• Harry Sangree

The Joy of Judging a Challenge! Yes, Really. Joy.

Do you remember how it felt when you were a child and you were waiting for your birthday to come to see if you were going to get the big present that you really wanted? I recall my feelings as a mix of anticipation (that I would get what I wanted) and dread (that I would not get what I wanted). Both feelings would get stronger as party day approached.

On the big day, I remember looking for any clue I could find. How big was the present? How heavy was it? Who did it come from? My anticipation and dread would spike up or down depending on the latest info and my interpretation of its meaning. The emotional roller coaster lasted up to the moment of ripping off the paper and finally seeing what was inside.

The process of running an open-innovation challenge creates a similar emotional experience as one watches the submissions roll in and one waits for the challenge open-submission deadline to arrive. One can see the number of submissions on the public InnoCentive site (www.innocentive.com) but nothing about the quality of the submissions or their creativity. This visibility waits until the judging process begins.

We have just finished the first round of judging for the 4 humanitarian challenges on which SeaFreight Labs is the Project Advisor: two for Habitat for Humanity (“HFH”) and two for World Vision ("WV")[Note 1]. Both HFH and WV ran one Reduction-to-Practice (“RTP”) challenge and one ideation challenge. An RTP challenge is looking for one ready-to-implement solution while an ideation challenge is looking for one or more good ideas that can respond to the stated problem. Each type of challenge solicits different kinds of Solvers. The RTP challenge typically requires more work for a quality submission. See Figure 1 for an overview of the submission process as it currently stands.

Figure 1. Challenge Judging Metrics.

Round-1 of the judging process begins with InnoCentive doing an initial screening of the submissions and weeding out incomplete entries. Meanwhile, the Seeker (either HFH or WV) determines the three initial evaluation criteria that should be used to evaluate each submission. The Seeker must also assign a relative weight to each criteria (adding up to 100% of the weight). These become the judging criteria for each judge/evaluator to use. It was harder than one might think to reduce a complicated challenge statement to three judging criteria but the Project Lead of each challenge eventually put them to paper and it was entered into the InnoCentive scoring platform.

Finally, the submissions were made available to the round-1 judges. There were a different set of 3-5 round-1 judges for each challenge. Round-1 is the event when we “rip off the paper” on the submissions and find out how thoughtful and creative they are and how well they respond to the stated problem statement. Each time it happened, I felt like a little kid at my birthday party. The suspense was great and my emotional reaction to each submission ranged from elation to dejection and everything in between.

The round-1 process takes a meaningful amount of time to carefully read each submission and all of its attachments. People submit text, pictures, drawings, spreadsheets, schematics, videos, flowcharts, simulations and hyperlinks. I made the effort to read and understand each submitted artifact so that I could fully understand the Solver’s thinking. It was intense work. It took an average of 11-13 minutes per submission to give each one this type of attention.

It is extremely gratifying that so many submissions have been moved to round-2 in the two challenges that have arrived at this point in the process. Rarely in my business life have I been able to say that I felt “joy” about something that happened on a project but this is one time when it happened. You see, these challenges have the potential to impact thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people in communities served by HFH or WV. The fact that more than 10 submissions to a challenge are good enough to deserve deeper study is a positive sign that the challenge will ultimately produce an impactful solution.

True “joy” will only be appropriate if and when the challenge produces a winner and the winning solution is deployed in the field to help individual families in need of the solution. But, I think we are all entitled to a little mini-celebration when a positive milestone is reached successfully. Woo-Hoo!


[1] Habitat for Humanity’s were “Increasing Resilience to Earthquakes and Typhoons for Homes with No Foundations” which launched as an RTP challenge on 7 October 2020 and closed on 5 January 2021, and “Improved Construction and Demolition Waste Management” which launched as an ideation challenge on 26 October 2020 and closed on 25 January 2021. World Vision’s were “Affordable Rural Single Family Sanitation Solutions” which launched as an ideation challenge on 14 October 2020 and closed on 12 January 2021, and “Low-Cost Chlorine Monitoring for Rural Piped Water Systems” which launched as an RTP challenge on 4 November 2020 and closed on 4 February 2021. See www.seafreightlabs.com/our-challenges for more details.

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