Catalyzing internal AppSheet adoption: the user-creator flywheel

December 2, 2023

5 min


In a recent exploration with a significant enterprise, we uncovered a surprising fact. Despite having free access to AppSheet core for an extended period, only a small number of employees had accessed the AppSheet editor. This discovery was made through an OAuth log search, a method we commonly employ as a proxy for estimating the number of potential AppSheet App creators in an organization. This tool, which provides six months of data, is invaluable when initiating a citizen development initiative. Yet, the low engagement rate raises essential questions about the actualization of citizen development's ambitious goals.

This phenomenon isn't isolated to this instance. Our continuous efforts, including an automation that conducts hourly OAuth searches in various large corporations, have consistently revealed modest engagement levels. This pattern challenges the expectation that merely providing a tool to democratize app and automation building would spontaneously generate widespread use.

Understanding technology adoption is key here. As Geoffrey Moore illustrated in "Crossing the Chasm," technology adoption typically follows a bell curve, progressing from innovators to early adopters, then to the early majority, and so forth. Moore emphasized the need for catalysts to bridge the gap between early adopters and the early majority.

To demystify these catalysts

Empowering Early Adopters: The first step involves galvanizing the early adopters and connecting them with the early majority. Strategies like hackathons and App galleries, akin to those used by Airbus, have been successful. These platforms not only offer a searchable app store for users but also showcase the capabilities of non-developer app creators. This approach mirrors the dynamics seen in creator economies like YouTube and TikTok, where the audience-to-creator cycle is a significant growth driver. The idea is to create a 'user-creator flywheel', where the success and visibility of a few inspire many more to participate, creating a self-sustaining cycle of creation and engagement.

Building a user-creator flywheel: In these creator economies, every user interaction, be it a view, a like, or a share, contributes to the visibility and success of the content, encouraging more creators to contribute and innovate. Similarly, in the context of citizen development, each successful app or automation developed by an early adopter can inspire and empower others in the organization to embark on their own development journeys.

Fostering Cross-Divisional Support: Citizen developers can emerge from any part of an organization, making it vital to offer support that spans various divisions. This requires creating a supportive community centered around the concept of citizen development and grassroots innovation. Interactive forums and project profiles where creators can collaborate, share ideas, and provide mutual support are crucial. This builds a repository of knowledge and experience that can be easily accessed by anyone interested in app or automation creation, further fueling the user-creator flywheel.

Establishing Central Governance: A central governance team is essential for establishing governance principles and managing risks, particularly for projects that are mission-critical or handle sensitive data. This governance lends legitimacy to the initiatives of citizen developers and aligns them with the organization's broader goals and standards. However, the challenge lies in managing the governance load, which involves distinguishing between high-risk and low-risk apps and focusing accordingly.

Encouraging Feedback and Continuous Improvement: An environment that actively seeks and incorporates feedback from app users is vital for continuous improvement. This engagement not only enhances the apps but also strengthens the user-creator flywheel by exposing more users to the process of app creation, thus accelerating the cycle of innovation and adoption.

The User-Creator Flywheel

The user-creator flywheel concept, inspired by platforms like YouTube and TikTok, is central to realizing the potential of citizen development. In these digital platforms, content creators start as regular users. Their engagement with the platform's content inspires them to create their own, contributing to the platform's diversity and richness. Similarly, in an organization, employees who use custom apps can become inspired to create their own solutions, transforming from mere users to innovators.

This transformation is driven by visibility and recognition. Just as YouTube and TikTok creators gain followers and recognition, in an organization, successful app creators can gain visibility and acknowledgment for their contributions. This recognition not only motivates them but also inspires others, creating a virtuous cycle of innovation.

Moreover, in the creator economy, feedback from the audience directly influences the content being created, leading to more relevant and engaging content over time. In a similar vein, feedback from app users in an organization can guide the development of more effective and user-friendly apps, aligning with the actual needs and preferences of the workforce.

Cultivating a Flourishing Ecosystem of Citizen Development

The journey to harness the full potential of citizen development goes beyond providing the right tools; it involves nurturing an ecosystem where innovation thrives. This ecosystem is sustained by the user-creator flywheel, where each successful project inspires more participation and innovation. By understanding and facilitating the growth of this cycle, along with ensuring supportive structures, governance, and feedback mechanisms, organizations can transform the idea of citizen development from a niche concept into a widespread, self-sustaining movement. The path ahead involves not only technological provision but also cultural and organizational change, paving the way for an era of enhanced creativity and organizational agility.

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