddy Roosevelt stepped in, committing to making the game safer. A meeting of 60 schools — football was pretty much only played at the college level at that time — resulted in a variety of rule changes, one of which was the legalization of the forward pass. The game was to become more about speed and finesse than beating each other up. Although teams had experimented with the forward pass for more than 30 years, it was its legalization that truly set us on the path to today’s NFL.

Now in the NFL, quarterbacks rule the league. In fact, in the last 16 NFL Drafts, a quarterback has been the No. 1 pick in 12 of them.

Data in Sports

data in sports Many industries are paralyzed by convention. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The sports world is one of the worst offenders. However, as methods of collecting and analyzing data improve, more and more professional teams, leagues and players are paying more attention, and ultimately using it to change years of tradition.

In the NBA, teams have put sensors on basketballs and players to track live action, compiling the distance they cover in any given game or practice. They use this data to advocate for more rest, more days between games and a longer All-Star break.

This is happening even in baseball, a sport more tied to its tradition than any other major American sport. The tactics made popular by the movie “Moneyball” have led many Major League teams to rethink how they analyze which players to put on the field. Some of these tactics helped the Boston Red Sox break the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004.

In golf, also a game that holds tight to its tradition, players no longer rely solely on feel when hitting a new golf club. Phil Mickelson, 42-time winner on the PGA Tour, tests out new clubs at Callaway’s Performance Center while wearing goggles — yes, goggles — that block part of his vision so he can’t see the ball after impact. He then takes the ball flight data and analyzes it afterward. These methods have helped him remain one of the top players in the world well into his 40s.

These are just a few examples of the use of data to improve performance, and as technology continues to advance, and acceptance continues to broaden, there will be many, many more to come.

The bottom line is that innovation isn’t just for the board room. It’s all around us, even on the field, court or course. Where else do you see it? What did I miss? Comment below with my omissions and your additions.

This blog post is part of a series authored by IdeaScale employees. It showcases how they’re thinking about crowdsourcing and innovation as part of their daily routine. Feel free to ask questions or make comments.

This post is by Matt Paulson, Government Innovation Architect at IdeaScale.