What a great day! It was an experiment, a lab, a world premiere, and much fun! The 2010 Problem Conference in Quebec City.
More than 170 persons joined as active problem solvers in a packed room in the Quebec convention center on Dec 14. The idea of the event was simple: Turn a science conference upside down. Instead of sharing success stories, proponents of complex problems from various industrial sectors shared their problems and previously failed attempts to find a solution. During the day, attendees and problem solvers from very different backgrounds worked in three rounds to provide ideas for solutions (see here for a more detailed description of the idea).
This idea of this problem conference had been developed during a workshop on open innovation I directed in March in Quebec City (see the original idea sketch in the picture collection on the left). Problems were collected before in form of an open "call for problems". Finally, ten companies submitted a challenge (long version of problem descriptions), five more than we expected!
Behind the day was great team that made it happen. Directed by the conference host and champion, Christophe Deutsch, Vice President at INO, a technology company in Quebec, and Philippe Dancause & Jean-Sébastien Bouchard from www.grisvert.com (a great organization facilitating large group interactions), more than 20 people worked behind the scene to organize and orchestrate the event.
The set-up of the conference day was really interactive: The day kicked off with a number of welcome addresses and a short introduction in the idea of "broadcast search" and open innovation in general. Then, people moved to the "working room", set-up like a big experimental space. At the walls were covered with small "labs" for each of the ten problems, with plenty of space to both document the problem and collect the solution ideas.
Here is a time-lappsed video of the day:
Timelapse: Québec Seeks Solutions Conference Day from GRISVERT
Outcomes for solution seekers included:
- Many new contacts on a high level; Networking outside the "normal" network
- Generation of new ideas for applications
- A better understanding of the problem
- Initiation of research contracts
- Identification of more cost effective solutions (not better, but much cheaper)
According to the feedback forms and some conversations I had after the conference, there also was plenty of value for the solvers, who, by the way, paid $200 each to participate in the day and work on other's people problems:
- Better visibility of the R&D centers and the value of working with them
- Contact with real industry problems and networking for students
- Access to potential clients for technology providers in a very creative and different perspective
- Strong learning effects and the opportunity to challenge one's own assumptions
- Participating in an innovation community
When the idea was pitched to me for the first time, I was thinking: Well, why connect locally when you nowadays can connect easily to the world? But there were a number of good reasons for local open innovation, too – which all were confirmed by the day in Quebec:
Previous research has shown that the effectiveness of this mechanism can be enhanced by collaboration between potential solvers. Also, often the seeker and the solver need to engage in collaborative research activities to achieve the solution. Here, a regional conference offers much better opportunities for networking and collaboration.
Also, the perception of fairness and trust has been shown to be a key element in distributed problem solving. Face-to-face interactions and collaborative group work can enhance this important factor. At the same time, the conference also can become a laboratory for experimenting open innovation for companies (especially SMEs) not familiar with this approach.
By lowering the barriers to entry and participate (as compared to an online platform), a "problem conference" will allow the companies to get a better idea of the benefits of open innovation. And so in the end, I would conclude, the day (and all the activities before) has been a large change management initiative for the Quebec region!
From market places to problem places™
On a higher level, this conference is part of a much larger general trend: The development of problem places – communities and platforms where problems are being posted looking for potential seekers, enabling unobvious connections in many perspectives. From my perspective, "problem places" (instead of market places for technologies), are a core element of open innovation.
And these problem places not only exist on the web on platforms like NineSigma or Innocentive. They also can be created on a local level to facilitate unobvious connections in a local cluster. We will repeat this experience in other regions, and perhaps also make it a part of the MCPC conferences! So stay tuned for more to come!
For more information on the conference and a documentation of the entire program and process, and many pictures and videos, head here:
- Conference website with documentation of the problems and the opening / closing presentations
- Twitter Feed of the day
- Video documentation