An innovation hub may help make sense of Big Society

As the blogging, tweeting and media coverage of the Big Society idea increases (earlier posts here) it is more and more difficult for people to make sense of what is going on, and figure out where the opportunities lie. I’m seeing on Twitter a lot of ideas on how to deal with that: we need a wiki, a blogroll of best blogs, better tagging of tweets etc.
Yes we do, but who is going to do it?
Because there is no central government focus – and Big Society is intended to be bottom up – we should be prepared to do something for ourselves.
But who are ‘we’? It’s back to that problem of organising without organisations … fine in social media fantasy land, but difficult in practice. You need a framework, facilitation, procedures and so on. Wikipedia has a very big back-end for that sort of thing.
In addition, it isn’t only about places to go to – like a wiki. That would be a great start, but what’s really important are the conversations, the relationships, the opportunities for people to meet across the usual sectoral and organisational boundaries, and do stuff not just read about it and talk about it. In the jargon, we need a knowledge and innovation ecosystem, with lots of gardeners to help it grow – as I wrote here. I hope someone will plant a wiki as a kind of knowledge shed, then we can start growing more.

Innovation Hub process

Innovation Hub process

Larger image here and pdf

I see something really exciting on the horizon thsat could help. I’ve been hearing about an online space to enable government, innovators, investors and users to work together in a totally new way to reinvent government services, with a launch date in October.
The relevance to Big Society is that I’m hoping we can have a strand that focusses on how to use social tech for social benefit. People would be able to pitch existing projects and new ideas into a space where there would be other innovators, digital developers – and potential funders.
From that we would get lots of great ideas that would – for example – complement the Big Society Network plans for Your Square Mile – more on that in this post. YSM could do some of the sense making … but we need something.
I’ve done some reporting for the Network – though I’m currently not working formally with them – and from their excellent connections I believe that there is huge pent-up potential for the use of social tech for social benefit. We wrote about that in the Socialbysocial book – available free here – and discussions continue in this group on socialbysocial.net. BSN can do some of the work – but we need to spread the load, and the opportunities.
For what it is worth, here in the diagram is my idealised view of how an innovation hub could both produce some great new projects, but also as a spin-off help make sense of Big Society (that’s the socialreporter priority, if you like. The social innovator in me is excited about the projects too).
Once the hub gets going, we could organise an event to bring together a core group of enthusiasts who will help invite others into the hub. The hub team provide guidance on how to pitch ideas and attract the interest of developers and funders in the system. There are hack days and other events, and from that we would get some funded digital solutions.
That’s the real substance of the hub work. But we could also get some spin-off if part of the work is to to cascade ideas out of the hub into public online space, and other events, in order to grow the ecosystem, and if we can develop some of the tools to do that.
If you are excited by that prospect, please join me and others in the group on socialbysocial, where we have already started some discussions following a BSN event at Communities and Local Government. I’ll have more soon. I’m treading a fine line between the tradition reporter role of disclosure, and the socialreporter role of being just as concerned to help good stuff happen by respecting the need for people to get approvals in the right places. I hope this helps.
I’m tweeting @davidwilcox, and you can mail me david (at) socialreporter.com. However, please bear with me if responses and sign-up approvals to socialbysocial are a bit slow … I’m on the move today and tomorrow.

2 Comments

  • September 28, 2010 - 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,

    Where do you see websites/platforms like http://www.staircase.org.uk in the wider scheme of the Big Society and community engagement in general?

  • Gerry Andrews
    October 3, 2010 - 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,
    I think it is great that we have the means to share our ideas and experiences, wherever we are.
    But I think you also allude, rightly, to a sense that these discussions live in a ‘virtual world’, which may or may not be relevant to the rest of society. Face to face interaction is still, ultimately, where things need to happen.

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