OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

FINAL UPDATE: Seed. A micro-consultancy firm that builds skills, confidence and a kick arse work portfolio.

Seed is micro-consultancy firm. It links college students and underemployed and unemployed people with small tasks that are designed to build skills, experience, personal brand, confidence and a kick-arse real world work portfolio.

Photo of Jes Simson
47 28

Written by

Overview - How does Seed work? 


Seed is a micro-consultancy firm that aims to fulfil two desperate needs. 
 
(1) The needs of the underemployed and unemployed to gain real world skills and experience, build confidence and a personal brand and communicate this to the world so that they can land a job. 
 
(2)  The needs of organisations, in particular small and medium enterprises (SMEs), charities, startups and larger organisations, who need help resolving certain business problems but don't have the time or resources to solve them. 
 

Seed addresses these needs by breaking down an organisation's project down into micro-tasks.  Seed then links micro-tasks with "Learners" who want to gain the skill required by the micro-task and reformats it back into a solution that the organisation can feasibly execute (via a Project Manager). 

Seed also equips learners with practical skills via online educational content (similar to Kahn Academy and General Assembly’s Front Row Service).



Basic Service Map - Organisations 


Number of touchpoints between business and project manager will depend on the circumstances.  Business owner may want incremental updates so that they can provide feedback on progress.  



Basic Service Map - Learner 






 

Fleshing out key elements 

1.  Building a business model
--- 1.1 Defining the value propositions for the different players
------ 1.1.1Learners 
------ 1.1.2 Businesses
------ 1.1.3 Employers 
--- 1.2 Project Managers
--- 1.3 Revenue Streams
--- 1.4 Channels - Engaging Businesses

2. Online  Micro-work: key levers to make this work
--- 2.1 Client pain points
--- 2.2 Matching talent with businesses
--- 2.3 Building trust and accuracy of services
--- 2.4 Online and remote Project Management

3. LearnersBuilding an online platform to build practical skills
--- 3.1 Learning practical skills online
--- 3.2 Moving on up (and making sure that everyone has a shot)

4.  Showcasing those skills to the world (especially employers)
--- 4.1 Highlighting key skills that employers want to see
--- 4.2 Showcasing soft skills

5.   Key partnerships

6.  Case studies
 

1. Building a Business Model
 

Seed would be structured as a social enterprise as follows (PDF attached as doc):

 

1. 1  Defining Value Propositions for the different players 

1.1.1 Learners 

Learners will learn valuable, employable skills by completing microtasks for organisations.  They will be able to share these new skills with potential employers with an interactive learner profile (see item 3 below).  This profile will act as a quasi resume, highlighting the various projects that the learner has worked on and showcasing how their work helped the business achieve it's objectives. 

They'll also be able to access online course materials, which will further help them learn new skills. 

Seed could also be tied into school carriculum, acting as a work experience type model for school credit. 

Incentives: Rather than offering learner's a financial incentive for the work that they complete for organisations, I have opted for a more intrinsic morivator: mastering and learning skills.  

Key assumptions to test:  

(1) Are learning, mastering skills and building a kick arse online portfolio enough of an incentive for learners to complete live tasks?

(2) Often job seekers cannot identify the skills that they lack ("you don't know what you don't know").  Does upskilling and mastering new skills appeal to job seekers where they don't know that they lack the practical skills that specific jobs require? 

(3) Many young job seekers apply for multiple roles when they are job hunting.  Would job seekers be willing to dive deep and develop specific skills that are only relevant to one category of job before they have landed a job in that field?

Special thanks to teammates Yvonne Tran for helping to refine the stories that learners need to tell employers via resumes and to Heather Kelly for emphasising that learning outcomes (eg: class credit or other endorsements) can be incentives from a learner's perspective. 


1.1.2 Businesses 

Businesses will gain feasibly solutions to business problems that they are facing.  

Businesses will be able to build on the ideas and insights of a younger workforce who come from a variety of demographics.  

Businesses will be able to access ideas from outsiders who can provide fresh perspectives. 

Businesses will pay for the service (albeit heavily subsidized) to cover Seed's overhead costs like Project Managers, staff, website infastructure (which is going to be costly given the online course content). Businesses need to have skin in the game and show that they are serious about the solutions that Seed's community are going to produce. 

Key assumptions to test:  

(1) Are smaller businesses willing to expend time and money using a service like Seed?  If so, how much time and energy? 

(2) How might Seed build actionable and viable business solutions via micro-work? 

1.1.3 Employers


Employers will be able to dive into the skills that learners have developed on Seed so that they can make better hiring decisions. 

Key assumptions to test:  

(1) Does a learner's interactive user profile actually fulfill an employer / recruiter / hiring manager's needs?

From the Original Idea:

I’m in two minds about the whole payment issue.   A potent extrinsic motivator, it really messes with the incentives on both sides. 
 
SMEs and charities should pay for quality services that they receive, this is fair.  However, paying a site that primarily aims to teach skills is risky and could be a prohibitive upfront cost (especially in leaner times).  
 
I also think that this needs to be seen as a real world learning tool.  Learning and development is an intrinsic motivator whereas money is an extrinsic motivator – this gets a bit blurred.  I also don’t want this to become a defacto freelance website, it is specifically aimed at upskilling people so that they can find gainful fulltime employment. 
 
Any thoughts are appreciated. 



1.2 Project Managers


Project Managers are vital to Seed's success.  It is key that we get the incentives right for Project Managers to do a great job. 

Two possible ways to fund the project managers are:

(1) Project Manager's are employed by Seed, funded by the revenue streams outlined below. 

(2) Project Managers act as quasi-franchisees.  Seed enables Project Managers to meet businesses through the platform.  Seed has a vetting process to ensure that Project Managers are great.  Seed then takes a cut of the fees that the Project Managers charge.  (This is how task based companies like Taskrabbit and Freelancer websites like elance work)  

Key assumptions to test:  

(1) What Project Management talent do we need to build a platform like Seed?

(2) What is the best way to reach out to and engage that talent?


Special thanks to Karem Yilmaz for some awesome suggestions on how to define the Project Manager's role. 
 

1.3 Potential revenue streams:

  • Organisations pay for solutions (SMEs, Charities, Larger Organisations, Startups) 
  • Philanthropic Funders (who support unemployment initiatives) / Corporate funders who want to build brand around social issues (like unemployment)
  • Software-as-Service companies who want more people to learn specific skills about their service could sponsor course content that builds knowledge in their area (eg;  Hootsuite sponsoring social media content; Salesforce sponsoring markeitng or sales knowledge)
  • Licensing business solutions that can scale and help other organisations (basically creating IP)
  • Enabling recruiters to search for candidates in specific geographic areas who have mastered specific skills for a fee (similar to LinkedIn's model) - although this needs to be structured in a way that doesn't limit anyone's access to employment. 
  • Potential subscription fee to access online course content (preferably not to unemployed / underemployed learners as this really defeats the purpose).  You could potentially license variations of the software / platform to companies who want their employees to develop core skills in areas that Seed services.  This is not dissimilar to OpenIDEO's relationship with OiEngine. You could also reach out to people via a subscription service who have jobs in certain fields, but want to develop skills further (this is a similar service to General Assembly's Front Row Service).  A number of friends who are in the early stages of building their careers expressed a desire to access a service like Seed. 


Huge shoutout to Leigh CullenDan Kolodziej  and team #TeamPopUpBus for providing invaluable insights around the microwork as a business model and possible revenue avenues. 

Research:  How do other companies monetize their social service?

Samasource “is an innovative social business that connects women and youth living in poverty to dignified work via the Internet (via microwork).”  Companies pay Samasource for the work completed.  Sumasource then breaks the task down into blocks that it's workers in Africa can complete.  
Check out Dan Kolodziej's excellent summation here (as part of #TeamPopUpBus).  Sumasource also accepts donations. 

Catchafire links charities with volunteers.  Organisations pay Catchafire a fee for their services.  This covers Catchafire's operating costs.  Catchafire also accepts donations.  

Charity:Water reaches out to businesses to fund their organisational costs so that all consumer donations are directed 100% towards water projects.  Charity:Water faces a familiar dual facing business model dilemma through their need to balance consumer and business donations (the business model is unsustainable if one donation group outpaces the other). 
 

