Monday, May 12, 2008

Improving marketplace(s) for social ideas

I recently participated in a discussion about risk and innovation in Jewish philanthropy at the JFN iJew conference. I also serve on the advisory board of a project called the Jewish Professional Co-op - which is in the ever-familiar stage of transitioning from pilot to reality, from project to organization. What is interesting to me about the JPC (which is also re-branding and changing its name) is its purpose - to support new ideas for engaging Jews in Jewish life. -It is in the business of finding and supporting new ideas and is itself facing some of the most common challenges of turning those ideas into action. Here are some of the questions we face at JPC and which the JFN panel also addressed:
  • Where do you find innovation/innovators?
  • How can you nurture it/them, support it/them, take risks on innovators?
  • Must innovators and innovation always come from the edge, or can they be connected - in mutually beneficial ways - to existing organizations.
  • Can you sustain innovation without "institutionalizing" it? Perhaps there a different question to be asked - about sustaining and institutionalizing innovation and risk taking?
All of these questions and the people asking them inspired me to go looking for analogs. One of interest to me is InnoCentive, originally designed as a site where entrepreneurs, inventors, problem solvers and companies could bring together new ideas. The basic idea - provide incentives to innovators to share their ideas, "crowdsource" some of the R & D needs of big companies, and bring ideas to market faster and at lower cost.

Everyone brings what he or she has - intellectual resources, human resources, financial resources - and the jigsaw puzzles assemble themselves. I think the site was originally launched out of a corporate R & D initiative (I think it came out of Eli Lilly and Co.)

Here, in its own words, is Innocentive's mission:

"InnoCentive will change the world and influence the lives of people everywhere by applying our planet’s human creativity and intelligence to solving the most important challenges facing commercial, governmental, and humanitarian organizations today. By combining technology, economic incentives, and human ingenuity, we will address and resolve these problems better, faster, and cheaper than ever before possible."

Notice the inclusion of "humanitarian organizations." Through a partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation (and maybe others?), InnoCentive has built out its focus on problems in the public sphere. You can download the nonprofit fact sheet here. You can check out some of the posted requests for ideas here and here is the site's Public Health page.

So here is a suggestion (unsolicited) for this kind of marketplace. How about a similar service, localized along the lines of Craigslist, that would allow people with great new ideas for public good projects to find existing organizations (nonprofits, social enterprises or public agencies) that could host the idea and make it real? This would help established organizations access new ideas, help idea-bearers get to work on their idea and avoid the distraction of setting up a new organization, and stimulate exchanges and idea iteration. This could be an add-on service for current fiscal agency and intermediary organizations (such as Tides or the San Francisco Foundation's Community Innovation Funds). It is an iteration (I suppose) of the kind of thinking that led to the PakistanWiki after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake - that wiki provided a central online place for donations, stories, relief needs and connections. Innocentive is a marketplace for ideas and funding. What I have in mind is an exchange (or marketplace) for ideas and implementors.

I guess the best thing for me to do with this idea is post it over at InnoCentive....unless someone knows of a site that already does this....?


Anonymous said...

Great post and thank you for doing what you do - a truly valuable public service.

My name is Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of InnoCentive. Let me say that we are indeed committed to helping make the world a better place. We believe "Crowdsourcing" represents an opportunity to bring a new era of innovation and progress, powered by 5 billion people, to commercial entities and Foundations alike - and that the need has never been greater.

There is no question that we as a broader community should look to opportunities to improve matching of critical resources with organizations that can benefit or execute against them. While not exactly our core model today, we would like to help and offer up two thoughts for consideration:

First, in the next few months, we will be introducing flexible discussion boards to some of public areas of our marketplace, including the ares that serve Foundation challenges. We would actually encourage you and the community to utilize the discussion boards to discuss and make known needs and resources. While not exactly a "Craigslist" taliored to your need, feel free to use the boards to the extent it is helpful.

Second, we have been thinking through models that have the potential to match funding sources with ideas with "solver" community. No promises here, but within a few months we should have a stronger position on this. We'll try and keep you updated.

Thank you again for highlighting the very real need and consider us available at any time to discuss further.

All the best,

Lucy Bernholz said...

Fabulous! I'm going to repost this up above so more folks will see it and will follow up as you make this real. Thanks for stopping by.