Social Innovation Camp: imitations, please

I believe that Social Innovation Camp, which I much enjoyed last weekend in London, will make a big difference in the way that we think about doing good stuff with new stuff.

By that I mean not just how social media may be used by nonprofits for communication and collaboration, but how events are run, projects started and mentored – and how funders, sponsors and media partners consider where they invest time and money.

First the simple story: six projects were chosen from 80 ideas, and project promoters came together with web developers, social change activists and others to work on them for two days. At the end one project and a runner up were chosen. Aleksi Aaltonen has done a great job of pulling together the many blog post here, with more here from one of the organisers Dan McQuillan and from Roland Harwood of NESTA Connect, who were one of the funders. I experimented with live streaming video from my phone to Qik, producing a mix of interviews and general wanderings about.

Here’s what I find interesting and important for the future:

It was quick. A small team were able to generate a lot of interest and support in just three months by using social media and the networks of people interested in its application to social innovation. This wasn’t just about speedy communications. There are now in London (and of course elsewhere) a cloud of people interested in social innovation who will go out of their way to make things happen and help each other. They meet up at events including UKGovwebBarcamp and The Tuttle Club which are mainly organised online. They are not traditional community and voluntary sector people but include many who work as consultants or in the private and public sector.

The ethos was rather different from the traditional voluntary sector. There is a presumption that ideas will be shared, the process will be open and publicly online, individuals rather than institutional formats are important. This draws partly on ten years of social entrepreneurship in the UK, and partly on the emerging Worldview 2 promoted by people like Charles Leadbeater and Clay Shirky.

It was fun, and informal. The event started with drinks and social tagging … with people going around sticking labels on each other and generally making friends. There was a presumption you would introduce yourself to strangers, move around from project to project if you wished, drawing on the principals of Open Space events, unconferences, Barcamps.

It was (apparently) self-organising, and flexible. On the first morning the six projects were posted, and people just decided which ones they wanted to join up with. During the event a rogue group led by Jessica Shortall came up with another project – The Glue – and were allowed to present in the final show and tell, although not as competitors. I say apparently self-organising, because an enormous amount of effort went into getting the logistics right.

Although two project “winning” were awarded £1000 and £2000, I expect that all the projects will continue to develop, and there will be many spin-offs from the idea generated and relationships formed.

All this means that it was richly rewarding for all concerned, and a good investment for funders and sponsors. Roland Harwood of NESTA Connect reflects that in saying:

On of the big lessons for me of the weekend was how limited organisation can unleash ideas, which is counter-intuitive for many. There was so much energy and enthusiasm there was in all the groups compared with the large organisations and beaurecracies that normally try to solve some of these very same issues, but they tend to try to crack ‘nuts’ with a proverbial ‘sledgehammer’.

Of course buzzy events, bright ideas, new networks are developed all over the place. Charities, community groups and volunteers do good stuff every day without as much media profile. However, I think Social Innovation Camp will make a difference because it serves as a sort-of all-purpose reference to quick, fun, creative, cross-sector, generative. It gives confidence to those who want to do things differently, and has helped create a stronger network of those who will make things happen.

I’m sure that there will be many imitations … and equally sure that’s just what the Social Innovation Camp organisers would like to see happen.