1.4 Channels - Engaging businesses


It's going to be particularly difficult to reach out to and engage businesses to become clients.  Although the risks and barriers to entry are lower than traditional consulting services, the platform is still risky - businesses have to pay for the service and expend time.  Learners are also risky in that they are just starting to master their skills.

As teammate Ashley Chin pointed out, microwork outsourcing organisations (like sumasource) need marketing and sales teams dedicated to business development.  

Seed could potentially use learners who want to develop business development, sales or marketing skills as a team to build Seed's key capabilities in this area. 
 


2. Online  Micro-work: Key levers to make this work

There are a couple of key levers that will need to work if Seed is going to be successfull.  


2.1 Client pain points 


Key insights from SME business owners and managers.

I've talked with local businesses in Melbourne (Australia) ranging from comanies with a couple of employees right up to a family business with 150+ employees:
  • The biggest challenge is the knowledge gap.  How do you bridge the knowledge gap about your businesses context, idiosyncracies of sector and particular business problem without it draining client resources?
    • possible solution:  Project Manager leads project.  PM has deep insights into specific business problems so that they can steer the team to come up with viable business solutions. 
    • possible solution: spend large amount of time defining the project breif 
    • possible solution:  Project Manager to constantly provide the business owner with updates to make sure that the solutions are on brief.
    • possible solution:  Projects have a really limited scope
    • possible solution:  Pilot Seed in one sector, with one verticle task.  Build up the platform's competency around this task so that solutions meet the brief.
  • Ensuring solutions are accurate, are feasible to execute and are good value for money
    • possible solution; see accuracy discussion below at 2.3.2
    • possible solution: Arm learners with some knoweldge in key areas before they embark on tasks (via online learning modules).
    • Possible solution:  Payment to Seed could be tiered.  Businesses pay a small upfront fee and then pay the bulk of the fee as a bonus if Seed's team produces a feasible solution (this bonus could also be distibuted to team members, acting as an added incentive). 
  • Business Owners are constatnly fighting fires and don't necessarily have the time to interact with consultant
    • possible solution; PM clearly defines how much interaction the business owner needs before the process starts. 
  • It's can be really hard in small businesses to know what you need.  You don't necessarily have a diverse or large workforce who offer solutions.  You're often so busy that you don't have time to step back and work out what you need.  You often don't have the resources to execute any solution.
    • Possible solution:  Seed website gives potential solutions to common business problems - asking the business owner to contact them about that solution if they are facing that problem
    • Possible solution: Targeting SME's who know exactly what they need, but don't have the time to create the solution themselves. 
    • Possible solution: Seed targets StartUps, who tend to know what resources they need (because they have reached breaking point) but don't want to commit to a full time employee because they are running lean. 



2.2 Matching talent with businesses


Step 1: The Client finds a Project Manager

Option 1:  Clients can input their requirements and Seed platform makes recommendations based on expertise, skill, price, project histor and industry focus, in a similar way to Taskrabbit - see research below (ok, this is going to involve one complex algorithm, so it's not particularly feasible).  The client can then reach out to the Project Manager to see if they can meet their needs. 

Option 2: Clients can browse and search the Seed platform to find a Project Manager who meets their requrirements (expertise, skills, price, project history, industry focus).  The client can then reach out to the Project Manager to see if they can meet their needs. 

Option 3:  Clients can upload their tasks / requirements and Project Managers can apply / bid to lead the project (see catchafire application example below). 

Step 2:  The Project Manager builds a team

The Project Manager then uses the Seed platform to build a bespoke team.   Project managers can search learners based on their current skill level.  Learners can also search for projects and put themselves forward for work. 


Research:   Taskrabbit uses an algorithm that matches Taskers with Clients who have the right skills and availability for the task.  The matching algorithm takes into account our Tasker’s past behavior on the site, the skill preferences they set in their profile, and their availability and schedule. Taskrabbit presents the Client with a variety of suitable Tasker candidates – some tenured, some new – so the Client is able to make their selection on the grounds they see fit (e.g. experience, ratings/ reviews or price).

Taskrabbit uses a complex algorithm to help clients find their tasker. Seed could employe a similar system to help businesses find Project Managers. 


ResearchCatchafire is like e-harmony for pro-bono work.  It matches up willing professionals with charities who desperately need specific tasks done.  Catchafire asks volunteers to apply for certain jobs.  Organisations then review the applicants and select the volunteer they want to work with.  Catchafire also links up volunteers with organisations for a video call to make sure that both parties are on the same page before the project starts. 


Catchafire's Project Application - stage 1 - meeting the prerequisites 


Catchafire's Project Application - stage 2 - application

Thanks to team members Carlie Guilfoile and Liz Barnum for their excellent insights into building a platform that client's will love. 


2.3 Building trust and accuracy of services

Building a client's trust that Seed can provide accurate business solutions will be vital.  This is particularly important given the relative inexperience of microtaskers.


2.3.1 There are a number of ways that seed can build trust with Clients:

  • Enable Project Managers to build platform profiles that exhibit traits like trustworthiness and capabilities - like Taskrabbit (see example above).  This will probably work better where Project Manager's operate as quasi-franchisee's and compete against each other for work.  However, this may skew incentives for Project Managers to take on less competent learners as their performance will rub off on the project managers.  Research: Check out this excellent talk by Rachel Botsman on trust as the currency of the sharing economy. 
  • Project Managers can oversee a project, ensuring consistency in product delivery and quality.  Project Managers can also act as mentors, sharing best practices with team members and the client, and provide learnings from previous projects, offering a macro perspective. 
  • Client ratings, feedback and comments.  Highlighting success stories in case studies.
  • Building a funding model around trialing before you buy.  By charging the client a small upfront fee.  The client pays bonuses if key business objectives are met.



2.3.2 There are a number of ways that Seed can ensure that work is accurate:


(1) Tasks where there is a "right" answer (eg: maths problems)
  • dummy tasks: tasks with known answers are distributed randomly in sets of work.  As user's don't know the difference between dummy and real tasks, you can estimate the accuracy rate of a particular set of work that is simlar to the dummy task.*
  • multiple submissions: Multiple learners complete the same task.  The more users answer the same task, the more sure you are that the majority answer is the correct answer.* 
  • peer learning:  Team members check the work of other team members. 
  • Mentors and Project Managers (Learners who have already mastered the skill):  Learners who have already mastered a skill can check the work of learners and provide valuable feedback and share best practices. 
(2) Tasks where learner's have to make a judgement call (eg; is this instagram post on brand for company x?)
  • Voting:  Putting the judgement out to a number of learners.  Learner's who are more experienced get a larger number of votes.  The judgement call with the largest number of votes 'wins'.
  • Mentors (Learners who have already mastered the skill):  Learners who have already mastered a skill can critique the work of learners and provide valuable feedback. 
(3) Tasks that require a spark of creativity
  • Competitions:  Multiple team members submit answers to a specific brief (eg: create 5 facebook posts for Lucy's Flowers Valentines Day campaign).  Team members, the project manager, client and / or consumers then vote on the best responses (99 designs uses a similar model).  
  • Online collaboration platform:  Use the project hub as an online collaboration tool where users can build on ideas.
  • peer learning:  Team members critique the work of other team members. 
  • Mentors (Learners who have already mastered the skill):  Learners who have already mastered a skill can critique the work of learners and provide valuable feedback. 
*A huge shoutout to  team mate Ashley Chin's excellent comments on how Samasource designed their microwork system to enable accuracy (outlined in the comments below) and to team mate Karem Yilmaz's incredible insights that helped refine the Project Manager's role. 
 

2.4 Project Management

Managing an online workforce of micro-consultants is going to be a huge challenge to overcome.  There are a number of functions that could make this possible: 
  • Project Manager - acts as a primary point of client liaison.  Build a team.  Builds a project timeline.  Ensures that key milestones are met.  Ensures accuracy of work.
  • Online project hub - highlights project timelines  (including key milestones, deadlines and progress) and deliverables.  Online base for team to interact with each other and give each other feedback.  It's possible to prototype an online hub using services like basecamptrello, Google +).  Google hangouts and skype are also great ways to keep online teams in the loop. 
  • Keeping everyone accountable.  It can be really easy to loose sight of team goals when you are working remotely.  Gaining soft skill badges like "punctuality", "team work", "collaboration" could help incentivise team members pull their weight. 
 


