Rob Moore

Rob is a European Commission funded intern at Technoport, working as Content & Events Co-Ordinator in the lead-up to Technoport 2014. He holds a BSc in Genetics and MSc in Sustainability & Environmental Policy from Cardiff University, and has experience in stakeholder engagement and discourse analysis.

Share The Problem - Transnova
4Rob Moore

Rob MooreAugust 11, 2014

How we shared the problem

The dust has settled on Technoport 2014 and we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate on the outcomes and learning opportunities of the conference. During my time at Technoport, I served as the project manager of the Share the Problem sessions, a series of inter-disciplinary workshops where we attempted to find solutions to innovation challenges by sourcing expertise from different fields.

Working on the Share the Problem project allowed me the opportunity to develop, witness and participate in an exciting series of workshops with a huge number of talented people. The beauty Share the Problem’s crowdsourcing philosophy is that it can be effectively applied to any innovation challenge in any industry – it is difficult to paint a scenario in which some crowdsourcing isn’t beneficial.

This was reflected in the diverse challenges we faced at Technoport 2014, where our problem owners and their respective problems each varied widely from each other. Ericsson wanted to discuss how future telecommunication networks would effect society. A-Aqua wanted to harness the expertise of students and researchers to help improve their emergency sanitation system. Trasnova wanted participants to design the electronic transport system of the future, and OMC wanted ideas for apps which could help rural communities in rural India.

The session outcomes were as mixed as the challenges.

Share the Problem

Ericsson’s abstract problem of mapping out a future society was always going to be speculative, based more on what could potentially happen than what would definitely happen. OMC intended to discuss potential avenues for app developers, enabling them to perform further research into feasible ways of enhancing the social benefit of their energy networks. The workshops that I was more heavily involved with, A-Aqua and Transnova, were more practically defined with specific obstacles for participants to overcome.

My personal highlight was the practical creativity during Monday’s Transnova workshop. Armed with a seemingly endless supply of cardboard, markers, tape, scissors and ideas, participants (including psychology professors, industrial designers and NTNU students) created a prototype of the electronic vehicle and transportation system of the future. Ideas varied from a revolutionary transition of the national transportation system away from individual transportation and towards a rail/car hybrid system, to simple but practical solutions to overcome challenges associated with vehicle battery life. Transnova’s representatives were particularly impressed with one participant’s suggestion that car batteries could be attached to mobile chargers that could replenish the battery whilst on the move.

This idea was an example of a pattern which was consistent throughout the sessions: solutions that are relatively simple can be overlooked because they do not fit in with the field of expertise of a company or the trajectory of development of a technological product. This is not the fault of the company or organisation facing the problem – it is a more deeply engrained challenge of modern society which can be overcome by improved multi-disciplinary communication.

This was best demonstrated in a solution proposed by an NTNU student to one of A-Aqua’s challenges – to find a way of communicating how their emergency sanitation system can be maintained by end-users in the field. This is particularly difficult as these users may have little familiarity with the system, no access to lab equipment and may be from a variety of cultural/language backgrounds. An NTNU industrial design student suggested the straight-forward solution of using principles of graphic design to represent instructions for system maintenance on the system itself. Just one of several excellent ideas in the room (including a group of industrial ecologists’ suggestion that insects could be used to digest waste), A-Aqua left the workshop knowing that they had secured a viable solution to one of their problems.

Share the Problem was a celebration of collective knowledge in a world in which ideas are often isolated. Sometimes this led to exciting new ideas, and sometimes it meant asking new questions from a different perspective. It was a microcosm of everything we wished to practise at Technoport 2014 – innovation, idea exchange, overcoming boundaries, hoping to succeed and daring to fail.

Technoport shared the problem, Trondheim rose to the challenge.

Until next time.

Joakim Formo, Senior Researcher at Ericsson
4Rob Moore

Rob MooreApril 24, 2014

Joining the dots together: The future of the internet with Joakim Formo

Technoport 2014 will showcase our new Share the Problem workshop format, which will use inter-disciplinary thinking to tackle innovation and technology challenges. In Share the Problem: Ericsson, we will discuss how future ‘fifth generation’ (5G) mobile networks will have transformative impacts on our society, businesses, products and daily lives by connecting people and things in more diverse ways  – creating a more fluent, crowd-based and global wireless network and breaking down communication barriers. Combining this with significantly improved performance means that 5G networks could enable a society in which we feel continually connected to each other in a more profound sense than ever before. Technoport sat down with Ericsson’s Joakim Formo to discuss why 5G development is a truly inter-disciplinary project, and what this all means for entrepreneurs, industry and wider society.

Why is now the time to be interested in 5G?

