Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Prize philanthropy: Asking everyone to solve problems

One of today's top emailed stories in the New York Times online showcases the use of paid collaboration to solve problems - and everyone in the world is invited to participate. While some say collaboration is not about the money, there just happens to be prize money for solving complex problems in the range of $10,000 - $300 million. The thought is those with one set of skills and expertise may be uniquely qualified to identify a solution to an issue in an entirely unrelated industry. Such as mechanical engineers or computer gamers solving biology questions.

Key quotes in the article entitled "If You Have a Problem, Ask Everyone" ....

* "the further the problem was from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they were to solve it, often by applying specialized knowledge or instruments developed for another purpose ... "

* "Offering prizes for scientific achievements is hardly new. It has been around for centuries ...”

* "One critical element is encouraging organizations to take novel innovation approaches in the first place."

* " .. many nonprofit organizations had difficulty dealing with intellectual property rights and related issues. InnoCentive deals with these issues, in part, by requiring winning solvers to transfer intellectual property rights to the seekers, whose identities are secret, before they can claim an award. "

Application to associations:

* Appoint members to committees outside their area of expertise and watch what happens; (e.g., I was on a MOLD work group once - and was surprised at what I could contribute);

* How insular are requests to solve problems? And why not incentivize solutions to even smaller problems? (e.g., we once needed a particular image for a legislative handout, emailed the membership that evening, offered an incentive, and had what we wanted in the morning - actually many to choose from; or offer gift cards to colleagues to provide creative ideas for something you're working on - post it on a listserve);

The term InnoCentive uses on their site is "prize philanthropy";

* What really matters in associations is outcomes. Like scientists, associations do specific problem-solving, we don't just sit around talking about it. Could we model our approaches after other success-based categories?

And I'll admit that even when given the opportunity. there's a strong chance that I'm not the person who's going to solve either a fossil fuel or amino acid problem.


Lisa Junker said...

Great post, Cindy! Lots of good ideas to consider.

(If you liked that New York Times article, you may also enjoy the book Mavericks at Work, if you haven't read it yet--there's at least one chapter on companies that use similar open collaboration networks, and a bunch of other unorthodox companies as well. It's a great book.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this article. We are experimenting with this prize philanthropy/social media approach. There are so many lessons that are transferable from the Innocentive experience. The potential for this kind of collaboration seems high - even in dealing with social and economic challenges as we are trying to do.