Government Crowdstorming with the Public

What ever you call it, crowdstorming, ideation, or online idea generation, it’s my observation that this technique is the second most often used online method for governments to engage the public, after social media (like Facebook and Twitter). Government hosted crowdstorming is usually focused on generating ideas, and sorting them by public preference via votes.

The latest uses of these tools move away from asking the public to contribute many, many ideas for the government to sort through and perhaps act on. Ideation is now commonly used for internal engagement where government employees can make suggestions for improving the workplace and work products. Ideation is also being used in challenge competitions where government agencies use prizes to stimulate innovation to advance their core missions.

Why So Popular?

Nonetheless, it’s a useful tool to gain public input in early stages of policy development or program design. Why is it so popular? Well, here’s a few thoughts:

  • Easy to participate at any level of commitment. You can vote on an idea, comment or submit an idea yourself
  • Transparent without the risk of needing to engage with everything you hear. Good moderation recognizes participation, encourages participants to define their ideas and why they are important, and ignores ranters/ragers/trolls.
  • Shared ownership with the community. The community decides what’s most popular. The convener decides what they are going to do with those ideas (e.g. host an ideaslam for the top 10, use a public list of criteria to select 3 out of the top 10 to receive funding, etc.)
  • Proven. It’s easier to convince your leadership or colleagues to take a risk by engaging the public online when others have done it before you.

IBM Crowdsourcing Gov Cover


Thinking about doing it yourself? Here’s a few great resources from IBM’s Center for the Business of Government:

Top Five Considerations

Shaun Abrahmson, author of the book Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas, and Problem Solving, recently shared with the Huffingon Post his top five things to think about in setting up a project:

1. A great question – Solve a real problem, make it easy to communicate and share, and make it clear to potential participants

2. Rewards – How will you reward the best – sometimes tricky mix of good, attention, money, experience and stuff (games)

3. Recruiting – Your outcomes are only as good as your ability to reach and motivate loads of people who might be able to solve your problem

4. Choosing the best – You need to be clear on this so you can deliver fairly on your promises

5. Delivery – If you want to be able to work with crowds again, you need to be able to not just deliver rewards, but put the ideas/plans/prototypes into action (very often this is where crowdstorming fails)


There are lots of tools you can use for online crowdstorming including: IdeaScale, UserVoice, Spigit, Delib Dialogue App, Bubble Ideas, Salesforce Ideas, Mindmixer, Thoughtstream, OpenIdeo and more.


Here’s a small list of government-led ideation projects asking the public for their ideas. Know of others? Please leave them in the comments.

Government of BC Education Plan. 2012

USA Federal Communications Commission. 2010

UK Coalition Government’s Your Freedom Project, which was the world’s biggest ever political crowdsourcing project, gathering 10,000′s ideas from over 40,000 people, and with over 500,000 visits to the site
and the lessons learned from Delib, their engagement shop

City of Vancouver, Talk Green To Us. 2011
(not supported anymore so the layout is weird but the content is the same)

The following three were hosted by National Academy of Public Administration, which is a Congressionally chartered, non-profit, non-partisan institution

Open Government Dialogue on behalf of the Obama Administration. 2009
Lots was learned from this one, the highest profile test at that time

The National Dialogue On Health Information Technology and Privacy on behalf of the Bush Administration’s Office of Management and Budget
Disclosure: I worked on this
Video overview

The National Dialogue on Green and Healthy Homes on behalf of National Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning and the Department of Housing and Urban Development

Manor Labs, Texas

Improve San Francisco, 2010

Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygene. 2012
and a description from the vendor, Spigit

City of Seattle. Share YOUR ideas for a better Seattle. 2010

Government of Ireland, Your Country, Your Call. 2010

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