3.  Learners - An online platform to build practical skills
 

3.1 Learning practical skills online

Seed will help learners build new skills via an online gamified learning platform. 


The basic mechanics of this process are:

  • Choosing a skill (this defines the goal you want to achieve)

  • Seed then breaks the skill down into manageable goals that you will need to achieve to master the skill.

  • Seed makes sure that you have know the fundamentals that the lessons will build upon (knowledge dependency)

  • Learning – Platform then walks you through a process to learn that skill by providing instructional materials, setting tasks to complete (“conceptual” learning) and then allowing the learner to master the subject matter through completing a real life project (“experiential” learning).*

  • Celebrating success and mastery with points and badges

    (this process is largely based on that outlined in Brian Burke's excellent book “Gamify: How Gamification motivates people to do extraordinary things” (2014)

    *Seed will combine elements of experiential and conceptual learning so that students can master content and gain practical skills. 

    Conceptual learning is where you learn by answering questions and showing that you have mastered content.  For example, Kahn Academy gets users to answer quizzes to ensure that they have mastered content.  Seed will give students quizzes to ensure that they have mastered specific subject matter. 

    Experiential learning is where you learn by doing (eg: working on real projects).  For instance, Duolingo teaches users a language by getting them to translate the web.  +Accumen’s “Lean for Social Change” course on NovaEd gets teams to use the knowledge they have just learnt to build a project in the real world.   Seed will incorporate live projects from Clients to help students cement their knowledge via experiential learning.  

     












Completing set tasks:  Students will then master the skills taught in the instructional video by completing set tasks and answering questions. 

The type of task will depend on the type of subject matter being completed. 

  • If students are completing a task with a specific answer (eg: a maths or science question as above), then the platform could use quizzes. 

  • Tasks where learners have to make judgement calls (eg: will this tweet harm company x's brand).  Learners are given a scenario and multiple choice answers about different courses of action.  Learners can compare their course of action with that of other students to see if they made the right call (similar method to learning by case study)

  • If the task requires creative skills, then we will need to design a collaboration / feedback mechanism into the process - potentially engaging mentors who have already gained the skill (see 4.2 "Moving on up...") 
  • Creating "Dummy" tasks where more creative work is involved.  Eg:  Create a twitter account on a niche subject (that you are not necessarily interested in) and try and build a follower base over two weeks.  What did you learn?  What lead to engagement?  Calculate your engagement scores etc.*

*"Dummy" or set tasks will also help ensure that learners can learn even if there isn't a lot of client work (as per teammate Ashley Chin's suggestion below). 


Once students have mastered a topic to an acceptable level, they will be able to apply those skills by completing real life projects (supplied by SME’s, charities and larger companies). This will provide valuable experiential learning



Learners gain “Mastery Points” by completing online course content  and micro-tasks (which will tally to form “mastery badges”). 

Team members, project managers and clients will all be able to endorse learners for certain skills. This will also foster collaboration (not unlike OpenIDEO). 

These badges will enable to learner to feel a sense of mastery and achievement.  The learner will also be able to use the badges to show potential employers that they have developed certain skills. 

 

3.2  Moving on up (and ensuring everyone gets a shot)

Tasks for clients will be tailored depending on how difficult they are.  Once a learner has mastered a skill, they can’t complete any more tasks in that area, at that difficulty level.  This will give less skilled learners room to gain that skill.  
 
The learner will be able to move onto mastering more difficult skills / complimentary skills.  The learner will also be able to mentor and guide the micro-taskers in the skill area that they have just mastered.  This will give the learner experience in leading and managing people (making them more employable), help them cement that skill by teaching and creating a feedback loop that will help with the accuracy and calibre of work produced. Mentorship will also build in a valuable peer-to-peer feedback loop to ensure the quality of tasks.  

Once a learner has gained full time employment in their chosen field, they can only act as a mentor / teacher through the site.  This will ensure that the individuals who need to skill up the most can access the micro-tasks. 
 

4.  Showcasing skills to the world (especially employers)

 

4.1 Creating a kick arse real world work portfolio


Learners can create an online profile that showcases the skills that they have built on the site.  This profile will show potential emploeyrs the skills that the learner can built, the projects that they have worked on and the testimonials they have received from clients - forming one kick arse work portfolio. 

Employers will be able to dive deep into those skills, find out what learner needed to do to achieve them and check out the projects that learner have helped bring to life. 
 

Ana shows off the various hard skills she's gained while completing her Social Strategy badge.



Ana shows off the various soft skills she's gained on the platform.



 Employers can click on a specific skill set to see specific feedback. 

Employers can find out what it takes to earn a badge


Employers can dive into Ana's portfolio to check out her contributions to various projects. 
 

4.2 Showcasing soft skills 


The idea includes a means for learners to showcase the soft skills that they have gained on the platform.  This is in response to a number of articles that outline the desire of employer's to see graduates with these skills (see these great articles by Time and Forbes). Organisations like Fullbridge and SamaUSA have also identified these as key areas that individuals need to develop if they are going to succeed (and survive) today's workplace.  

Here are some of the basic soft skills that employers want: collaborating; giving / taking feedback (inlcuding disagreeing effectively); communication; interpersonal skills; creativity; critical thinking; team player; problem solving; planning and prioritizing work; punctuality; flexibility; managing projects; self awareness; cultural intelligence; overcoming obstacles; creating viable solutions; asking for help efficiently; awareness of others; being a positive force; being forward looking; pitching; strategic thinking; design thining.

Seed will be particularly adept at enabling learner to build the following soft skills:  Collaboration; working in interdisciplinary / cross cultural teams; working in remote teams; creativity; critical thinking; problem solving; cultural intelligence; cultural awareness.  

I'm still unsure what the best way is to showcase these skills and would appreciate any thoughts / feedback (whether it's as a ratings system, points system, showing feedback, testimonials etc.). 

5. Key Partnerships

Seed could build key partnerships with the following organisations; 
  • Funding partners (see revenue stream above)
  • Online education - Kahn Academy (to help build Learners' knoweldge gaps), NovaEd
  • Aggregating great online practical content like Google Venutres (check out their great library here), HackFwd's passionmeetsmomentum, Behance's 99U, creativemornings etc.
  • Industry bodies who could help build Seed's client base.
  • Online work sites, like TaskRabbit, Elance, O-desk and Fiverr who could link Learners with external tasks.  
  • Mentors who could help build Learners build up their skills and who can help build up course content
  • Project Managers (either employed by Seed or acting as quasi-franchisees)
  • Online jobs boards / job profiles (like LinkedIn) - potential to use thier "skill endorsement" space as a way to prototype offering. 
 



6. User Journeys 

 

Meet Lucy

Lucy is a florist who wants to launch a social media campaign in the build up to Valentine's Day.

She has noticed that she doesn't get great Valentine's Day sales when the day falls on a weekend.  Unfortunately, Valentines Day is on a Saturday this year.

She hears about Seed from a friend.  She goes onto their website, and finds Jon, a Proejct Manager, who has lots of experience building social media campaigns.  She works with Jon to clearly define her business objectives (boost Valentines Day sales, despite the weekend date) as well as convey key information about her business (what they specialise in, what their brand message is, what their offer is, who her customers are).

Jon breaks the tasks down into smaller chunks and tasks various users to complete them. Sam, who is honing her marketing skills, completes market research on who buys flowers on Valentine's Day in Lucy's neighbourhood.  She finds out that guys predominantly buy flowers for their girlfriends when they are at work, so that their girlfriends can show that they have someone special in their life.  Guys don't necessarily buy their girlfriends flowers from Lucy's city location on weekends.  

Jon then tasks Sara, Terry and Nick create some possible content strategy directions.  Nick thinks it could be a great idea to create a Valentine's Day event that lets women show their social networks how much their boyfriends love them.  Nick thinks that Lucy's Florist could put on a DIY class where girlfriends could learn to make floral bouquets, accompanied by copious amounts of chocolate and champagne.  Jon reaches out to Lucy with the teams progress.  She loves the direction.  