This is a bit further ahead than most people would deal with. But it is an exciting point in time now – this year – where people can actually influence what we will all be using ten years from now. Which makes it both interesting – I hope – but also difficult, because it’s harder to relate to when it’s that far ahead in the future. There are people working with 5G in different constellations and projects all over the world. My group is mainly looking at the potential user experiences, so we’re the ones trying to work on those questions from a very user-centric point of view, and there are lots of people working on very technical specific stuff as well.

To what extent are you able to influence how technology develops from that perspective?

We don’t dictate what the technologists do – it’s a dialogue where we inspire and influence through creating stories that are seen from the user’s point of view. And this is where we at Ericsson’s User Experience Lab work with different industries and people to get some real-life input into that discourse. It’s a good opening where voices can be heard through us.

In the workshop we’ll be focusing on decentralization. What will 5G mean for how we perceive our connections to each other?

Less need to be aware of the differences between all the different technologies we use today. If we have a standard that can translate between them and unify interaction among them, it can mean a lot less hassle and many new opportunities. It can break down barriers – for example, if we now have lots of technologies that are fairly local and point to point, like wi-fi or bluetooth, those things can suddenly be part of a much bigger and global infrastructure, which you could open up for a lot of different kinds of connectivity methods or set ups. I’m hearing myself saying this and its still abstract, I know that.

So what do we know about future networks in real terms?  How will handing parts of the network over to users actually impact society and communities?

It could make things economically feasible – not just in terms of money, but in terms of power usage and efficiency, those kinds of things. One important goal is to make it possible for things to connect that have a really low power capacity. Very cheap devices that have to last for ten years without recharging. So, in that sense its both to actually make it feasible to have connected milk cartons, keys, etcetera. That has huge potential to better communities. I think that’s a typical, quite general proposal from infrastructure providers – to enable other industries to do these kinds of things within economical boundaries that are really tight.

It’s been a difficult year for network providers, with endless state surveillance revelations and public outcries. How do security concerns impact how the public views internet networks which are controlled by everybody and nobody at the same time?

A lot boils down to trust – trusting that data actually gets through the networks intact and reaches the destination that its aimed at. To guarantee that happening in a partially decentralized network will be a whole different thing than in a centralized network. The perceived sense of safety or trust differ between individuals and between companies, it’s dependent on culture and where you come from in the world as well. The idea of centralizing stuff would be for some opposing the idea of freedom and liberty, but at the same time decentralization would mean for others that you have less control.

Technoport 2014 will host a lot of startup companies looking to develop a long term business model. What could they learn from the workshop?

If I had a startup the most valuable thing to me would be the insight that connectivity should be considered in so many more different ways than it is today. Now you can go to one of the big telecom operators and negotiate a connectivity deal and then your business or product is ‘online’. But if you have a decentralized network and all the things that might be happening within 5G, there could be many more different options. If you could set up some sort of crowdsourced deal for connecting your product or data, that could lower the barrier for very small players to get global connectivity in their products. And if you’re curious to how that might happen, it might be a good idea to participate in the workshop. 

Joakim is Senior Researcher at Ericsson, specializing in end-user experiences. He will be joining us at Technoport 2014, presenting Share the Problem: Ericsson and contributing to our discussion on the technology of the future in Into the Crystal Ball. To register for the Ericsson workshop or any of our other Share the Problem events, register now at 2014.technoport.no.

If you have research, study or other interests related to the workshop and feel you could contribute to our discussion about 5G but are unable to attend the rest of the conference, please e-mail rob@technoport.no to see if we are able to accommodate you.

4Rob Moore

Rob MooreFebruary 21, 2014

An Introduction to Crowdsourcing (Part Two): Crowdsourcing Platforms for Global Challenges

An Introduction to Crowdsourcing (Part Two): Crowdsourcing Platforms for Global Challenges

Last time, we discussed the history of crowdsourcing and its emergence as a tool for innovation in the 21st century. Today, we look at some of the major platforms used by crowdsourcers to bring people together to tackle innovation challenges.

Using web-based platforms, Innocentive and OpenIDEO offer to match research problems with a worldwide network of potential solvers.

Innocentive provides an outlet for research and development companies to offer bounties for scientific innovation by members of its community. The idea is that by sharing problems previously confined to a closed research department, companies are able to efficiently and economically find innovative solutions to research problems that are impeding development.

