social innovation camp

Hybrids, Assemblages & Tahrir Square at CityCamp Brighton (video presentation)

The video and slides from my presentation at CityCamp Brighton, March 5th 2011. It draws on case studies from Egypt's revolution, open data experiments and the NHS to propose hybrids of social movements & service organisations. The critical framework is largely drawn from Deleuze & Guattari and the proposal for practical solutions are digital-social assemblages building on Social Innovation Camp & Crisis Camps.

NHS innovation diffusion - from Deleuze & Guattari to Digital Movements

Background: I was invited by UCL Partners to present at an Innovation Diffusion workshop for NHS London. The paper was subsequently presented to the NHS London Clinical Senate.

As Deleuze & Guattari would say, the NHS is a striated space. The quickest way to add innovative 'smooth spaces' is by combining digital tools and social movements. Slides below, full paper attached: comments welcome.

The Berlin Wall between civil society and social change

It's the weekend before Social Innovation Camp Central & Eastern Europe (SICamp CEE); one of the most intense experiments in digitally-enabled social innovation to have targeted that region. We've assembled seventy amazing people to build six great ideas in a manic 48 hours. Time to reflect on why it matters.

SICamp CEE is the guerilla sideshow to a Civil Society Forum (CSF) convened by the CEE Trust. In a bold move, this major funder of NGOs is questioning whether those dollars are having much social impact. The commissioned opinion pieces on the state of CEE civil societies reveal the depth of disillusionment and loss of direction.

The truth is that we didn't get rid of the Berlin Wall. Sure, there was a festive destruction of that hated bit of concrete, but the Berlin Wall and all walls like it are the physical parallels of a certain approach to the world; a way of dealing with life that works best with division and control. Read the insightful CSF essay Redefining NGOs by Primož Šporar: NGOs are "autocratic", "top-down" and "donor-driven", have an increasing "political dependence on the government in power" to maintain an "existence more closely related to the salaries of employees than the potential benefits for the target group". Bluntly, they are afraid that truly active citizens could undermine their "monopoly on problems".

This is the description of social change with a wall around it. Of barriers between people and the supposed agents of that change. Of hierarchical control that stifles innovation and the kind of "informal, ad-hoc and problem-oriented" local initiatives that Primož sees springing up outside of the NGOs. And I can say for sure that his description fits the so-called Third Sector in the UK as much as it does NGOs in Central & Eastern Europe.

Enter Social Innovation Camp! Of course we're not the answer to all that. But SICamp is like one of those early crowbars, digging at weak points in the wall, looking for leverage. And our leverage is digital because that enables people to connect and collaborate without the overhead of old institutions. It enables crowdsourcing, wikifying and the emergence of new possibilities by mashing stuff up.

And that's why we say SICamp is about "individuals using the web to change things" and not about making the third sector more efficient or effective. In my experience, people working in an NGO automatically filter out ideas that they know don't fit with the organisation's expectations, even if they're innovative ideas. An organisation bringing an idea to SICamp would want control and this would kill the magic. At SICamp the development of the idea is totally in the hands of the team who've formed around it. They can change it and play with it. They can be spontaneous and creative. But this is serious play - they want to win, and to win they need to create something that will have real social impact.

SICamp works. At least, our past events have generated enough real projects and ideas with legs that the momentum is growing. But SICamp CEE is a uniquely internationalist experiment, with campers from Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, UK, USA, Germany, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. One of the criteria for selected ideas is that they can be applied in more than one country, and multinational teams will build them. SICamp CEE is truly internationalist.

SICamp and all similar hacktivist initiatives are using digital tech to break through the walls of resources and respectability, tapping straight in to people power by creating a space for free imagination. The liberatory potential of digital is that it allows us to do this without asking for permission. The tools are to hand - down with all Berlin Walls!

Making Things To Make A Difference

When I was trying to explain Social Innovation Camp to NGOs & journalists in Tbilisi I settled on the phrase 'Making Things To Make A Difference'.

I got enthused about the whole 'Making Things' meme by Chris Thorpe, while helping him cook up the idea for 'Making Things for 2morro' (a hackday for youngsters as part of 2morro 09). Making Things captures the proactive and DIY approach to problems that infuses Social Innovation Camp and marks it out as a social impact that's distinct from campaigning, policy or orthodox service delivery.