Jon then tasks Ana, Suzy and Liz with coming up with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts to advertise the event.  Ana comes up with some fabulous copy (the whole team agrees).  Lucy runs with it and sells out the Valentine's Day event.  Even better, her instagram feed is filled with girlfriends hastagging #LucysFlorist, #love #imadethis. Given the success of the event, she's has decided to start running classes every month to suppliment her revenue. 

 

Meet Phil ( Case Study from Original Idea)

Meet Phil.  Phil owns a local hardware shop, a business that his father started. He knows that his business is being devastated by the chain hardware store down the road, but he is so busy fighting fires that he doesn’t have the time (or the energy) to address these pressing issues. 
 
He reaches out to Seed. 
 
Seed recognises that Phil needs help getting his head around how he can play to his strengths and compete against the chain hardware stores.  Seasoned learners, who want to develop their strategy badges, work with Phil to help him define his needs, goals and aspirations.  They walk him through a few of the ways they could help:
  • How might Phil reshape his business model?
  • What are Phil’s key strengths and weaknesses? 
  • What has he got that the large chain hardware stores can’t compete with? 
  • What can’t he compete with? 
  • How might Phil better engage his customers? 
  • How might Phil add value? 
Phil works out that he wants help engaging the people in his local community.  Seed breaks Phil’s task down into micro-tasks:An aspiring project manager maps out a timeline for the project.

An aspiring HR / learning and development wiz starts trawling through Seed’s database to find people they think would bring value to Phil.
An aspiring community manager starts building momentum and energy around Phil’s project.
  • Marketing / advertising: mico-tasks include conducting market research, developing customer profiles and personas, mapping their pain points and needs, ideating on how to address those pain points, creating a content strategy, researching how to reach those customers.
  • Artists / graphic designers / copywriters: creating content based on the content strategy.
  • Writers and editors then go through the various reports, honing their business communication and editing skills. 
Huge shoutout to team mate Elizabeth Cramer for her help refinind these user journeys. 

What are the next steps for implementing this idea?

I've conducted a few interviews with job seekers and businesses to test some of Seed's basic assumptions. So far, so good. Now I need to prototype various elements of Seed with end users: ----- 1. Prototyping service design - for Learners ----- 1.1 Develop a prototype video explaining the service (and it's key mechanics) to see if Seed fulfils a user need and provides the right pain points. ----- 1.2 Prototyping the service to test key assumptions. Create a dummy project around a key vertical that Seed would operate within (eg: creating on-brand Facebook posts). Find a group of young job seekers who want to develop skills within that vertical. Create a basic site with links to videos explaining key concepts relating to on-brand Facebook posts. Create a survey monkey to find out if users understood the content (prototyping conceptual learning). Create a dummy task for users to complete. Test the various methods to manage the project and ensure accuracy of service (eg: does a competition or peer critique work better?). Potential to use a website like LinkedIn to prototype skill endorsements and recommendations. ----- 1.3 Try and hook up with an organisation like Kahn academy to co-create practical course content (Kahn academy already offers some practical course content, like Entrepreneurship - both nothing as specific as that envisaged by Seed). ----- 2. Prototyping service model design - for Clients ----- 2.1 Talk to more organisations to see which categories of organisation actually need help fulfilling key business tasks (SMEs, charities, larger organisations, start ups). Dive deep and find out what services they desperately need. ----- 2.2 Create a prototype website (as a keynote video) and test with potential clients. ----- 2.3 Start bespoke linking clients with teams of learners to complete tasks to see where the pain points are and what's working. ----- 3. Prototyping Learner profiles as a recruitment tool ----- 3.1 Create a prototype user profile and interview recruiters, hiring managers and business owners to see if this is something they would like candidates to use to apply for jobs. ----- 4. Potential partners (please see body of idea)

Briefly describe a user scenario which illustrates the specific need that your idea is trying to solve.

Ana is in her final year of University. She is applying for graduate roles in the social media space, but is really struggling to get an interview. She finds out about Seed from a friend and decides to give it a go. She discovers the "Social Media Mastery Badge" and dives deeper. On the platform, she finds courses specifically designed to teach her practical skills. She takes a number of modules and completes the online tests with flying colours. She then seeks out live projects where she can test out these new skills (and gain further mastery). Lucy, a local florist is looking for a social media campaign to reignite her Valentine's Day Sales. She finds that her sales are lacklustre when Valentine's Day falls on a weekend, like this year. Having reached out to Seed, she provides Ana with the perfect task to build her skills with. Ana works with a team of leaners to build Lucy's content strategy. They discover that Lucy doesn't sell many flowers on the weekend because girlfriends like to receive flowers at their workplace, to show their colleagues how loved they are. So, they develop an event at Lucy's flower show that lets girls grab online about how much their boyfriends love them. Problem solved. Ana's great participation on the project enables her to master her Social Media Mastery Badge. Ana later applies for a job and provides a link to her Seed account on her resume. Impressed, the recruiter calls Ana in for an interview and she lands the job.

Complete a User Experience Map. This will help you visualize how a potential end user will interact with your idea. Once you have completed it, upload it using the Upload File button at the end of this form. PDF files preferred.

  • Completed

Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

Seed aims to engage young people who want to pursue a specific careers path or who want to test the waters in a sector. Anyone with an internet connection will be able to participate (however, certain jobs will require cultural or market knowledge that is specific to a place - certain tasks will also require people to be on the ground (eg: photographer helping a jeweller photograph their work)).

How is your idea specifically increasing access to employment opportunities and pathways for young people?

Seed will help people gain real world skills and then showcase those skills in a way that will help them find gainful employment.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Talk to SME's about their business problems (including the breadth), scope out if / how much they are willing to pay for specific tasks, then try and actually break those varied tasks down into micro tasks. It might be that the service will have to focus on one industry or sector - however, this will really limit the types of skills available (eg: helping bricks and mortar stores build an online presence).

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to receive from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Here are some of the questions that I am currently struggling with. Any input is greatly appreciated: (1) Payment (see discussion above); (2) How might we engage potential clients? (3) How might we deal with sensitive issues where the team is really big (eg: confidential information etc). (4) Managing a really large team online with lots of moving parts can be really tricky (5) How might we ensure quality of work while keeping over heaps (due to checking) down? - I think that MOOCs could potentially hold some answers. (6) How do you enable participants to give good feedback (and enable peer to peer learning) where the tasks are really small?

The idea emerged from:

  • An individual

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • Keen to be involved in prototyping but need partners at some stage

47 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Dave Zinsman
Team

Jes, I simply love everything about your project. There's so much strong work here. Sorry it's taken me so long to chime in, just been super busy. I'd like to give you general feedback on the project, and also answer the specific questions you posed.

A) General:
1) The pain points are clear. There is definitely a need for what you're proposing.
2) I feel like right now the project is getting a little ahead of itself. It's great that you're thinking long-term and how to scale, but focusing on that too much may take away from your effectiveness.
3) Don't focus on building an enterprise.
4) Focus on building a great product; the enterprise will come.

In short, you've got an awesome product concept. Now I'd focus 100% on how to deliver that product to a handful of job seekers and SMEs; plan out your first year in detail; and just write a skeleton plan for years 2 and 3 that follow logically from a strong year 1 proposition.

B) Your specific questions:

(1) Payment
Like just about every new venture, no profit is made for quite some time. Right now you're at the stage where you need to demonstrate demand for your product (or a simplified version of the product). Once you generate demand, you can think about how to monetize. In short, I'd think about payment later.

(2) How might we engage potential clients?
I'll tell you how I'm thinking of engaging first clients with a similar project that I'm working on, FSTOP.
a) Approach 3 people I know who need to build their portfolio and bring them along on jobs I'm doing. I pay them 20$ for two hours of photography assistance work. In their portfolios they can show work that they've done for actual businesses.
In short, a good way to start is to partner with a few practitioners who'd be open to bringing people along to jobs where they could be apprentices and help out. This is a way for you to slowly move towards a model of filling temp roles without supervising practitioners.

(3) How might we deal with sensitive issues where the team is really big (eg: confidential information etc).
This isn't mission critical to your MVP. Cross that bridge when you get there.

(4) Managing a really large team online with lots of moving parts can be really tricky
Ditto.

(5) How might we ensure quality of work while keeping over heaps (due to checking) down? - I think that MOOCs could potentially hold some answers.
Ditto. Focus on quality of work for a handful of clients; you'll build that core competency; when it's time to scale, scale that competency.

