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Editor's Note: Crowdsourcing, Projects and Solutions 

Issue #187 | 20 April 2012

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By: Lynn Wagner, Ph.D., Group Director, SDG Knowledge, IISD <>

Rio+Social. Crowdsourcing. Rio+Solutions. These are not the terms of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. As the level of attention to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) increases, the number of announcements regarding activities that are incorporating contemporary approaches in their efforts to instigate sustainable development action is also increasing.

On-line networking and social sites are increasingly being employed to generate interest in Rio+20 and to bring new ideas into the process. For example, Rio+Social, which was announced in March, will consider how technology, digital and social media can impact the major issues being considered at Rio+20 through an “in-person gathering and global, online conversation on the potential of social media and technology to power a more innovative and better future for our world.” The Government of Brazil has announced that it is opening nine online thematic "Sustainable Development Dialogues" to generate ideas and set the stage for the civil society discussions to be held in Rio de Janeiro from 16-19 June 2012, immediately preceding UNCSD. Similarly, the UN Foundation and Devex have launched a “Rio+Solutions” campaign, which aims to raise awareness of key global challenges and solutions ahead of Rio+20 by highlighting different experiences and solutions through an on-line campaign.

In a related idea, the Natural Resources Defense Council has highlighted, in its Race to Rio newsletter, that calls for all stakeholders to identify pledges for measurable, specific commitments that would contribute to internationally agreed goals could make Rio+20 about “crowdsourcing” sustainable development implementation. The UNCSD Secretariat has invited all stakeholders to enter their voluntary commitments onto its dedicated webpage, which, in effect, provides a central location to record crowdsourcing pledges. And NRDC has set up “Earth Summit Watch,” inviting civil society to report on preparations and pledges that governments have made related to Rio+20. These efforts can contribute to increased transparency and accountability of the “crowd's” commitments to take action.

While these contemporary approaches offer avenues for action that were not available to the participants at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, they bring new challenges and questions for current policy makers to refine. The importance of identifying solutions and the increasing facility for identifying where they are being implemented offer new directions for focus 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit. These new capabilities are arising at the same time that many are highlighting a need to shift focus from the norm setting stage, through negotiations of multilateral environmental agreements, to implementation challenges. At this point, the identification of projects on the ground becomes more important, and the challenge becomes one of finding information about the myriad ways that the crowd is implementing ideas that they have taken from the international norm setting discussions. Further calls for compiling the experiences and lessons learned from implementation projects, and the development of metrics regarding the scope of identified projects, may be raised so that the pledges can be compared with what remains to be accomplished.

IISD Reporting Services' knowledgebases identify projects related to climate change, biodiversity, small island developing States, sustainable development, sustainable energy, Africa and Latin America, in our ongoing work to help identify where action is taking place, and to facilitate efforts to learn from experience. Later this year we will be introducing additional search and data linking capabilities to our knowledgebases, to enhance their usefulness in identifying where the crowd is implementing solutions, and to keep up with the evolving approaches for sustainable development policy and practice.