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Why aren't there more collaborative platforms for social good?

How ShareLab Scotland is bringing tech skills to address social challenges, and introducing the first five projects we're supporting.

Someone suffers a heart attack. There are a crucial two minutes in which to act to maintain the supply of oxygen to the brain. After that the chances of brain damage and death increase substantially. Getting a first aider to the heart attack victim in those two minutes is vital to saving lives. So the fact that many first aiders now have a device that locates them at any time opens a new possibility. Their mobile phone allows them to be alerted to a nearby heart attack. They can be guided to the patient, and can administer CPR first aid. It’s a simple idea, but one that could be applied in many other contexts. If you’re interested, the app is called GoodSAM, and can be found on Android Play Store or the Appstore for iPhone.

That’s why Nesta is partnering with Scottish Government to support ideas that might apply this logic to other contexts through the ShareLab Scotland fund. This fund allows us to investigate the potential for platforms or apps to make a difference by sharing information using newly available technology or the internet. We’re already working with HomePointr, a Scottish service that provides a matching service for homeless support workers seeking supported accommodation for new tenants who have been homeless.

We’re really pleased to announce a new range of collaborative economy projects. They include Edinburgh Tool Library which will create a new online platform for lending tools, particularly in less affluent communities. Community Transport Glasgow will create a digital booking platform to make greater use of unallocated community transport for vulnerable people in Glasgow. There is a partnership between Community Energy Scotland, South Seeds, and Carbon Co-op, which will build a prototype platform to demonstrate how people can group together to manage and save their energy usage. Helping Go will link vulnerable passengers with volunteer drivers. And Inverclyde Community Development Trust are developing an e-bike share platform to enable the community to use e-bikes in their local area.

The aim is to build a community in Scotland for people who want to find tech solutions to the challenges of our age, and for those who want to use their tech expertise to meet those challenges.

We are all familiar with some of the commercial platforms and apps that are often described as the sharing economy, or collaborative economy. Uber and AirBnB have a profile that makes them both widely used by some people and deeply unpopular with others. But the collaborative economy need not be unpopular. We think there is enormous potential to transform our communities using these tools.

But the question we need to answer is: why aren’t there more collaborative economy platforms that exist for social good. One answer - and the one we’re testing with the ShareLab programme - is that the finance models in tech don’t support work for social good. Much tech funding is on the ‘grow or die’ principle.

Venture capitalists are the main funders of tech startups. They are looking for big returns on their investments in exchange for taking the risk that they will lose all, or most, of their stake in the start-up. This drives businesses into a high growth model. The aim is to rapidly scale up your business, then sell out to a bigger player - or let it fail. This creates a dynamic where only ideas that are commercially attractive and can be sold to a bigger player attract investment. HomePointr is a fantastic project. It deals with homelessness, but if there aren’t big businesses in this area to buy them out how would the venture capitalists get their stake back?

Nesta has sought to solve this problem by providing the funding as grants, so that social good can be delivered through collaborative economy platforms. This should be a role for government at local and national level in the medium term. But our experience suggests this is not enough.

There is another problem. It is that the people who understand the challenges of our age, don’t understand how the tech could help to solve those challenges. And the people who could build the platforms or apps that address the great challenges don’t understand that those are an opportunity for an app or a platform.

We need to bring those people together so that we can create a community that understands both the problems and how to create the solutions. We are very optimistic about this - the most popular community event run by the DataLab innovation centre was on volunteering. There is clearly an appetite to bring tech skills to social challenges. Scotland has built great tech companies like SkyScanner, we should be able to bring that success to building collaborative platforms like GoodSAM or HomePointr that can help create a sharing economy for good.

Nesta exists to address the great challenges of our age. We’re really pleased to be working with Scottish Government on the challenge of bringing tech solutions and collaborative platforms to deliver social good. We hope it can help to make Scotland a world leader in applying new technology and addressing challenges in innovative ways.

Author

Peter McColl

Peter McColl

Peter McColl

Head of Policy for Scotland

Peter McColl leads Nesta's policy and research work in Scotland. His work focuses on the opportunities to integrate and adapt Nesta's work for Scotland. He has particular interests i...

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