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Business - Written by on Monday, February 9, 2009 0:12 - 2 Comments

Guest Post: Ali Wyne & A Proposal for a Global Challenges Wikipedia (Part I)

(Editor’s Note: Ali joins us from the Carnegie Endowment and has prepared a three-post series on his suggestion for a Global Challenges Wikipedia, stay tuned for parts two and three in the coming days.)

I’m new to the Wikinomics blog, so I thought that I’d say a few words about myself.  I graduated from MIT last year with degrees in Political Science and Management, and now I’m a Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, a think tank in D.C. 

I recently entered Change.org’s competition to propel ten ideas to the fore of the Obama administration’s agenda.  Although my proposal to establish a global challenges Wikipedia didn’t make the cut (it came in 66th place out of about 8,000 ideas), it generated a lot of interest amongst NGOs, consulting firms, and policy organizations.  Here’s the short (and kind of wonky) idea description that I submitted to the Change.org team:

There are currently about 20 global challenges (for example, climate change and infectious diseases) and 200 countries.  A “global challenges Wikipedia (GCW)” would empower us to address those challenges efficiently and systematically.  It would have three parts:  

  1.  The global challenges repository (GCR) would be a 20 x 200 matrix.  Its cells would contain
    (a) A history of that global challenge in that country;
    (b) An inventory of the players – the international institutions, governments, businesses, NGOs, and individuals – that are addressing it, and how; and
    (c) A profile of the issue, financial, and logistical networks between these players.   Government-commissioned expert teams, one per global challenge, would ensure the accuracy of contributions to the GCR.


  2. The solutions portal would also be 20 x 200.  Its cells would contain
    (a) Descriptions of policy initiatives that have been successfully deployed against that  global challenge in that country in the past;
    (b) A thread on how to address that global challenge in that country; and
    (c) A thread on how the aforementioned players can collaborate without replicating each other’s efforts and wasting resources. 
     The expert teams would ensure that contributions offer solution-oriented comments. They would evaluate the ability of the solutions that have worked for a given country to be tested in and applied to others [(2)(a)].  They would also monitor the discussion threads [2(b), 2(c)] to identify areas of consensus and accordingly articulate new solutions. 


  3. The case studies of past successes and write-ups of new solutions would be inputted into a 20  x 200 solutions repository, which would offer a dynamic pool of insights for application to new challenges.

The impetus behind the GCW is simple – one of the main problems that we face in addressing global challenges is that there are too many players in the game.  It seems like not a day passes without the announcement of a new NGO that’s devoted to mitigating global poverty or promoting corporate social responsibility.  This outpouring of awareness, enthusiasm, and effort is, of course, wonderful in theory.  The problem comes, however, when these players start clashing – sometimes because they’re unaware of each other and sometimes because they compete with each other.

A subtler, but no less important problem is the uniformity (or lack thereof) of their objectives.  Global poverty offers a great illustration.  Some players want to tackle it in a specific country.  Others want to address it in a specific region.  Yet others want to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.  Complicating matters further is that there’s often a conflation of goals.  For example, reducing global poverty and promoting global development are often interchanged even though they have very different meanings.  Collaboration is far harder, and far less productive, if the collaborating parties don’t have the same end goal in mind.

Our task, then, is to rein in the chaos and make the problem-solving resources that we have – people, technology, and money being the big three – as efficient and productive as possible.

That’s part one! What do you think?  Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me at awyne@alum.mit.edu. I look forward to hearing from you! 


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Stuart Berman
Feb 9, 2009 17:02

From my understanding, a key principle is that the power of Wikinomics is in the self organizing nature of participants to an issue with minimal central control.

When I read, “The impetus behind the GCW is simple – one of the main problems that we face in addressing global challenges is that there are too many players in the game” I became concerned that the basis of the project assumes that people are not aligned with an implicit central authority (which defines what is a problem, which solutions are appropriate, and how success is measured).

In any endeavor where the government is appointing experts we can be confident that there first priority will be the self interest of the government rather than the actual interest at hand. Global challenges by their nature may also be very controversial (or they really wouldn’t be challenges would they?). Arab/Israeli peace; Iran nuclear threat; global warming (et al) all involve difficult sacrifices that would be tempting to solve through cooercive measures that involve discounting a perspective (or many) through a consensus that benefits some at the expense of others.

Perhaps a better approach (from a Wikinomics perspective) would be to create those matrices that allow and encourage the non traditional (and perhaps undesirable) definitions and solutions and prevent them from being marginalized. The experts at Goldcorp may very well have wanted to control the problem and solution tables based on preferred formulae rather than taking big risks on wild ideas. (Also the notion of Wisdom of the Crowds where diversity of thought gives better solutions than expert opinion and central control.)

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Guest Post: Ali Wyne & The Emergence of Projects in the Spirit of the GCW (Part 2)
Feb 13, 2009 13:32

[...] briefly introduced the GCW in my first post. For more details, please check out a short primer that I drafted, which discusses its high-level [...]

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