About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Unlocking growth for digital social innovation: What would an index look like?

At Nesta we’ve recently kicked off a new phase for our work on digital social innovation (DSI), working with six partners from across Europe with funding from the European Commission.

In our past work, we've mapped the people, projects and organisations using technology to tackle social challenges, defined and classified the field, researched barriers to growth, developed an online community hub at digitalsocial.eu, influenced policy and delivered support and events to hundreds of stakeholders. This, and an emerging body of practice and research from across and beyond Europe, has given us a strong understanding of what the landscape looks like and the key enablers and barriers of growth for DSI.

While we know where some of the hubs for DSI are in Europe, there has been no systematic attempt to understand how different local, regional and national ecosystems support the creation, growth and success of DSI. Therefore, one of the key activities in our new project is to explore this in depth through the development of an experimental index.

Indices are commonly-used tools which compare the performance of different countries, cities, organisations and governments at the macro level in everything from democratic accountability to economic growth. There is no shortage of indices measuring topics relevant to DSI, such as:

But none look specifically at DSI or tech for good. We believe that creating such an index will help support DSI to thrive in Europe, as it will:

  • help a range of stakeholders understand the factors which help DSI to thrive in different countries and cities;
  • help policymakers understand how they can better support DSI;
  • help DSI practitioners understand where they may want to locate work and resources.


We are developing the index following the JRC/OECD Handbook on constructing composite indicators, which we also used when developing the European Digital City Index. This is composed of five broad phases:

Between now and the end of June we’ll be building the theoretical framework through semi-structured interviews, desk research, roundtables and analysis of methodologies and indicators used in other relevant indices. This will lead to a set of weighted indicators covering policy, economic, social, cultural and technological factors. From July 2018 until March 2019 we will select sources and then gather, check, process and visualise data, drawing upon hard data (e.g. statistical sets), open data and soft data (e.g. data scraped from platforms through APIs).

Our aim is to create a first attempt at an index, which will be shaped significantly by data quality and availability. Developing the index will therefore be an iterative process involving stakeholders at all stages of development. We’re also committed to publishing all our work openly, which will ensure it can continue to be refined, improved and added to beyond the DSI4EU project’s lifespan.

At the moment our key priorities are identifying indicators and scoping out data sources. We have begun constructing a list of potential indicators, including open data availability and quality, DSI-related events and networking opportunities, supply and cost of skills and labour, co-working spaces, makerspaces and fablabs, access to capital, presence of DSI intermediaries and support organisations, policy actions, digital infrastructure, R&D intensity and presence of universities and research institutions and state of digital government.

What do you think we should include in the DSI index? What geographically-specific indicators and data sources could help us diagnose the capacity of local, regional and national ecosystems to encourage and support DSI? Let us know through Twitter or via email - and if you’d like to keep up to date with our work on digital social innovation, you can sign up to our monthly newsletter. We look forward to hearing from you!


Matt Stokes

Matt Stokes

Matt Stokes

Senior Researcher, Government Innovation

Matt was a senior researcher working on the collaborative economy and digital social innovation.

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Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Mission Manager, healthy life mission

Jonathan works within Nesta Cymru (Wales), focusing on working across public, private and non-profit sectors to deliver innovative solutions that tackle obesity and loneliness in Wales.

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