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Create Knowledge with Crowd Innovation

The pace of digitization is steadily increasing, leaving a lot of old processes behind in the — continue reading
Posted by Moritz Arendt
September 17, 2018

The pace of digitization is steadily increasing, leaving a lot of old processes behind in the dust. The same applies to traditional methods of innovation. The internet has not just become a hub to share knowledge, but also to create knowledge together through crowd innovation.

In our last blog post Why We Need to Learn More: eLearning and Beyond!, we covered the basics of e-learning and the learning principles necessary for a good online learning tool. Open Social’s course feature is a great example of a ‘one to many’ learning approach where users learn from an expert or organization. These tools are important for spreading knowledge and helping people, companies, universities, non-governmental organizations and societies grow.

This time, we’ll be focusing on how to create knowledge through crowd innovation on knowledge-based platforms. Ever so often, thinking creatively and coming up with new and innovative ideas and solutions is a must. Luckily, the internet has made this process open and participatory.

Active to passive: a new user role

The knowledge tools that exist to share knowledge are great for educating people but aren’t necessarily meant for creating new insights and solving problems. And it’s important for organizations, companies, governmental bodies, and NGOs to not only educate people but also involve them in creating knowledge.

With the rise of Web 2.0, the role of the internet users has shifted more and more from passive to active. This means that users are consistently generating content on social media platforms, blog sites, forums, and other applications. They are essentially leading the knowledge creation online.

This shift, from passive to active, is also apparent in the e-learning environment. As we covered in the last post, community and social aspects play a crucial role in online learning environments. Users actively take part in discussions, blogs, and learning groups to help to keep users engaged and motivated. This also creates a healthy competitive environment while helping each other by sharing information, new insights or sources.

These activities can actually go a step further by involving users directly with the generation of knowledge, ideas, solution or design approaches, thus introducing crowd innovation.

Crowd innovation: what is it?

Crowd innovation basically uses the crowd to gain valuable insights. After all, everyone has unique opinions and knowledge to contribute. Even though this method has proven successful, many companies have still not taken advantage of these methods. The Gartner 2016 CIO Survey of nearly 3,000 CIOs found that crowdsourcing, the most common form of crowd innovation, is one of the least-used practices that result in the highest return.

There are many ways that organizations incorporate different voices online during the creation process. In the following section, we’ll look at some relevant terms that you will often encounter in the context of crowd innovation; ideation, open innovation, and crowdsourcing


Ideation is described as the creative process of generating an idea, solution, design, or new insight. It’s often associated with the initial creation of ideas, however, the refinement, evaluation, and selection of those ideas are an important part of ideation as the initial idea gathering.

Here’s some inspiration for how different ideation sessions could look like. The process usually consists of different phases that lead to a refined idea that’s broadly accepted by the participants. The phases of the ideation process can differ widely since it depends on the goal, participants, and the chosen method.

Open Innovation

Open innovation was coined by Henry W. Chesbrough and is very much a child of the paradigm shift that knowledge is not proprietary to the company but a distributed good. This essentially means that it’s important to open the process of innovation to external ideas, feedback, practices, and resources. There’s a general differentiation between Inside-Out Open Innovation (e.g. licensing patents to partners) and Outside-In Open Innovation (e.g. joint development). Luckily, Forbes has a great overview of open innovation and its different forms.


Crowdsourcing is closely related to open innovation, in that they both draw resources and ideas from a large, diverse group. Crowdsourcing has actually already been applied for hundreds of years; ideation and crowdsourcing are definitely not limited to an online environment.

In recent years, there have been more efforts in the scientific community to find out why crowdsourcing and ideation work. This is still a work in progress but there are a few things that successful crowdsourcing efforts have in common:

  • Finding the right crowd.
  • Finding the right partners.
  • Thoroughly defining the problem and goal.
  • Choose an approach that fits your goal.
  • Provide guidance for users.

These are three different approaches to crowd innovation, and they all share a common theme: it’s better to innovate together.

How is crowd innovation beneficial?

The benefits of crowd innovation depend, again, on the chosen methodology and goal of the process. When set up correctly, it’s proven to improve the effectiveness of businesses and organization, helps organizations to improve customer relations, help improve the satisfaction of the target group with the results, and find solutions outside the box.

It’s online

The internet drastically increased the reach and effectiveness of innovation projects. The online environment makes it easier to share problems with people that would have never thought about it.

“Most people don’t get access to the types of problems that people at NASA or Harvard or Pfizer get to work on,” Lakhani explains in Harvard Magazine. “Now all of a sudden there’s a rich flow of very interesting problems that people can put their minds to.”

