by Ian Rumsby
March 15th, 2017

As the prospect of jointly-funded battery farms takes root in South Australia, Weber Shandwick’s Conscious Crowdsourcing report sheds light on the impact of a collaborative approach to social issues.

There are some weeks in which the world just seems to shift a little on its own axis. When the absurd becomes reality and we’re all left adrift wondering what on earth happened. January and February had four of them. Each.

In Australia, we appear to be in the midst of another. It’s worth remembering that only six days ago, useable battery power was considered the stuff of progressive automotive companies, imaginative billionaires and hyperactive bunnies. In reality, such was the common belief, we were years away from efficiently powering our homes with them.

But, quick as a flash, that’s been consigned to history. On Friday, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes’ tweet exchange set in motion a chain of events that appeared to catch State and Federal politicians off guard. Before the weekend was out, PM Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Musk had discussed grid-saving battery storage solutions; Mr Cannon-Brookes’ had promised to clear the inevitable bureaucratic hurdles that come with building a battery farm, at half the price, in 100 days, within a week; and consumers were left scratching their heads as to why such an apparently achievable solution had remained in the dark for so long.

Fast forward to Tuesday and the South Australian government announced its $550m energy plan, including a commitment to work hand-in-hand with the private sector to build Australia’s largest battery facility.

Whether Messrs Musk and Cannon-Brookes’ public brinkmanship was part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to grab the initiative from competitive battery solution providers is a moot point. What the events of the past week have shown is that complex social issues increasingly need private sector catalysts to deliver on public policy commitments.

It’s an issue that Weber Shandwick’s latest Innovation Trends Report, released today, addresses head on. Conscious Crowdsourcing examines the opportunity for organisations to engage and equip change-makers, policy makers, innovators and global citizens into organised and efficient collectives.

From the launch of Kickstarter in 2009 to the Women’s March movement in 2017, it explores the strategies deployed by business, governments and consumer groups to garner the necessary intellectual capital and resources that can affect change.

It’s unlikely the story of battery farms in South Australia will fade any time soon. The potential of 100MW battery technology being made available to South Australia’s energy-impoverished public has all the makings of a win-win-win for business, government and consumers alike. Add to that a blockbuster-like script that keeps us wondering if some very wealthy individuals can deliver a game-changing project before the clock strikes midnight, and we have some way to go before interest peaks.

But it’s difficult to shake the feeling that this flurry of activity sets an unnerving precedent for retrospective action: that the cashed-up-cavalry will always be around the corner when societal need looks likely to turn into societal collapse. The fact is, that’s simply not a viable solution to many of the world’s more significant social and environmental issues.

And that means there is a growing impetus for brands and social-cause movements to take steps to address some of the more pressing social and environment issues. But their role must be more than putting a public spotlight on an issue. Through acknowledging their collective potential to be the catalysts for the recruitment of the right support at the right time, their role is as much about outcomes as it is attention.

Social and environmental challenges demand the active engagement of multiple sources of information, ideas and resources. Cash matters, as does political goodwill. But waiting for the point at which a public inconvenience becomes a social challenge is not the time to reach for the checkbook. Deployed effectively, conscious crowdsourcing can heighten pressure to resolve issues before they become social crises.

We should expect to see more of it.

 

Ian Rumsby is Weber Shandwick Australia Chairman & Chief Strategy Officer, Asia Pacific. He also leads Weber Shandwick’s Asia Pacific Social Impact team. 

To learn more about the Innovation Trends Report series, click here. 

 

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