social innovation

Abstract for Social Innovation and Social Media (SISoM2011)

I'll be doing the keynote talk in July at the First International Workshop on Social Innovation and Social Media (SISoM 2011). Here's my abstract - comments welcome (help make my talk better - the workshop participants will thank you!)

Social Innovation Assemblages

This talk interrogates the link between social innovation and social media through the idea of assemblages, as developed by Deleuze & Guattari and later by de Landa. Starting with the rapid prototyping and radical interdisciplinarity of Social Innovation Camps I will examine the hybridity of social media in social innovation, and it's expression in the crisis camp response to Haiti's earthquake. I will theorise this digitally-enabled social innovation as the dynamic destruction and reassembling of practices heralded by an ontology of assemblages, in particular the 'relationships of exteriority' that mean it's impossible to predict in advance the capacities of a particular combination of entities. I will draw out the practical implications for policy, in particular the replacement of modelling with concrete experimentation as well as the need for agile policy making. As I will be freshly returning from Social Innovation Camps in Kyrgyzstan and Sarajevo I will make a preliminary ethnographical report of those experiments and the contention that 'social innovation' also implies an innovation of the social based on a renewed sense of agency. In conclusion I will draw on this work to propose approaches to speed and scale for social innovation.


social startups versus strategic bankruptcy

Somewhere in the rough and tumble of April's Minibar there was a moment of alchemy. Minibar is always lively - turning the usual suspects of startups, VC's, coders and designers in to a once-a-month carnival night. But April's line up included the two winning projects from Social Innovation Camp, dropping the notion of social impact in to the mix like acid at a 1960's happening. I could sense the start of something.

But, of course, that 'something' is already happening. Although the London digital startup scene is hot there's already a well-formed critique of the Silicon Valley model. Folk like Headshift's Lee Bryant are clear there's no point in emulating a US scene whose sole goal is inflating a startup to the point that is can sell out to Google (or whoever). And the other bee in people's bonnet is tech-enabled social innovation and making a positive difference.

But imagine my surprise when the inimitable Steve Moore pointed me to Umair Haque's Open Challenge to Silicon Valley. You could have knocked me down with a feather; soundbites for social innovation coming straight outta the Valley!

Haque talks about "moral and strategic bankruptcy of today's crop of venture investors" - that in the face of today's global challenges (food prices, financial meltdown, energy crisis) entrepreneurs are "lost in the economically meaningless, in the utterly trivial, in the strategically banal: mostly, they're cutting deals with one another to try and sell more ads". Obviously not a man to mince his words, Haque says "the failure to address these problems is a strategic bankruptcy as well. The self-indulgence of today's so-called revolutionaries in a darkening economic twilight is a recipe for strategic suicide. So here's my challenge. If you're a revolutionary, then be one: put your money where your mouth is, and fix a big problem that changes the world for the better - if you really have the courage, the purpose, and the vision, that is."

To an NGO leftover like me it feels like the London startup scene is ready to grow beyond the 'we wanna be the next Facebook'. Part of that will be the development of sustainable niches with social goals, and there are many dissatisified midshipmen (non-gender!) in charities who would jump ship to join them. This will get an unexpected boost from broadcast, as Channel 4 puts big money into creating digital public value , and the Mike Butcher's of this world badger the BBC to get stuck in. No doubt July's 2gether festival will be a trigger for more evolution of the space. And it's evolution we need; of a European social innovation ecology that can grow the social startups we deserve. And here's my twist; as the pervasiveness of social technology continues apace, the innovation is going to come from the fringes. Note that it's recent immigrants driving advanced mobile phone use, both in Europe and in the US. It's social need that's going to pull new tech across the chasm in the diffusion curve!

geeKyoto and the buzz

geeKyoto is the latest eclectic social-impact event with it's roots in London's digerati. Inspired by TED and last year's Interesting2007 event, Mark Simpkins and Ben Hammersley have taken the DIY approach to curating a cross-discipline event to discuss the future and how we'll live in it.

I had a great chat with Mark about the event, and I'm sure it will really rock. How can you not love an event who's rallying cry is 'We broke the world. Now what?'. geeKyoto is on Saturday 17th May 2008 at Conway Hall in
London (a venue with a noble history of supporting free thought). Tickets are a modest £20 and available at where you can also find a listing of the groovy speakers.

As David Wilcox has pointed out there's a growing buzz in London about what happens when the social web meets social need, of which our social innovation camp was one flowering. Something's cooking. Steve Moore, the arch (un)organizer, is bringing together social entrepreurs, innovators , software dvelopers and other social media types for the 2gether Festival (July 2 and 3rd, backed by Channel4). Maybe that'll be the ignition point for some serious stuff at scale.

Social Innovation Camp: speed-startups for social impact

Social Innovation Camp happened this weekend, and it rocked.

