At InCommons, we believe that the answers needed to solve our community problems are already present in our communities; they may just be in unexpected places. How can we seek out these innovative ideas and support courageous leadership in our communities? InCommons uses idea contests - we call them "Challenges" - to do just that.
At first glance, InCommons Challenges may simply appear to be a new way to conduct grant-making efforts. But, they are so much more. Because Challenges are a transparent process surrounded by a great deal of community engagement and promotion, they provide many different benefits to participants (sponsors, idea submitters and voters alike). It's the Challenge chain reaction:
Spark 1: An organization sponsors a Challenge on InCommons.org to increase awareness, activities, ideas and action in response to a community problem.
Spark 2: People submit their ideas and current projects for creating solutions.
Spark 3: Participants and community members read the Challenge entries, discover common ground, provide feedback and suggestions, tap in to new resources, forge new collaborations, and are inspired to action.
Spark 4: A combination of community judges and community voters determine the winning entries.
Spark 5: Collaboration and community building thrive with these new connections, as we all work to solve problems in our communities.
InCommons is not alone in using contests to generate solutions. There is a long history of motivating new ideas through competitions and cash rewards. A recent New York Times article explores how prize competitions can broaden perspectives while arousing participation from outside a typical field of "experts," many of whom have tried and failed to solve problems by "going it alone."
Psychologically, why is it that crowd-sourcing or collective intelligence often yields higher-quality results than individual thinking? A 2004 book from New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki - "The Wisdom of Crowds" - delves deeper into the subject and provides one possible explanation:
"(A)sk a hundred people to answer a question or solve a problem, and the average answer will often be at least as good as the answer of the smartest member. With most things, the average is mediocrity. With decision-making, it's often excellence. You could say it's as if we've been programmed to be collectively smart."
Let's use our collective "smarts" to solve problems in our communities - together. Whether you're casting a vote, submitting an entry or sponsoring a Challenge, we're confident that you'll be inspired by the amazing problem-solving activities, connections and resources that you'll discover at InCommons.org. And we've only just begun. More ideas and inspiration are coming soon with the launch of InCommons' next Challenge on April 17.