The Important Role of Collaborative Questioning in Open Innovation
Asking questions, attaining answers; it’s a very human thing to do. The very notion of Q&A has spawned some of the most valuable social networking sites we have today including Reddit and their popular AMA (Ask Me Anything) “sessions” and of course Quora, which is a social network based wholly on people asking questions and subject matter experts selecting to offer up their time to answer the questions in what is a “social” environment. The knowledge share that takes place on these sites can be impressive and in Open Innovation communities, this knowledge share can be crucial to the overall success of any project, challenge or campaign. So how can you foster valuable Q&A within your own community or effectively set up purposeful Q&A for your Open Innovation initiatives? You’ve got to open things up, of course. But there is also a very important role your internal players will assist with.
The Role of Collaborative Questioning in Open Innovation
Collaborative questioning, it sounds like a fancy term, but in reality it’s an exercise that you can execute repeatedly. It is simply the practice of hosting a lively Q&A (in a tech setting that supports multiple virtual users) prior to your Open Innovation or Crowdsourcing project going live. The key to the discussion is in allowing the people who are asking the questions (in this case the community) to see all the questions being asked and gain the value of hearing the answers to all of the questions.
When domain expertise is being shared via an open forum session on the TopCoder platform, each participant has the advantage of hearing answers to questions they themselves may never have thought to ask. Collaboratively, the community asks scores of questions, and as a whole, “better” questions. Individually, they benefit from the answers and knowledge transfer taking place and that can often help them create a better solution for the client. That, in a nutshell, is collaborative questioning and it is a practice you can adopt and repeat for your Open Innovation initiatives.
Here are 4 steps you can take to set up collaborative questioning properly:
Step 1 - Identify Your Internal Experts Early
Identify your internal subject matter experts who can help with the specific project at hand. You probably already know who they are, and of course, depending on the challenge or contest, this person(s) is likely to change. Early on, as you identify this project as a good fit for Open Innovation, bring your subject matter experts into the discussion and alert them that their participation in this specific challenge is being requested. Have a clear way to communicate to them (your internal experts) what their role is, how you need their support, how much scheduled time will likely be needed, and the importance of their role as well as the overall importance of attaining a successful output from the challenge. You are asking someone for their time and you already know (likely first-hand) just how busy they are. Communicate early on why you need them for this unique and important role.
Step 2 – Schedule the Collaborative Questioning Session
Working with your community platform provider, find a day and time that will likely draw a high level of participation from the community you are working with. Keep in mind, many creative and innovation communities are quite global, TopCoder for instance has members in over 200 countries from around the world. So, depending on the discipline and specialized skill you will want competing on this project or contest for you, schedule your session at a time that hopefully best fits your audience. Perhaps this means a late night for you and your small team, but the vibrant session will prove worth it. Get the date on the books and work with your community platform provider (that would be TopCoder or an innovation platform as such) to help socialize the word community-wide that this important Q&A will be taking place in order to support a very specific upcoming challenge or contest.
Step 3 – Execute a Purposeful Q&A Session
Go in understanding macro themes you know you will need to cover and micro-details you believe should be shared. Provide documentation (intra-community) on the web where the community member can access prior to the Q&A as to familiarize themselves with these macro themes, your objectives and more. Prep the community so they have a nice base of knowledge heading into this Q&A so that the forum time isn’t spent on the vague or readily accessible. You want to foster natural “rabbit holes” that will allow your subject matter expert(s) to share high-levels of detail with the entire audience on very specific subjects they are bringing up in this collaborative session. The community will ask very detailed and intriguing questions, so be on your game!
Step 4 – Document the Session
This is simple. If you can, document the session and provide a transcript to the community so they can go back to this Q&A banter later on if they so choose to do so. It can help them recall a specific detail that ultimately helps them create a better solution for you.
Sometimes, “simple” things are a bit more nuanced than what appears on the surface and repeatedly executing purposeful Q&A sessions is likely one of those “things”. Remember the keys: Have your subject matter experts in place, foster collaborative questioning, and help steer the discussion towards the appropriate level of detail so the community members have access to specific detail and knowledge that can really help them create better assets for you.
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