And kicking around Social Innovation Camp ideas with the helpful Dan Burgess of Naked Comms reminded me that the powerful flip side is '...because so much is BROKEN'. That's why we must make stuff; because we can all see that it's not just charities that are broken but the financial system, the economy, our cities and all the other fruits of collapsanomics.

There's a great article called 'Alinsky vs. Arizmendi: Redistribution or Control of Wealth In Changing the World' which contrasts two visions of changing the world. One is the campaiging of Saul Alinsky for "the improvement of the distribution of wealth that the system generated to include communities that were systematically excluded or shortchanged because they were Black, Latino, or working class." The other is the Mondragon network of worker-owned co-ops started by an anti-Franco priest in Spain, and which now has has 85 companies employing 130,000 people globally.

The article finds in favour of the co-ops, on the basis that the redsitribution model depended on a social contract that has since been shattered. Personally, I suspect that we'll always need a bit of both. But more than that we need the creative hacktivism that's breaking out as we realise we can (in the words of a Social Innovation Camp mantra) "use online tools to organise offline change". And that's why 'Making Stuff...' appeals to me; not just making tools or whole solutions, but in the process re-making expectations about what's possible. The tools are there and we don't have to ask permission, so...

Image by moleitau There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image. AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Another World Is Possible: submit your idea for Social Innovation Camp

 "Another World Is Possible" - a slogan of defiance and hope, often on the face of overwhelming odds. But at this particular moment in time, history has delivered us the tools to start making it a reality , especially in the gaps left by the Leviathans (corporates, governments, NGOs). Hurrah for the Internets!

At Social Innovation Camp we are asking "What does that other world look like, and how can we use social tech to make it happen ?" At the first camp, people said it looked like a world

- where having a physical disability doesn't mean you have to fill your house with relics from a crimean war hospital, where you can enjoy usable and stylish products like the rest of us: it looks like Enabled By Design.

- where where visiting prison is not a demeaning, family-wrecking experience: it looks like Prison Visits.

The second Social Innovation Camp happens between 5th and 7th of December 2008, and it's your chance to say what an alternative world could look like, because it looks like something driven by your passions, your frustrations: like the social need you feel most strongly about, like the cool tech you know would have an impact if it was released in to the world.

Social Innovation Camp is a vessel for helping to make those ideas happen. We assemble the ingredients, mixing the tribes of geek and social change activist in a space that is itself outside of 'business as usual', a space where all the usual rules are off; you can imagine whatever you want about the possible impact of this digital stuff. The Social Innovation Camp call for ideas closes November 7th, so get your ideas in now.

Photo by Roland Hartig

social barcamps and the Temporary Autonomous Zone

The Social Camping Movement

Since we did the first Social Innovation Camp back in April I've stumbled across other interesting expressions of the social camp meme.

Evgeny Morozov was involved in the Riga BridgeCamp, which was set up to be a between the tech sector and NGOs.  As well as the camp, they planned to have roving tech support after the event (in a kind of erider-stylee): as Evgeny writes "Real results will be ensured by Support Laboratory: 'One day – one site'. It means, a programmer and a designer would visit a NGO (from all Latvia) and make a webpage for them."

The TransitCamp is a great example that has a specific social focus (improving Toronto's public transport system) and also manages to break away from having only web/tech ideas (e.g. proposing an 'Improve Your English Car' for their subway trains). I missed a recent chance to go to thinkpublic's Social Lab but they may be striving in a similar direction. Post-SICamp, I also heard rumours of interesting camping in Brazil, which would make sense given their strong open source movement and their stark social needs. 

Temporary Autonomy

For me, the far-reaching potential of social-camping comes when the aim is not just to improve the current system (whether that's charities or subways) but to develop something free of legacy constraints. The unfolding impact of the social web will come from the erosion of 19th century structures (such as charities and corporations) and the (re-)emergence of people-powered solutions. My German is way too limited to tell which way the Bremen SocialCamp leaned on this point, but there were obviously some interesting folk involved (hat tip to Christian Kreutz for that link).

Part of the creative energy for Social Innovation Camp came from freeing the participants from the expectations of their days jobs; the camp was a license to say 'all power to the imagination'. But how deep does this go - is it just the excitement of demob-happy designers, geeks & charity workers ignoring the fact that Monday morning will come again? Or does it prefigure some genuine social restructuring, which would make the camps a relative of Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone. After all, the "the socio-political tactic of creating temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control" is also a neat summary of social media. It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next months, and Social Innovation Camp will be pitching in now that we're back!

