Numerous organizations run crowdsourced innovation programs, because companies can find better new ideas and take action on those ideas faster. This process allows companies to set a challenge and gather ideas from hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of participants.

In the past, these challenges were sometimes organized through suggestion boxes or emails to a single email address, but because those programs didn’t offer transparency sometimes… ideas went into a black box and created more frustration from participants rather than positive change.

The power of transparent collaboration in these open crowdsourced communities can be transformative, because it breeds accountability, excitement and visibility. The other thing that it breeds, however, is connection. This can be particularly powerful in large organizations like NASA with their network of more than 17,000 employees. One of the exciting aspects of becoming a NASA employee is, after all, that you enter a network of passionate, gifted individuals. In fact, there are tons of rules about collaboration and teamwork at NASA – for example, a project manager for a NASA project has to personally meet everybody on their team, and most NASA employees have a mandate to constantly train and learn from one another.

But finding new ways to connect beyond your immediate working group can be challenging, so these crowdsourcing communities create a digital landscape for connecting around interests projects, and especially ideas. So that’s why we were particularly interested in how NASA directed their intrapreneurs to be successful in their projects. What we found is that they focused their coaching questions in two key areas:

Impact. When an internal problem challenge concludes, top ideators are asked to estimate the impact of their idea. Obviously different ideas can be measured along different metrics, but asking about the extent of impact is a good way to help ideators weight the value of their own ideas. The other thing they asked about was…

Next Steps. As the challenges wrap up, ideators have to outline what their plan is for the implementation of the idea. This is particularly powerful, because it sets an expectation for implementation, which means idea authors have to think practically about how they will bring something forward at NASA. This also lets the crowd know that ideas that can’t eventually answer some of these basic questions won’t make it into a final round of consideration.

One more thing that’s changed over the years is that NASA’s workforce is getting older and (for that reason) the organization needs to focus on recruiting younger employees. This means that as new millennials and gen-y employees enter the workforce, they will need to find ways to connect to powerful mentors and institutional knowledge. What better way to connect with digital natives than to connect them to experienced leaders around ideas and projects that are inspiring the rest of the company?

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.