While companies are turning to online communities of outside designers to bring new ideas into their product development process, several questions remain unanswered: How do design communities form, evolve, and die out over time? What integrates newcomers into the community? How can one grow community without impeding idea inspiration? This paper explores these questions by analyzing how OpenIDEO, an Open Innovation design platform, has evolved from conception to present day. We find that OpenIDEO possesses a stable core who frequently collaborate with transient members, and that large single communities have evolved into smaller but denser communities over time. Moreover, OpenIDEO’s use of community managers and incentives promotes an efficient network for generating new ideas, while fostering cohesive collaboration groups. By viewing design communities as an evolving network, we can guide future design communities to become sustainable and efficient — ultimately unlocking their potential to accelerate human development.

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