Idea Incubation Community

2007

I designed and implemented new features to empower an online community of almost 50,000 citizens working together to address social and economic injustices.

The website, a customized CMS built on the Drupal platform, had initially been developed as a contest to solicit fresh, common sense ideas, sponsored by one of the nation’s more innovative labor unions. It took off and grew beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, and became a hotbed of important proposals and dedicated community members. Citizens submitted, reviewed, and ranked and sorted ideas they thought America should take on. The ideas covered everything from technology, energy, and the environment to healthcare and campaign reform.

Although I joined after the project’s initial success, I designed tools for the second generation of the site to allow members to not just share their ideas, but also turn them into reality. We constructed a process of individual commitment, collaborative planning, collective action and social accountability.

A member survey was administered to determine the future of the community. Based on an analysis of the results, I designed new features to transition the community from an ideas contest to a launchpad for citizen action. I developed the “Adopt an Idea” features from whiteboard to wireframes, and managed a talented developer in the more technical aspects of their execution. We were able to shift the purpose of the site from individual contest submissions to collaboration.

Members could now click on a lightbulb on each idea’s webpage to signal their support. By doing so, they illuminated the lightbulb, and the member thereby pledged to adopt and work towards realizing the idea. Adopting an idea also enabled discussion features on the page so that members could collaborate with other citizens inspired by the same idea.

The site won a Golden Dot Award from the Institute for Politics Democracy & the Internet for Best Online Community Response Effort, given to a “campaign that used technology to solve a local or civic problem.” In addition, the top ideas were published in a book. The project was successfully acquired soon after the introduction of the Adopt an Idea feature.

Resources:

A sample of the monthly campaign narrative to keep members engaged in the community
Campaign Narrative
Sample email launching the new features to the community
Sample email
Idea Cycle, version 1
Idea Cycle, version 1
Idea Cycle, version 2
Idea Cycle, version 2
Wireframe of new features and notes on interaction
Idea Page Wireframe
Sample of an idea page with "adopt" functionality
Idea Page