Product, Service & Design Innovation
MIT Crowdsourcing Solutions for Host of Issues Related to Climate Change

Some of the most profound recent developments in media, technology, education and science have been the product of crowdsourcing. Think of Wikipedia, Linux, or reCAPTCHA — all are products of harnessing the power of collective human intelligence. While these are notable applications, can crowdsourcing be used to tackle some of the world’s more pressing problems — such as climate change?

Yes it can, according to the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, which has developed Climate CoLab, a global, web-based community designed to pool intelligence through a series of contests. Community members can enter the several contests and offer ideas for new actions or entities that address climate change. Ideas could be anything from a new technology, a community project, a marketing strategy, or a new business or policy. Other community members are able to comment on and offer their support for ideas, with the best being voted up.

The community currently has nearly 12,000 registered members from more than 110 countries, including renowned experts from organizations such as NASA, the World Bank, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as leading universities such as MIT, Stanford, and Columbia. Business people, officials at non-governmental organizations, policy makers, students, and concerned citizens also can participate.

“In all the contests, anyone, no matter who a person is or where they come from, is allowed to enter a contest and submit an idea,” said Laur Fisher, Community & Partnerships Manager at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. “The rationale is that the solution to climate change is something that all of us — experts and citizens — need to be involved in, and we never know where the breakthrough ideas will come from.”

Proposals are rated based on four criteria: novelty, potential impact on climate change, feasibility and presentation. These can be business pitches, NGO initiatives, research, new technologies, marketing campaigns, community projects or actionable ideas.

According to Fisher, some of the notable contests currently under way include:

Carbon Price: How could a national price on carbon be implemented in the United States?

Experts agree that placing a price on carbon pollution is one of the most effective ways to tackle climate change. This contest asks entrants for novel policies, new mobilization strategies, or combinations of the two that could lead to the enactment of a national price on carbon emissions and/or other greenhouse gases, either through action by the US Congress or otherwise.

Serving as advisors for this contest are former Secretary of State, George P. Shultz; former US Representative (R-SC) and current Director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, Bob Inglis; and, former US Representative (D-IN) and current President of Resources for the Future, Phil Sharp.

Creating public demand for green buildings: How can we empower the public and communities to build awareness and demand for green buildings?

Sponsored by the World Green Building Council, this contest seeks ideas for engaging the “hearts and minds” of the public to increase awareness on green buildings and their benefits, to create a demand for them across a broad spectrum of communities and occupants — and make the green building movement a mainstream conversation.

Geoengineering: How can research into geoengineering be governed to limit its environmental and political risks?

This contest seeks proposals on how to progress research on geoengineering in an ethically and environmentally responsible manner.

Climate CoLab ultimately hopes that online interactions can help scientists, policy makers, students, businesspeople, and others to develop and build support for better ways to address climate change.

In previous and current iterations of contests, Climate CoLab has split up the challenge of climate change into different sectors (e.g. transport, buildings, industry, electricity, etc) or actors (e.g. nations, state/local level). However, due to the fact that climate change is a global issue, Climate CoLab now is allowing members to create an integrated vision for what actions the world as a whole can take.

“Articulating a vision for the world as a whole has great potential value, since it can demonstrate that there is a plausible path forward. And such a vision can serve as a roadmap for the many disparate organizations and actors whose efforts must be enlisted,” Fisher said.

Last year’s Grand Prize winner, from the University of Calgary in Canada, was a project that uses aerial infrared photography to map building heat loss on a city scale. Home and business owners can compare their buildings to their neighbors’ for free, and connect to the resources to improve their energy efficiency. The 2013 win resulted in over 20 different media opportunities for the team, which now is working to scale up the project to map entire provinces.

More and more companies are picking the public's collective brain for solutions from everything to packaging, sustainable living and the Internet of Things (Unilever) to connected-car technologies (SAP). If you or your organization think you have a solution to any of these or over a dozen more issues related to climate change, submit your proposals to the Climate CoLab here.

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