Seeker Spotlight: World Resources Institute (WRI)

Posted by Connie French on Oct 26, 2011 1:48:20 PM

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a global think tank that works with organizations to help solve urgent environmental challenges, recently completed an InnoCentive Challenge aimed at helping local communities across the globe adapt to changing climate conditions.  We talked with Eliot Metzger at WRI about the Challenge and the winning Solutions. [Ed Note: A press release of the original Challenge announcement can be found here.]

Hello Eliot.  Thanks for coming back to tell us about your completed Challenge.  Perhaps you can start by reminding our readers about the goals of the Challenge.

One of our primary goals at WRI is to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change and advance innovative solutions that prevent further damage to the global climate system. With this Challenge, we were seeking creative ideas for communicating local needs in communities dealing with climate challenges they have never seen before.

Communities across the globe are confronting more extreme weather, like heat waves, droughts, and floods.  They also are facing more subtle and long-term impacts, which can be equally disruptive. Sea level rise is one well-known example, but there are also food and health risks as a changing climate creates conditions for increasing pest populations or insect-borne disease.

These are global and regional disruptions creating new needs at a local level. A community in Ghana may be looking for new energy sources to compensate for the hydroelectric power supply that is less reliable because of changing rainfall patterns. A coastal community in Vietnam may be in need of infrastructure to deal with increasing tidal floods because of rising sea levels.

We asked for ideas that could leverage new communication models and advances in information and communication technology to meet these needs. Our challenge to the InnoCentive Solvers was to come up with ideas for a communications platform that linked communities, governments, and companies. We want to see information flow from the local level to inform new approaches for national-level decision making and new goods and services from the business community.

This was an Ideation Challenge, and you made four awards.  Tell us your thinking about that decision.

Well, first of all it was difficult to pick just one idea.  There were several that stood above the rest.  And among those, each offered something slightly different.  I can’t say that any one of the solutions we reviewed had exactly what we were looking for, but nearly all the proposals had at least a few interesting ideas.

There were four ideas that were particularly comprehensive, creative, and still quite practical. We decided to recognize and reward each of those Solvers. It was nice to have the flexibility to spread the award money among several good ideas.

Can you share with us some of the most compelling ideas that were awarded?

Sure. The top idea suggested tapping into local universities to communicate on-the-ground needs for climate change solutions. This was particularly compelling because it would create local champions among university students, who have established connections and a very deep interest in helping their communities adapt.

Another winning idea described ways to get key players involved and excited about meeting new needs in a changing climate. For example, incentives for companies to provide mobile phone services or share intellectual property that could help communities communicate and implement climate change solutions.

Other winning proposals offered ideas for using SMS text messaging and local community networks to collect and disseminate critical information about changing climate conditions.

What now?  Do you have any plans to incorporate these solutions into future programming?  If so, what impact might this have on climate change on a local level?

I expect there will be several opportunities to build these ideas into WRI’s efforts to help countries and communities adapt to climate change.  We have worked recently to develop ideas for how companies, governments and communities can partner to adapt to climate change. Communication strategies figure to be a critical component of any such partnerships. WRI also just released the latest World Resources Report, which focuses on decision making in a changing climate and highlights information sharing strategies among other recommendations.

My team at WRI is actively working to highlight strategies for accelerating private sector innovation to help address climate change. There is much that leading companies can do to help communities adapt to climate challenges. It will require more awareness and information about risks and opportunities, along with innovative business models, goods and services.

This was your first Challenge with InnoCentive, and we were impressed with your thorough review process.  Any advice you might have for others regarding evaluation of submissions or other aspects of the Challenge process?

That’s nice to hear. At WRI, we pride ourselves on thorough and inclusive peer review processes.

Once the ideas were in, we established a review panel of colleagues from across the Institute with a wealth of expertise. Some are working on climate change adaptation policy. Others work with communities on environmental issues. Others work with small and medium-sized businesses on sustainability strategies.

I’d highly recommend pulling together such a group when evaluating solutions.  The diverse group helped us get input about what ideas seemed most promising from various perspectives. It helped, for example, to hear from colleagues working with vulnerable communities about what communication technologies are most feasible (i.e., SMS is a better bet than a fancy smart phone app). In fact, some of our colleagues were already exploring similar ideas in their work and the review panel served as an informal forum for further ideation and information sharing.

I also want to take this as an opportunity to acknowledge the helpful insights we gained from everyone we worked with at InnoCentive.  We very much hope to do more with open innovation at WRI going forward.

Thanks - we hope to work with WRI again soon.

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