Digital Social Innovation: event highlights
A packed room and great range of speakers at Nesta's 'Making the Most of Digital Social Innovation' event last week - here are my highlights from the discussion.
Tomaz Diez talked about the Smart Citizen open hardware/software project. The Smart Citizen Kit is an easily assembled, low-cost device that fits in the palm of your hand and enables people to monitor a range of environmental indicators such as CO2 and noise levels. The open design will enable citizen everywhere to participate in the gathering of environmental data.
This data is aggregated onto an online platform, and can then be used by scientists, urban planners, and activists to weigh in on development projects or laws in their area. Will the online visualisation bridge the gap between citizens as sensor-carriers and human-led forms of social action?
Is it enough to be 'open'?
'Open data’ and ‘open hardware’ were big topics for the first and second panels, with Dr Laura James, Emer Coleman and Tomaz Diez all arguing that if you could just make data sets and technologies broadly available, innovative applications will naturally emerge - creating new markets, new jobs and socially progressive outcomes.
Nesta has been mapping the growing networks of ‘maker-spaces’ and digital social incubators, but outside of this developing network, few people have even heard of ‘DSI’. Many participants legitimately remain concerned that openness is not inclusivity. How can digital social innovation engage a broader demographic?
Jamie Whyte, a data communication enthusiast from Trafford Council, described his idea for local authorities to not only 'open up' the data it collects and holds, but to bring it back into the communities it belongs to. He has been talking to a local guerrilla gardening group about ‘making data visible’, and they will be collaborating with Trafford Council to create a ‘statistical engagement walk’. Key local figures will be presented along the route: think flower-bed pie charts and hedge-carved graphs.
Making digital social innovation 'mainstream'
The third session in an afternoon packed with ideas discussed what infrastructure is needed to make DSI 'mainstream'. A key concern for a number of participants revolved around public procurement, an often cumbersome process which tends to eliminate innovative startups by default.
While the government has pledged to open up its procurement system to SMEs, a number of issues remain. Two that were mentioned in particular: firstly, not knowing how to approach local and central authorities, even when these are favourably inclined to source from SMEs. Secondly, as new ventures they often lack the solid track record of existing public procurement partners.
These issues are common to all types of new ventures, but are there specific barriers to social innovation startups? Let us know!