[Blogging the Kosovo Innovation Camp, May 2012]
Social Innovation Camp brings together ideas, people and digital tools to build web-based solutions to social problems in just 48 hours. One of the reasons we can do this is the power of prototyping. We set up Social Innovation Camp to imitate the speed of digital startups and the way they can deploy a working prototype in less time than it takes an NGO to write a funding application. A team assembles, and idea is ready, and the race is on to get something that works out in to the world. Everything useful on the web is in permanent beta; never finished, always adapting. This is the dynamism made possible by internet-connected technology. (For more on this, see ideas about the lean startup and ideas of the minimum viable product).
(Image: the NEWBORN monument in Prishtina)
At the same time we're trying to tackle hard social problems - stuff that isn't easy to solve, where people are probably short of resources. So we take an asset-based approach, encouraging projects to pull together the things the community does have rather than complaining about what's missing. This is also given a boost by internet-powered technology, as the internet has turned out to be very good at making something significant by assembling lots of small contributions (think of crowdsourced projects like wikipedia or open street map, which are unimaginable without the net). This is why Sicamp has helped start great projects like The Good Gym and Room for Tea.
Technology know-how is central to Social Innovation Camp, but technology only makes a difference when it's used to redesign the way the world works. The Sicamp outlook is related to the emerging area of Service Design - the reorganising of a service or the creation of a new one based on the participation of users. Sicamp projects bring a web perspective to this, with ideas of mashups and peer-to-peer services. Sicamp supports people to do something directly about their 'itch' - the issue that frustrates them or that they feel passionate about. In the world of the web, they can do this directly and without asking permission from the self-appointed authorities who claim to own that issue.
Fundamentally, Sicamp encourages people to hack their reality - to realise that, via technology, they can prototype a better way to get things done. Sicamp applies the self-confidence of the Web Kids manifesto to really important social issues. We know it can produce good projects, but we also know that it can make a longer term change in the attitudes of people who take part. People get excited about making stuff, and more confident about their power to make a change. With a prototyping and hacker approach, young people in Kosovo can use the internet to re-assemble different parts of their society. When it works they can build on it, when it fails they can learn and move on.
Many people in Kosovo tell me the system is basically corrupt. The influence of money and politics touches every decision and every appointment, while the economy and infrastructure are languishing in a post-war state made worse by the current financial crisis. Of course, their are already NGO projects like Kallxo.com which encourage people to report corruption via an online map. But my hunch is that the spread of a social hacker ethic in the younger generation will do more to limit corruption and can also create a lot of positive side-effects like projects, startups and networks. That's why I think Sicamp is a good match for the current needs of Kosova - helping people use the web to assemble small resources in to something bigger, helping people to route around and bypass the blockages of the current system, and (to rephrase the IWW) helping prototype part of a new society in the shell of the old.
Young Kosovars take a break from a training session at the Innovations Lab