The challenges posed on Innocentive are diverse, and successful proposals have ranged from facilitating clean up of the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill to the identification of a biomarker which helps trace the development of ALS, a degenerative disease characterized by loss of motor function. The potential for the Innocentive model to overcome disciplinary boundaries has been well illustrated in a study conducted by Karim Lakhani and his research partners. They investigated the outcomes of 166 Innocentive challenges and found that community members working in fields not directly associated with the challenge were more likely to offer successful solutions than those already working in the same discipline. Also, more than half of the successful solvers reported that they had reached their solution by modifying previous work, either of their own or of others. This implies that solutions that already exist in the sprawling pool of modern research are being disregarded because they do not happen to exist within the realm of interest of organisations.The winning solver of Innocentive’s Exxon-Valdez clean up challenge was John Davis, a serial problem-solver who applied principles used in concrete pouring to devise a system for separating oil and water. This was after years of stagnation and failed innovation from the oil clean up industry.

Significantly smaller than Innocentive, OpenIDEO offers a user-friendly platform that aims to tackle broad social challenges through community participation. Its 58,500 members tackle diverse challenges in social, environmental and economic fields through collaborative learning and design principles. Its outcomes have included potentially life-saving increases in the number of individuals registering for bone marrow donation, the on-going creation of an app for political activists to covertly raise the alarm if they are taken into custody, and improved facilities for pregnant women in impoverished neighbourhoods of Colombia.

Whilst Innocentive and OpenIDEO offer explicit crowdsourcing platforms for educated users, crowdsourcing technology has also been used far more discretely to channel the time and energy of non-specialist crowds for social benefit. Cancer Research UK have tapped in to the growing appetite for simple mobile gaming by developing Genes in Space, a game which allows users to conduct simple but time consuming research into cancer genetics whilst appearing to collect a fictional substance known as ‘Element Alpha’. The disguised coding of the game creates an army of casual cancer researchers, freeing up time for professionals to get to work on more complex tasks.

Whilst the complex nature of modern science means that some sub-division of expertise is necessary – Trondheim’s own NTNU, for example, has over 90 research divisions, each with a designated focus – crowdsourcing enables expertise to pass through the walls of these divisions without interrupting their function. In an increasingly complex world, crowdsourcing creates a new ecology of knowledge. There is a saying in English that ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’.  Today’s solvers create novelty out of nothing, simply by looking in the right direction and adding a little twist of imagination.

4Rob Moore

Rob MooreFebruary 19, 2014

An Introduction to Crowdsourcing (Part One): A Brief History of Collaboration

Last month, we discussed the mechanism of crowdfunding to finance projects collectively. This time, we introduce the concept of crowdsourcing, a broader approach that encourages open-innovation through the shared resources and talents of crowds. This will also be a major theme of Technoport 2014, throughout which we will run a number of ‘Share the Problem’ workshops inspired by a crowdsourcing philosophy.

History is told through the stories of kings, but is created through the actions of crowds. The industrial revolution was enabled by the vast numbers of workers able to contribute to mass production. The Norwegian response during World War II was led by small units of subversive fighters sourced from Norway’s disenfranchised populace, with little oversight from above. Even in the contemporary world, social networking leads us to think of creators like Zuckerberg, and brands like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – giving little thought to the masses of individuals that sustain them through their user-reliant business models. And so it is in the world of innovation, where we associate technological progress with companies, academic institutions and publically funded bodies, but in which the sea of individuals and networks that comprise these organisations drive the innovation that fuels this progress.

In a 2006 edition of Wired magazine, Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson coined the term crowdsourcing to describe how the collective creativity of a worldwide ‘network of potential labourers’, through various internet-based platforms, can be channeled to generate solutions to problems previously confined to isolated businesses and organisations. Crowdsourcers tap into this endless network of potential problem solvers, each with a distinct personal history and area of expertise. The idea is simple, but effective. If you have a problem that you are unable to solve internally, ask the world to solve it for you. In return, solvers can be rewarded through either money, satisfaction, or professional development.

But why crowdsource? Society is structured so that we slowly find our way to our field through an increasingly fragmented education system. We go to school and excel at some subjects whilst failing at others, and from there we become ever more specialized at university or in the workplace. Whilst this allows us to perform highly technical tasks, it means that we restrict our limits for problem solving to within the pre-defined boundaries of our discipline.

Crowdsourcing finds solutions to modern problems from the outside of these boundaries, exposing solutions that are hidden by the labyrinth of modern society. Outside the boundaries of organizations lies an army of willing contributors with fresh insight, expert input and willingness to spend their time to enable the progress of others. And the world in which we live is interconnected. Global challenges such as climate change, food security, energy production and poverty reduction all require the collaborative response which crowdsourcing is inspired by.

In recent years, crowdsourcing has developed into a tool not only for businesses looking to provide a platform for the creative industries (such as t-shirt design site Threadless), but also for social entrepreneurs, NGOs and non-profit organisations to overcome constraints in budgets and expertise by harnessing the potential of the willing and capable crowd. Next time, we will present some of the platforms and tools used by these organisations to help tackle social and technological innovation problems on a local, national and international scale.

Image courtesy of Adam Payne