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"if somebody already invented it, you don’t have to"

Simple enough, right?

When I create digital games - inevitably - the moment I show it to a few friends one of them will say, "Oh it's sort of like [game I've never heard of]". Before you rush into full production with a new idea you try to search for games with similar mechanics, but there's no standardized way to do that. There's no hub or database. There's no universal lexicon for what mechanics or even GENRES of games should be called. There's absolutely no good way to know if someone already invented it, and I think there are many parallels in social innovation.

What if someone in the next country over spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to solve exactly the problem you're tackling now? How
would you know? If you're lucky you'll be talking to people in a similar field, and perhaps one of them will have heard about it, but in places of limited interconnectivity, we need to do better.

Here are the issues to address -

1. No standardized or universally acceptable "database" of case studies, methodologies, or technologies.

2. No standardized or universally accepted lexicon of terms or 'tags' to describe said projects.

One without the other isn't going to fix the problem, but combined, there's potential.

Issue 1 is just a question of setting up the database and getting people to use it - advertising, marketing, and reaching critical mass. Making it useful enough that people want to continue, and accessible enough that it's useful. (Maybe using some of the White House's Social Innovation budget? :O :D)

Issue 2 there seems to be some slight headway in. Stanford's Social Innovation reviews uses terms similar to those on EVOKE - Social Governance, Policy, Fundraising, etc. These are good broad categories. We'd also want location, cost, #participants, and sub-categories for the issue addressed. Tags for the resources used. The amount of time it took. Who headed the project.

We'd also need a way to teach people the system/lexicon - I know I've had some research projects where all I needed to find on a seemingly obsolete topic was the magic 'keyword' that everyone in the know used, and suddenly my google search results went soaring. There's even a chance that a database like this already exists - and I just couldn't figure out the right term to find it.

Either way, that's my take on "if somebody already invented it, you don’t have to" - we need to be able to know what somebody else invented to know not to repeat it.

Views: 52

Comment by Ronald Kasendwa on February 8, 2010 at 6:27pm

I really like the move that you suggest to help with that secret. I also personally think that having databases of already done projects and works would save on the time that we spend trying to come up with solutions to problems that have already been created by others.

Am looking at it from a programmer's point of view; but I know it works even on real life situations. We as programmers spend a lot of time trying to come up with applications that we may think are our own invention - or those that work similar to those that we have seen and admired somewhere else. This usually takes up a lot of our time and unfortunately we don't usually come up with better solutions.

Additionally, if possible, the databases of already completed projects and innovations should have the behind-the-scenes attempts and ideas to the problems or solutions. I hope this makes sense!
Comment by Chelsea Howe on February 8, 2010 at 6:59pm
Ronald - Absolutely agree on that last line. As much as it'll be helpful to know what projects happened in the past, it'll be equally if not more helpful to know ways that those projects might have failed before they finally succeeded.
Comment by Mita Williams on February 9, 2010 at 12:43pm
It feels slightly heretical to say - with me being a librarian and all - but I think that a best practices database will never be sufficient for what we need - largely for the reasons that you already mentioned. Furthermore, a project's description is static and becomes out of date quickly. The language and the landscape changes.

But I also think that Chelsea may have already hit upon the solution - talking to people. Lots of people. What if we had a network of experts and non-experts around the world who had their ear to the ground and their eyes open to new ways of new doing things. What if EVOKE is the solution?
Comment by Chelsea Howe on February 9, 2010 at 1:20pm
I don't see this as something static - you enter something in and then it's locked down. This would have to be a living, breathing entity for it to succeed - constantly being updated, accessed, and improved - probably skinned like a wiki and the database is just the backend.

Living people are excellent, and I think EVOKE should definitely be at the forefront, but establishing a collection of the history of social innovation, something tangible and organized that can always be referenced, would be a pretty invaluable resource in and of itself methinks. Plus, I know as a member of EVOKE that if I was in charge of remembering a certain subset of Social Innovation information, I'd definitely write it down. That's what these blog posts are supposed to be, right? So why not have a coherent and standardized way to organize the information for easier processing and look up? :)
Comment by Robert Hawkins on February 16, 2010 at 12:46am
Yes. What is the most efficient way to put problem seekers in touch with problem solvers. In the pharmaceutical industry they have launched a site called www.innocentive.com where those seeking a solution can post the problem to a network of problem solvers for a defined "reward" if they chose the solution. See also the global giveback challenge as a special project of innocentive which is applying this concept to development challenges. What is the scope for using this type of concept to more readily identify solution that have already been implemented elsewhere as you suggest? Could you combine some aspects of www.experts-exchange.com to incentives problem solvers for development? The Evoke network is looking for ways to partner with Global Giving -- one of the sponsors of the global giveback challenge project. Any thoughts on how the Evoke network could add value and vice-versa?
Comment by Ken Eklund on February 20, 2010 at 6:36am
Chelsea, you've started a great discussion. I wonder if there's some way to start very simply? Something like a place where someone could text a project name, a few keywords, and contacts. I think Mita is right, that the best and easiest-to-build repository is not in a library, but in human contacts. How do we best assist that network?
Comment by Yemisi Ajumobi on February 21, 2010 at 11:44am
@ Robert, how about nominating some of the ideas of key players who show promise of being drivers of change in their society (as shown in submitted evidence) to be featured in the Global Giving open challenge or as Chelsea is addressing in this post have them be in contact with people/organizations who have already thought up similar ideas and find a way to partner with them. This way Evoke would help to add more value to the project by bringing more hands-on involvement while Global Giving would serve as a database to feature the ideas of Evoke Alumni as well as recognizing the need for a particular project in a particular community
Comment by Simon Brookes on February 21, 2010 at 12:19pm
I use a network like this everyday for help, advice and guidance - it's called Twitter. :-)
Comment by Marc Skaf on March 3, 2010 at 5:09pm
In Web Design it is a very common practice to search for a website that is similar to the one you are trying to create. It saves you a ton of time coding and you can use that time to make other things better. I am not trying to advocate any kind of plagiarism, but I think to some extent we need to allow people the freedom to build on other ideas. I was shocked to hear from a friend (and correct me if I am wrong) that artists can copyright their "style". The thought of being sued for painting something that might be similar or regarded as the same style as a copyrighted work of art is scary, as I believe that each brush stroke is significantly unique.
Comment by Simon Brookes on March 3, 2010 at 5:21pm
This is grey legal ground Marc but it comes down to how closely the work resembles that of the original artist and also what you are doing with it. If you copy a Van Gough and try to pass it off as such - clearly this is legal infringement.


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