If only we knew ….how IT applications can help address major societal challenges

By Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation, OSTP, The White House

Additional questions:

  • What metrics and outcomes should be used to evaluate the success or failure of IT applications to help address a given problem in education, workforce development, energy, transportation, e-government?
  • Is there an ambitious but achievable goal that could inspire additional public and private
  • What products and services are already either (a) under development; and (b)
    commercially available?
  • What evaluations of IT-enabled solutions exist, and what can they tell us about the
    strengths and limitations of solutions that are currently available?
  • What research findings about this problem should inform the design of IT-enabled
  • Who are some of the key stakeholders, funders, investors, researchers, practitioners, etc.?
    What is their characterization of the “status quo” with respect with proven, cost-effective
  • How can “pull” mechanisms such as Advance Market Commitments, incentive prizes, milestone payments and public procurement be used to stimulate innovation in IT-enabled solutions?

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3 Responses to “….how IT applications can help address major societal challenges”

  1. Mihaela Ulieru April 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    The rules and structures of decisioning, appropriate to harnessing the potential benefits of the digital environment extend beyond that of the traditional management of coordination. The digital environment and its economics represent what I would call a post-scarcity paradigm. This is so because it is based on the human wealth of knowledge and the increasing returns arising from the sharing of knowledge. A better, more conscious, what starts to be referred to as “knowledge-based collaboration governance framework” is a necessary innovation if organizations are to fully leverage the human interactions enabled by rapidly evolving communication, information and productivity technologies. This framework should seek to find a relative balance between incentives (to collaborate) and the strategic capabilities an organization seeks to obtain against ensuing transaction and production costs.

    Traditional organizational architecture and related management structures were developed with a primary concern around the control of transaction costs while paying marginal attention to the benefits of epistemic communities (although traditional knowledge management has emphasized the importance of organizational culture). In the digital economy organizations shall create an institutional framework to lay out roles and responsibilities of individuals, in a way that integrates collaboration within the fabric of organizational culture, its personnel processes and management orientation. As organizations will continue to adapt to capitalize on the digital environment, radical changes will happen in the workplace, as pointed by a Gartner study in 2010, among which: de-routinizing of work, work swarms, working with the collective, simulation and experimentation, spontaneous work, work sketch-ups and so on. They all point to the need for radical transformations in organizational governance systems that will leverage on the unused potential for innovation which the digital environment opens.

  2. Mihaela Ulieru April 3, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    What metrics and outcomes should be used to evaluate the success or failure of IT applications to help address a given problem in education, workforce development, energy, transportation, e-government?
    This requires governance guidelines or principles that enable the agile programming of roles and accountabilities of people. This is as important, if not more so, than the attention placed on the management of resources and activities. Governance requires an institutional framework, which consists of:

    Power structures specifying decisioning and governance processes;
    Property rights structures that define incentives and accountabilities; and
    Socio-cultural structures of norms and conventions defining informal incentives and expectations.
    These will need to be redefined in the context of the transformative forces of the digital environment.

    There is an increasing body of knowledge about distributed cognition – where knowledge is not only confined to our individual minds but embodied collectively. What can be managed in relation to knowledge, are the organizational conditions which shape the complex, communicative and working relationships in which people can engage and that enable knowledge to be exchanged and where information can be useful as a meaningful and accessible repository of ‘external memory’. Creating and stewarding an appropriate culture that can fully harness human knowledge or capital, for the challenges of the 21st century means more self-directed collaboration ensuring that knowledge flows from where it is to where it’s needed.

    In a recent speech Canada’s Chief HR Officer Daniel Watson refered to such transformations of the workplace as “Workplace 2.0”: Let me cite from this remarkable speech:


    Workplace 2.0 (from the speech of Canada’s Government Chief HR Officer Daniel Watson)
    “we’ll provide employees with the technologies that will easily allow them to work from another desk, or location whenever their work requires it. And we’ll ensure that they have access to the Web 2.0 and social media tools that can break down silos, challenge institutional norms and processes, and share knowledge.
    Third, we’ll change the way we work by experimenting with more nimble workforce models that will allow our knowledge specialists to contribute where and when they’re needed rather than only where they’re located.