It’s a key benefit that people have access to all sorts of problems and certain problems are now tackled together by people from all around the world. It’s a win-win.

Let’s not forget about the business side! The internet helps businesses stay close to their users. Online platforms involve end users from the start to the end of the creative process; feedback is shared and updates are provided. This way, companies improve customer relations and products in a relatively inexpensive way.

It’s open source

It’s important to have the right tools for a good ideation process. We believe that open source should play a role in distributing knowledge and furthering innovation. It’s almost cynical to create a learning environment for open ideation with proprietary software.

The Crowd Innovation feature

We recognized the potential to integrate an ideation process within our community software, Open Social, rather than creating a standalone product. Users can interact with each other, and the community manager can either build up a community around a challenge/problem or embed them into the community.

The ideation process profits from a community because the creativity becomes a continuously growing entity. This is why we developed the Crowd Innovation feature for Open Social.


The process of developing the Crowd Ideation feature was done in cooperation with external partners, namely Novamondo in cooperations with Polis180, Argo, and Foraus. Foraus was looking for a tool that could combine community and ideation software. They did their homework, analyzed various ideation tools (such as Climate CoLab and MMOWGLI), and came to the conclusion that these tools lacked a proper social networking function.

foraus helps create the crowd innovation feature

Novamondo connected Foraus with Open Social. By building an ideation module on top of our community software, Foraus was able to have the best of both worlds. They were able to take advantage of the already-existing community features from Open Social and focus their resources on the new module. Foraus both sponsored and co-developed the open ideation module with Open Social. We also invited open ideation experts such as Rob Shapiro – Founder & Principal at Shapiro Cloud, Tair – Lead Developer at Circle Economy, and Laurie Tan – RAPSODIA Innovation Center to discuss the ideation module on our Knowledge Center LGOS. This way, we could collect important feedback and use the Crowd Innovation feature in practice and in an Open Social community.


After what we learned from our partners, we created a feature that helps communities find solutions through crowdsourcing. The structure varies depending on the goal of the project.

Thus, we built a framework that allows users to create a customized flow for idea creation within an Open Social community platform. The Crowd Innovation feature consists of the following components:

  • Challenges. The Challenge poses a question that the community members solve together. The creator of the challenge determines the flow of the process. The challenges are constructed in a similar way as a group with a sub-menu consisting of:
    • An ‘About’ tab with general information about the challenge, phases and newest ideas.
    • The ‘Ideas’ tab containing an overview page of all the ideas.
    • And the stream, events, topics, and participants.
  • Phases. The phases determine how users interact with the challenge. Phases have a start and end date, which allows the challenge to go through different stages. A phase can have different permissions for:
    • Creating ideas
    • Editing ideas
    • Viewing ideas
    • Commenting on ideas
    • Voting on ideas
  • Ideas. The ideas are the heart of this feature. Users create ideas that suggest solutions for the challenges. These ideas can be promoted to the next phase by the Challenge admin or higher roles. This results in a selection process until the best idea(s) for a challenge is found.


Crowd innovation feature for Open Social


This setup allows for maximum flexibility in setting up a challenge and makes it possible to create an ideation process for different kinds of use cases; political problem-solving, product innovation, etc.

Just having a simple 5-step ideation process can be a powerful tool for any company or community that needs to tackle creative challenges:

  1. Brainstorm: users can read about the challenge and send in their ideas.
  2. Discussion: open the challenge to comments and discussions about the ideas.
  3. Voting: allow users to vote for their favorite ideas. After the voting closes, the best ideas are advanced to the next stage.
  4. Refinement: improve and refine the best ideas with comments and discussions.
  5. Selection: a jury, added by the challenge admin, selects the winning idea.

This challenge creates create a funnel to find the best idea for a problem with simple tools.

Feed off of the crowd

Working with others to both create and refine knowledge is an important process for people, organizations, and society to grow. With modern technology at the tips of our fingers (literally), we can really take these creative processes to the next level!

We help involve people that would have otherwise not been able to access the resources to brainstorm. And we’re really excited to be a part of the knowledge movement that’s affected our way of life for centuries.

We hope to help Drupal and the open source community play an even more essential role in this process by enabling thousand+ existing communities to implement our Crowd Innovation feature.

If you want to know more about how we tackled the creation process of this feature, then check out our presentation slides from Drupal Europe, where I hosted a session with Andreas Huthwelker von Novamondo!


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