Crowdsourcing is generally being used for gathering funding for project developments and especially in the energy sector currently, for getting off the ground many of the emerging blockchain initiatives.
But it also has other applications, as a novel demonstration undertaken by the UK Energy Systems Catapult has found.
Crowd sourcing ideas
The proposition was to explore the potential for collaborative crowdsourcing platforms to identify and prioritise energy innovation to accelerate the transition to a low carbon future for the UK. The central activity in the project was a year-long trial of Percypt, a crowdsourcing platform developed by the global collective forecasting specialist Dysrupt Labs.
The project ran in two phases. In the first phase, running from October to December 2016, the platform was developed and an initial user base was established consisting of 20 members with different background and technology expertise from public and private organisations across the UK energy sector.
This was supplemented in the second phase, running from January to June 2017, with an additional 29 users recruited predominantly from the Energy Systems Catapult and the Energy Technologies Institute. Participants engaged in bilateral and group sessions and bi-weekly user bulletins provided updates on platform activity and other news.
According to the project results, the platform produced a total of 40 ideas covering a broad range of technical, political and institutional innovations needed for decarbonisation.
A trading mechanism was applied to enable their prioritisation with 183 trades by the community and a total of 127 comments were made as part of the wider discussion around them.
So what were the top ideas? Notably, given the focus of much of the current debate in the sector on decentralisation and smarter consumers and networks, the top one was to develop a long-term coherent carbon capture and storage strategy and process aimed at derisking infrastructure investment (storage, pipeline) as well as business model and finance.
This was followed by creating a mandate for energy suppliers to offer dynamic pricing tariffs to domestic customers and developing understanding of peak management as peak demands ultimately set the scale and cost of the required system.
Others in the top five were to establish an energy systems body responsible for coordinating the low-carbon transition and to develop a better understanding of how policy costs and benefits can be linked up between government departments and sectors.
The project results document states that as a first of a kind in the energy innovation space, the Percypt experiment took a step towards improving the way by which innovation ideas are sourced and prioritised.
It also was found that for the prioritisation of the ideas to be credible stand-alone analytical outputs, the platform and process design need to be highly customised to the problem framing.
Based on the project outcomes and a literature review, several basic design features are identified for crowd sourcing applications. These include a concise problem definition, clear end goals and concise time frames, an analytical structure that allows reasonable comparison of the ideas on the platform and clear outcomes and incentives for participation.
In addition, an appropriate platform design is needed in regard to problem definition and end goals, as is a user friendly and understandable process for tackling the problem.
Due to the broad and interconnected nature of whole system analysis – which encompasses economic, environmental, social, political, technological and institutional factors – further work also is required to understand how crowdsourcing might add value in the energy sector.
“We are pleased with the results of this experiment and feel that crowdsourcing offers real potential for stimulating innovation and its impact related to the energy transition,” says Nick Smailes, Director and Head of External Relations at the Energy Systems Catapult. “We are hopeful that an interested party will take this work forward, as we are certain that crowdsourcing will become a valuable tool for decision makers and the wider whole systems community.”
Dysrupt Labs says that in its experience most expert groups are calibrated to be right five or six times in ten when forecasting future events. When the same groups are harnessed on a collective forecasting platform such as Percypt, they can be calibrated to be right six to eight times in ten, the company claims.