Open Innovation: How the United Nations is Changing the World by Collaborating with It

By Jeremy Brown | External Innovation
August 15, 2017

What is the relationship between access to education and access to water sources in the developing world?

How does an improvement in one influence the other?

How does local rainfall affect child health and nutrition over time?

To better understand complex and connected challenges in the developing world, the United Nations (UN), the international organization tasked with bringing nations together, turned to Spigit to power their open innovation challenge, #SDGInsights.

#SDGInsights is one of many idea challenges open to the public the UN has ran since launching their ideation program, Unite Ideas. Collaboration is a core part of the organization’s mandate, but before Spigit and the #SDGInsights program, there was no way to frequently and easily tap the collective intelligence of individuals, teams, and organizations who want to join forces with the UN. The organization needed ideas, but they also needed to understand the relationships among the ideas, data, and groups involved.

With the results from #SDGInsights challenge, the UN can leverage the know-how of data scientists around the world to turn georeferenced data – or data that represents a specific geographic location – into meaningful analysis and visuals. Armed with specific regional information, a tool like this could make a dent in how the UN analyzes and reacts to complicated problems, like food shortages. The dynamics of a food shortage may look entirely different from one location to the next.

Why is the UN leveraging open ideation? Read on.

Collaborating with the world

7.5 billion and counting. This is how many people are on Earth.

It’s a big world out there.

There are tons of smart people – of all races, beliefs, genders, and backgrounds – who have the skill, talent, and ideas to transform the world…or at the very least make a significant impact.

What if all that intelligence was harnessed and used as a force for good to solve problems around poverty, human rights, and climate change? What if some of the world’s most iconic companies worked together to solve problems? Imagine the possibilities.

Through our work with hundreds of organizations and hundreds of thousands of challenges, Spigit has demonstrated that “opening up” an idea challenge or community to as many participants as possible increases the number of winning ideas. This scale and “idea diversity” results in more overall ideas, and as more participants engage with the ideas submitted they drive the best ideas to the top.

This is exactly what the UN is doing with their ideation program. In fact, since its founding they’ve already surfaced groundbreaking ideas from all over the world. Places such as Sweden, Australia, India, Finland, Germany, and the US.

Jorge Martinez Navarrete, Information Systems Officer at the United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology, sums up the opportunity their ideation program grants them perfectly: “Our crowdsourcing platform, Spigit, gives us the opportunity to get remarkable ideas and work contributions from professionals, academics, and entrepreneurs. We won’t be able to hire them, they may live happily on the other side of the world, but we can leverage their intelligence and engagement.”

He goes on to describe the people who have made significant contributions through ideation, “They are self-motivated people who have something more valuable than money – skills, knowledge and ideas – who use our crowdsourcing platform as a channel to contribute to solving world problems from anywhere they are and on their own time.”

Final thoughts

The UN has laid out a framework for ideation programs that every innovation leader should strive to emulate. This framework includes:

  • High frequency ideation. The more you ideate, the more opportunities you have of surfacing ideas that can solve a given business challenge.
  • Idea diversity. Great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. Go beyond ideating with one department or small segment of people. In the UN’s case, they get ideas from people of all ages around the world.
  • Implement ideas. At the end of the day, implementing ideas is the most critical component to an ideation program. Great ideas don’t mean anything unless they’re implemented.

Ideation is an initiative that’s proven to solve business challenges and unearth new opportunities for growth. The UN is an organization that’s a perfect example of how leveraging it can surface great ideas from the most unlikeliest of places.

If you’re interested in contributing to the UN’s latest challenge, or have an idea for a socially impactful challenge your organization would like to propose, you can check it out here.

Image credit: United Nations/Flickr

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