Rethinking World Governance: A Problem Solving Society

Some friends suggested I write an entry to the Global Challenges Foundation’s “Global Challenges Prize 2017 – A New Shape”.  as it asked for a rethinking of our system of global governance.  It didn’t win the $5 million prize as it abolished the UN instead of reforming it.  Here it is.

A Problem Solving Society

by Paul Bristow



The model presented here is based on redesigning society totally around Problem Solving.  Such a society is distributed, open source, good at solving problems, resilient, locally self sufficient, and globally connected.  We make extensive use of the internet to disseminate information, create and collate solutions at local, regional and global levels.

This model is designed to facilitate the exponential innovation needed to solve the huge problems that we have facing us.  It essentially reorganises society around problem solving using co-creation methodologies, and applies evidence based feedback to rapidly discover what solutions work in the real world, and spread them as appropriate.  It uses open source methodologies to ensure that practical solutions to problems are shared widely, and come with the explicit permission to improve them and share those improvements.

We have a set of common resources shared between everyone in the world on an open source basis.  i.e. You are free to use the knowledge, on the condition that you share your modifications or improvements with the world.

Global Problem database

The problem database is a collection of problems or challenges, proposed by citizens or organisations.  A problem can be global in scope or hyper-local.  It in general, is something that solving would make human society better.  The Sustainable Development Goals are a good example set of global problems requiring local solutions. but a simpler local one might be e.g. not having enough car parking spaces on market day.

Global Solution database

The Solution database includes all solutions that have worked for a given problem anywhere in the world.  It includes the evidence for the solution working.  For a new idea, there will not be much evidence and marketing skills will be in huge demand for selling new ideas.  The formats needed for the solution database will vary depending on the problem being solved.  Engineering problems are likely to have very different solutions to social ones, for example.  Consider the solution database as analogous to GitHub – which is itself an ever-evolving set of engineering solutions to problems. 

Solutions will vary around the world – the best solution for a cold windy country is very likely to be different from a warm, sunny one.


The funding model for this takes the power of monetary creation away from banks and hands it to society in general.  When the problems are defined by society and the rewards are attributed by society in a transparent, open manner, the perverse incentives for destructive behaviour go away.  

We could even use different currencies for different reasons.  As the transaction costs of switching currencies tend towards zero, and we remove the economic profit side of the equation, there is no reason not to try different systems.     

Evidence based open solutions.  

A society based on solution sharing will only work if there is trust in the solutions.  Problems from the global problem database shall be linked to shared, open source, solutions to those problems, along with the evidence that shows how they worked in their specific environment.  There is no assumption that there is one, and only one solution to a given problem.  Indeed, competing solutions to global problems should be encouraged.

A responsive, resilient society

Monocultures are just as dangerous in society as in agriculture.  There is no attempt to define the optimum way to solve problems, or discuss them at a local level.  This is a problem, just like any other.  We’re aiming at multiple societal models – ever evolving and shared for imitation or improvement.  

The aim of this model is to encourage a virtuous spiral of friendly co-opetition, between different groups.  The “that’s a great idea, and I could improve it by adding…” thought process writ large. 

As people exercise their problem solving “muscles”, they will become better at it.   The “somebody should” statement will disappear, to be replaced by “what if we tried…?”.  


Regulations build on what exists, but in general the regulations should be for circular design and continuous improvement.  

Decision making paths

Decision making makes checks and balances explicit, and prevents actions from being taken for which there is no evidence.  The decision making process itself becomes part of the problem/solution space.    

A unique aspect of this problem solving model is that it does not claim to have the “one true way” nor that it is the final word in decision making.  Indeed, the model specifically encourages experimentation between different decision making methodologies along with evaluation of the results and global sharing.  Instead of the market-based competition between ideas that exists today, a friendly co-opetition forms between different sets of best practises that are shared.

Control mechanisms

There are two key control mechanisms: 

The first is a form of liquid democracy used to delegate authority from individuals to people they trust.  I propose a multilevel approach, which delegates decision authority dynamically on a topic basis, with individuals having the absolute right to change their mind, withdrawing or reassigning their decision authority at will.  This provides a real-time control over who is authorised to decide on solutions.  For collaboration between regions, governance is managed at the lowest geographical level that makes sense for the topic.  Decision authority for collaborations can also be allocated dynamically.

The second is the funding mechanism.  Funding is also directly allocated by individuals, based on how they believe in the solutions proposed.  The funding mechanism provides direct transparent and democratic control over exactly which solutions are invested in on behalf of the society.  

