Education Department crowdsources for innovation

Thursday - 6/24/2010, 4:23pm EDT

Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, Department of Education

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The Department of Education is trying to foster innovation in a new and unique way.

They've created an innovation portal and are crowdsourcing ideas to try and improve education across the country.

Jim Shelton is Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the Department of Education.

He says the idea for the portal came about after they held a competition with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The Education Department held a contest, funded by ARRA, to highlight good work being done by educators across the country.

They soon realized that there would be an even greater benefit if people weren't simply competing with each other, but sharing ideas.

"In the run up to the competition and afterward [we realized] that there would be great benefit to all of the education community being able to hear about and see these ideas, for people to share information, find opportunities for partnership, [and] . . . for teachers and entrepreneurs to be seen by people who have funding and might be interested in supporting their work."

Thus, the Open Innovation Portal was created.

Shelton explains it has three basic components: a challenge identifier, proposed solutions, and the community as a whole. Users can also earn points on the platform. Those with more points will have more weight when it comes to the conversation portion.

"[The platform] doesn't have a close date. It stays wide open. We'll make a determination about when to put up and take down different challenges over time. . . . We'll also start to open up the platform and let various other [education] organizations use it to post challenges, as well."

Some of the challenges on the site are very specific, while others are much broader. Shelton says the hope is to gain a lot of different ideas from a variety of educators across the country.

Now that the platform is up, it is generating a lot of movement; getting it online, however, was not free from challenges.

"The actual hurdles were getting the government comfortable with using a platform like this, creating the venue where people might form partnerships and understand exactly what our role was as [facilitator] of these partnerships. What was the appropriate and what wasn't the appropriate role for us to play?"

And since the Education Department is not in direct control of the community, Shelton says there is a lot that is up to the users when it comes to content and creating partnerships.

"We have done the best that we can to protect people's privacy. They then can make their own decisions about who they want to contact, what kind of groups they may form, who they decide to work with in the future. . . . All we're trying to do is create a space where they can find each other and use our convening power to allow folks to find each other more easily."

There are, of course, already lessons to be learned.

"There are definitely some things that we're going to be doing on the next round, like separating out better ways to distinguish for-profit providers from non-profit providers, for example -- and asking commentors to identify themselves in terms of some of their affiliations and connections to the organizations that they're validating."

Learn more: Open Innovation Portal FAQ

Read Jim Shelton's blog.

Email the author of this post at dramienski@federalnewsradio.com