Building a Platform for Open Innovation: How Would You Do it?

At Mozilla, we’re fond of Open Innovation Challenges. OIC’s gather the best and the brightest to tackle problem sets whose solution is unknown. We use an OIC mindset to inform our own work, our work with partners, and increasingly, our funding and grantmaking. OIC’s can yield some pretty awesome results. Check out the Jetpack for Learning program we did with the MacArthur Foundation, for example.

Right now, Mozilla is building some simple software to facilitate this kind of work. What we’re building is like OpenIdeo, or even 99 designs (arguably).  We want to enable simple, distributed brainstorming and problem solving. Emphasis on simple—the bar to participation needs to be as low as possible.

Our version of an open innovation platform will be built on top of, but it will be based on Django and fairly portable. At a functional level, this software will let an administrator define a challenge statement and accept responses over a set period of time. These responses can include text, arbitrary code, images, links, or videos.

One cool thing we’re exploring is how to do this in a distributed way. We’d like to solicit and syndicate submissions across the web, so that anyone can start a challenge anywhere, and partner sites can publish ideas that are coming through the cycle:

On the community side, we’re building in voting (thumbs up), commenting, and also some publication features (like automatically tweeting whenever someone files a challenge brief). Pretty simple stuff, but surprisingly, there’s no free/open software that does this well.

We’re hoping to use this to run our news innovation program with the Knight Foundation. But this software is going to be free and available for anyone to use/build on/hack/whatever. You’ll be free to use it to run your own challenges.

So, internet: what features would you want in a platform like this? What sucks about current platforms? What’s great about them? What are the human dynamics we should design around?

Maybe another question, if you’re feeling cynical: do open innovation challenges even work? (the author, fellow Mojo consiprator Phillip Smith, seems to think so. And I agree!)

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