    This could include, for example, forming flexible dynamic groups to work on specific projects as required.“

    Such ‘policies’ can lead to the development of an organizational and interorganizationalCommons which draw on the more dynamic flows of blogs, wikis, as well as pools of human capital (e.g. ‘cloud-labour’ and ‘talentcommons’) from which crowdsourcing and hyperspecialization provide new principles for designing how some types of work can be accomplished. Other forms of commons could also be considered such as equipment, facilities and accommodations, etc.

  3. Mihaela Ulieru April 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    ….how IT applications can help address major societal challenges

    This requires mainly a transdisciplinary, global collaboration open innovation approach which is facilitated in the digital economy by easy connections brought about by cheap devices, modular content, and shared computing resources which are having a profound impact on our global economy and social structure. Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. The digital environment enables each individual to create networks and think tanks addressing global problems.
    For example, James Grayson, a specialist in global whole systems change founded the global revival think-tank, BlindSpot (http://www.blindspot.org.uk/index.php)
    for the collaborative development of systemic policy options capable of working at sufficient scale and speed to address problems which range from security to economies of scale and climate. He also created and leads a major international collaboration of 500 systems-thinking experts and enthusiasts, ‘Fixing Systems Not Symptoms’. This network uses the web-platform ‘Wiserearth’ to allow wide participation in “designing and inspiring radical change in the rules and paradigms that determine whether things will get better or worse everywhere”. James is involved in some programs in which I work as well, such as the EU-funded Global System Dynamics Network , as well as in many other initiatives such as the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme, the UN Climate Neutral Network and the UK Sustainable Development Panel.

    Another significant example is the network fostered by the MIT Climate CoLab (http://climatecolab.org/web/guest) which aims to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people from all around the world to address global climate change. Anyone can join the Climate CoLab online community and participate. Community members are invited to submit and comment on proposals outlining what they think should be done about climate change. In some contests, computerized simulation models project the environmental and economic outcomes of the proposed actions. Experts review and evaluate the proposals, and both experts and community members select the most promising proposals. The community’s most recent annual contest, in 2011, addressed the topic: How should the 21st century economy evolve – bearing in mind the risks of climate change?
    Winning proposals came from teams with members in the US, Nigeria, India, and Australia. In January 2012, representatives of the winning teams presented their ideas in briefings at the United Nations in New York and the US Congress in Washington, DC.

    As individuals and communities communicate, organize, and take-action, governments and the governance models that have been taken for granted for so long are coming under pressure. The Internet, the global economy, real-time news, and an explosion in actors and stakeholders are among many factors challenging political processes as never before. The governance stage is now crowded with nations, stakeholders, communities and others clamouring for a role and for recognition. Innovative linkages among diverse but aligned stakeholders and communities are bringing change to existing governance and engagement models and forcing governments to adapt the way they interact with all players, from the local citizen to geopolitical partners on the world stage.

    Summing up the lessons learned from such pioneers, to mitigate global challenges in our ever interdependent world, we need ingredients like:

    – stimulate and create channels for multistakeholders participation (we call them architectures of participation)
    – develop scenarios with ALL the stakeholders
    – asking the right questions: do not try to predict the future. PREDICTION CONSTRAINS OUR IMAGINATION !!!
    – This requires us to train the ‘Foreseight muscle’ – that is, a capacity to anticipate various alternative developments (‘futures’) and appropriate responses in the ‘repositories of possibilities’ (What-If’)
    – Create a space to dream of a future world (something like what the EPCOT Centre stands for in envisioning the future)
    – Approach the future through the world of possibilities rather than through past lenses

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