UK socialtech: got the PM – what next?

Projects using social technology to benefit communities received strong support from the Prime Minister Gordon Brown today at the UK Catalyst Awards. He launched the scheme a year ago, and today presented the community award to Savvy Chavvy – an online community for young Gypsy Travellers. You can find all the winners here.

The Prime Minister said:

These awards are a huge and powerful demonstration that rather than weakening our communities and undermining social participation the rapid changes in technology – which all of you here understand better than me – can be harnessed as a force for good in our communities.

The aim of the awards is to provide inspiration to others on how social technology can be used for good, and so I asked one of the organisers, Dan McQuillan, digital guru at Make Your Mark, about the future.

My first question was about whether there was a common spirit that united some very different projects. Dan felt there was some commonality and went on to say:

It’s a new-old thing – the tools are new but the issues are really old … the concerns that people have about making their communities a better place, stopping people being pushed to the edge, giving everyone a chance … there’s no manifesto, there’s no single ideology, but there is a common sense of a moment in time, a moment of re-empowerment and new stuff happening.

That’s quite a challenge as well. You can’t put it in a box, because the whole idea of social media is about diversity – but we do want to bring it to another level so that people get a sense of their own power and can move on up in terms of having an impact, and in terms of sustainability.

What I sensed from the conversation with Dan and others is that the UK Catalyst programme – with its combination of bottom-up philosophy and strong cast of sponsors – may be a good way of bringing together a number of different “web for good” initiatives and networks … like those forming around the Social Innovation Camp , geekyoto and the 2gether08 festival. As I wrote earlier in Catalyst awards promote web for good there’s now a loose network emerging of people who are showing up at the same events, cross-feeding each others’ blogs, friending and following on Twitter … and doing projects together.

There was an attempt last year to start a UK equivalent of the US-based Netsquared, but it didn’t develop into any formal structure. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because one strength of the current networking is that it is drawing in people from digital media, marketing, and the pubic sector as well as nonprofits and social entrepreneurs.

However, it does need some hub, so I suggest anyone interested signs up with UnltdWorld and joins the Catalyst Awards group there for updates on plans leading up to something at the Chain Reaction event in November.

While I was editing these videos, one of the other main Catalyst organisers Oli Barrett – often referred to as the “man who knows everyone” – paused to show me a web tool I hadn’t seen, called addicatomatic. Just type in a search term and it shows what’s happening on blogs, twitter, Google, news sites and so on. Here’s what you get for UK Catalyst Awards. Cool, but I think there more to catalytic networking and top-level support than smart tools. More tips please Oli.