Idea Zone Edmonton

Idea Zone is the City of Edmonton’s new system for open innovation. It’s one of their first attempts at leveraging a crowdsourcing model, and it represents a shift in the way the City tackles large problems. Perhaps more importantly, I think Idea Zone is another small step toward becoming an Open City.

I was first introduced to the system a few months ago, but at that time it wasn’t ready for a test drive. The first people outside the City to see it in action were the ICLEI World Congress 2009 attendees last week. You’ll notice that Idea Zone is currently described as an opportunity to “connect with your colleagues who share your interest in local sustainability.” The plan was to have ICLEI attendees seed the system with ideas before opening the doors to citizens. Unfortunately, only about 30 users signed up, far less than the goal of 100. There are currently 34 users signed up on the site, and a total of 34 ideas have been submitted.

Idea Zone is very similar to Dell’s IdeaStorm or My Starbucks Idea – you create an account, submit your own ideas, and vote and collaborate on others’ ideas. Submitting an idea is straightforward – you choose a category (current categories include “Climate” and “Energy”, for example), enter a title and summary, and optionally attach files that further define the idea. Other users can then vote on your idea, leave comments, and make additions. You can also make a collaboration request to other users, essentially inviting them to help you flesh out the idea. Anyone can choose to “Champion” an idea, which means they become responsible for seeing it through to completion. Finally, the City can issue “Challenges” which are like requests-for-ideas.

The specific software the City of Edmonton is using is called Idealink Open, by Quebec-based BrainBank Inc. There are actually a few instances running. Idea Zone is the simplified, public instance meant for citizens. There are also a couple of internal instances for use by City of Edmonton employees. The internal instances feature a more involved and detailed workflow, designed to carry ideas through to implementation.

The most interesting thing about Idea Zone to me isn’t the software itself, but the opportunities the system will enable. In the long term, Idea Zone could dramatically impact the way City employees collaborate to solve problems. Sounds very pie-in-the-sky, I know, but I have proof. Check this out:

That’s a photo of what is almost certainly the first Microsoft Surface shipped to Alberta. The City of Edmonton is working with local consulting firm Quercus Solutions to explore how the Surface can be used with Idea Zone for collaboration. The Surface is certainly a more inviting and natural interface than the web browser! Thanks to Quercus for the above photo.

I hope the City’s willingness to experiment with new and innovative technologies like Idea Zone and Surface is a sign of things to come. Feel free to sign up for an Idea Zone account and let me know what you think. I’ll be keeping an eye on the system to see how it evolves. It definitely has potential!