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Open Source Modular Design for the Circular Economy: The Business Benefits

When we talk about the circular economy, we often talk about encouraging materials cycles, similar to those in nature. This analogy works great for materials recycling but, breaks down if we think about modular design. We can’t remove the branches of a tree, and rearrange them to make two smaller trees. But with modular design of technology, facilitated by an open source approach, we could do the equivalent – and it could lead to a new way of doing business.

In product design, practitioners aim for design for manufacturability. In high value products, we may design for serviceability. When it comes to the circular economy, we need to design for reusability. That is, the ability at the end of the service life of a product, to disassemble it into useful parts that can be directly reused in another product.

A simple example from today’s products would be

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Scenario: Life in the Year 2100

Energy and Living Well

Life in the year 2100 is all about energy. No, that’s no longer true. It’s about living well.

We had to completely reinvent civilization in the face of fossil-fuel shortages and increasing climate change. Permaculture become the basis of our new sustainable civilization.

Housing looks familiar, if a little fatter with all the insulation that was added. The retrofit passivhaus concept went global as energy prices rose. These days, excess energy is very expensive, but for most people it just doesn’t matter. Most communities are locally self-sufficient. Everyone grows food using permaculture principles. Agricultural monoculture became deeply unfashionable during the great GM disease outbreaks of the 2030s.

During the chaos, we were

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Reality in all it’s forms

Gadget Guru is a short weekly radio show on World Radio Switzerland that I do with Tony Johnston.

Here’s the show from March 31st, 2015:

Here’s the usual set of links & videos from the show:

Virtual Reality

A Rollercoaster Simulator on the Oculus Rift

There’s an open source system for VR gaming

Augmented Reality

Google glass – not dead yet.



Mixed Reality

Microsoft Hololens

and you can even try for yourself with the iPad Ikea catalogue

Digital Cinema and a Film Festival

Gadget Guru is a short weekly radio show on World Radio Switzerland that I do with Tony Johnston.

Here’s the show from March 17th, 2015:

Here’s the usual set of links & videos from the show:

Digital Cinema

Festival du Film Vert

The DCP – or Digital Cinema Package is the format that cinemas play – it’s a lot better than DVD and even blu-ray! Count on a 2k (like HD) movie taking between 75-160 Gigabytes and a 4k (like ultra-HD) movie taking up to 600 GB.

Professional kit for making DCPs is expensive, but fortunately for festivals like mine there’s great open source software for making DCPs for your local cinema!

Open DCP

DCP-O-Matic – this one is brilliant as you can cluster together computers to reduce encode time. With this software I went from 3 days to 7 hours to make a DCP.

The film festival starts today, hope to see you there. If not, see you next week on WRS!


Gadget Guru is a short weekly radio show on World Radio Switzerland that I do with Tony Johnston.

Here’s the show from January 27th, 2015:

Here’s the usual set of links & videos from the show:

Our list of Pangloss Labs events so you won’t miss our next robot workshop

The Open Source (hardware and software) Thymio robot from EPFL and it’s programming environment

The NAO robot

and the much more serious and large ATLAS robot from Boston Dynamics:

And one of my favourite French open source robot projects, InMoov:

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Have a good week, and remember that according to the original Terminator movie humanity should have been destroyed by now, so we are definitely not in that future.

Building Open Source Hardware

Building Open Source Hardware is a very very practical reference guide on the nuts and bolts of going from a maker project to a growing business.  Alicia has brought together a great description of the state of the art.

She doesn’t have all the answers yet – no-one does. But this book is the start of an enormous change in the way we make things. Turning the open source hardware movement into a radical open source decentralised manufacturing system.


Pangloss Labs – Open Innovation for Grand Geneve

Pangloss Labs is a centre of expertise in open source hardware, software and most importantly ideas and techniques.  Currently both a French association and a Swiss association, run by entrepreneurs, we hold experimental (hardware, software and social entrepreneurship) labs, and prototype innovation activities across various sectors.

For more information check out our web site.

Ecological-FabLab in the Geneva region

Dream, Build, Repair, Learn, Share

My main project right now is the creation of an ecologicalfablablogo Fablab here in the Geneva region.

“Fab Labs give people the tools they need to create technology and make (almost) anything”

Professor Neil Gershenfeld – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Eco-Innovation is at the cutting edge of the third industrial revolution.  When you combine innovations in energy production with the open source hardware movement you create very low cost & high value technologies.

We are building a creative space to stimulate local innovation.  We dare to dream big, start small and grow fast. This has become Pangloss Labs. If you’re interested in joining us, take a look at our web site