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A new report and ‘crowdmapping’ project, led by innovation foundation Nesta and funded by the EU, has been published to show organisations across Europe that are tackling a range of social challenges -- from air pollution levels to lack of engagement with political systems -- using digital technology, a movement known as Digital Social Innovation (DSI).

The map, part of the DSI4EU project, is available here. The report can be found here.

The research shows a hive of activity across the continent, with almost 2,000 organisations mapped. But it warns that their potential for scale is far from being realised as the policy, funding and support offered by local, national and European governments hasn’t yet aligned with the needs of the innovators.

The research finds that funding has so far mostly been directed towards individual projects. But, it also shows that a focus on the intermediaries and support organisations (such as incubators, accelerators, event organisers, meetups, networks, physical hubs and training initiatives) could have more success in helping these initiatives reach scale beyond their current setting.

For example, there are very few incubators or accelerators for digital social innovators, although they are increasingly popular and successful for commercial innovation. One example is Bethnal Green Ventures, in London, a ‘tech for good’ accelerator programme, early-stage investor and support network for ambitious startups using technology to change the world. It is funded by a combination of public and charitable funding.

The map shows a West-East divide with ‘digital islands’ forming as some countries foster a higher level of activity and a greater number of connections between organisations.

The five countries with the most DSI organisations are the UK (361), France (246), Italy (222), Spain (160) and the Netherlands (108) - representing 74 per cent of the organisations mapped. While Western and Southern Europe have the most DSI activity, countries in Northern and Eastern Europe have less activity and report difficulty gaining access to funding and networks, even though there is no evidence that there is less appetite for DSI among citizens.

Examples of digital social innovations across Europe include:

  • Open Tech School - a Berlin based initiative that provides educational courses on using technology through hands-on events

  • Decide Madrid - a platform to facilitate citizen engagement in local planning and policymaking; allowing any resident to propose local laws

  • Precious Plastic - a Dutch open hardware and design project that offers a new way to recycle plastic by creating an open-source blueprint for a recycling machine

Peter Baeck, head of collaborative economy research at Nesta says, “There is a swell of spirit and ambition in the community of digital social innovators. It comes at a time of great technical advancement that is powering social change and this has got to be harnessed. Governments have the key; they need to unlock networks and open themselves up to be a part of the movement.”

Building digital skills among existing civil society organisations and forging collaborations with local DSI initiatives is also recommended. The report states this is one of the most promising routes to increasing digital capacity and awareness in the third sector and delivering real social impact, offering huge benefits to both parties.

The DSI4EU project is led by Nesta (UK), delivered in partnership with the Waag Society (NL) and SUPSI (CH) and has received funding from the EU. Since February 2016, the project has been mapping and supporting DSI initiatives across Europe.

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For more information contact Juliet Grant in Nesta’s press office on 020 7438 2668 or 07866 949047,  [email protected]

Notes to editor

About Nesta: Nesta is a global innovation foundation.  We back new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time, making use of our knowledge, networks, funding and skills.  We work in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities.  We are a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment.  To find out more visit Nesta is a registered charity in England and Wales 1144091 and Scotland SC042833.

About Waag Society: Waag Society—institute for art, science and technology—is a pioneer in the field of digital media. Over the past 22 years, the foundation has developed into an institution of international stature, a platform for artistic research and experimentation, and has become both a catalyst for events and a breeding ground for cultural and social innovation.

About The Laboratory of Visual Culture: The Laboratory of Visual Culture (LCV) is the design research unit of SUPSI, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland. The laboratory develops research on innovative learning models exploring the convergence of technology and design via prototyping and the integration of bottom-up and community-driven approaches. LCV leads digital social innovation projects related to environmental sustainability and energy consumption, and international programs on interaction design, physical computing, open design and maker culture, DIY electronics, digital fabrication, data visualisation, interactive cinema and computational design.

About DSI4EU: This project has received funding from the Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability (CAPS) programme, part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 688192. Started in 2012, the CAPS program has insofar funded 36 collaborative projects pioneering different aspects of digital social innovations in Europe, supporting bottom-up solutions to sustainability issues based on collective intelligence and network effects.