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If you’re thinking about launching a crowdsourcing campaign to respond to some of these challenges brought about by COVID-19, now is a good time. We are all learning so much right now and so quickly. And everyone wants to help, so let them.

The US Coast Guard has a self-admitted bias towards action. In any given situation – no matter how unfamiliar or dire – officers will come up with ingenious solutions on the spot that can saves lives. This bias towards action makes for in-the-moment innovation that results in lives saved. But action-based efficacy doesn’t always translate into institutional learning or best practices if it never gets shared beyond the moment.

How did this play out in reality? In 2017, Hurricane Harvey kicked off an unprecedented hurricane season and the Coast Guard exceeded all expectations by rescuing numerous individuals and protecting assets valued in the hundreds of millions. But Coast Guard leadership realized that though they had learned a great deal from previous storms like Katrina and Sandy, but hadn’t responded to those insights by socializing them across their entire organization. Things like the ability to respond to distress calls via social media, training on disaster-specific equipment, mobility policies and more still weren’t ready for the entire workforce.

To avoid that situation in the future, the Coast Guard launched an IdeaScale crowdsourcing campaign that asked officers for lessons learned during Hurricane Harvey and Irma relief efforts to help improve future disaster response. Those ideas became the basis for new equipment, processes and policy that served their efforts in storms like Hurricane Florence, Dorian, and many others.

This approach was different for the Coast Guard who in the past had relied on chain of command to gather and socialize good ideas. But when the community started sharing, voting on and viewing one another’s ideas, those creative actions and needs could no longer be ignored or put off. What saved lives in one storm became conventional wisdom that was available to everyone and easier to institutionalize…

…which brings me to today….

It is incredible how different our world looks in less than 30 days. Less than a month ago, I was planning on attending a conference, I was helping our kids prepare for their field trips, phrases like “social distancing” were not part of my everyday vernacular. And yet here we are: less than a month later – our entire team working from their houses while we split our time between working and homeschooling our children and we’re working with our customers to launch campaigns that will help them adapt to remote work, healthcare research, and engineering challenges. In times of crisis, we are talking about a whole new type of creativity.

Though many of our customers engage in long-term innovation planning, we are living in unprecedented times and many of our customers have shifted their approach to a much more rapid form of ideation with shorter review cycles and more near-term continuous improvement. We are searching for solutions to problems that we didn’t have last month – heck, problems that we didn’t have yesterday! Everyone is being creative and learning in real time. But there is a risk with all this creativity – the risk of losing what we’re learning and not sharing it fast enough.

If you’re thinking about launching a crowdsourcing challenge to respond to some of these challenges brought about by COVID-19, now is a good time. We are all learning so much right now and so quickly. And everyone wants to help, so let them. But honor that contribution by simplifying your approach, streamlining decision-making, and communicating effectively. Inculcate what you’re learning into common knowledge and benefit from the edge that crisis gives us.

To learn more about how to prepare a crowdsourcing campaign in these uncertain times, feel free to visit our crisis crowdsourcing resource page, which includes a campaign planning template, webinar recording, and more advice from experts.

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.

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