(6) How do you enable participants to give good feedback (and enable peer to peer learning) where the tasks are really small?
This is definitely debatable: I wouldn't focus on that at all right now. Having worked as a subject matter expert and trainer I can tell you that while peer-to-peer feedback is great; it is not the primary means for building skill. It's great, but in many cases it's subordinate to supervisor-participant dialogue. Time and resources are limited; I'd focus heavily on building the means for supervisor-participant dialogue which is the most crucial feedback participants need.

Hope this helps!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hi Dave, thank you so much for your incredible insights and pointers, you are a champion! I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. Ditto I've been super busy (which is killing me, because I wanted to spend a lot more time looking at everyone else's amazing ideas this challenge!).

Thank you so much for your guidance points. You are on the money with the idea getting ahead of itself. I've struggled with the one (and got ahead of myself) primarily because there are so many moving parts. The results of the prototype will really determine what direction different elements take. Mapping out potential solutions at least helps to highlight potential danger / problem zones.

I also think that your solution to build your first user base for F-Stop is stellar.

With regards to point 3, this is just the ex lawyer in me freaking out a little bit too much. Agreed, need to cross that bridge when it comes.

Points (4), (5) and (6) completely agree.

With regards to your experience as a subject mater expert and trainer - are there any forms of feedback, learning and development you have found works particularly well (particularly if it's applicable in the online world?) Are there any techniques that you find more engaging (for either yourself or your students)?

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Wow – lots of great new thinking and visualised goodness here, Jes! It will be interesting to hear more about your next steps towards implementation (there's a new submission form question for that – at the top of the previous questions) Do you have plans for small scale experiments to put real people in the picture to test how things actually go? The most challenging part of human-centred design is iterating around what you discover through these kinds of experiments. We're excited to hear about your plans...

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Thanks Meena! I've updated with some rough ideas on how to build this out.

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Great stuff, Jes – especially that early step of prototyping a dummy Seed project (1.2) Really amped to see how that will shape onwards developments based on human-centered insights.

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Thanks Meena. Given your involvement across the breadth of this challenge, have you got any inclinations about the types of verticals I should prototype this in? At the moment, I'm leaning towards social media content development, predominantly because of (1) the relative ease to teach this online; (2) the number of businesses who need help in this area; (3) the relative ease to outsource this kind of work; (4) the fact that this is an employment growth area and can teach skills that are relevant to lots of different positions; and (5) student demand - student's I have talked to want to upskill in this area.

I would love any other suggestions you might have.

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Social media content development sounds like a great place to start for the reasons you outline (Though I'm not suggesting 'relative ease' will actually translate to this being 'easy' :^) That's the great thing about prototypes – you start to explore what it actually takes to move from an idea to engaging real people and all the unexpected qualities and challenges they bring. We're excited to see how things will evolve!)

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

And if you're going to focus on social media initially, could be interesting to chat to the switched on folks over at: https://openideo.com/challenge/youth-employment-pathways/feedback-2/social-media-in-real-life-smirl who are likely to have some great insights to share – and also might be keen to hear about what you learn via your own lightweight experiments.

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Thanks Meena for the pointers and link to Smirl, they sure are doing some great stuff over there.

Photo of CYG consulting
Team

I have read some of your thoughts and ideas more than others. The most striking point is at the moment for me the team aspect. Giving a platform for team search instead of individual would make this service platform even more different than other service platforms. This would however mean, that you need more incentives for people to look for teams instead of single search. This idea however is correlated with project managers, company owners and other individual engaging not only with Seed, but also with the environment to search for 'large enough' projects. There are a few other restrictions. The main argument however is, if it would be better to build such a service platform based on teams, used by project managers and based on a ranking system, instead of a network made for individuals.

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Thanks Stephan for your great insights. I think that Project Managers are vital to ensuring that Seed remains team based as well as helping projects come to life.

What kind of ranking system do you think will work?

What kinds of projects do you think will be "big enough"? (I'm currently working on how to build a pilot project, so would love your insights)

-Jes

Photo of CYG consulting
Team

Big enough projects would be for example projects which can be outsourced. Not every project in companies can be done for example with other third parties. This must be tested first, if companies are interested. Perhaps there are ways to create with different companies pilot projects, so that these companies are not just clients but co creators.
The main market, however, are people with an interest in reaching aims with more man power and skilles necesseray than he or she has. The person is then using your service with contacting firts the project manager. The project manager on the other hand must have the know how of getting teams for this purpose together. Once the project manager has the team together, he can work out the project ordered by the client.
The first aim of the ranking system should be trustworthy information. As a project manager I would be in need for people, who really can do what they are offering as their service on the service website. Thus, there muts be a ranking system which is excluding frauds. One way would be to get clients to rank the whole team. The best way however would be at the moment to make also the project manager responsible for that, by giving him the chance to rank the different people taking part in the project.

- Stephan

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hi Stephan

I love the idea of companies being co creators in any pilot project, it could really build the community, platform and company buy in. It is definitely something that should be incorporated into prototypes later down the road.

I also agree that we will have to carefully tailor tasks, as many tasks aren't large enough to warrant external help.

I also love your suggestions about building trust into the system. I envisaged a similar mechanism where clients, team members and project managers can award "points" for mastery of certain tasks. This could act as a rating system and enable the rankings that you described.

Thank you for your incredible input.

- Jes

Photo of An Old Friend
Team

Great job. I see this idea is more internet based. Since there are few scalable interventions at global level, it would be nice to hear your suggestion on developing countries can benefit from this idea. Thanks

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Alex, I'm also really keen to see how this kind of program could evolve in developing countries. The way the service is designed will have to change depending on the place of impact though. Have you got any thoughts about the things you think might work and those that will be difficult to implement in Uganda?

Photo of priyanka botny
Team

Jes,
Got some time to go through your wonderful idea. I like the way you have thought about the process of SEED. I was looking for a face-to-face conversation with the youth with SEED. IS there a way we can present that? Like a video or animated notes for viewers.

Surprisingly, our ideas work similar. I will be using key gamification concepts for youth to choose their career-opportunities on social media. Take a look at my idea - The Social Getwork.

Also it would be helpful to view the business model and other details if you can load it as a pdf as I cannot enlarge the images on the descriptions. Also take a look at this video that I made for another concept using gamification - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbicClsv6UE and the research idea can help you very much - http://goo.gl/359dBi

Let me know how best we can collaborate.
Thanks,
Pri

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Pri, I love what you are doing over at The Social Getwork. Your Game Thinking in Problem Solving prototype video is also fantastic!

Thanks for the heads up about the readability of the images. I've posted the business model canvas as a separate PDF now. I really wanted to create a video explaining Seed's service design, but unfortunately I've run out of time (I'm at the tail end of a three month crazy period at work).

Can't wait to see how The Social Getwork grows!

I would love to collaborate with you more over both ideas. How about moving onto Google+ once the challenge is over?

Photo of priyanka botny
Team

Jes, Totally understand and thank you!
botny.priyanka@gmail.com is my id. Looking forward to see where this idea goes.

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

mine is jes.simson@gmail.com . Likewise, can't wait to see where The Social Getwork goes!

Photo of Ashley Chin
Team

Jes, I love this idea! I previously worked for Samasource (Yvonne mentioned below), and its national affiliate, SamaUSA, focused more on the training than the employment mission. So your idea is very similar, but I especially like your concept of mastery points and badges.

First, I have a question: Users on Seed can choose the skills they want to gain, and will then work on micro-tasks associated with that skill. Assuming most of these tasks are actual SME client work, how do you plan on matching the needs of clients (what work they want completed) to the needs of the users (what skills they want)? e.g. if many users want XYZ skill, and there is not enough client work that requires XYZ skill; or alternatively, a client needs work done that requires ABC skill, but very few users want this skill.

I have a few thoughts on the questions you had, although I’m sure you’ve already thought about all of these. I’ll also continue to brainstorm the questions I didn’t cover!
(2) How might we engage potential clients? – Samasource has a team dedicated to business development and sales, and did a lot of marking. I imagine you could also get more traffic if you opened the platform to allow individuals (in addition to SMEs) to be clients.

