Colleagues at the National Library of Medicine Training Center notified the OERC about interesting new software that builds on social media to collect comments from communities of interest. It’s called IdeaScale.
The software is designed to support “crowdsourcing,” in which an open call is sent to a targeted group (a “community”) to participate in solving a problem or developing an innovation. With IdeaScale, people can post their ideas about an issue, and then others can cast a “like/dislike” vote and add comments. This tool provides an interesting approach to evaluation because you can get both qualitative responses and a quantified measure of interest in the community. The software can give evaluators a jump on thematic analysis of comments.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Executive Office of the President of the United States have used IdeaScale to collect feedback from communities of interest. Here are links to their sites (now closed for comment):
One drawback, from an evaluation standpoint, is that the targeted group is largely undefined, so respondents are likely to be those who are particularly drawn to the topic and may not be representative of the community (or larger population). Comments from the more-engaged members of a community can be particularly helpful for needs and process assessment, but interpretation of the quantified “votes,” particularly for outcomes assessment, would require caution, such as checking findings against another source of data.
The other drawback is that people must sign up for an IdeaScale account to contribute ideas. A two-step process (setting up an account, and then contributing) can be a barrier to participation. IdeaScale does allow participants to open accounts through Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts. This might ease the participation barriers, but mostly for those who are comfortable with social media, which may further bias the data collected through IdeaScale. Still, it is an intriguing tool for the correct audiences and evaluation questions.
Here’s a link to the company website, which offers a demonstration video and a free subscription: