The competition sought to “identify and reward two proposals so big that, when implemented, they can help to secure prosperity and jobs for this and future generations”. It was intended to “rekindle our sense of creativity, our capability to take positive action, and thus generate hope and confidence”.
At Dublin’s Ignite 3 event, Padraig McKeon, Director of Drury Communications and a member of the competition’s steering group, explained what they were looking for in a proposal. The focus should be on ‘new models, types of business or service, or new opportunities within existing industries or service areas’. The Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) and the co-operative movement were suggested as representing game-changing ideas exemplifying the radical thinking being sought through the competition.
The two winners will get €100,000 each and a development fund of €500,000 to implement their idea.
The competition has received widespread media coverage over the past few months, and has been advertised extensively in the national press, on radio, television and online. It has been featured on national tv – see RTE’s feature below – and has generated much heated debate in blogs and discussion forums.
As mentioned in the television feature above, not all of the debate around the competition has been positive. Criticism has been expressed online and in the national press surrounding aspects of the competition website, terms and conditions and public funding of the initiative.
The domain itself (yourcountryyourcall.com) was registered by Allied Irish Bank (one of the largest banks in the country). Padraig McKeon, a member of the competition’s steering group, states in the interview below that this was purely for administrative purposes. Nevertheless, it does seem strange that a financial institution would be registrar of the competition and so closely linked to its inception. Many people feel it ironic the bank would be supporting a competition aimed at economic recovery, when it is so closely associated with the Irish economic collapse, and has had itself to be recapitalised by the government.
Also, Cisco’s involvement in the competition has been questioned. The website was provided free of charge from Cisco and appears to be hosted on their servers – see http://www.cisco.com/web/IRE/yourcountryyourcall/index.html. As the site – and the Brightidea platform – were provided as a gift, McKeon admits they were constrained by the technology and infrastructure made available to them. ‘The website was provided to us for free by Cisco’ he says, adding that if they had designed the technology themselves they would have done many things differently.
Competition Terms and Conditions
There have also been issues over the apparently contradictory claims relating to Intellectual Property (IP) in the competition’s Terms and Conditions. Who eventually owns the IP of all ideas submitted is unclear. While questions relating to this have been answered by Mr McKeon, it does leave suspicion around the status of ideas put forward on the platform and the involvement of those running the initiative i.e. An Smaoineamh Mór, the company behind the initiative .
What is striking from the interview above is the number of people involved in the project. McKeon mentions (4.12 – 5:28) there are about 60 people working on the project, primarily in the communications area. These range from people involved in advertising, media, television production and social media.
Given the large numbers of people involved in the running of the competition it’s not surprising that the costs are upwards of €2m. Estimates suggest the entire project would have cost €5m if organisers and advertisers hadn’t waived fees (organisers insist all advertising has been given free).
Simon McGarr and others have raised questions regarding how the funding for the competition has been raised. In response, Padraig McKeon – outlined some of the funding sources for An Smaoineamh Mór Ltd, which is the company running the competition.
A cash fund of just under €2m has been accumulated via donations from 13 parties (companies and individuals) which has been lodged in the accounts of the company, An Smaoineamh Mór, which is a registered charity…
There is no government or political involvement in either setting up or operating the competition. However YCYC is not merely ’suggesting’ it has Government support. The project explicitly has that support. Specifically, the promoters formally presented the project to government late last summer and asked for support in three ways – a contribution to the fund referred above, a request that the competition would have access if it needed it to the services of the state enterprise agencies in the evaluation process (if such help were required) and a commitment that government would engage with the process of developing the two winning proposals, particularly with reference to any legislative issues that might need to be addressed.
It agreed to all three requests – it will be contributing 15% of the fund; there has been no requirement to this point for the involvement of the state agencies and clearly there is no need for development support at this point.
- The Government agreed to contribute €300,000, but has no direct role in running the competition or determining the outcome. (Full details on this are vague as in March the Minister involved suggested her Department was simply examining this proposal)
- An Smaoineamh Mór Ltd will not exploit or commercialise any intellectual property for its own financial benefit, or the benefit of anyone associated with running the competition who is giving their time on a pro bono basis.
Daragh O’Brien, a blogger on Information Management questioned whether this government money would have been better invested in county enterprise boards and campus incubators with a good track record of establishing new companies:
Perhaps a hybrid of the current competition and the existing structures is what we actually need — but YCYC as a stand-alone event strikes me as a potential waste of taxpayers’ money.
Quantity and Quality of ideas
The competition has generated a significant number of proposals, and this week the organisers have started running advertisements in the national press, thanking people for their participation in the competition. The announcement reads:
To the 177,000 visitors, from 176 countries and for the 9,000 plus proposals, we’d just like to say Thank you
Along with these proposals, there were over 11,000 comments and 35,000 votes submitted by over 20,000 registered users. In the last day alone some 1,800 proposals were submitted.
It is now up to the judging committee to filtering these proposals, and come up with a shortlist of feasible ideas by June.
