Today's big problems — becoming more energy independent or caring for an aging population — can't be solved in a vacuum. And while the Internet makes it easy to find and engage large groups of people in the problem-solving process, researchers need to advance the fundamental knowledge and technologies required for people to collectively explore and refine solutions to complex problems.
HCII Assistant Professor Steven Dow hopes to do just that through a five-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award, the foundation's most prestigious award for junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars.
For the next five years, Dow and his team of graduate and undergraduate researchers will investigate this notion of collective innovation — where groups work together to explore and refine solutions to complex problems — and develop processes and technologies that take it beyond brainstorming.
"One of the things we'll investigate is how we can leverage ideas from other people to spark new ideas," Dow said. "We are developing the algorithms and general principles that will allow people to effectively build on what other people have done."
His group will also look at the best ways to exchange feedback on ideas and provide tools for people to critique or question different aspects of the proposed solutions.
Dow hopes to use his research findings to host innovation challenges in collaboration with Climate CoLab, a crowdsourcing platform out of MIT where citizens work collaboratively with experts to create, analyze and select detailed proposals for ways to combat climate change.
"Our group will develop specific techniques for doing collective innovation, and then host challenges on Climate CoLab to bring them into fruition," Dow said. He also has plans to offer a new course on collective innovation, and expand the role of technology in his project-based design courses.
For more on the NSF CAREER program, click here.