IdeaFactory – Does crowdsourcing ideas work? Take a look at TSA’s program – Part 2

We’ve probably all seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The movie showcases imagination, creativity and the freedom to try new things and experiment.

That’s the same idea as the TSA’s IdeaFactory. The 5-year-old program was one of the first true government 2.0 technologies.

Megan Kenny is the Acting Program Manager for the Office of Training and Workforce at the TSA.

She was part of an ODEP hosted webcast, Policy Development Think Tank Webcast: New Strategies for Successful Collaboration. DorobekINSIDER host Chris Dorobek moderated the conversation.

Megan told Chris how the IdeaFactory came about.

“We wanted to make sure as an agency that we had access to all the best ideas. Our Administrator at the time really believed those answers were hidden somewhere within the agency’s 60,000 employees. But our agency is spread out all over the country at 450 airports. So we took the simple and unsuccessful idea of an employee suggestion box and threw it online and added a social crowdsourcing element,” said Kenny.

How it Works

“Every TSA employee has the ability to post their ideas publicly so everyone can see it, rate it and comment on it. My team manages those ideas. We have a data base of unfiltered opinions and experiences. It’s opened up 2-way communication between our field employees and headquarters,” said Kenny, “once those ideas are posted we send them up the chain of command to see if they are feasible. So far we have implemented 120 ideas.”

“When someone’s idea is implemented either through open innovation or a challenge that person is recognized very publicly. You get a certificate and a TSA Challenge coin. If possible we also try to let the person work on implementing their own ideas,” said Kenny.


“You need a brave and dynamic leader to make it work. Our administrator back in 2007 said, ‘I want this program and I want it now,” we had the program up and running in six weeks.


“IdeaFactory management is a full-time job for 4 employees at TSA. We also tap networks within TSA to filter ideas and explore whether ideas are actually feasible,” said Kenny.


“We wanted to start targeting specific problems. So we go to senior leaders and ask them for a very specific suggestion. Then we send it out to the community as a challenge. This way we are targeting a specific need. So far we have launched 12 challenges this year,” said Kenny.

Measure Success

“TSA has 60,000 employees. IdeaFactory gets about 10,000 unique users a month. We are also able to mine the data to field reports to senior leaders about specific challenges and solutions,” said Kenny.

Part 1: Check out ODEP’s other panel featuring ideas on collaboration.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

ed bernacki

I really like the concept of the idea challenges. Often these programs are about new ideas….with no relation to problems.

Even the original 1950s concept of brain storming was about solving specific and difficult problems. Perhaps people could copy an idea from a New Zealand science research body that offered a prize of $1 million of free research to the organization that suggested the most interesting business problem. It was a way to raise its profile and use some surplus time to achieve something interesting.

Instead of crowd sourcing new ideas, crowd source the most interesting problems, which when solved, would make a positive contribution in some way.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

TSA has done a great job with IdeaFactory. In fact, a lot of Federal agencies, even OPM, adopted their idea-generation system themselves. I think that every agency and component is doing a disservice to its employees if it doesn’t have a system like IdeaFactory. If you want a free alternative, check out IdeaScale, which is used by some Federal agencies, including the annual SAVE awards.