There is a fundamental change underway regarding how global problems can be solved and perhaps how we govern ourselves. Emerging non-state networks of civil society, the private sector, government and individual stakeholders are achieving new forms of cooperation, social change and even the production of global public value. These networks address every conceivable issue facing humanity – from poverty, human rights, health and the environment, to economic policy, war and even the governance of the Internet.

Enabled by the digital revolution and required by the challenges facing traditional global institutions, these networks – call them global solution networks – are now proliferating across the planet and increasingly having an important impact in solving global problems and enabling global cooperation and governance.

Yet to date, there has been no systematic study of this phenomenon or any comprehensive attempt to understand their potential in improving the state of the world. Little has been done to evaluate what makes these networks tick, how they succeed or fail, what impact they have and how they address the tough issues of legitimacy, accountability, representation and transparency.

This year The World Economic Forum, in partnership with the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, launched a multi-million dollar global investigation of the new models.

A literature review and initial investigation has produced the first comprehensive taxonomy to describe these new networks. There are in fact nine distinct types, each having a significant impact in the world:

1. Policy networks like the International Competition Network

2. Operational and delivery networks like Crisis Commons

3. Knowledge networks like TED or Wikipedia

4. Advocacy networks like Kony 2012

5. Watchdog networks like Human Rights Watch

6. Platforms like Ushahidi

7. Global standards networks like the Internet Engineering Task Force

8. Governance networks like the Marine Stewardship Council

9. Networked institutions like the World Economic Forum

The research phase of the programme will end in 2014, producing deliverables from dozens of sub-projects. Many of the world’s leading thinkers on the digital revolution, global problem-solving, cooperation and governance are participating.

The effort is currently seeking volunteer researchers and writers as well as financial support from private sector, government, global institution and foundation investors. Please join in.

Author: Don Tapscott is the Chair of the Forum’s Global Agenda Council Working Group on Global Problem-Solving, Cooperation and Governance. He has authored 14 books and is also the Inaugural Fellow of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. @dtapscott on twitter. 

Image: People stand over a world map engraved in marble in Lisbon REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro