December 5, 2018

Facebook Connectivity Lab: Opportunity Statements for Open Innovation

By: Facebook Research

Recently we published Facebook Connectivity, summarizing our diverse efforts with multiple partners, including academic researchers, using novel approaches to bring internet connectivity to the nearly 3.8 billion people currently without access. We now want to describe an “Opportunity Statement” approach to Open Science research in this field, leading to greater opportunities for innovation and collaboration with us to achieve breakthrough solutions to these world-scale challenges.

It is easy to become trapped in a problem-oriented culture: a problem is observed, a solution is desired, and resources are are spent on the problem in an attempt to find a solution. While this can be an effective strategy for small problems, it stutters and fails when applied to large problems that require simultaneous attacks in multiple domains: in our case, our goal to bring more people online to a faster internet.

We have observed that a Problem Statement approach limits the solution space and often hinders innovation. To avoid this pitfall we are also fostering an Opportunity Statement approach to achieve ambitious goals. Our research projects still address problems, but those problems are not given a priori and instead are formulated by a few step process: First, understand the landscape of blockers to a desired goal. Why are these problems? What is common? Can they be avoided in the first place? What is limiting present solutions? Second, step back from the existing solutions and ask a landscape question of what is different now? What are new paradigm-shifting opportunities? Third, leverage the paradigm-shifting opportunity to define an approach that attacks a specific blocker or related set of blockers — the opportunity statement itself.

“Opportunities” can range from small to large, and paradigm-shifting opportunities will generally be cross-domain, such as translating retail business models to a new approach for Wi-Fi connectivity; broad applications such as advances in bio-technologies to replace silicon-based solutions; or even something narrower, such as leveraging the inherent low power and radiation tolerance of nanometer-scale integrated circuits to enable new approaches in high-altitude communication platforms.

We believe this enhanced approach to fostering innovation, combined with other magnifiers such as broad collaboration [1] will accelerate progress to our connectivity goals. We envisage a process of open publication of a continually evolving set of Opportunity Statements coupled with Open Science dissemination of project research results. For our first definitions of goals and some identified opportunities, view our presentation here.

[1] E.g., https://www.opencompute.org, https://telecominfraproject.com, our shared resources at https://research.fb.com/downloads/ and https://opensource.fb.com, and other collaborative, open or public dedication of IP (PDIP).