Crowdsourcing engagement solutions: lessons from Challenge 2020

Posted on: 19-06-2018 by Ruta Sapatkaite

MES Challenge 2020 event 2018

Crowdsourcing engagement solutions: lessons from Challenge 2020

In 2014, Starbucks noticed that customers tend to absentmindedly doodle over their plain white takeaway cups. So it asked them to photograph their artwork on social media. Starbucks then picked a winner and put the design on a new limited edition reusable cup.

Tweets and posts on Instagram numbered in the tens of thousands. The competition captured the imaginations of a great many coffee aficionados, and the novel interaction between a business and its patrons was clearly an engagement success.

In 2008, Walkers launched a campaign called ‘Do us a Flavour’ which asked members of the public to submit their own ideas for new flavours of crisps. They hosted a vote on their website to decide the winner, with the prize being a 1% share of future royalties. Over one million people either submitted entries or spent meaningful time browsing the list. At its peak the website had 102,000 sessions a day.

Finally, back in 2001, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched Wikipedia – an online free content encyclopaedia based on a model of openly editable content. Anyone can browse the site and amend the articles to include new information. The site now has pages in 290 different languages, and the English language version has over 5.7m articles.

What do all these initiatives have in common? Crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing uses an external, often large and undefined, group of people for a common goal – usually to solve a problem or to innovate. It’s not just a great way to get new ideas, it’s also a fantastic way to engage with members, customers, residents, or the general public.

Last month at ‘Challenge 2020’ (our annual conference about all things engagement) we did some crowdsourcing of our own. Ahead of the conference we asked delegates to tell us about their biggest engagement related challenges. We found some common struggles like resourcing, accessing hard-to-reach groups, making use of data captured, and closing the engagement loop.

Rather than simply giving our own views on how to surmount the issues raised, we took advantage of the scores of passionate engagement-focused minds that Challenge 2020 attracts. We crowdsourced the answers and, after a thought-provoking discussion, everyone came away with a broad range of new tips and tricks to do engagement right.

A handful are summarised below.

Make events worthwhile

To maximise attendance at an engagement event, make sure the target audience stands to gain something by coming, and make sure they know it! At one end of the spectrum this could be a stake in the decision-making process or a chance to meet new people. At the other end, it could be free training provided on the day, or the opportunity to gain voluntary experience.

Use local connections

There are many ways to engage a local community. Consider making use of community groups or charities, perhaps bringing flyers to their events. We heard from health practitioners who had used Age UK, Young Mums networks, Pupil Referral Units, faith groups, and university careers fares.


Sometimes it pays to be opportunistic. One engagement lead at an NHS Foundation Trust told us a large part of their Trust’s staff are Filipino. Every year, on 12 June, they celebrate Philippines Independence Day, making merry and having inclusive socials for all staff. Friends and family usually attend too, and they take this opportunity to engage with one of their key demographics – inviting them to sign up as Trust members.

‘You said… We did…’

When you’ve collected feedback through a consultation, it’s an essential part of the engagement process to disseminate the results as transparently as possible, including any next steps and decisions made. The media you can use to do this is wide and varied. We heard from people who had used posters, emails, newsletters, board reports, and infographics.

‘You said…’

But don’t let the ‘you-said-we-did’ mantra stop you from communicating results quickly. You don’t need to wait for decisions to be made and policies to be written before publishing the views that were expressed to you. Getting this information back to stakeholders as swiftly as possible can keep them engaged and show them their views have been counted.

Joined-up working within your organisation

Although having a staff resource dedicated to engagement is great, it comes with the risk that other parts of your organisation don’t think about it. Building internal networks so your engagement activities can seamlessly fit into projects and events run by other departments is a must. As our workshop showed, it’s all about collaboration!

Pooling engagement resources

In some cases it might be useful to make engagement activities a joint venture between multiple organisations. In health, Sustainable Transformation Partnerships (STPs) are an obvious space for this, but even an ‘engagement alliance’ between local Foundation Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups would be a good place to start. A skills/resource audit to map who and what is available across the alliance could help with planning.

Reflecting on our session, we were pleased with the enthusiasm of discussion and the quality of problem-solving… but we weren’t surprised. Our Challenge 2020 conference is getting bigger every year, and we knew a room full of passionate engagement practitioners would be willing and able to share their best practices, and provide clear direction as to what works.

The moral of the story? Build networks and use them. No man or woman is an island. Don’t be afraid to rely on other people and crowdsource solutions to your problems.

Blog by Reuben Young