As we’ve noted before, there is no shortage of ideas when it comes to containing the Gulf oil spill. But what if you were BP, and you received almost 1,000 ideas proposed by a massive, global network of people who actually specialize in this kind of thing? You’d at least look at them right? Not a chance. BP has just refused 908 potential solutions provided by InnoCentive, an online crowdsourcing community.
Since 2006–and before that as part of Eli Lilly–InnoCentive has recruited corporations which sponsor crowdsourcing challenges for its over 200,000 “solvers.” This group has tackled heavy issues for organizations like Proctor & Gamble and NASA, ranging from tuberculosis prevention to even successfully cleaning up another oil spill in Alaska. As of this week, InnoCentive’s 908 solutions, proposed by scientists, engineers, and doctors all over the world–61% of solvers have Ph.Ds or masters degrees–included solutions inspired by angioplasty to a giant funnel made by tensile Teflon fabric.
When InnoCentive launched the challenge on their site April 30, they witnessed the fastest-ever response to a challenge in the history of the company. CEO Dwayne Spradlin was especially thrilled about the response because it was InnoCentive’s first-ever sponsorless problem. “This is first challenge we’ve issued with no cash inducement,” he tells FastCompany.com. “But in a crisis situation we thought our network would get involved because it was the right thing to do.” Over 1,000 solvers registered to work on the challenge and Spradlin fielded a flood of phone calls and emails, even FedEx packages containing diagrams and alternative material samples.
On June 5, InnoCentive reached out to BP with the assistance of partners like the White House and Nature. BP offered an indication of interest and named two places of where InnoCentive could best help: remote
sensing of oil and better skimming technology. InnoCentive passed this along to its community. But after that, BP was unsettlingly silent. “It has been a little bit frustrating, says Spradlin. “We have been going back and forth with government agencies and BP. It has taken a fairly long time.” On June 19, BP finally indicated to InnoCentive they would not be needing their assistance, noting that it was “too
complex and burdensome to add to already overstretched workdays.” Spradlin says that sharing InnoCentive’s ideas would cost BP nothing.
As another containment dome fails in the Gulf, Spradlin is sitting on almost 1,000, potentially more reliable solutions. But the one silver lining in all this is that Spradlin has realized InnoCentive’s potential for mobilizing its fleet of solvers for emergencies in the future. He thinks of this experience as a wake-up call for their crowdsourcing network. “We know we’ve got an ability to tap bright minds in a variety of crisis situations,” he says. “We know we’ve got the right tools to get people connected. Now we can prewire some of these things that will allow us to use them on demand.”