The Power of Collaboration – Guest blog by Annabel Buchan

I was recently asked – “Are you optimistic about the future?” And I replied – “Yes I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic because mankind has such a powerful ability to collaborate.” I’m not sure whose sound bite I was plagiarising there but I believe it, and as I said it I thought of the post-war Marshall Plan, Wikipedia, the building of Stonehenge, and One Direction and JLS performing together on X Factor on Saturday night. But the main thing I want to share is this nice example of collaborative innovation brought to us by TED. It’s worth a watch.

Here Britta Riley tells the story of how she developed hydroponic window farms. Do not be put off, I realise this sounds very ‘greenie’ and I understand that some people might not leap at the idea of having runner beans growing in their sitting room, but it’s the way she went about it that is really inspiring – so-called ‘open source collaboration’. Are you still with me? VERY roughly summarised, Britta Riley realised that she could develop this new food growing system much faster if she sought other people’s ideas. So rather than copyrighting the invention, she made the whole thing public and catalysed a spate of window-farm experimentation around the world and used the ideas that were generated to reach the final functioning system.

The internet and social media are fantastic tools for collaboration; tools to share ideas and tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. This is one small example of a woman trying to make a more sustainable way of producing food. There are plenty more out there.

Human collaboration did not fare well last week. The United Nations climate change talks in Durban have left us in an alarming place (despite the positive reporting in much of the UK press.) We need a legally-binding treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012, and what we now have is a timeline for a legal treaty by 2020 and a collection of inadequate voluntary pledges for emissions reductions in the interim. We also saw the UK Prime Minister forced by Europe sceptic backbenches to take a decisive step away from Europe. They should all watch Britta Riley’s talk, because (disclaimer – this is cheesy…) in the words of Maximus Decimus Meridius – “we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together.” Fact.

Annabel Buchan


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