Can social innovators join up, innovatively?

There’s a growing buzz in London around tech-enabled social innovation, with its champions circulating at events like UKGovwebBarcamp, Social Innovation Camp, Tuttle Club, and last night at minibar.

The buzz should heighten on July 2-3 at a major 4Good event sponsored by Channel4 and others. More details promised soon. There’s also new set of UK Catalyst Awards backed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

We’re looking for inspiring stories of people who help their community by using social technology in new and exciting ways. Can you or someone you know show how technology is already enabling people around them to connect with each other in new ways and do good things?

We’re especially interested in ideas that other people or groups might be able to use for themselves. With the right support, could your idea be reused throughout the country – or even the world?

The community you help might be people in your area, or people you know through your hobby, interest, work or any other connection. It might even be people you didn’t even know before you started!

You might have used an existing social technology or product in a new way, or you might have created a new one from scratch.

What excites me about the current round of developments is that they are not stuck in any one sector … people are coming together from Government, business, social enterprise and nonprofits. However, that means they don’t have a home. There is no one blog or web site … they are distributed (like so much of the Net these days).

In some ways I see a division between the new wave of tech-enabled social innovation and the traditional nonprofit tech crowd. There are quite a few personal connections – not least these days through Twitter – but not a lot of linking up with groups like Circuit Riders, as I found at their conference.

There was an attempt last year at the Newman Arms to set up a group loosely based on the US Netsquared community and conference, but that hasn’t moved forward as far as I know. I think it is partly because many of the social innovators are doubtful whether traditional charities are really up for it, or even broken as Dan McQuillan puts it.

Loose networking, and trying to organise without organisations as Clay Shirky has promoted, is all very well until you have to develop a business model, find backers, decide legal structures, agree leadership and so. You need at least some Organisation Lite at the project level … some way, as Dan says, of getting structure without losing passion.

That question is now emerging more strongly at the networking level: how to join up the various events, awards, projects without replicating the sort of civil society institutions that many social innovators are trying to escape.

Maybe we need a MetaCamp to figure it out.


  • April 27, 2008 - 9:15 am | Permalink

    Catalyst Awards look very interesting, I have to say. Some of the stuff I have been thinking about around locality might be able to be developed a bit for that…

  • May 2, 2008 - 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Hi David, we are also collecting case studies. In the spirit of collaboration, let’s pool resources by linking up. People can find some beginning to come in at the new social media for social activists network hosted by Authentic Blogging here All welcome to join and participate. Individual blog posts will highlight some example, plus individual members – like Chris Anderson, Taline Haytayan, Tim Davies, Nick Booth and Libby Davy (myself) – have blogs you can find via their profiles that mention many fine moments in mobilisation for social change. We will seek to aggregate them for ease of access and work with you to develop a body of knowledge and practice. Maybe a wiki with a proforma we could co-create?

  • May 2, 2008 - 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi Libby – really to good to start aggregating.
    I think it is best to work out what you want to end up with and design back from. Is it a set of static links to posts, a constantly updated set of posts, a blog community …. ?
    Either way I think you’ll get more contributions and interest if it is really easy to contribute, requires minimum maintenance, and is not behind a login

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