Sources for social technology propositions – please mix your own

The 45 propositions about using social technology for social benefit have generated some discussion on this blog, Andy Gibson’s, and Amy Sample Ward’s – including an interesting visualisation from Rob Allen. That prompted me to head over to Wordle and have a go myself. I’m glad it shows People featuring more strongly than Tools.

The propositions evolved over a couple of months, and were originally linked to sections in a chapter that offers a sort of development route map for a social technology project. I’ve posted an earlier version of the propostions, showing that, in a comment on Amy’s blog and also below. The book – Social by Social: a practical guide to using new technologies to deliver social impact – should be published and distributed by NESTA next month.

I should also give some credit to Roland Harwood, and the rest of the Connect team in another part of NESTA, for their earlier work on principles for open, collaborative innovation. They have no responsiblity for our propositions, but the framework they have evolved helped spark some ideas.

The Connect team work to the core belief that collaboration = innovation. In other words:

  • successful innovation is fundamentally collaborative
  • different perspectives make problem solving easier; and
  • good ideas are easy; productive relationships are harder.

The team have added other principles and insights that I think are relevant for understanding the use of social technology for social benefit:

  • Collaborative projects are higher risk, but potentially higher reward
  • Diversity or difference drives innovation
  • The right type of leadership and facilitation is critical
  • Conversations first, then relationships, then transactions
  • Our mindset needs to change from ‘what’ to ‘who’ in order to realise the value in networks
  • Let networked innovation models change the hierarchy

The Open Innovation Grid developed by Roland shows how the cultivation of Difference, Relationships and Interactions produces various requirements – across phases of Exploration, Nurturing and Exploitation. These include creativity, resolution of tensions, clear roles and responsibilities, establishing trust, a shared language, shared risk and reward, appropriate facilitation, coalescence, and clear leadership and management.

Principles for networked innovation

  • Start with relationships not transactions
  • Be clear about the invitation
  • People need to be seen and heard
  • Follow exciting leads
  • The online presence is integral to the mission
  • Understand patterns of participation
  • Not every networked idea is a good idea
  • Revel in reflected glory
  • Let networked innovation models change the hierarchy
  • Don’t lose the human touch when going to scale

Principles for managing disruptive change

  • Embrace chaos
  • Co-design change
  • Prototype, incubate, learn
  • Mix mavericks and managers
  • Go beyond staff compliance

References for the NESTA Connect work

… and here’s a Wordle using the Connect team text:

Early draft of propositions

So, what do you want to do

  • The Internet has created another world – but it is still people who make it work.
  • People who want social change can have more influence, and a greater ability to create their own services.
  • In a networked world organisations can no long control what their customers know or say about their
  • products and services.
  • In planning what to do, who and why comes before what and how.
  • Where and when makes a lot of difference to what is possible.
  • The technology may look as if it offers solutions – but it is the last thing to decide on.

Research: what worked, what hasn’t – and whether you are ready

  • Context influences (almost) everything – so understand your own situation and the new context – the Internet.
  • The people who will know best about your products or services are the users – make them part of the project.
  • If you want to know what works, look at what didn’t.
  • If you want to research and understand social technology, start using it

Getting started

  • Developing a social technology project is first social, second technical.
  • Social technologies give you a voice – if you listen first you’ll develop one people will listen to.
  • Markets are transactions, conversations and relationships – of which relationships are the most important
  • Social attitude beats technical ability.
  • You can’t learn to fly by watching the pilot.
  • Innovation is not possible within an organisation unless mindsets are ready for change.
  • Start at the top. Get the boss blogging.
  • Making it fun as well as worthwhile gets most commitment

Structuring the project

  • To achieve social progress and improved services, open up, embrace diversity, and collaborate.
  • Don’t build it and hope they will come. Invite the users to help create the plans
  • Enthusiasts are as important as experts – attitude beats ability when tools are cheap and easy.
  • Make empowerment unconditional. If you want innovation, give permission.
  • Normal business is not suspended. You have to get the roles, responsibilities and protocols right too.
  • There are no free lunches, even online. Someone has to pay.
  • The Internet is the platform for your online services, not just your site. Go where people are.

Engagement and adoption

  • People are the secret business ingredient
  • Build it and they may well not come. Build relationships and they probably will.
  • Online is a noisy place – so getting people attention requires something both simple and special.
  • Be realistic about who will create content online … it’s about the same as hands up at question time.
  • Respect people’s individual preferences in the use of communication tools. Some will write, others take pictures or make movies.
  • If possible, keep sites open. Passwording will severely reduce usage and innovation

Choosing tools

  • Think strategically, but be prepared to develop tactically, evolving as you go.
  • Use as little technology as possible. When people say they want more, you’ll know you are on the right track.
  • Design to support conversations, relationships, transaction – not organise documents.
  • Experiment with free or low cost tools.
  • Use social media techniques to solve social media problems
  • Avoid creating any new tools or systems until you are sure you can’t do the same thing by using or combining existing ones.
  • Don’t specify tools you haven’t used.

Business models

  • If you need a new web site, you may also need a new businss model
  • Although many online tools are free, everything has costs of time if not money
  • Budget several times more for people than hardware and software

The final version of the propositions, much enhanced by Andy’s editorial magic, are here. If you would like to have a go at generating your own principles – based on this work and your own insights – please do. The copyright is Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike – so you can develop your own versions provide you attribute and add the same license. A Wordle might help show how far you agree.


  • April 11, 2009 - 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Very well said, looks like we have quite a few common beliefs, may be we can collaborate too.

    I blog at

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  • April 12, 2009 - 5:35 am | Permalink

    Dear David,

    Thanks for sharing this article with us. It is a well written article.

    I agree what you said about using social media techniques to solve social media problems. We have to think strategically, but be prepared to develop tactically, evolving as you go.

    Thanks once again for sharing this information with us and I am looking forward to your next article.

    Happy Easter!

    Susie Cheng

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