Reflecting the Rise of the Ideation Platform

The following entry was written by Justus Lenz with Philipp Mueller:


One of the “Web 2.0-type” concepts for a (semi-)structured citizen e-participation are ideation platforms. The aim of these platforms is to tap into the wisdom of crowds to  discover and develop ideas. The first big ideation platform was Dell’s Ideastorm. It was launched in February 2007 as part of a new strategy to engage consumers in conversations after a public relations disaster concerning Dell’s after-sales service. Other companies using such platforms are Starbucks and in Germany, Tchibo. Typically these ideation platforms allow users to:

1. Propose ideas

2. To comment on other ideas

3. To vote ideas up or down

The public sector also implemented e-participation platforms including elements of ideation, like Baltimore’s Citistat, the e-Petition system UK’s number10, or Peer-to-Patent, the US patent offices pilot program for distributed patent review. In May of 2009, the Obama administration introduced the Open Government Initiative, the biggest governmental ideation experiment yet. So in less than a year, ideation platforms have become fairly main stream projects of governments on all levels. However, they are not yet well understood both from an operational and from a democratic theory perspective. There are several questions that we need to ask:

What problems are amenable to ideation platform types of projects? In what contexts?

How do ideation platforms interlock with other forms of online collaboration (peer production, data-mining, implicit voting)?

What population of self-selected (expert) participants do we need in order to assure success?

What population of participants will satisfy our democracy requirements? How do we distinguish between context where we care (e.g. participatory budgeting) and where we assume that the quality of the outcome itself legitimizes the process?

What else? What do you think?

About Philipp

Philipp Müller works in the IT industry and is academic dean of the SMBS. Author of “”. Proud father of three amazing children. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

11. July 2009 by Philipp
Categories: Blog | Tags: , , , , | 6 comments

Comments (6)

  1. Pingback: Twitted by yolanda58


    I agree wholeheartedly … ideation platforms are both extremely important and very poorly understood, in our experience. We worked with a major insurance company on trying to process the results of an internal ideation campaign (what do you do with 3,000 ideas?) and talked to several other innovation officers and “idea managers” about their programs.

    Some major problems: unclear agenda in asking for ideas, so the results were not in sync with the goals of the program; no methodology or staff to process the ideas in a meaningful way; no methodology for combining and evolving similar or nascent ideas into useful strategies; no adequate mechanism inside the organization for connecting useful strategies to the people/authority needed to implement them; little respect within the operational parts of the organization for the entire program.

    As a result, the programs became more of an empty marketing effort; even as marketing, they could become problematic because people expected their ideas to be listened to, so lack of progress was embarrassing.

    Nevertheless, I still feel that ideation platforms and programs can be extremely valuable and a fundamental advance in innovation. The challenge is perhaps much more on the organizational side in terms of how to deal with ideas in general. And that's a longer discussion!


    There has been a big push in corporations over the last decade towards innovation in general, and in the last few years various web 2.0 and crowdsourcing concepts have been added to that mix. Although there are many silos in big companies, and a general attitude of ownership around ideas and IP, there has also been a movement to open up collaboration between divisions, with customers, and with the general public. There are a bunch of visibly successful examples of this, and a lot of less visible and successful attempts.

    Off the cuff, perhaps the biggest difference is not between governments and private sector organizations, but between collaboration and transparency. Ideation is about collaboration, not just the visibility of data and processes.

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    The other thing I've been asking myself, mainly from the point of view of implementator, is how soon this can REALLY take off. Basically, as long as there is no broadly available software to use for this, the barriers to entry into this “hype” are too high. Currently the only platforms are either commercial, hosted and english, or self-programmed. I think this can really take off as soon as we see the first truly open source ideation platforms pop up on the net. Then you'll see the odd municipality using it, countries all over the world, and so on


    That's interesting. I had thought of the platforms as being pretty common, but you're right, they are commercial, hosted and english. But an open source version shouldn't be that difficult. Perhaps we ( can do some research and see if there's an easy path, perhaps based on an existing CMS platform. We created a tool to tag ideas on top of Drupal.


    Ideas are a wonderful thing….they stimulate new action. And new action is progress.

    Sometimes, tho', the inventors of the platforms are not prepared for ideas that are different than their own, so there is some level of fear that can sometimes impede a project from reaching a successful outcome. Leaders who would like to use ideation platforms must consider the human component and must be willing to accept a free-er forum for dialog than what they might otherwise be used to.