Ideas Challenge

$5k to $15k
estimated cost of external help
  • Explore options
  • Deliberate
  • Collaborate
3-5 weeks
estimated run time
3-5 weeks
estimated lead time
Strong communicator
recommended experience
An event conducted either in person or online in which ideas are solicited from a group to solve a specific problem. This can occur over the course of a day or a number of weeks, particularly in the case of online challenges. The ideas submitted are judged by a predetermined set of criteria. There is usually a prize for the winner and some level of commitment to implement the winning idea, or involve it in the final implementation of an initiative.

In 5 steps...

  1. Determine the problem that could use a novel solution and articulate this clearly. Determine the criteria by which ideas will be judged, how ideas will be submitted, and who will judge them. Source the right software or book a venue.
  2. Advertise and promote your challenge to those you think might have ideas about how to solve it. Ensure your promotion includes where and when the challenge will take place.
  3. Host an opening event where participants can ask clarifying questions and access subject-matter experts or other resources helpful for ideation. These might remain available throughout the challenge, for those who come late.
  4. Receive ideas, and clarify with submitters where you do not understand them.
  5. Judge ideas. Determine and communicate the intended implementation of the winning idea or idea team.

When to use it

An ideas challenge is most useful when you have a tricky problem space that is resisting resolution through more-conventional means. It offers an opportunity to try new thinking and get a grassroots perspective on an issue, which, while will not always providing implementable outcomes, can prompt unexpected solutions to present themselves.


  • Fresh thinking about stale problems.
  • Creates excitement around solving a problem in a community.
  • Creates an opportunity for influence for those who are not usually asked.
  • Enables those affected by an issue to architect its solution.
Long term
  • If ideas are implemented, this can improve the trust by, and connection with, the community.


  • Even a winning idea may not be implementable in its submitted form. Do not expect this technique to solve your problems for you.
  • The judging panel may bring biases that will influence their selection. Ensure diversity in the panel, and have a preset criteria to inform selection.
  • Can be expensive, and the need to provide adequate incentives (often in the form of a cash prize) can block its use in some situations.
  • Not implementing or using a winning idea can degrade trust and interest in future participation.



  • Provide access to additional resources if the subject is complex or not well known to participants.
  • Procurement of software can take some time. Allow enough time and resources to complete this if your organisation doesn’t have a pre-existing arrangement with a supplier.
  • Be as clear as possible in setting expectations for the winning idea. Often, idea submitters aren’t interested in being involved in implementation, but some may expect it. Others may expect ongoing ownership or financial reward. Ensure you cover these points and have submitters agree to your terms when they contribute their ideas.
  • Put time and effort into selecting your judging panel. Recruit those responsible for solving the problem and some who are influential with the target audience.

During the process

  • Have a forum for participants to ask questions or clarify the challenge problem. This will help you get results that are more useful for your process.
  • Announcing the winners is an event that can draw attention to your problem space and lend momentum to the next phase of implementation.


  • Communicate not just the winner but how you hope to see the idea realistically contribute to solving the problem.

Also see:


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