Giving against the grain?
A striking characteristic of many round one innovations is the effort put into getting the mechanics of giving right - that's to say how to successfully tap into giving motivations, 'onboard' users in large numbers and make the process of giving simple and efficient.
As a supportive funder, Nesta certainly wants to see the projects it backs succeed in a tough and well-trodden marketplace.
The challenge of getting this right makes me think about a deeper test: how to create innovations that go with, not against, the grain of contemporary culture. A cynic might say that the act of giving suffers from connotations of 'worthiness'. A deeper criticism, I think, would be that it is somehow 'on the margins', an 'add on', an 'afterthought' in the hierarchy of everyday concerns. The 'chugger' invading your personal space, disrupting the familiar flow of your journey from A to B, the work colleague asking politely for sponsorship to run yet another marathon (or even triathlon!), the act-of-God disaster that tugs us only momentarily towards a bigger drama.
This test is just as much about engaging givers on their home turf (go to where they already are online at Facebook!) as it is about fitting in with people's core activities and concerns. A good example is payroll giving. I think this is powerful because it embeds the act of giving firmly within one of the building blocks of life - work - rather than leaving it sitting uneasily on the margins. It makes giving habitual and structural, not occasional or incidental.
My reflection is really that a great deal depends on the cultural and social place of giving, both now and in the future. Giving has always been part of the public imagination and social fabric of this country. Think of the vast sums raised by charities every year (estimated at £11 billion, yet dwarfed by the estimated monetized value of volunteering time), or the incredible acts of individual giving that have helped to shape our public realm and preserve our rich heritage (National Trust). How far are we able to insightfully describe the place of giving in modern culture?
Perhaps much current innovation in giving is coming from ideas that tap more effectively into age-old human motivations; specifically, the evolutionary urge towards cooperation and reciprocity. There is now a burgeoning of successful innovations that support sharing rather than one-way direct giving, or that involve clear return for the giver, for example, in social recognition and stronger social networks. If this is true, then we might have cause to be optimistic that giving will flourish as an ingrained element of our personal, social and civic identities, going with the grain of how we want to live and work.