Crowdsourcing ideas for COVID-19 response to foster civic engagement in Bosnia & Herzegovina

Related use case
Surfacing a wide range of solutions quickly

What is the problem?

From the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that the impacts would be widespread and long lasting. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, there were no existing online spaces for public discourse or to coordinate civil society responses to the pandemic. This made it difficult for those working in the public and private sectors to understand the priorities of citizens and where solutions were most needed or relevant.

What did the Accelerator Lab and partners do?

The online ideation platform, CovIDEJA2020, was launched by the Accelerator Lab in April 2020. Its purpose was to mobilize citizens to contribute novel solutions to COVID-19-related issues that could be implemented within a short time. 

The Lab partnered with 28 organizations, including local IT companies, international organizations (such as Deloitte) and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. They invited ideas across 14 different topic areas ranging from economic interventions to help citizens manage the crisis, to health interventions and social support. Members of the public could submit ideas over a period of two weeks and all ideas were ranked by both an expert jury and a public vote through online voting. 

The final selection was made by combining the choices of experts and citizens to ensure that winning ideas were both viable and popular. Of the 109 ideas submitted, six were selected to receive a financial reward and tailored support towards implementation, including mentorship from industry partners and pitching sessions to country-wide innovation networks. Several of the winners were invited to participate in the UNDP Boost Innovation Accelerator Program, to support their professional development.

What was the benefit of using collective intelligence for this issue?

The winning ideas included a novel approach to vaccine development, a mask recycling scheme and apps that supported the delivery of education and mental health services. Using this open innovation approach helped the Lab to surface existing solutions that could be transferred to the COVID-19 context (e.g. a new vaccine technology previously developed for tuberculosis). It also helped them to support ideas which addressed the problems that really mattered to citizens. For example, the team that pitched to develop D-App – a mental health support platform – identified the need to support citizens’ mental health long before the subject attracted the attention of policy makers. D-App was launched in late 2020, facilitated by the attention, funding and mentoring that they received through CovIDEJA2020. In the first month, D-App attracted 1,500 active users and facilitated 250 successful connections between people and therapists in the region.

Figure 6 
Screenshot of the CovIDEJA2020 platform

What next?

The CovIDEJA2020 platform is being developed further to act as a repository of ideas for the innovation partners and a collaboration hub for the public. Some of the partners have continued to work with the winners on developing their ideas. This is the case for Sharklab Center for Marine and Freshwater Biology who are supporting one of the winners, Dženan Kovačić, to carry out proof of concept experiments on the efficacy of his vaccine technology. Building on their experience of the ideation challenge, the Lab has started to use collective intelligence more widely across their portfolio. For example, since CovIDEJA2020 they created a public awareness campaign that used crowdsourcing to design public health messages about the disposal of infected materials, e.g. face masks. 

What does this experience tell us about collective intelligence design?

Approximately two thirds of all 70 entries were submitted in the ‘Act Now!’ category rather than the future-facing ‘Re-imagine the Future’. This suggests that citizens may be especially motivated to propose solutions for immediate problems whose effects are already being felt. 

CovIDEJA2020 also helped the Lab to learn about the challenge of negotiating longer-term support from their partner organizations upfront. Sustainability support for the innovators remains a challenge. While all of the CovIDEJA2020 partners were surprised at the high quality of the ideas and the popularity of the competition among citizens, only a few of the partner organizations committed resources to supporting winners beyond the initial prize funding. Defining impact pathways together with partner organizations in advance could help to ensure that more winning ideas are taken up.