The current crop of proposals contains a mixture of the good, the bad and the bizarre. Genuine game-changing ideas, however, are difficult to find amongst the rash of proposals that state the obvious e.g. we should cycle more, recycle more, encourage entrepreneurship, set up talent banks and promote Ireland as a green, organic country.
There are some genuine brainwaves, but few that provide a direct path towards ‘helping secure prosperity and jobs’. Many proposals are clever, if quirky, such as teaching children Mandarin or removing 1c and 2c coins from the mint. Some of the oddest ideas include:
- Invite diaspora back to Ireland for a massive homecoming
- Become Europe’s Easter Island
- Setup an Irish theme park – Leprechaun Land
One interesting suggestion that got coverage in the national press surrounded the building of a Monorail. The idea came straight out of a Simpsons episode in which Lyle Lanley suggests that the town construct a monorail. To this, Mayor Quimby replies:
Just tell us your idea and we’ll vote for it.
The amusing idea gathered widespread coverage on discussion boards and was humorously declared the best suggestion to date. Unfortunately, the idea has been removed from the Your Country, Your Call site, but this one idea probably got more young people talking about the competition than any other single advertising initiative during the campaign.
While it’s easy to be amused at some of the suggestions, others note that many are not just stupid, but illegal, and sometimes dangerous.
Interestingly, Padraig McKeon, admits that the quality of entries varied depending on whether they are submitted during the day or late at night. “That’s the nature of crowd sourcing,” he said. “But all we really want is to get 20 good ideas that can be whittled down to a final five and, eventually, two winners.”
Roisin Ingle analyzed the top ideas with the most support and asked experts for their views on whether these ideas could work. She also looked at comments from the public as to their appreciation of the feasibility of the ideas. This analysis makes for interesting reading as to the quality and viability of the top rated proposals. Top five by user votes are listed below:
1). IDEA: HELP SAVE THE HSE AND MILLIONS OF LIVES
John Donnelly proposes that low-dose naltrexone (LDN), a drug used in other countries to treat auto-immune-related illnesses such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Crohn’s disease and cancer, should be introduced and prescribed at low levels “by every doctor in Ireland”.
This proposals is not supported by the Irish Times expert, however, it’s received nearly 2,000 votes and hundreds of comments. While it maybe worthy of investigation, its not clear how this proposal would generate jobs or prosperity for the country.
2). IDEA: Ireland West 2020 – A Bright Green Future
The Engineering the West team proposed an Ireland West 2020 partnership which, working from a “sustainable framework”, would unlock the potential of the region in terms of natural and human resources.
The expert view – from Eddie O’Connor, chief executive of Mainstream Renewable Power – is that it is a “great idea”. There are many other ideas along a similar vein, but such themes of promoting renewable energy are already government policy and it’s uncertain how the competition funding resources would make a significant impression in this area.
3). IDEA: Work for Welfare payments
TP2010 proposes to force those in receipt of certain social welfare payments to work in under-resourced areas of government. It’s suggested this would improve workers’ skills and offer an alternative to “becoming depressed sitting at home”.
Brid O’Brien, head of policy with the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed explained how uninformed this idea is: “This idea shows a complete lack of awareness of the work already done by unemployed people within the voluntary and community sector in areas such as community employment schemes”.
Csullie, a commenter on the idea, agrees and says this “Harks back to the days of the workhouse and puts people out of work. Why employ people on a reasonable wage when we can get free slaves from the welfare system.”.
4). IDEA: Steal the UK’s computer games industry
DamienDamien suggests reclassifying developers of computer games as artists and thus exempt them from income tax under current rules.
Dave Gargan, vice-president of engineering with games developer Havok, offers cautious support for the idea but the challenge would be to build critical mass in this area. However, it’s unlikely the government would offer such incentives for one particular industry, over many others.
5). IDEA: An International Healthcare Services Centre (IHSC)
This involves the creation of an International Healthcare Services Centre (IHSC) dealing with exporting healthcare services overseas. The proposer, Joe Dalton, explains how smarter methods of healthcare delivery, such as telehealthcare and independent living systems could help alleviate rising healthcare costs associated with ageing populations and the rise of chronic diseases.
Experts such as Dr Muiris Houston pronounce this as “a brilliant idea,”. The concept is modeled on the Irish Financial Services Centre which was setup in the eighties under legislation designed to boost activity and employment in the Irish economy.
Over the coming months, the judging panel will whittle down the entries to 20 semi-finalists and then select five finalists before the winners are announced. The two winning proposals are due to be announced on September 17th.
The judging panel, chaired by former EU Commissioner David Byrne, said it would be looking for ideas that had the potential to transform the economy by creating sustainable jobs and opportunity.
However, no-one is under any illusion that any single idea will have the potential to ‘transform the economy’ or make serious inroads into the country’s serious unemployment crisis. Ireland has the third highest unemployment rate in the OECD, and it’s difficult to see many of the ideas above significantly impacting this.
While it’s easy to criticise many aspects of the competition – and many of the proposals – it has a least generated some enthusiasm and creativity amongst the public for new ideas to get the country ‘back on its feet’.