What social science can teach us about open innovation

social science and open innovation

One of the biggest challenges in open innovation and crowdsourcing is generating meaningful and authentic engagement.

Today, in the spirit of open innovation, I want to draw on inspiration from Root Solutions, a social science non-profit that uses research on behavioral science to create tools and resources for people driving social change.

An important part of Root Solutions’ behavior design framework are the Building Blocks for Behavioral Change, which happen to have specific parallels to our recommendations for building successful IdeaScale communities and campaigns. Although Root Solutions focuses on environmental practitioners, their building blocks are universal and provide a useful framework for ensuring meaningful and authentic community engagement.

Below are the building blocks that Root Solutions has defined for effectively driving behavioral change, and my interpretation for how they fit within the context of open innovation and crowdsourcing with the IdeaScale solution. All italicized content appears in the original Building Blocks for Behavior Change post.

Root Solutions Building Block: Utilize BENEFITS                                           

“We like to be rewarded, and we hate to be punished – so the right incentives drive positive behavior change.”

Likewise, the right incentives drive positive and meaningful engagement in your IdeaScale community. It is important to align your community and campaign purpose with the existing goals of the individuals you wish to engage.

Root Solutions offers specific reward recommendations that apply to crowd engagement as much as social change. Here is a selection:

  • “Reward specific behaviors” – you might consider rewarding a business unit for highest level of engagement on the platform.
  • “Utilize outcome-based incentives” – you might consider rewarding the company when a top idea or solution is implemented.
  • “Build off of existing goals” – existing goals provide you with invaluable momentum.

Remember that rewards need not be monetary. Here are a few blog’s where we elaborate on this point.

Root Solutions Building Block: Design it to be VIVID:

“Powerful calls to action stand out, appeal to the senses, and exude originality.”           

Likewise, for the calls to action on your community. We want community members to submit ideas, vote and comment on ideas, refine, evaluate, and assess ideas, but what are we really doing? We are convening on IdeaScale to solve a problem together – whether it be college affordability, cancer treatment, or new product design, the call to action should be vivid. Drawing further inspiration from Root Solutions: “Connect the actions to impact…make the problem stand out…and the message memorable.”

Root Solutions Building Block: Frame for the right ASSOCIATIONS

“Effective “framing” strengthens your connection with your audience by ensuring that your message is associated with their pre-existing values, beliefs, and experiences.”

Craft it to be RELATABLE                   

“We respond positively to issues when they are meaningfully connected to our values and we can see how they relate to our own lives.”

Likewise, frame your community or campaign messages around the central values, beliefs, and experiences of your community members. Take care to choose a messenger who is relevant to the audience’s interests and values.

Root Solutions Building Block: Demonstrate what is ORDINARY         

“We want to feel like we belong in our community, so social cues inspire us to take action.”

This principle applies both within and outside an IdeaScale community.

Moderators and admins are in a powerful position to model desired behavior by regularly voting and commenting on ideas in the system. Additionally, leadership should be active participants, demonstrating how they would like the members to participate in the platform. Outside the system, leadership can shame norms by drawing attention to the behavior and actions of others. Finally, by creating an open innovation program within your organization, you too are reinforcing a new social norm. You are joining your peers at the cutting edge of innovation.

You can get some tips for moderation in our moderation tip sheet.

Root Solutions Building Block: Make it EASY

“Removing physical and mental barriers has a powerful impact on environmental behaviors.”

Likewise, removing technical and workplace barriers has a powerful impact on driving meaningful engagement in your IdeaScale community.

The IdeaScale open innovation solution is specifically designed to remove technical barriers to idea submission and make participation in your open innovation program as easy as possible.

You can make participation easy by keeping your community content simple and concise. Describe the desired contributions, workflow, and implementation plan in a clear and succinct manner. Make the platform an everyday or default tool in your work, public, or university environment.

Mental and cultural barriers exist as much in the workplace, university, or civic environment as anywhere else. These barriers can be removed by enlisting leadership in an authentic communication campaign to encourage participation. Confronting potential concerns upfront can help cultivate a culture of trust and open-mindedness, prepping the community to be receptive to new ideas and perspectives. Senior and mid-level leadership should recognize and celebrate the contributions of people in all roles.

Finally, secure buy-in early and often to lower the barrier to idea implementation. Securing sponsorship and resources for implementation before beginning the open innovation program helps steer the ideation toward actionable results.

You can get more tips about engagement in our engagement tip sheet.

Root Solutions Building Block: Achieve LASTING change                                

“Designing actions to be habit-forming creates consistent, long-lasting impacts.”

Make participation a habit by making the call to action easy and ordinary. Start with a small call to action: “Comment on this new idea.” Send out a steady stream of communications and calls to action to earn the knee-jerk reaction of the crowd. You might also use gamification to reward habit forming behaviors. The gold standard community has made idea submission a habit – as soon as the idea occurs to a community member, that member immediately log into the community and submits the idea.

Root Solutions Building Block: Emphasize HOPEFULNESS                    

“Confidence that we can make a positive difference motivates us to take action.”

Likewise, confidence that select ideas will be implemented motivates us to participate actively in the community. Be transparent about your plan for filtering and selecting ideas and your mechanism for implementing top ideas. Celebrate completed ideas and successes publicly.

Learn more by downloading our innovation planning template.



Open innovation and crowdsourcing are powerful tools for keeping your organization at the forefront of your field. Managing the flow of hundreds or even thousands of ideas through a complex innovation process is made easy with a software solution like IdeaScale. Motivating meaningful participation from a crowd who is otherwise saturated with email, social media other stimuli is a bit more complex. Here, we look to social science for insights on how to engage a crowd through strategic communications, and we thank Root Solutions for their interpretation of the science.

For further guidance on building a thriving community or campaign with purpose and momentum, revisit the resources previously mentioned in this post:


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