Boaty McBoatface provides a useful lesson for institutions in a post-institutional age

21 March 2016

The British National Environment Research Council decided to ‪#‎crowdsource‬ the name for their new polar research vessel.

What would be the public no.1 choice? An esteemed and beloved naturalist like Sir David Attenborough? A rare Arctic bird or mammal threatened with extinction? The name of a prominent part of the arctic landscape threatened by global warming? No, none of the above!

The current no.1 public choice is “Boaty McBoatface”! We kid you not! Memorable, quirky, clearly loved by the punters and definitely not ‘establishment’ thinking. Crowdsourcing brings back the humour, irreverence and disregard for rules that is squashed out by most institutional practice. The public will take ‘Boaty McBoatface’ into their hearts and take note of its research findings in a way that a more conventional name could never have achieved.

It’s also a saluatory reminder for institutions that if you are going to open up to the crowd, you need to be open enough yourself to listen to what they have to say- however quirky that may be! As we head towards a networked, post-institutional world, it’s a lesson institutions need to learn quickly.

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