Putrajaya, Malaysia. Photo credit: YK Tang

People around the world are now jumping on the crowdsourcing bandwagon for a variety of intended outcomes.  Being in the innovation space, its fairly encouraging to see that the Malaysian government’s foray into crowdsourcing had, in fact, started a few years ago (and not a decade behind other countries, which is a position Malaysia has found herself in one too many times before).

In particular, the government of Malaysia can be commended for engaging its people by leveraging digital media (and patriotism) to get relevant ideas that are important to the hearts and minds of the multi-cultural public.  Several local agencies have stepped up and initiated crowdsourcing endeavours.

Leading the pack was the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI), who launched its MyIdeas program in June 2009. MyIdeas is a web portal that gathers suggestions from the public on a variety of challenges, particularly social, technological, and economic ones. Its long-term goal is to inculcate the culture for innovation and creativity.  MyIdeas presents a challenge with a different problem statement each month. An individual who submits an idea that satisfies the judges earns a book voucher (USD 30), and stands the chance to receive further mentoring. Through this program, relevant ideas can then be forwarded to suitable government organizations for further action. Although there were some concerns over the lack of communication on what had become of the ideas initially, they were duly addressed when MyIdeas started sharing success stories from the program (and delightfully there were some!), e.g. incubation of six start-ups, and an improved machine design to process fish.

A key learning point is that success must be shared widely, to sustain interest in a crowdsourcing or idea capture portal.
MOSTI had carefully identified specific communities to engage –  students, women, rural, youth and the ‘Kumpulan Harapan’ (Hope Group) consisting of the disabled, orphans, etc.  This meant separate kick-off events with different partner agencies, which in theory should bode well for the program. MyIdeas is now more than three years old; thus, the challenge is – how do you keep the program fresh or re-invigorate interest?

In mid-November 2012, Malaysia’s National Innovation Agency (AIM) launched, with much fanfare, the “Genovasi Challenge” – a crowdsourcing competition open to all Malaysian citizens (teams or individuals) above age 14 – to gain ideas from the public to solve highlighted issues. A panel shortlists submitted video entries, which then undergoes a public voting process.  One of the initial challenges posed, opened for 6 weeks, was “Home in One Piece” – to design a way of helping motorists to become safer road users.  The grand prize winner was a young lady who suggested modified disjointed speed bumps that would penalize the fast driver, yet allow the cautious driver to advance smoothly. She won a handsome RM25,000 (USD 7,500) reward. A big prize usually encourages earnest effort in generating impactful ideas, while many smaller incentives and easier submissions would increase the number of participants. Thus, the jury is still out on the “just right” amount of incentives for these types of programs.  (Whilst typing, the tale of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” came to mind.)

Literally embodying the concept of nurturing a tree to bear fruits, the Malaysian Productivity Corporation (MPC, a federal statutory body under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry) has also just launched its Virtual MY Innovation Tree, for citizens across industries and organizations to share ideas on anything under the sun (pun intended), but particularly on Productivity and Smart Regulation (e.g. to improve corporate governance). MPC plans to offer the platform to other agencies or companies to use.

Clearly, leveraging on digital technology, while embracing the open spirit is not something new to Malaysia.  Most recently, the Prime Minister of Malaysia put out a call to the public to share their ideas and views on the 2014 National Budget.  The submission period (two weeks) is time-boxed as the inputs are meant to reach the Finance Ministry for consideration, in time for the tabling of next year’s Budget in Parliament seven weeks later, on Oct. 25. The official website of the Prime Minister hosts the main online platform for this crowdsourcing effort. However, ideas can also be shared via commonly popular Facebook and Twitter (#Bajet2014). Submitted ideas are bucketed into 15 categories – including education, public service, cost of living, and employment. Ideas are open for all to see, and votes (agree/disagree) are used as a strong indication of relevance or applicability. [See Mong Palatino’s related post on Global Voices for his sampling of almost a dozen suggestions submitted.]

Crowdsourcing ProgramGovernment bodyFocusTimeline
MyIdeasMinistry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI)Idea submissions (from all walks of life)July, 2009 (ongoing)
Genovasi ChallengeNational Innovation Agency (AIM)Solutions to specific challengesNov., 2012(ongoing)
MY Innovation TreeMalaysian Productivity CorporationIdeas (on a handful of topics, e.g. Smart Regulation)May, 2013(ongoing)
Budget2014Federal Government (Finance Ministry)Ideas or comments (for next National Budget)26 Aug.-8 Sept., 2013

The examples above demonstrate the confidence in the usage of IT platforms to engage the Malaysian public and to compile ideas.  It appears as though some initiatives could run into the common mistakes in crowdsourcing of collecting ideas alone, or the typical focus of new websites of increasing signups or user numbers.  The numerous initiatives by the government should indeed be applauded. It is important though, to remember that the true value of crowdsourcing and its sustainability would depend primarily on good feedback throughout the crowdsourcing process, and execution of the ideas.  People appreciate being listened to, and will want to share more, only if they are able to see that their inputs are taken into serious consideration and used constructively. Having competitions and monetary rewards can help, but are not always necessary.

Using social media is many Malaysians’ everyday activity. (Malaysia is among the top 20 countries in the world, in terms of number of Facebook users.)  This increasingly more connected and sharing-prone group should be harnessed to share their suggestions productively, in order to benefit the country.   It is not easy to guide the general public though.  Direction is critical, by way of a specific challenge statement or categories, and clear guidelines.  The contributors, in this case, the idea submitters and idea builders (those who comment), also need to do so with pride and good intent. Input crowdsourcing platforms should not be channels to rant, or gain like-minded friends (nor infamy).

In his book “Getting Results From Crowds,” Ross Dawson states six steps businesses can use to improve adoption of crowdsourcing:

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Communicate a clear strategy
  3. Start small, learn, iterate
  4. Define roles and provide training
  5. Design incentives
  6. Highlight successes

These concepts may also be applied to initiatives by government agencies in engaging the public:
i. Motivate the people into contributing
ii. Communicate areas in which ideas are sought
iii. Revise and enhance programs based on feedback from previous trials
iv. State roles for the contributor, and the evaluator/ implementer
v. Design persuasive incentives – whether just social value or also financial
vi. Tell the people it’s useful and working (most important!)

Locally, we’re still trying to figure out and execute the perfect model for crowdsourcing, but as it booms around us, the reality is that there have been (and there will be) successes and less successful stories to learn from. Though Malaysia has seen some ups and downs, it is perhaps now more fervently than ever, continuing on its mission to reap the multi-pronged benefits of crowdsourcing.
Related Post:

  1. The Ins of the Outs of Crowdsourcing