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Tackling Climate Change—Collectively

Climate change is an enormous issue that affects us all. Unfortunately—according to MIT Sloan Professor Tom Malone and his colleagues at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence—national legislative initiatives, while significant, haven’t done enough. However, now through a crowdsourcing platform called the Climate CoLab, people throughout the world can collaborate with experts and contribute ideas that might alleviate the climate change problem. 

The old adage, two heads are better than one, has never been more applicable than at the Climate CoLab, a virtual think tank based at the Center. Except instead of two heads, we’re talking about 33,000. The Climate CoLab is a platform that gives anyone from anywhere the opportunity to collaborate with experts to create and develop possible solutions that address climate change. By its very nature the Climate CoLab community is diverse—comprised of a mix of concerned citizens, business people, and investors, as well as scientists and policy makers. Talk about collaboration.

Tom Malone

 “Anyone is allowed to contribute. No matter who a person is or where they come from, they can contribute ideas and have them reviewed by an international community of thousands of people—including world-renowned experts from organizations like NASA, the World Bank, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, and leading universities like MIT, Stanford, and Columbia,” says Malone, who is Director of the Center and principal investigator for the Climate CoLab. 

To date, more than 200,000 people have visited the Climate CoLab, and over 30,000 have registered as members. In addition, the community has over 6,000 Facebook likes and 13,000 Twitter followers.

Collaboration in Action

Here’s how it works: once a member signs up online, he or she can support, vote, contribute to, or create a proposal. The proposals are vetted and voted on by thousands of members from around the globe. Selected finalists then present their proposals and the group strategizes about how to translate their ideas into action.  

At this year’s annual conference—Crowds & Climate: From Ideas to Action—thirty-four teams from 17 countries were selected from 600 contest entries. CoLab members gathered on the MIT campus to discuss the technology-enabled, crowd-based submissions, which suggested a variety of creative ways to deal with climate change, including:

  • Installing community-funded solar projects on unused federal rooftop space to reduce CO2 emissions
  • Implementing skills training to address the shortage of qualified personnel to maintain HVAC systems in green buildings
  • Initiating a carbon tax to create pro-growth tax reform, while also protecting the poor and reducing the deficit

The 2014 $10,000 Grand Prize was awarded to Danielle Dahan for her proposal, “Improve Building Energy Performance: Green Job Skills Training.”

"We now have a new way of solving really big, hard, complicated problems at a scale, and with a degree of collaboration that was never possible before,” says Malone. The Climate CoLab certainly seems like collaboration in action—and at its best. 

Thomas Malone is the Patrick J. McGovern (1959) Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. He teaches in Intelligent Organizations: Collaboration and the Future of Work at MIT Sloan Executive Education.


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