(4) Managing a really large team online with lots of moving parts can be really tricky – Definitely! I was part of the team at Samasource that managed the distributed workforce, although our situation was slightly easier because our users were in a physical workplace. We had several project managers and the help of managers at the different offices – but this would be hard with Seed, whose users could be located anywhere in the world. Perhaps when Seed is more established and has more advanced users, there could be an advanced user assigned to each project to manage timelines and deliverables. The online platform, if possible, could have tools and processes built in to allow project milestones, deadlines, and progress to be tracked within the system.

(5) How might we ensure quality of work while keeping over heaps (due to checking) down? - I think that MOOCs could potentially hold some answers.
A couple of Samasource’s commonly used methods to ensure quality of work:
- “gold” tasks – tasks with known answers that are distributed randomly in sets of work. Because users will not know the difference between gold and real tasks, one can estimate that the actual accuracy rate of a particular set of work is similar to that of the gold tasks.
- multiple submission – have more 2+ users answer the same task, and take the majority answer. The more users answer one task, the more confident you can be that the majority answer is the “correct” one.
Other than those, I think that you could use your mastery points and badges system to ensure that only qualified users work on real client work. New users could gain mastery points and beginner badges of certain skills by working on practice (not actual client) tasks. Once they reach a certain level in a skill, they are qualified to begin client work. More complex tasks could require a higher level of the skill.

Awesome! Excited to see where this goes!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Wow Ashley, thank you so much for these fantastic insights and provocations. I didn't know about SamaUSA, they are doing some incredibly inspiring stuff (with great parallels to what we are trying to achieve here). I can't wait to dig deeper into their pilot projects. Thanks!

Your first point is a great one (and one that has been keeping me up at night). The primary motivation behind this platform is to help people upskill. While actual tasks are preferable, I imagine that people will also complete a number of dummy tasks. I think that this serves a couple of purposes. As you mentioned further down in your post, dummy tasks can help you ascertain the accuracy of the work that users submit. It will also help with work flow (where there aren't enough SME jobs to go around). SMEs are also pretty concerned about the accuracy and strength of the work produced. If early stage skills are mastered using dummy tasks, then people can graduate onto actual tasks once they have built up their skills to a certain level (again, as you have suggested further down in your post).

I'm also really concerned about SME's having needs that the platform cannot fulfil. I'm fairly keen to pilot this around a specific vertical (I'm currently leaning towards social media content strategy as this seems to be a big growth area for SMEs and employment). I hope that by focusing on one specific area, these issues will be ironed out (for a pilot at the very least).

I also agree that any marketplace based business model requires a large amount of sales, marketing and business development to make sure that they always balance demand by students against demand for their skills. Any pointers about things that Samasource or SamaUSA have found successful would be fantastic.

I also agree that the platform would be more successful if it was opened out to a larger client base (individuals as well as larger corporations), like TaskRabbit.

Again, the managing a really large team that collaborates online is another problem that this idea needs to feasibly solve. I think that Project Managers will play a crucial role. You need a project manager to make sure that quality work is delivered on time. You also need someone who can liaise with the client and work with them. Thanks for your great points here. As for online collaboration, there are a whole lot of tools which I hope will make it easier for participants to collaborate together online (which at the same time should increase their skill based in working in cross disciplinary and multi office teams). Project Management sites like Trello and BaseCamp could be really useful project hubs (which can track milestones, deadlines and progress ). Chat, email, Skype and google hangouts are also great places to bring teams together online.

I also agree that MOOCs hold some fantastic lessons regarding online education and skill building. I'm also looking at platforms like Kahn Academy (where they gamify skill building with quizzes and badges to build mastery).

Thank you so much for sharing the ways that Samasource and SamaUSA ensure quality. I love the idea of dummy tasks to ensure accuracy later on. This sounds like a really good method to use when the data required is known (eg: for data analysis / image analysis work). I used to use a similar technique when I worked as a lawyer and outsourced document inspection tasks. I also love the idea of multiple submissions and again, it's been something that I've been thinking about for this project. Again, it's probably more suited to tasks where there is one correct answer, or you are looking for a 'best fit' answer (say, with tagging an image or document with best fit tags).

I also think that it could be worthwhile to test to see whether 'competition' style tasks work for more creative tasks. The Project Manager creates a brief (eg: create 5 tweets for Anna's Bookshop about an upcoming Mexican cooking + cocktails class run by acclaimed cook book author Susanna Saunders). Multiple users then complete the task. All of the suggestions are then voted on by the Project Manager and participants who work on the tasks (where the more senior and experienced project members receive more votes). The best solutions are then taken to the Client, who can make a final decision. If the client doesn't like any of the solutions, the Client can access all of the suggestions. 99designs.com.au (and OpenIDEO) use a similar competition mechanism to gain creative solutions from their platform. As a Product Manager, I also use this technique with freelancers to get great copy.

Again, thank you so much Ashley for your invaluable insights. Awesome work. Can't wait to see you more on OpenIDEO.

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Oh, one more thing.

SamaUSA have focused on upskilling people for online work. Have you identified any key areas for growth and employer need within the digital space that you focus on?

Photo of Ashley Chin
Team

Regarding your last question, I didn't work on SamaUSA's team, so I'm not as intimately familiar with their strategy and focus areas. However, I do remember that many students found work in social media and administrative support, which were great entry points for students who are still building skills and are new to online work. So, your thought on focusing on social media sounds like a great start!

I like the competition style of managing quality that you mentioned - gold tasks and multiple submission are definitely more difficult to employ on tasks that are not as straightforward and objective, as you already realized!

I see you've updated the challenge details - I'll have to go through it to see your latest strategies!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Thanks Ashley, can't wait to see what else you've got to add.

Photo of CYG consulting
Team

Hy Jes,
the question of how to manage bigger teams online is interesting. Have you thought of people who are not just offering their skills, but gain also reputation points after completing tasks in a group or that you are enabling people a website for free, who in return will try to find job not just for themselves but also for a group of people working from different areas?
I think that the last point can be interesting, because the price for materials for example can be very different, if you think globally. This could be an incentive for people to take part, not just the payment or the above mentioned motivators, but the local pricing system in other areas and the chance to gain skills online and in teams.

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Stephan, thanks for your awesome feedback.

I definitely think hat repetitional points (probably as skills badges or something similar to OpdenIDEO's DQ score) is a great way to go! This will be a fantastic way to showcase the soft skills, like collaboration and teamwork, that employers are looking for.

I really appreciate your point about being able to source people in different areas around the globe who can perform tasks at a lower price (like sumasource does). I also think that there is great potential to teach people about collaborating and solving problems globally, these are certainly skills that youth need to prosper in today's employment market.

However, I'm keen to design a solution that enables everyone to access the system (not just those who can compete on price because of where they live). It's for this reason that I've really been focussing on enabling people to build skills, rather than use the platform primarily as a freelancer site to generate income. What are your thoughts?

Photo of Liz Barnum
Team

This is a really interesting idea, Jes! Have you thought about how you are going to allocate different projects to different consultants? Would it be "merit" based (say by level achieved or by industry of focus), or would the company get to pick based on consultant profiles, or would the consultants pick via bidding? Curious to know how you're thinking of connecting the two parties together, as I can imagine finding the right person for the right project can probably really change the outcome and quality of the work.

Also, curious if you are going to lean into a specific vertical (e.g., market research vs. graphic design) in particular to show proof of concept before onboarding all types of projects and consultants. Are there any verticals in particular that seem to have a lot of demand on both sides of the equation -- work and work-doers?

You've got some fantastic ideas in here, can't wait to see how it progresses!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Liz, thank you for your excellent feedback.

I'm madly researching different skills and clients matching methods at the moment (will post the results shortly). I'm looking at various sites like Catchafire and TaskRabbit. I'm leaning towards a system where client's pick a project leader based on their skills, competency and ratings and then that project leader can assemble a team based around the skills that they need. This selection will probably be based around merit / mastery level of a certain skill (I would love your feedback on this)...

I was also thinking that it would be great to pilot this around an area like social content strategy or SEO strategy. These are areas that the SME's who I have talked to really struggle with but know that they need to get better at. These are really big employment growth areas - so there is demand from employers at the end. They are also areas that you can map out a course structure that incrementally builds employable skills for users. It is also relatively easy to break down work into micro tasks.