Inspired by a mashup of netsquared, barcamps and seedcamp, it brought together a diverse bunch of hackers & social change activists to cook up prototype projects over the space of a weekend.

And it worked. People brought dedication, passion and skill. They had some fun. They went without much sleep. (I wrote my half-way analysis at 2am; Live from Social Innovation Camp, the laboratory of buzz).

Two things stood out for me; first, it proved (again) that the social web is a generative platform for social impact; and second, that it's possible to do events that go beyond talk and lead to real projects and social businesses. But of course, that's the business of netsquared as well :)

Our small organising collective is now recovering, er, aiming to help the projects sustain and grow. There'l be a lot of write-ups, inteviews, videos etc coming out of the camp - more of this later. In the mean time here's a flavour (more materials at Social Innovation Camp materials):

David Wilcox says Social Innovation Camp: imitations, please and thinks that it "will make a big difference in the way that we think about doing good stuff with new stuff".

A full narrative from Bobbie Johnson, our embedded Media Guardian blogger:


A view from partners The Yahoo Developers Network.

Enthusiasm from a sponsor (which is nice!) at Accelerating Social Innovation: lessons from SiCamp where Roland Harwood says "On of the big lessons for me of the weekend was how limited organisation can unleash ideas, which is counter-intuitive for many".

"Teamwork, Quick!" by participant Huey Nhan

Photos on Flickr.

Videoclips and mini-interviews by David Wilcox at Qik

YouTube videos tagged with sicamp and sicamp08 (mostly by The People Speak team)

All the feeds from our backnetwork (warning: includes tweets!)

social innovation and geezer power

Where do you find performance art, geeks, and a bunch of older people with attitude? At last week's 'On the Margins of Technology' Symposium, part of The Not Quite Yet exhibition at SPACE Media arts.

I delivered the keynote presentation, which I've uploaded to slideshare;

I'd never thought about using performance art as a way in to technology, but I'm wondering now if it could be a missing link, a way to open up participation to groups that are far from being digital natives. This came across really strongly as both the exhibition and the symposium had a focus on older people. The flip of perspective to the older age was great as well, because I spend so much time looking at what the kids are up to with tech.

According to Lois Weaver, the use of performance for participation leans on bringing out personal and fantasy elements - there's an overlap in my mind with the general nature of the social web (blogs etc.) and in particular the Alternative Reality Gaming I'm finding so interesting at the moment.

But the biggest buzz of the day for me was The Geezers, a self-run group of senior men from Tower Hamlets who'd worked with artist Loraine Leeson on a project to harness the tidal power of the Thames. I'll leave it to The Geezers to tell their own story (in the words of their 'GeezerPower' leaflet!) - but it was a privilege to encounter them and other sussed participants, such as community mentor Vi Davies from Senior AGE. Basically, The Geezers ROCK - I want to join - where do I sign?


"We are The Geezers, a self-run group of senior men based at Age Concern in Tower Hamlets. Artist Loraine Leeson has been working with us on a project that started as research by Queen Mary University of London into the way that new technologies are normally invented by the young. Older people have more experience of life, yet this knowledge is seldom able to inform technological innovation. We may be past our sell by dates, but we still have a lot to offer - and a special interest in how the world will be for future generations.

When we thought about how technological development might be used to improve life on this planet, it occurred to us that perhaps the tidal flow of the Thames could be used to provide power for London. This isn't new, as centuries ago a water wheel was attached to London Bridge. In our living memories tidal technologies have been developed, but then set aside in favour of wind farms. Now the threat of nuclear energy is on the agenda again. We think it is time to let the Thames power London and we, the Geezers, supported by Loraine and others, intend to make it happen.

We have been doing our research! Starting with the older technology, we visited the water wheels of Three Mills and discovered how they alone could potentially power seventy houses. Between us we know quite a bit about engineering, mechanics, history, politics and the like, so our ideas developed and we took some advice. As a result we went to see a new form of wind turbine at Rainham Marshes which could be adapted to tidal flow, since it can turn in two directions. Then we looked at the Thames Barrier, a ready-made barrage across the river, and ideal for siting a string of turbines, since only a few lanes are used for shipping.

A visualization by the artist has helped bring all these ideas together. We don't intend to stop here however. The next stage will be to find resources to investigate the viability of the technology, look at different designs, consider where it could be sited and what the economic potential could be. We need some specialists on board and perhaps a postgraduate student or two to try things out. Even if we could just provide power for some homes for the elderly, or for the street lighting, that would be an achievement. The world now needs as many sustainable resources as it can get. It's time for GeezerPower.

Geezer Club: Dennis Banks, John Bevan, Eddie Brown, John Day, Tom Diss, John Griffin, Ray Gipson, Bill Hardy, John Hunter, Tony Johnson, Danny Langdon, Ted Lewis, Con McCarthy and Alan Pullen."

More Geezer info from Ray Gipson (ray.gipson AT or Loraine Leeson (l.leeson AT


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