Society's most daunting problems call for new strategies that engage many diverse stakeholders into the design process in order to solve bigger and messier problems. While the Internet makes it easy to find and coordinate people, we need to advance fundamental knowledge and technologies for "collective innovation", where groups collectively explore and refine solutions for big problem spaces. Collective innovation works by breaking problems down into many constituent sub-problems, actively engaging a broad group of stakeholders and potential users, and coordinating people with the disparate knowledge needed to solve each piece of a bigger puzzle. This project will create interactive computer systems to support these processes. The proposed research has the potential to fundamentally improve the way people work collectively to solve challenging problems, from small-scale user interfaces to bigger and messier society-scale challenges and to increase the number of people engaged in innovation, important to achieving national objectives.
More specifically, this project will contribute novel interactive systems to explore three key challenges for advancing collective innovation: 1) how to synthesize large collections of prior research and examples in order to frame appropriate research questions, 2) how to productively select and build on the most promising and creative ideas, and 3) how to effectively engage in large-scale participatory design by gathering feedback from an existing community or harvesting it through crowdsourcing and social media. To guide and motivate the design of these systems, this research builds on (and draws explicit links between) theories of design thinking and collective intelligence. The systems developed will be evaluated in authentic, externally valid settings to identify the real-world patterns that emerge when these processes are integrated. The resulting experimental tools will be released as open source so that other researchers may build on the project's progress. The project also includes significant educational goals: training student researchers in social computing system design, design thinking, and evaluation methods; creating a new graduate course on collective innovation; and scaling up the PI's current design studio course.