Climate CoLab

Climate CoLab seeks to harness the collective intelligence of people from all around the world to address a challenge that’s global in scope: climate change. 

Climate CoLab is an online platform that invites anyone who wants to contribute ideas about how to address a set of tightly defined sub-problems that fall under the overarching umbrella climate change, with the entire process guided by renowned experts from MIT and other leading institutions. 

Our hope is that by opening up the aperture and inviting contributions from unusual suspects, Climate CoLab can surface novel and useful ideas that might not otherwise have received any attention. 

Key takeaways

Thousands of people care about climate change and are eager to contribute ideas

More than 125,000 members have joined the Climate CoLab platform since it launched in 2009, and over 150 promising solutions have been selected by a combination of expert judges and the online community in more that 100 contests on a broad range of topics.

A collection of linked online contests can work like a supply chain of ideas

Climate CoLab created a set of connected contests in which contributors were invited to re-use ideas submitted by others to generate broad, integrated solutions, much as component parts are integrated into finished products in supply chains for physical products like cars or computers.

Unexpected people may have better ideas 

One interesting finding from Climate CoLab was that the ideas selected as most promising were 3 to 5 percent more likely to come from contributors who had less experience in the field of climate change and had not attended graduate school. And although fewer women submitted ideas overall, those who did were 5 percent more likely to have them judged promising. For more, see the CCI conference paper on Broad Participation in Online Problem Solving.

The project is generating solutions that matter for organizations working on climate change

A number of organizations—including UN Environment Program, World Bank, Nike, Union of Concerned Scientists, World Green Building Council, and multiple state and municipal government entities—have engaged with Climate CoLab’s online community by running sponsored contests on the aspect of climate change they were seeking to address.

The approach is applicable to other large, complex problems

The approach developed in Climate CoLab, which combines ideas contributed by an online crowd and the judgment of selected experts, is applicable to other domains; CCI used similar methods to tackle COVID-19 with its Pandemic Response CoLab.


Thomas Malone (Principal investigator)

John Sterman (Co-principal investigator)

Kathleen Kennedy (CCI Executive Director)

Carlos Botelho (Technical lead)

Robert Laubacher (Advisor) 

To learn more

Visit the Climate CoLab to see the challenges and winning solutions. 

Thomas W. Malone, Jeffrey V. Nickerson, Robert J. Laubacher, Laur Hesse Fisher, Patrick de Boer, Yue Han, and W. Ben Towne, Putting the Pieces Back Together Again: Contest Webs for Large-Scale Problem Solving, Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW17), New York. Conference paper that tells how the platform works and describes the integrated contests that work like idea supply chains. 

Laur Fisher, Robert Laubacher, and Thomas Malone, How millions of people can help solve climate change. Nova Next,, January 15, 2014. Article for general audience that gives an overview of the project. 

To go deeper 

Erik P. Duhaime, Brittany M. Bond, Qi Yang, Patrick de Boer, and Thomas W. Malone, Recruiting Hay to Find Needles: Recursive Incentives and Innovation in Social Networks, MIT Sloan Working Paper 5923-19, March 2020. Working paper that outlines an initiative to recruit participants to contribute to Climate CoLab challenges.  

Erik P. Duhaime, Gary M. Olson, and Thomas W. Malone, Broad Participation in Online Problem Solving Can Influence Participants and Lead to Better Solutions: Evidence from the MIT Climate CoLab, presented at Collective Intelligence Conference, 2015. Conference paper that presents results of a survey of Climate CoLab participants. 

Joshua Introne, Robert Laubacher, Gary Olson, Thomas Malone. Solving Wicked Problems Using Socio-Computational Systems. Kuntstliche Intelligenz. Vol 27, No. 1 (February 2013), 45-54 (working paper version of this paper). Journal article summarizing early work on Climate CoLab. 

Joshua Introne, Robert Laubacher, and Thomas Malone, Enabling Open Development Methodologies in Climate Change Assessment Modeling (Abstract). IEEE Software, 28, Issue 6 (Nov.-Dec. 2011): 56-61 (working paper version). Paper on how Climate CoLab platform integrated short-form version of energy/climate models to evaluate the impact of proposed actions.  

Joshua Introne, Robert Laubacher, Gary Olson, Thomas Malone, The Climate CoLab: Large scale model-based collaborative planning. CCI Working Paper 2011-001, January 2011. Revised version named best paper at 2011 International Conference on Collaboration Technologies and Systems (CTS 2011). Award winning conference paper reporting on initial work on Climate CoLab. 

Thomas W. Malone and Mark Klein, Harnessing Collective Intelligence to Address Global Climate Change. Innovations (Summer 2007), Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 15-26. Journal article that outlines vision for an online crowdsourcing platform to address climate change.