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Collaborant: Big Problems tackled with Small Solutions

In order to get people participating and helping, actions required of them should be either meaningful and rewarding to them, or low-threshold and easy to do. Or ideally, both. Let's create an online platform (working title: Collaborant) where people can 'pool' the little things they are happy to do, and by doing this collaborate on larger tasks by doing things that are meaningful or easy (or both!) for them. Collaborant will be built so that it is natural for people to break the big problems into small, actionable, concrete tasks. Read on for a more detailed description and examples.

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In abstract terms, the goal is to lower the threshold of emerging collaboration. Here is what it could look like in action.

As an example, imagine an online job board where organizations post tasks and get offers or bids from freelancers, companies or individuals who want to do them. Now, imagine the same thing just for charities (to give a niche example of Collaborant). A school needs help in renovation and posts the project on the job board. From what they describe, it sounds like they need painting done, furniture fixed, some electrics done etc. This could well be a job for a small business, but if the school doesn't have the money, the project will never get done.

Let's charitably assume that someone who thinks they could do the painting finds the project on Collaborant. They mark off that they can donate the work for the painting. They also mark that for this to happen, they still need the paint and the equipment. He shoots the project off to a construction company that agrees to donate the materials. They indicate that someone should pick them up and return them cleaned, however. Another person following the project on Collaborant has a pickup truck and volunteers to take care of the transport.

This is just the painting part of the project, but it shows how a tool like this could help in breaking apart the big tasks into smaller chunks that people can then easily grab. They can grab them because they think they are easy, or because they fit their expertise. It can be difficult for a busy landscaping architect to just volunteer a day of vaguely defined labour in the above project (it is difficult to get projects like these just on people's radar screens!), but if there are clearly decisions to be made where their expertise would be spot on, the small tasks will feel so much more meaningful. Someone can donate money, someone else time, someone else expertise or just knows the right contacts to keep the ball rolling.

Collaborant keeps track of all of these small tasks that people indicate might need taking care of, who volunteers to do what and how the tasks are connected. In some cases it could even suggest what tasks might need taking care of or who could know what needs to be done. I won't go into the whole imaginary feature list at this point. There are loads of open questions still of course.

While the example is a local one, the tool could be used for anything that would benefit from being dealt with in small actionable tasks by people who take them voluntarily. And I can't imagine a project that would not benefit from that.

What kind of social impact does this concept achieve?

Collaborant's impact aims to be global. It works just as well for small local projects as larger global ones - it just takes a bit longer to break big problems into smaller tasks, but a larger network can keep the ball rolling more efficiently. OpenIDEO could build and provide this platform - an extensible social tool that works as a matchmaker between needs and helpers, enables the emergent collaboration by allowing everyone to slice the project into smaller, actionable chunks, and by allowing people to include their contacts in the challenges, again in a meaningful, concrete way. This can start as a job board for charities and can be expanded with the help of OpenIDEO's many partners. While job boards and charity matchmaking already exists, they don't make it easy to break big problems into small actionable parts, and this is what I think is needed for proper social spreading of a platform like this.

What skills are required to take this concept forward?

Some development, testing with partners, testing with users to make sure it is built in a meaningful way and the adoption threshold is as low as possible.

How do you envision this concept being supported financially?

Some projects could easily be sponsored by corporations. Since they have a potentially large, engaged audience, they are also more efficient in generating goodwill.

Virtual Team:

Essi Salonen


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