Learnings from the BP Oil Spill, Criteria for Activating InnoCentive’s Emergency Response 2.0 Pavilion, and the Japanese Nuclear Crisis

Posted by Dwayne Spradlin on Apr 6, 2011 5:15:15 PM

dwayne_spradlin_blogBy Dwayne Spradlin, InnoCentive CEO


As many of you know, the InnoCentive team and InnoCentive’s Global Solver Community mobilized quickly in the earliest days of the BP Oil Spill Crisis in order to drive ideas and solutions into the hands of emergency responders and British Petroleum. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, we literally had calls out for solutions within days. And clearly our Global Solver Community stepped up to meet the challenge. Thousands of solutions were received from all over the world addressing technical solutions to the spill, approaches to recovering the oil, and remediating the environmental and human health impact. Their efforts were incredible and validate the potential of crowdsourcing and open innovation to provide solutions on demand in even the most challenging situations.

You may also recall, that after months of working with BP representatives, government officials, and others, it was clear that British Petroleum would not agree to coordinate efforts with InnoCentive. BP would not answer technical questions from our Solvers and would not agree to review proposed solutions. BP did eventually open up its own call for ideas and proposals. But their approach was far too broad, unfocused, and lacked sufficient transparency (particularly related to accurate technical data at the spill site) to elicit truly valuable submissions. Some argued they were simply responding to media pressure. Regardless, it was likely too little and too late to be make any real difference.

Notwithstanding BP’s lack of engagement, we at InnoCentive were so inspired by the early efforts that we promptly announced a commitment to provide our services pro bono in other qualifying crisis situations and we quickly launched the Emergency Response 2.0 Pavilion. We did this because as an organization we know it to be simply the right thing to do. Of course we’d need to understand when and how to action that commitment, particularly difficult given the inherent chaos and complexity that surrounds crisis situations by definition.


In the months following the capping of the BP Oil Spill, we performed extensive “post mortems” of the situation and developed a set of criteria to determine when InnoCentive would offer its services in future crisis situations. Our learnings were substantial, ranging from which inducements are appropriate in crisis situations to how to best manage press and public communications to which kinds of problems are appropriate fits for open innovation marketplaces like InnoCentive. If there is sufficient interest, I will happily address those learnings in a future blog post.

Today, I wanted to lay out our criteria for activating the Emergency Response 2.0 Pavilion and our pro bono offer in the future. We are looking for three conditions to be met in any crisis situation:

1) The needs must be focused, specific, and time critical;

2) There must be a public partner (Seeker) who can act in an official capacity and has the resources to engage InnoCentive and our community. They must agree to review potential solutions and must be in a position to action promising solutions; and

3) The partner must agree to utilize InnoCentive’s problem definition process and network to ensure a rapid and effective engagement.

These criteria are not absolute, but do set a high bar. They represent a recognition that key elements must be in place for this process to work effectively and have a real world impact in time to make a difference in crisis situations.


With the devastating Earthquake in Japan, many of you have asked when we are going to activate the Emergency Response 2.0 Pavilion. While a general earthquake response is too general to qualify for our involvement, the situation with cooling the nuclear cores and containing the radiation may well qualify based upon the first criteria. And some of you have already sent in creative solutions and ideas in those areas! Unfortunately, while we have had a number of contacts concerning the crisis in Japan, we have not been able to secure commitment from any official source who would sponsor a specific Challenge and evaluate solutions. Since we have not been able to identify a partner (Seeker), we have not fulfilled the second criteria and have not formally launched a challenge nor approached our community to engage in this crisis.


Make no mistake, InnoCentive stands ready to assist in crisis situations. How can you help? You may well have a vital role to play in helping to identify partners that meet the criteria above. In future situations, we’d welcome your local engagement to quickly identify responders and to help us liaise. Time is of the essence in these situations. In the spirit of crowdsourcing, you can help us engage quickly, saving precious time … and potentially lives. It DOES takes a village.

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, thoughts, or ideas.

Best regards,


Topics: Challenges

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