New models for global problem solving — join the conversation

Category: Environment & Sustainability | NGOs & Government | Wikinomics News
Published on Feb 21, 2010

Are our institutions for global problem-solving broken? The recent failure to secure a meaningful climate change deal in Copenhagen and the global financial crisis suggest that existing global institutions require extensive rewiring. Decades of economic development, integration of product and service markets, cross-border travel and new technologies enabling virtual interaction have created a world that is much more complex and bottom-up than top-down. Yet, too many efforts to solve global issues such as climate change are trying to force innovative new solutions through conventional, elitist bureaucracies that are, in fact, part of the problem.

On Monday (Feb. 22), I will be joining Dave Witzel, director of the Innovation Exchange at the Environmental Defense Fund, and Jerry Michalski to talk about bottom-up alternatives that offer a more dynamic way to marshal and fully exploit the collective ingenuity of the world’s citizens and businesses to address the time-urgent problems facing humanity (see announcement below).

Put simply, I will be arguing that we need a new model of problem solving that taps into the world’s decentralized sources of knowledge and capability – an approach that mobilizes not just leaders of the world’s largest nations, but a whole ecosystem of citizens and organizations around the globe. We need to look beyond the borders of nations and think about society in broad, global terms. If the problems are global in scale, then we need to come together as global citizens to solve them. A system erected around the primacy of national self-interests and national sovereignty just isn’t going to cut it for this century.

Here’s the announcement:

Sustainability movements worldwide have created major new institutions and exchanges, from high-level conferences and carbon taxes to national markets and associated currencies.

Anthony Williams, co-author of Wikinomics and its forthcoming sequel, Macrowikinomics, has a hunch these efforts are the wrong way to go about precipitating the broad, deep changes we need if we really are going to change how we all get around, get power, eat, shop, learn, share and make things. We need to rely less on centralized control and more on self-organizing efforts everywhere initiating small experiments and piloting social innovations. Some of these will mushroom into pervasive changes in societal behavior.

As examples of such experiments in progress today, Anthony points to initiatives such as CarbonrallyMapEcosGlobal Forest Watch and CARMA for climate change; ZipCarGoLoco and Better Place for transportation; CrocodylThe Extraordinaries and NetSquared for activism and volunteerism. The list of initiatives is endless and fascinating.

We’ll talk with Anthony about these experiments, the forces behind them and what they imply for existing organizations. Join us on February 22, 2010 at noon ET (9am PT) for the call:

  • Phone number: +1 (213) 289-0500
  • Code: 267-6815
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Two comments. First, It would be great if this site treated climate change as a subsystem of environment which is a system within Sustainability.

Second, It seems that the power of professional associations with their inherent volunteerism and access into enterprises and stakeholders is an untapped social network for driving enterprise and sector change.

For example, combining the insights I’ve gained as chair of Corenet Global’s Sustainability Community, partner at Business EcoSystems, and engagement with NGOs has identified an opportunity to create a more sustainable Commercial Real Estate sector.

Why is this significant? To date, several NGOs have made unsuccessful attempts at increasing sustainability. They’ve used a traditional model of working with large, leading companies not realizing that the highly segmented and fragmented nature of the Commercial Real Estate industry would significantly inhibit efficacy.

I’ve proposed and started a multi-lateral consortium in September 2009 as an experimental response to the industry’s intransigence. The core premise of this approach is to leverage the inherent volunteerism of professional associations, NGOs and public sector associations that are involved in or associated with the commercial and corporate real estate processes.

It’s too early to assess the impact of this model as the consortium is still in the membership phase of its formation. That being said, the Consortium members have created its first multilateral technical working group (TWG) to address sustainable transactions starting with leases and leasing strategies. This group includes the American Bar Association, Corenet Global, NRDC, EDF, and Clinton Climate Initiative. This TWG is still building its membership.

Core premise number 2, the Consortium is to operate using sustainable processes. This means aggregating and harmonizing existing work product and current research creating new work product only to fill gaps left by the existing content. This will take the place of program-product-standard neutral guidelines, guidance, and tools

Core premise number 3, all Consortium work product will be open source and freely accessible (at no cost) through knowledge centers. These knowledge centers will be sponsored by member associations. For example, the American Bar Association would act as the knowledge center for transactions maintaining and updating work product, FAQs, and Forums.

Core premise number 4,Consortium membership is free. It is unfortunate that many well meaning NGOs require membership fees to their organizations or for their initiatives. This creates a sense of elitism. Examples that come to mind are the SBAlliance, UNEP, Global Reporting Initiative.

Ultimately, I believe there needs to be a paradigm shift in engagement models that integrate the best practices of previous models such as Linux, Greenhouse Gas Protocol, GRI’s G3 development and social networking trends and not just the tools enabling social networks.



posted by George Gosieski on 02.22.10 at 7:21 pm


Thanks for the comments. I agree with you. Professional associations offer untapped potential for stimulating green innovation, particularly within the small and medium size business sector. That said, professional associations — with some exceptions — have been slow to respond to either the challenges or opportunities that social networking presents to their business model. I would certainly like to learn more about any hotspots of innovation you may have identified to date.

posted by Anthony D. Williams on 02.22.10 at 8:02 pm

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