BP haven’t consulted the rest of the world on solutions for Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. And there are a lot of innovation crowdsourced communities online. I checked: none had a project to find a solution for the oil spill. Some individual bloggers have gone ahead and asked their readers for a Oil Spill solution –  and got a variety of answers from readers – but apparently BP aren’t listening. Perhaps BP might want to  understand that by simply posting the need for a solution on a crowdsourced website, putting up a reward, and using a small part of their PR budget to promote discussions online about possible solutions, they can start to recover from at least the public relations disaster even if they can’t from the environmental one. People like to feel consulted, as if they are working together to solve a catastrophe facing the world.  By the way, only a totally evil company would ask the public for their ideas and then not even read them. BP aren’t that evil… are they?

Crowdsourcing isn’t just to screw with your branding….

If you’ve been living under a rock – or so immersed in your small echo chamber of social media news – that you’ve missed out on DeepWater Horizon Oil Spill, here’s the summary:

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the Gulf of Mexico oil spillDeepwater BP oil spill, and the Macondo blowout) is a massive ongoing oil spill and oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico that started on April 20, 2010. The spill followed a blowout that caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, which then sank off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven rig workers are missing and presumed dead; the explosion also injured 17 others. The oil spill covers a surface area of at least 2,500 square miles (6,500 km2) according to estimates reported on May 3, 2010 byReuters. [from Wikipedia]

As I write this post, the spill is still gushing or whatever oil spills do, nearly one month on. And there are no solutions. Or at least there were solutions until they didn’t work, or take too long.

BP solutions for BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Attempts to fix include:

  • send in an ROV to close valves
  • put a recovery dome over the well head
  • drill a second well to siphon off oil
  • insert a tube (ongoing today)

So I got to thinking: what if we crowdsourced a solution? Are there enough generalists and specific experts in a variety of areas that could cover such an arcane area as deep in the ocean oil technology? And my second question was… would BP listen to a crowdsourced solution?

Now given that James Surowiecki wrote in The Wisdom of The Crowds about a submarine that was lost and the general public were asked where it might be found. Weather people, and oceanography people and sailors and physicists and all sorts pitched in their ideas. Sometimes these things work based on a)enough skilled people offering up ideas until one works, b) sometimes it’s a numbers game – mark all the ideas on a bell curve and if over large % think solution C works, try that one first c) sometimes crowdsourcing just doesn’t work at all.

Crowdsourced innovation social networks

So I had a look on crowdsourced business websites.

InnovationExchange Nice site. Most of the projects came in for A leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances…. or This company is one of the world’s most respected leaders in the premium alcoholic drinks business or better yet  international humanitarian charitable organization. Nothing from a major driller and supplier of the world’s oil… Project included infomercial products and holiday candy but nothing on stopping oil wells from spewing up.

NineSigma I had a look at their open projects. Enhance Particle Adhesion to Tooth Surfaces, Rapid Measurement of Surface Properties of worked metal parts and Industrial Water Effluent Discharge Technologies. Schweeeeeet. If you know about that stuff anyway. But out of the 20 or projects posted up for crowdsourcing and  expert solutions in April and May, there was nothing about stopping an oil spill. Though I didn’t understand what all the projects were about so it’s possible that it IS there, but hiding.

MillionBrains Have a look at their challenges. More lowbrow than high brow. New cost-efficient ways of transporting loaded containers was the most sophisticated one I saw. Most others were opinions – best way to buy art online? Nothing about stopping oil wells from oozing.

That’s three from me, but there are many other crowdsourcing sites. Have you found BP posting on any of them?

Specific sites (not open crowdsourcing ones) have sprung up to encourage people to submit solutions. One is the blogger Michael J Evans on BP Oil News:

One thing that surprised me when I started this blog was that you, members of the public, have ideas about how to help solve the oil spill disaster and BP doesn’t want to hear about them.

Crowdsourced solutions to BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

The ideas the public have come up with include

  • “We have a way to contain the oil coming up from the seabed and we manufacture a boom system that far, far exceeds anything you have ever seen. 600 miles of it can be produced and deployed in under 30 days with current available materials.”
  • “Why not run tubing string inside recovery casing and inject steam. Haven’t done math but should be able to get effect of line heater.”
  • fill the dome with automotive antifreeze
  • Isn’t it possible to use tankers equipped with oil /water separators to literally vacuum up oil on the surface of the water, extract the oil and pump filtered water back into the ocean ?
  • So my idea is to drill small holes, horizontal holes, in the existing well head pipe say, 1/4″ or3/8″. Then push steel rods into the holes like fingers. Keep on inserting the rods until you create a grid. Maybe you will have to go up and down the pipe with a series of rods. Then go about six feet down from the grid drill another hole big enough to inject golf balls. After that is done drill a hole in the middle of this mess of semi-jammed golf balls and inject a plastic epoxy into the middle under high pressure then the pipe would jam.

and another 11 comments. And that’s just on one blog.

Public Relations vs Environmental Disaster

Now here’s the “be clever but don’t be too evil” bit. It doesn’t matter if any of the suggestions can work. It doesn’t matter if they are made by 5 year olds or complete nutters or some oceanographer who’s been out of the loop of technology since the 1970s. What matters is that you have  two disasters on your hands. An environmental one and a Public Relations one. And while you are working on number one, get your PR/Marketing crew to work on number two. Set up or connect with an innovation crowdsourcing community. By asking people to contribute there is a feeling of team, of pulling together, of being empowered. It will go a long way to mitigate that us-and-them-enmity as in “they destroyed the environment and there’s nothing we can do”.

And, you never know, your PR person might just walk in in the next couple of days with a “I’m not sure if this will work, but one of the bloggers said…” that helps find the next step to a solution.

I reckon Twitter would agree with me.

If you can’t be bothered to figure out how to plug a oil well spewing into the ocean, have a look at Kaggle.com.

Have a bet on how long it takes BP to find a solution maybe

By the way, most of this thinking came from watching House MD season six, ep 3 Epic Fail again the other night – the patient goes on the internet to crowdsource solutions to his illness, with mixed results and mixed reaction from the diagnostic department. Awesome episode with a delicious irony at the end. You really should watch it. See? Some good things still come from watching telly. 😛