The Minnesota Open Idea is an example of an online social good contest that works. It combines expert judging with popular vote, online strategy with good old fashion off line organizing, links objectives to a theory of change, and incorporates a fun and engaging way for people to learn about and take action on a timely community problem. In this interview, Jennifer Ford Reedy, VP for Strategy and Knowledge Management, at the Minnesota Community Foundation shares the how they designed this online social good contest for success.
Last November, you may have read about how the Minnesota Community Foundation‘s GiveMN’s Minnesota Give to the Max Day raised $14 Million online in 24 hours. Last week, the community foundation finished its first Minnesota Open Idea contest to fund the best idea to address the childhood obesity issue. The winner was Christine Tubbs, whose idea “Kids Lead the Way” is described in the above video.
They partnered with Ashoka Changemakers to develop a state-of-the art idea challenge web site, how they married an online social good contest with civic engagement. They had hundreds of people exercising on the field at a Twins Baseball game and the contest finalists throwing out the first pitch. The finalists also appeared on the state’s premier public affairs show in an “American Idol” style session to showcase their ideas.
1.) Why did you pick the childhood obesity issue for the challenge?
Obesity is not our issue as a foundation but our group of operating partners landed on obesity because we thought it was such a good fit with our criteria. There is a long list but basically: everyone can understand it, everyone could do something about it, it is newsworthy so we can get media partners interested, it is really important for the state. In the future, challenge topics will be crowd-sourced from the public.
2.) How does your innovation challenge connect with your theory of change?
Our intent is that building this high-tech “civic infrastructure” will improve the functioning of our entire sector. For MN Idea Open, it is infrastructure to support community problem solving and our hope is that providing an easy to use platform will increase the frequency with which decision makers in Minnesota engage large #s of citizens on issues and, in turn, increase civic engagement and improve the quality of decisions.
Our TOC is (1) that making issue education fun can dramatically increase public engagement on a topic and (2) that framing issues in terms of what people can do about it will make more people internalize that “the problem is us” and encourage them to take action rather than just admiring the problem.
3.) What was your judging process? You didn’t use the “Vote for Me” approach.
We talked to many others who have sponsored contests in Minnesota and around the country to develop our judging structure. We wanted expert screening so that we and other partners could feel good that the popularity contest was confined to strong ideas. We only allowed 1 vote per e-mail address. We were not trying to create a frenzy around voting for the sake of #s, our goal was to get as many people as possible to consider the issue and the ideas.
We had 15 community evaluators who reviewed all 400 proposals as they were coming in and scored them on three criteria: Innovation, Impact, and Sustainability. The platform has a judging interface so they could do it all on-line. Then the group came together and debated the highest-scored proposals and whittled the pool down to 21 ideas. Those 21 ideas were sent to our 7 judges to read, score on each of the same criteria, and rank. They then came together and debated and picked the three finalists. The judges represent an amazingly diverse set of perspectives.
The whole process was managed by the Citizens League, which is a local organization that does citizen-driven policy development work.
4.) Can you share some of the outreach strategies?
We worked with Grassroots Solutions who helped with a grassroots organizing strategy. They built an inner circle of orgs that we called “the strategy cabinet” to be the heart of the outreach effort. Strategy cabinet partners got a lot of attention from Grassroots Solutions to help craft strategies to reach all their stakeholders.
They also recruited scores and scores of organizations to be “allies.” We sent these folks materials to use to engage stakeholders but didn’t give a lot of hand holding. It was pretty much good, old-fashioned organizing. GS had interns talking to folks at every single library in the state and following up the conversation with an outreach packet of posters, palm cards, video, etc. We had tables at nonprofits conferences and at some of the strategy cabinet sites. We also did all we could through social media and traditional media outreach. We were able to get substantive interviews with us and issue experts on every major tv and radio station.
5) If you were do this all over again, anything different?
We WILL do this all over again we’re using what we learn to improve the contest. Future contests will be easier because we will build on the base of partners/participants we have. One thing we will definitely do differently is source challenge topics from the public. We need to have more partners around the state. I want to have about 100 core organizations that can act as our ambassadors and they start planning their own programming around the Idea Open dates/topics.