COP15: A Derailed Innovation Management Process

We have flipped the calendar and entered a new decade. It is a month since the closure of COP15, and we are still analysing results. Innovations were claimed to be the drivers required to reduce CO2-emissions. And, in this context, COP15 kicked off an innovation management process, involving heads of states, and a steering committee, and it was hoped would show the way to a better tomorrow. What went wrong and why did it go so wrong?

Copenhagen Accord: a global framework for open innovation

Retrospection is easy and risk free, but can be the basis for learning. Perhaps we should look at COP15 and the Copenhagen Accord from the perspective of a derailed innovation management process in which the issue of climate change shifted from a blame-game to the problem of how to collaborate in the spirit of open innovation.

In his New Year’s address, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lykke Rasmussen said that the Copenhagen Accord constituted a global framework, in which the majority of the world’s countries could collaborate towards the achievement of a common goal. The first milestone is imminent with the Copenhagen Accord requiring all countries to submit their goals and initiatives for reducing CO2-emissions, by 31 January 2010. However, collaboration is not easy and becomes very difficult when the steering committee members are sovereign countries in pursuit of domestic re-election and political goodwill.

[The Copenhagen Accord:] Not the grand, binding and well drawn up climate change agreement we had hoped for

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lykke Rasmussen, New Year’s Address 2010

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lykke Rasmussen

So, if COP15 failed, what went wrong? And in what way is the Copenhagen Accord similar to an innovation management process? What is its impact and how are companies collaborating in a spirit of open innovation on climate initiatives? These questions are tackled in this article from a Danish perspective: from the perspective of the country that holds the presidency of COP15.

Glaciers are not melting, but merely changing their state

There are many ideas about how to orchestrate an innovation management process, but for the purposes of this article I propose a process that, conceptually, consists of four elements:

  • a vision that will serve as guide and direction to a desired future state;
  • a charter that empowers, and allows for the allocation of resources to the process;
  • a transparent process that will build trust and collaboration among stakeholders;
  • a governance structure to will ensure and KPIs that will measure the progress of innovation initiatives.

A deliberate innovation management process (see call-out box) starts with a vision of a future state or a particular goal. Where the goal is not clearly defined, there must be a shared vision of the way to the goal. COP15 is a textbook example of the consequences of not having a shared vision. Its lack was evident when the debates involving the heads of states were reduced to discussing the validity of the signs, i.e. melting glaciers in Greenland, rather than agree how to achieve the goal.

A shared vision is important in open innovation initiatives as it is often constitutes the only real guide for the parties involved. Allocating resources, forming joint ventures and releasing joint press releases are the easy actions.

Innovation charter equal negotiation power

A charter to innovate is best compared to a licence to operate. Few successful companies would enter uncharted territory without a roadmap – a mandate to allocate and commit resources. Several participating heads of states came without firm commitment from their respective parliaments e.g. US President Obama. Without this mandate their negotiating powers were severely reduced as happened in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations.

An open innovation management process without a mandate to commit resources is off to a poor start as no company, country, or department head, head of state, is likely to collaborate or invest based on altruistic motives. As the initial commitment of resources is used up, further infusions are required if the innovation process is not to stall.

Collaboration requires trust and transparency

Mitigation; transparency; and finance. It is a clear formula

US President Barack Obama, Speech at COP15, 18 December 2009, Berlingske Tidende

US President Barack Obama

The Danish COP15 presidency suffered a severe blow to its credibility when an early version of a draft agreement was leaked to the media. The agreement was not subsequently presented as pressures from the G77 countries mounted. Regardless of the intentions behind the drafting of the agreement, what happened was a deviation by the COP15 Presidency from a common agreed UN consensus procedure without prior warning or permission.

This incident reflects how fragile a construction is an open innovation process that requires different companies or external stakeholders to collaborate. Credibility and the required trust are built over time, and can be lost through a single poor judgement call.

“Feel Good” vs “Do Good”

We are all Maldivans

President of the Maldives: Mohammed Nasheed, Speech at COP15, 2009

President of the Maldives: Mohammed Nasheed

During COP15 figures were thrown out, across the table, and almost every head of state present touted how much their country was committed to reducing CO2-emissions. Scientists presented calculations and research, and claimed that the target of 2 degrees Celsius would not stop sea levels from rising. And then there was Dr Bjørn Lomborg.

What we learned from COP15 was the often seen dilemma between data versus an image driven stage gate process. Where data are easier to present and agree upon when innovating incrementally, radical innovation calls for mental images. Who among us cannot remember hearing, during or after COP15, the words, of President Nasheed of the Maldives. The question is how to strike the right balance. How to avoid mental overload.

A new global climate language

Sign up greenIn the aftermath of COP15 and while awaiting the results of the Copenhagen Accord, companies and citizens are rallying to do their part. COP15 has united people around the world, who want their voices to be heard. And a Danish company, Firstmove (www.signupgreen.dk), has begun development of a universal new iconology, similar to traffic signs, signalling good behaviour in reducing energy consumption. The development process follows the principles of open innovation and democratic innovation as these icons have been modified and simplified as input is received from countries across the globe. Time will tell if these efforts are long-lasting or only a spin off of a “feel good” moment combined with Christmas festivities. What is your opinion?

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