Crowdsourcing Climate Change Solutions

Published Jun-27-11

Apps competition to raise awareness of and tackle climate change.

The Government of British Columbia, Canada

The Story:

Crowdsourcing Climate Change Solutions The Government of British Columbia is a recognized leader in taking action to promote environmental sustainability and forward thinking green practices. As with other public bodies and organizations it is continually on the lookout for ideas to raise awareness of climate change and to inspire and promote action to reduce the carbon footprint. And so it turned to open innovation and the crowd, and launched it Apps for Climate Action Contest.

The Big Challenge

The crowdsourcing initiative was the first of its kind in British Columbia. It challenged software designers to come up with awareness raising apps for the web and mobile devices, using the B.C. Government’s 500-date-set-strong Climate Change Data Catalogue.

There were two drivers behind the challenge:

1) It was an attempt to engage in a new partnership with the developer community.
When government officials looked at the most feasible and viable way to do that,
the idea of an open innovation/crowdsourcing challenge leapt to the top of the

2) Doing public outreach is expensive and so is developing new apps so the contest
was the most cost efficient way of achieving both, made easier by the
funding provided by some sponsors.

Culture Shift

The challenge represented a major shift in thinking for the organizers, the government department responsible for BC’s policies on climate change. Typically when faced with problems their approach is to pre-define what they want and then find someone to build/design it, or solve it themselves. But here, they were told to jettison this line of attack and not pre-cook the solution. Instead they were charged with challenging the community to come up with their ideas for the best solutions.

So step one was to put the data in an open source format; and step two was the leap of faith to throw it out to the community and see what they could do with it.

Prize Categories and Winners

There were five contest categories: best mobile app, best web app, people’s choice, best of B.C. and overall best app. And on the table for winners was a cool incentive of $40,000 in cash and prizes.

The competition generated an enormous amount of interest and the winners were awarded their prizes at the Vancouver Aquarium on September 16, 2010.

The grand prize went to VELO, an app that encourages businesses to reduce their greenhouse gas emission with an easy web-based dashboard. And the Best of BC award went to Waterly, an app for residents that can check if there are any water restrictions for irrigating your garden lawn.


For the Government of British Columbia the contest was not only designed to find good practicable ideas, but also to demonstrate a proof of concept - to see if it could generate energy in the developer community and show that these types of challenges work. Information from the experience will be analyzed and pored over to see how they can use crowdsourcing to tackle other challenges.

One of the principle benefits of these types of crowdsourcing competitions is the breadth of applications and ideas that are submitted. The return from what you actually put out there can be huge.

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