In a recent post, I discussed how companies, charities, and individuals fell short in their response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Today I’d like to discuss how we can take a totally new approach—one with a different focus and a more ambitious, and important, list of goals in mind.
Nonprofit organizations, corporations, and individuals could have mobilized to do something that no single institution is equipped to do—deal with a major crisis by sharing the information people need to take real action. They could have developed reasonable alternatives to old, tired methods taken by government and other leaders.
How might you put together such a powerful collaborative effort, based on the problems caused by the oil spill? Here are some of the key steps:
Launch an independent effort to assess the response to the oil spill, focusing on areas that President Obama’s commission won’t. This commission has serious limits in terms of its scope and focus. The commission is similar to ones appointed following 9/11, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the Three-Mile Island disaster. If history is a guide, this new commission will fail to develop any public recommendations on how to better handle future crises. Nor will there be public hearings that discuss future solutions.
Include a different set of experts and innovators to research and analyze the situation and tap into the broad base of individuals who are interested in fixing these issues. In short, do everything the commission does—conduct hearings, interview experts, solicit public input, and publish a final report—but do it better.
Embrace transparency by conducting the operations in full view and sharing information.
Fill in the gaps that exist in the presidential commission’s work and give serious consideration and thoughtful support to ideas that might otherwise be dismissed.
Break new ground by acknowledging the mistakes that created this crisis and figuring out how to learn from them.
Look forward at the ways we can prepare better for future disasters and put the nation on a reasonable and achievable track of ending our dependence on oil.
Share the findings on every conceivable platform available, in formats that average (read: non-wonky) people can easily consume and actively share and mash up.
Not only is this approach assured to provide a different set of insights and a valuable new way of thinking about how to respond to the oil spill but each step will serve as another critical piece of an evolving discussion.
As the data and lessons from the crisis are consumed and put to use, new innovations and models will be created, tested, and explored. As a result, the process of completing the work and publishing the findings will be just as important as the final result.
We all know that rhetoric and reality in this kind of situation are not in complete alignment. The nation will never be 100-percent fossil-fuel independent—so we should seriously consider what a future that involves the use of oil (and therefore drilling and prospects of future spills) should look like.
As technology advances, it’s more than possible to find ways to improve the machinery we use to explore, find, and extract oil.
And if we are ever going to assess and mitigate the damage, we should find better ways to accurately track how we measure it.
The money being raised by nonprofits does not solve the problems that have been created. And the lessons that we are learning are not setting us up to address future challenges in different or better ways.
Creating a parallel effort to promote solutions will produce more than just another report: This kind of effort will help set off a powerful new wave of thinking about how to address causes and respond to disasters.
Those who take on this responsibility to lead will set the tone for others, making it far easier for future generations to tackle even the most complex issues.
And, of course, everyone who failed to realize the opportunity to innovate, or to accept the responsibility to act, will now have even greater motivation when the next situation arises.
Will your organization take up this challenge?