This week at Aid Ex 2013 in Brussels, we heard two common concerns raised by development-focused NGOs: “Are you sure the crowd can contribute to development problems without experience in the field?” and “We would love the crowd’s help, but we don’t have the budget for a challenge.”
Let’s take these in turn:
“Are you sure the crowd can contribute to development problems without experience in the field?”
This is an important question, and certainly one worth asking, and the answer depends completely on the problems you’re putting forward. When UNICEF asked Solvers how to increase demand for birth registration services in Nicaragua, they were grappling with a very specific local problem. However, they also realized that sometimes outside perspectives are needed to find breakthroughs, saying “I think it requires a lot of humility to recognize that no organization has the solution for all the problems under its mandate. Plus, we’re all going through an interesting transition period where many existing solutions are becoming obsolete. Today, we recognize that solutions can come from different sources and the internet has made this interaction much easier.”
Of course, there are some very specific local problems that the crowd will struggle to contribute to, but choosing the right problems, and framing them in an accessible way can enable breakthroughs.
“We would love the crowd’s help, but we don’t have the budget for a challenge.”
This is a very real concern, particularly for development-focused NGOs who carefully target their limited resources. Often, the cost of running a challenge is minimal compared to the value of the insights obtained, but sometimes even an optimal cost-benefit analysis cannot make funds materialize. In these cases, partnering can be a great solution. Partnering with organizations that share your goals can enable pooling of resources, combined expertise around framing a problem, and combined networks for marketing challenges. In fact, the multitude of benefits means that organizations often partner for reasons other than just cost-sharing. Recent examples include Scientists Without Borders and Johnson & Johnson partnering to tackle global diagnosis and treatment of depression and anxiety; and Save the Children and GlaxoSmithKline joining forces against child mortality.
As we’ve seen through challenges with USAID, Humanity United, UNICEF and others, development focused challenges really capture the crowd’s attention, and can produce incredibly meaningful insights. It’s just important to ask the right question, in the right away, and to partner where needed or desired.
Authored by Siobhán Gibney Gomis, Director, Business Development at InnoCentive