Adding a contest element, Terwiesch said, gives the crowd-sourcing process a level of legitimacy and helps motivate potential contributors. Perhaps the best-known contest is the X Prize, which gives awards for solving big problems such as space travel and artificial intelligence.
Businesses such as InnoCentive and TopCoder offer platforms that allow enterprises to run their own innovation contests. The US government has even gotten into the game. Challenge.gov lists contests sponsored by federal agencies, including calls to improve communications about geothermal energy and land-mine reporting.
What differentiates the Climate CoLab, Malone said, is that it is not limited to a single, narrowly-defined competition. Rather, it offers a portfolio of contests, each tackling one aspect of the multifaceted problem of climate change. These diverse categories include efforts focused on creating public demand for green buildings, cutting down on transportation emissions, reducing consumption of goods and services, and shifting cultural attitudes and norms.