Simon Buckingham Shum – Professor of Learning Informatics, Director of UTS Connected Intelligence Centre, and researcher in Collective Intelligence and Online Deliberation platforms – walks us through idea management platforms, crowdsourcing and how best to lend your voice to the UTS strategy discussion happening online right now.

What’s an idea management platform (IDM)?

A tool that enables organisations to engage with hundreds, or even thousands, of people to source ideas on problems, challenges, themes etc. Rather than limiting insights to a traditionally small expert group, IDM tools enable users to generate a far more diverse number of ideas from a broader audience. The hope is that by opening up the sourcing of ideas to the wider community, some really high-quality ideas surface. Ultimately, IDMs are a vehicle for organisations to listen to employees or the public, uncover concerns they were unaware of, and at its peak, source solutions superior to those developed ‘in-house’.

How exactly does an IDM work?

The websites powered by these tools are a cross between a discussion space and a voting tool, with moderator tools to assist in analysing, filtering and synthesising ideas through different rounds. You pose specific challenges, and people can log into the IDM to submit an idea, or rate and/or comment on another idea that’s been submitted. Sometimes winning ‘authors’, people who’ve submitted an idea to a challenge, receive an award, financial or otherwise, but usually, it’s just the kudos of having your idea make it through to the next round, and possibly see it ‘go to market’ in some form.

Who else is using these tools effectively?

They’ve been used by governments for policy consultations. The White House used an IDM for Obama’s election, the Finnish Government for law reform, Iceland for constitutional reform, the UK around its National Health Service. In the tech space, firms such as Intel, IBM, Dell, Xerox, and Cisco have used them to address a number of organisational challenges.

In your opinion, is it a good thing that UTS is using this system to shape its next long-term strategy?

Yes, it sends a strong signal to employees at all levels that UTS values their insights, and is ready to take them seriously. And I’m pleased to see UTS making use of a state-of-the-art product to do this.

There is certainly encouraging evidence that these tools, when used well, can lead to progress or even breakthroughs. One study found, for example, that 30% of the challenges that had confounded experienced corporate researchers were solved by participants who came from outside of the organisation, and generally did not have ‘expert’ credentials in the problem domain. There’s also evidence that crowds can collectively make better judgments than the individuals that make them up, often exceeding the performance of experts.

Within UTS I’ve no doubt that there’s the wisdom and creativity to flourish in the next decade. The trick is harnessing and focussing those qualities efficiently. So who knows which dots could get joined by the platform and the social dynamics that it generates?

It all sounds very positive…but are there any challenges to using these tools?

Great question — there are no silver bullets! Three things we should watch out for as an organisation:

  1. Quality of ideas: While there are many success stories, the quality of ideas will be highly variable, with some evidence suggesting that perhaps only 10-30% are strong. There will probably be a lot of duplication of ideas because many people don’t have time to read the current ones, just enough time to share their own. Experts in a field understand the key dimensions of a problem and solution space, but crowdsourced ideas rarely cover this systematically, and are often poorly argued. We want ideas that are well argued, not just vote-catchers, and we want to try and help ideas evolve — they’re never going to be right first time. We may well need face-to-face Creative Intelligence entrepreneurial workshops to really explore ideas that emerge — luckily we know how to run those at UTS!
  2. Helpful moderation: People with a formal ‘moderator’ role can add great value, but in fact, everyone can do this. For instance, giving encouragement and constructive feedback, asking probing questions, connecting the authors of similar ideas, proposing a variation of an idea (‘memetic mutation’), sharing an idea’s link with specific colleagues to pull them in where they can make a distinctive contribution. Those with expertise can help morph ideas to address well-understood weaknesses.
  3. Transparent, quality idea synthesis and filtering: Organisations can be overwhelmed by the response they get. Google had to recruit 3000 Google employees to filter the deluge of ideas in one project, which set them nine months behind schedule. Nearly 100 IBM senior executives spent weeks sifting through tens of thousands of ideas from their Web Jam. The US website had to be shut down prematurely once contributions overwhelmed their ability to meaningfully process it. We won’t have that volume in UTS2027, but the filtering process is the hidden workload behind these systems: minimal effort to contribute, but how to evaluate?There will need to be transparency around how ideas are filtered for later rounds: ideas need to be assessed against agreed criteria (not idiosyncratic views), and moreover, these should be shared with the wider UTS community. There’s a whole research field into how to filter ideas, e.g. one promising technique developed at MIT is to allocate ‘lemons’ to the weakest ideas, rather than votes to the strongest ones. This seems to work because team members tend to focus on the ideas that they have some expertise in and feel more confident about dismissing.

Simons top tips on how UTS can make the most of the platform

  1. Don’t just propose a vision – argue your idea. If you’re really hot, address the most likely counter-arguments. In later rounds, ideas are going to get a lot of scrutiny, but no harm in starting to build the case now and increase its chances of making the cut.
  2. Evolve and connect ideas. Solutions aren’t born, they have to grow up. Pros and cons may well emerge in the comment exchanges, which you can fold back into improving how you pitch your idea. Talk to someone with a similar idea (gasp, meet up face-to-face!) and devise a composite that will draw support from both fan bases. Paste links to related ideas in comments — the combinations might be a breakthrough.
  3. Is a gem being unfairly neglected? Popular ideas can get disproportionate attention, sitting at the top of the leaderboard. Or those from senior leaders. Attend to the ‘quiet’ ones. Develop your concept with some colleagues first and ‘wind-tunnel’ it, even if over lunch: it will evolve into something stronger, then post it, link it and vote it up as a team.
  4. Premature rejection. You may be quite expert in one of the challenges, but experts are also known to dismiss novel ideas too quickly because they don’t fit conventional patterns. Set a guard on premature judgements! Is that idea really so crazy? What if…?
  5. Get stuck in! Can UTS buck the 90-9-1 internet rule, where 90% log on and just observe, nine per cent might comment or vote, and just one per cent contribute new ideas? The more we can shift that, the greater the diversity, ownership and accountability.
  6. For leadership: Given the evidence from prior work, should we bring in outside ‘critical friends’ to see around our blind spots? Consult within the university for expertise in both the human and automated methods that could be used to make sense of the idea corpus (a corpus potentially amenable to text analytics). Resource the synthesis and filtering teams adequately, which are known weak links. Ensure transparent communication about the process and decision points, to build on and sustain the trust that this initiative invites.

Start pitching or voting for ideas at UTS2027 Strategy


  1. ReKlein, M., & Convertino, G. (2014). An Embarrassment of Riches: A Critical Review of Open Innovation SystemsCommunications of the ACM, 57(11):40-42.
  2. Convertino G., Westerski A., Diaz P., and De Liddo A. (2015). (Eds.) Special issue on Large-Scale Ideation and Deliberation, Journal of Social Media for Organizations, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (2015).

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