Online Contest Platform
To facilitate easy and efficient application and judging processes, Big Ideas uses an online Contest platform that features three portals:
- A judging portal where judges can login to a secure webpage, view proposals that are assigned to them, and submit their scores and written feedback. Big Ideas also requires that the judging portal allow for anonymous judging (e.g., administrators could hide one judge’s reviews of a proposal from another judge reviewing that same proposal, and administrators can hide the identity of judges from applicants). It is preferable to also have a survey option attached to the judging portal to encourage higher responses from judges for the distributed feedback survey.
- An applicant portal that allows student teams to login to a secure webpage to fill out and edit an application form, and upload and submit a PDF document that contains the text of their written proposals. The application form must be able to accommodate students’ demographic and contact information, and have larger spaces for other proposal-related inputs (i.e. space for a 50-word summary). Administrators also embed survey questions into the entry form to assess students’ development over the course of the Contest and to assess students’ perceived skills development (see the Evaluation chapter for more details).
- An administrator portal that allows Big Ideas staff to manage both the judging and student portals (e.g., edit applicant entry form questions, assign proposals to judges, review which judges have submitted their feedback, review materials that student teams submit, etc.). The administration portal also allows Big Ideas staff to set Contest deadlines (e.g., indicate a cutoff deadline by which students must submit their proposals via the student portal).
Platforms Used to Date
In 2010, when the Blum Center first began managing Big Ideas, the application and review process was conducted manually. Students submitted their proposals by email and their applications were shared with judges who reviewed and ranked the proposals. However, as the Contest grew, it became necessary to take advantage of the speed and efficiency offered by online review platforms.
Since 2010, Big Ideas used three different online platforms (YouNoodle, Pitchburner, WizeHive). These platforms all had their strengths and drawbacks. However, the experience of using multiple platforms provided information on what features are most important when considering an online platform:
- Flexibility: The platform needs to be flexible and should allow managers to create different judging criteria, categories, query and sort information, generate customized reports, and incorporate contest branding.
- Simple User Interface: The platform needs to create an easy and intuitive user experience for applicants and judges.
- Numerous Content Management Options: The content management process (creating forms, assigning judges, generating emails) needs to be quick and intuitive.
- Good Customer Service: The platform needs to have a responsive and accommodating IT support team.
- Cost-Effectiveness: Platforms can vary widely in cost (and, notably, cost is not a perfect indicator of performance), which should be weighed against the available features.
For the past three years, Big Ideas has used WizeHive as its contest platform. After conducting a review of contest platform providers in 2012, weighing the cost, available features and ease of use of each platform, it was determined that WizeHive was the best choice for the needs of the contest. Overall, Big Ideas finds WizeHive’s front end user interface to be straightforward, but the back end content management system less intuitive and more difficult to manage (e.g., ensuring only certain fields appear based on previously inputted information, editing applicants’ entry form fields, dealing with multiple accounts for different contests using the same email, and creating different judging criteria for different categories were challenging). Wizehive is also relatively expensive for the services they provide (costing approximately $6,000 for the 2015-16 Contest year). Contest participants (students and judges) on the whole report positive feedback regarding their experiences with the platform.
Looking ahead, Big Ideas may want to integrate more metrics and social networking capacities into the application platform, which would allow it to streamline its data systems in one central place. In future years, it will conduct another assessment as to which platform may be best suited for the contest as it continues to grow.
- As with each new data management system, platform management gets easier with time. By the time the Big Ideas team was using WizeHive in its third year, it experienced far fewer challenges than in the past couple of years. The learning curve is always high with a new platform, and will become substantially easier in subsequent iterations.
- Test, test, and test again. There is no such thing as too much beta-testing for the platform before launching it. One of the most effective strategies used in the 2015-2016 contest was having Blum Center staff create test profiles as applicants and judges to account for every different scenario that could possibly arise in the process.
- Build a relationship with customer support and familiarize them with the platform design. Often times, platform glitches that are seemingly impossible to solve can be easily fixed through customer service support. It is important to establish a relationship with them early on and talk through some of the potential challenges that may occur. This will greatly remove some of the pressure when problems arise and immediate action needs to be taken. In the last few years, Big Ideas has even requested that the point of contact be on call during key deadline days.