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!

Social Innovation Camp - The Movie!

Mikey and Hektor from The People Speak have done us proud with Social Innovation Camp - The Movie! You can almost smell the coffee and the over-heating laptops...

Lightweight Structures for Social Innovation Startups

Coming out of Social Innovation Camp, I've been wondering how the projects we helped to kick off can find sustainable structures for development.

Our criteria for the camp selected for ideas that could be carried forward after the weekend. The winning projects have certainly showed dynamism and commitment; but how can they organize to get things done when it's not (yet) anyone's day job? How can they get structure without losing the passion?

Synchronously, similar questions & suggestions have cropped up in other discussions. In the Gaming for Good roundtable folk wondered how to apply the voluntary association & dynamic purpose of the World of Warcraft raiding party to the real world. At the Tuttle Club Breakfast , freelancers were feeling their way to structures that sounded to me most like medieval Guilds (an idea that Open Business has already written about) . And in an ippr briefing, the MP Tom Watson invoked the cooperatives of the nineteenth century as a good fit for organisations making a social use of the web.

Seems there's a sea-change coming as organisational models are mutated by the web. With the emphasis on lightweight, dynamic & flexible structures, it seems to echo the radical architecture of Archigram back in the 1960s.

Whatever model we raid, from real or imagined history, there's still the practical question of who pays the bills. Sustainability is the plan for all Social Innovation Camp projects, whether from a commercial business model, grant funding or a mix of the two. Can we also learn from open source, where companies pay staff to work on open source projects for part of their time because there's a wider value to the employer? Social Innovation Camp had the backing of a sizeable posse from Headshift (thanks guys) - perhaps signposting a wider possible solution where commercial companies support social ventures with geek-time? As my colleague Peter Grigg has pointed out, companies need to go beyond CSR and get real about supporting pro-social activity; and what better way than to back projects like these ?

Games for Good

I'm really starting to think that games are one of the magic ingredients in getting this new wave of social change off the ground. When I was at Amnesty I wanted to use games to raise awareness, but maybe we should just make more actual stuff in to games if we want to get a result.

After a the excitement of last weekend's Social Innovation Camp I wondered if part of its magic was that it was a game. Applying competitive teams, rules and time limits to a bunch of hackers & creatives really did the trick.

Last week's How I fell in love with Wikipedia article quotes its first employee saying "it's almost more like an online game, in that it's a community where you hang out a bit, and do something that's a little bit of fun: you whack some trolls, you build some material, etc".

In this week's updated post on Thinking out of the (x)Box: Gaming to expand horizons in creative writing Ewan McIntosh reports myriad ways in which "Certain games are incredibly effective at generating more expanded horizons in students imaginations when they are writing and speaking creatively or transactionally", And his references to "the moral dilemmas and complexity of decision-making in more long-term games like Sim City or Rollercoaster Tycoon" indicate how games could impact the youth enterprise agenda of my day job.

But it was Charlie Leadbeater's invocation of I Love Bees in Social Software for Social Change that switched me on to the exciting social potential of alternate reality games (ARGs), a trail I followed to Jane McGonigal's World Without Oil. As Jane says; 'Reality is broken. Why aren't game designers trying to fix it?'.

So with all this incoming synchronicity I was delighted when David Lundblad invited me to the Gaming for Good event he's puttiing on with Johnnie Moore on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm at NESTA: "An informal gathering of people who think that organisations and society can benefit from a deeper appreciation of the upside of gaming - whether that's online mutiplayer games or real world games..." According to David, they see the three main themes as gaming to improve products & services, gaming to improve organisations, and gaming for social good. As per Ewan's stuff, we should add gaming for education. Then you've got yourself a pretty broad swathe of social impact where games could be a magic ingredient.

Whereas Games for Change (G4C) uses gaming as a way in to social issues, it might be that the bigger long term impact comes from a general spread of a gamer attitude. Research tells us that young people in the UK already treat social media as a multinodal game; so the gamer attitude could spread to online/offline projects for social impact, bring with it the energy, imagination and lateral thinking that makes solving problems into fun.

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