For instance, Lucy is a florist who wants to launch a social campaign in the build up to Valentine's Day. She has noticed that she doesn't get great Valentine's Day sales when the day falls on a weekend. Valentines Day is on a Saturday this year. She briefs the project into Seed. She works with the Project Manager to clearly define her business objectives (boost Valentines Day sales, despite the weekend date) as well as key information about her business (what they specialise in, what their brand message is, what their offer is, who their customer's are). The Project Manager breaks the tasks down into smaller chunks and tasks various users to complete them. One person, who is honing their marketing skills, completes market research on Valentines' Day flower market in Lucy's local area. Through doing so, he identifies 4 different Valentine's Day customer profiles in Lucy's area. They then identifies that two personas who won't typically buy flowers if Valentine's Day is on the weekend. The Project Manager then tasks some more users to complete user interviews to find out why these people sometimes don't buy flowers. They uncovers a couple of pain points and frustrations. The Project Manager then takes another couple of users, who are currently mastering content strategy skills to think of some ideas about how to engage these users around those pain points. Together, they find 4 different ideas they think will work. The Project Manger then finds three more users who are budding copywriters and designers to think of how to bring those ideas to life. Throughout the process, the Project Manager is communicating the insights back to the Lucy and to gain her input. The Project Manager then takes the finished ideas back to Lucy for her approval to execute.

I appreciate that this is still really clunky and that a lot of skills are required. However, I think that the platform needs to be full service (problem through to a solution that the SME can feasibly execute) if it is going to solve the needs of companies.

I would also love your feedback around this.

Photo of Carlie Guilfoile
Team

Hi Jes– I really enjoyed reading your ideas about Seed and think this could be a great opportunity for students to explore their passions and enhance practical skills. One aspect that I love about Seed is that it recognizes that many small and medium size businesses are seeking creative solutions that they, themselves do not have the resources (time or money) to address. And on the other hand, students are looking for ways to develop their skills in areas they may not have any prior experience in. That can be intimidating! Have you thought about using the website as not only a portfolio for students, but a marketplace where businesses can join, interact with students and post potential projects or questions? As OpenIDEO mentioned, Taskrabbit is a good example of a website that connects job seekers with job doers. In your case, Seed could be framed as a youth micro-consultant network. By creating a network, much like a university or club does for their members, students may be able to build more meaningful, professional relationships that lead to a full-time job.

I'm also interested in learning more about the role of the student mentors. How can we empower mentors to carry on the "Seed legacy" by teaching other students the skills they've mastered, so that the less-skilled students can, in turn, continue to learn and master? I think they are a key part of the Seed model!

I look forward to checking back on your progress! Inspiring work, Jes.

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hi Carlie, thanks for your great insights.

I grew up in a family business, this idea was largely inspired by the various pain points I've seen my parents encounter over the years. I'm still trying to work out how to best service SME's (in that they often don't have the time or financial resources to commission work or execute solutions / they often don't know what they want or need).

The website is definitely going to include a space where businesses can post questions / problems and interact with users (although I'm not sure whether this will be limited to picking a 'team leader' or whether they should be able to choose their whole team). It would also be great to include a functionality down the track that enables the site to act as a jobs board for the individuals who have mastered particular skills, as well as letting employers browse through user profiles to find employees.

I also love your networking idea - definitely something to consider. Australia doesn't seem to have great alumni networks - do you have any tips for things that have worked in the USA?

And I love your idea to harness the platform to turn seed-ers into teahcers once they have attained a certain mastery level. This could not only make the platform function a little better, but also help people develop management / leadership soft skills that employers love.

Photo of heather kelly
Team

this idea rocks! I love it. I see a real need for guided mastery as described in "creating innovators". I am a high school innovation educator in michigan. If you develop seed - you could possibly team up with the public school system & high school students could get credit for participation. Colleges could also work with SEED offering students class credit for hours worked through seed. This way the students are getting credit for their work that does not involve pay. Everyone wins in that scenario. The business gets fresh ideas & help, the young person gets experience and class credit & SEED could charge a one time sign up fee for businesses in order to operate. The one time fee would be far less that the company would pay for the services it receives. Maybe you could even get public libraries to participate & have a seed station set up in the library. All young people would have free access to the service. I would not offer pay to the young people for this. This would be meant as a career builder, not a part time job. The benefit for a user not getting class credit would be the priceless work experience for a resume for a lifelong career. Nice work:)

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Heather, thanks for the great insights from an educator's perspective. I also agree that this could be a great resource for high schoolers. Admittedly, I haven't focused on this group of participants yet because I wanted to focus on one group and get it right with them before I move onto another group of users with similar but different needs.

I love the idea of building real world hubs in spaces like libraries.

I really like your suggestions of motivators other than money (class credit, learning etc). Mastering a skills (especially when it is paired with the possibility of getting a great job) is an especially powerful motivator and you are right that money doesn't necessarily have to become involved.

I also agree that businesses should pay a fee to use this service. Because businesses have skin in the game, I hope that they don't abuse the service and are also incentivised to use any resolutions that the service produces. I think that the fee may need to be levied on a project basis (rather than a one time membership fee) so that the service isn't abused - what are your thoughts?

Photo of Yvonne Tran
Team

Hi Jes, great idea. Reminds me of Samasource (in terms of microwork). I like the pairing of underemployed/unemployed young people to the needs of SMEs. My question is, on resumes for more full time employment in the future for these young people, time spent at one company or organization matters a lot in addition to the type of work being done. Will this micro-consultancy work only span to specific tasks or will it be a set time of 3/6/12 months? Thus, the client would need to use the service and have needs that would take a longer period to accomplish?

For example, I was thinking of the challenge that a Task Rabbit would have in advertising the work they've done on a resume (since it's only task related).

Great idea!

-Yvonne

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hi Yvonne, thanks for the great feedback!

Sumasource is an incredibly organisation and a massive inspiration for this idea.

With regards to building this into a viable tool to communicate employable skills, I imagine that user's will be able to display their skills on profile pages (although I am still refining this). The profile page will include skills 'badges' that function like LinedIn's Skill Endorsement buttons - these badges will include soft and hard skills and knowledge areas. Team members, project leaders and clients will be able to endorse users for particular skills. User pages will also link to projects and tasks completed to give employers an overview of what the user has actually done to gain those skills (subject to a client's need for confidentiality) as a kind of work portfolio.

With regards to what user's can actually write on their resume, I think that they will be able to state that they worked as a freelancer and learner on the platform, during which time they worked as part of an online collaborative team to complete x tasks which lead to y business outcomes. The platform might also be able to have a resume writing help desk that helps people communicate the skills that they picked up on the platform to show a hiring organisation how they could add value to a team.

I think that there are many ways to signal to employers that you can hold down a steady job, without the need to work on tasks for one company over a period of 3 - 6 months. You can use online badges and quotients (like the OpenIDEO badge) to signal to employers that the user shows up, participates, collaborates, works well in a team, completes work on time, communicates effectively, uses their skills to make an impact etc (all the soft skills that employers require). This is not dissimilar to how TaskRabbit builds trust between Taskers and Clients - they have a badge, ratings and points system that signals these soft skills that helps build trust with clients (see Rachel Botsman's excellent talk on building trust online within the sharing economy here: https://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_botsman_the_currency_of_the_new_economy_is_trust).

In the offline workforce, this isn't dissimilar to working within the service industries (say consulting, legal services or advertising). You often have multiple clients who you many only interact with for short projects. Your professional reputation is a mixture of what your peers, industry and clients say about you. You don't need to work with one client for 3 + month chunks to build this reputation. However, you probably need to make up for it by working well with multiple clients.

Yvonne, I would really appreciate some more of your great insights and thoughts on this interpretation.

- Jes

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on making it to the Youth Employment Challenge Refinement list, Jes. We find it very interesting how your idea is flexible for youth with different time availability and how it allows them to share their skills, experience and build relationships with employers. This model seems a bit similar to TaskRabbit, you might want to take a look at them for inspiration. We are really interested in learning more about your specific users and what you learn from them through user feedback and experimentation. Who are the young people who would use this platform? Are they in university or high school? Who are the businesses you want to partner with? Is someone like Phil out there in the real world ready to pay for a service like the one that is being proposed? We encourage you to share specific profiles of users on both sides, go out into the world interview potential participants, get their feedback and try out a small experiment to test your assumption of what users want and will do. Looking forward to learning how this idea develops. Check out more tips for Refinement: http://bit.ly/oi-refine

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Thanks for the great feedback OpenIDEO!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

You can now grab some challenge-specific Refinement tips here: http://ideo.pn/ye-refine-tips Looking forward to your agile refinement-moves to strengthen your idea for impact!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

cool, thanks OpenIDEO!

Photo of Elisabeth Cramer
Team

Hi Jes!
I've been thinking more about this idea. I really like it but I'm struggling to envision it in action, mainly because of the cost of funding the kind of consulting work that someone like Phil would need (and the understandable trepidation that a small business owner would have in making that kind of investment to work with a pool of students).

What if you targeted businesses with a more nuanced understanding of their needs than Phil? Like Judy, who wants to make promotional videos for her flower shop's website. Or Jack, who wants someone to develop a social media presence for his electrician business. If businesses come to Seed with a pre-defined list of "tasks", Seed's role could be to connect them to students working to develop these capacities. We could target professors teaching business courses (or other relevant fields) at community colleges (or at other levels, community college just seems like it makes sense) and ask them to require groups to complete Seed projects (or individuals to complete tasks...some thinking to do there) as part of their curriculum. Businesses could pay something like 50% of what they would normally pay a contractor to do what they're asking for to cover Seed's operating costs, and students would do the work and (develop their skills) for course credit.

I hope it would be a win/win for Seed and the schools it looks to work with, but I'd want to look more closely into how community colleges (or whatever level of education you choose to target) set up their partnerships. I'd also want to interview small business owners and students at the target age to gauge interest from their perspective as well.

What do you think?

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Elizabeth, thanks for the excellent feedback. I'm also struggling with a lot of the questions that you pose. Firstly, consulting work is incredibly expensive (for good reason) and I'm struggling to find smaller businesses who would be willing to fork out this cost. I also think that we probably need to target larger companies who have an idea about what they want. One possible way is to tie the educational element into an freelancer type website - so that you can still upskill people but tap into a market that already knows what it is looking for.

I also love the suggestion that seed can offer specific tasks, that way it can really narrow it's focus on building concrete skills in discrete areas.

I'm also interested in how you have framed this as a potential work experience element for course credit - a really interesting avenue to explore.

I've got a day off work later in the week and have got a number of interviews lined up to test these ideas out with business owners and recent graduates. I'm also hoping to get some business models up either tomorrow or on Wednesday - I'd love your feedback!

Photo of Elisabeth Cramer
Team

Hello, Jes! This is a great idea, thank you for sharing. Identifying an economic model is certainly a challenge. I like Kerem's idea for a tiered pricing model, but you will still need to negotiate the challenge that Aditya presents (sustaining an operation that provides a service to organizations or individuals with very limited resources).

One possibility to consider is to complement your activity with a product geared toward clients with deeper pockets. One example of this approach that I find powerful comes from Arnoud Raskin, an Ashoka fellow in Belgium. He started a social enterprise called Mobile School that reaches underprivileged kids in their own environments, capitalizing on the skill sets that they possess in order to facilitate their reintegration to society (read more here: http://www.mobileschool.org/en and here: http://belgium.ashoka.org/en/arnoud-raskin).

Once his initial funding had been put to use, Arnoud developed a complementary activity called Streetwize, a consulting firm that packages the wisdom that Mobile School picks up from its students for private business clients. All revenues from this service go directly to funding Mobile School, and the operation is now almost entirely self-sustained. Here's the site for Streetwize: http://www.streetwize.be/en.

This might be more of a long-term road, but something to keep in mind. Also, have you thought of approaching schools with your idea? These "real-life" projects might be integrated into a curriculum, which would keep the focus on learning and development rather than payment.

Best to you, Jes!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Elizabeth, thanks for the link to Mobile School, really inspiring stuff. This also reminds me of Charity:Water's business structure - they seek donations from industry and businesses for their operating costs so that all consumer donations are directed 100% towards on the ground projects. Likewise, you could reach out to large organisations (as charitable donations or as clients) to help fund the other projects.

I love the school curriculum suggestion. It sounds like a great way to develop the idea of work experience, where the student is empowered to add value to a local business. I always found that learning things at school sunk in a lot more where we applied the material to the real world. Schools cold perhaps link students with charities or small business in their communities who need help on bespoke projects - teams of students could then help businesses solve those problems as part of their assessment.

Photo of Kerem Yilmaz
Team

This is a really interesting idea, Jes! I’d be inclined to think about the micro-consultants as your bench of individuals who are interested in learning about or perfecting a skill. Payment will be tough and you’re definitely addressing the issues of delivering a service versus delivering a social good. This may be something where you tier service fees based on the skillset (or mastery badges) of the micro-consultants. This is a similar concept used by consulting firms - your analysts are always cheaper than your managers.

This is a dual win. You’re showing how the individuals involved in Seed are building skills and capabilities. You’re also building a promotion/credibility hierarchy through the badges so you can begin to tier experience and capabilities to ensure you find the right fit for the client. While there are questions around what earns a badge, it’s certainly an idea worth exploring. Another interesting thought is how these badges could translate outside the Seed world so that the skills the micro-consultants are learning could be treated as a certificate or a brand for future employers?

In addition to the bench, it might be worth considering a small full-time component of the consultancy. You mention seasoned users as being the first line of client support, which is an interesting approach. What about having at least a couple of full-time Seed Project Manager who can oversee the project, ensure consistency in product delivery and quality? You’ll probably not want the client to get a constant deluge of e-mails or phone calls without some sort of individual who can be Seed’s focal point. Additionally, I see this Project Manager being a mentor who can share best practices and learnings from previous projects at a more macro level. This individual can also play a support role to the micro-consulting support that you’ve discussed in the original idea. This individual can also play a support role in identifying the appropriate “badge” level one earns after completion of his/her task.

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Exciting stuff, Jes – and great builds, Kerem. I was also wondering whether there might be a need for some more over-arching support / consultancy from Seed. In the example of Phil – it does seem like someone would need to be looking at the big picture and co-ordinating various micro-taks with a view of the macro needs of Phil & his business? A lightweight prototype which involves actual end users in some way could help gain insights into some of these issues and may even present solutions along the way? Looking forward to seeing where things head!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Karem and Meena, thanks for your awesome feedback.

Karem, I really like the idea of tiered pricing based on skill level (as a former lawyer, I know all about tiered pricing!)

I originally included the badges as a means for individuals to show that they were mastering different processes, but also to help people communicate the fact that they had those skills for employment (acting as a kind Linkedin skills endorsement). I definitely think that these badges will help someone build a personal brand around what they can do. I'm not sure whether these could lead to any formal certification as this would probably add cost to the system. However, if Seed is able to build a reputation around building valuable skills for employment then formal and accredited recognition / certificates may not matter so much.

As you pointed out, these badges will also be really good at linking micro-consultants with businesses and help encourage the business that these consultants will be able to add value.

I also completely agree that full-time project manager would really add value to the idea. I was trying to work out how you might remove the need for full-time staff to cut down costs, but agree that positions like this one will really add value. As you mentioned, this person could provide a point of contact and help ensure consistency. They could also provide mentorship and guidance, helping people build their skills. This person would also be in a great position to help determine who achieves certain badges.

And Meena, I'm currently researching the various ways that similar organisations deal with these issues (like Catchafire). I'm interviewing a whole host of friends who volunteer at organisations (doing professional tasks) and freelancers to dig deep into the pain points from a volunteer / freelancer perspective. I think that Linkedin, given the ability to add endorsements and endorse skills, could be a great place to run a prototype.

Photo of Aditya Sudhakar
Team

Nice branding Jes! There's a trade-off on stipends. I just had a Berkeley undergrad leave my site because projects didn't pay enough. I also had an enterprise not sign up because they didn't see the value at the price. No stipend imho won't work. Especially in Australia where min wage is ~USD 20/hr (wow).

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Aditya, I agree that a stipend is not only fair, but also necessary to attract participation. Getting the payment structure just right is going to be really difficult.

(And yes, minimum wage in Australia is really high. I can't believe the minimum wage in the USA is so low).