The past few years have seen a rapid growth in the number of people using digital technologies to tackle social challenges in areas ranging from healthcare and education to democracy and the environment. This phenomenon, which we call digital social innovation (DSI), aims to:
- Harness digital technologies to improve lives and reorient technology towards more social ends;
- Empower citizens to take more control over their lives, and to use their collective knowledge and skills to positive effect;
- Make government more accountable and transparent;
- Foster and promote alternatives to the dominant technological and business models — alternatives which are open and collaborative rather than closed and competitive;
- Use technology to create a more environmentally sustainable society.
Despite the many inspiring initiatives taking place across Europe and the world, relatively few have grown to deliver positive social impact at scale, for a range of reasons which we and others have explored in depth.
EU-funded DSI4EU (Digital Social Innovation for Europe) was a project that ran from 2013 to 2019 and aimed to support the growth and scale of DSI (or “tech for good”) in Europe, and to help bring it into the mainstream of civil society, the public sector and governance.
In 2012, the European Commission commissioned Nesta, Waag Society and Esade to map out and explore the emergent DSI community. The study brought to light a vibrant community using technology to tackle social challenges all across Europe.
The DSI4EU project (2016-17) continued this work, including developing an online hub for DSI in Europe (digitalsocial.eu), organising a series of events and workshops, creating an interactive data visualisation of DSI across Europe, and exploring what’s holding back the growth of DSI. The findings of this research were published in our report 'What next for digital social innovation?', which we launched at a full-day conference in May 2017.
The third and final stage of DSI4EU kicked off in January 2018 and ended in June 2019. During this time, Nesta and its six partners from across Europe have:
- Developed The European Digital Social innovation Index, an experimental index measuring local/national ecosystems’ capacity to support the growth of DSI;
- Continued to promote, improve and curate the digitalsocial.eu platform;
- Coordinated six thematic DSI clusters, each delivering a programme of online and offline support to DSI stakeholders and published six thematic guides mapping the DSI landscape in different social areas;
- Created 10 future scenarios and a magazine exploring how we might be using digital technology to tackle social challenges in 2030;
- Engaged policymakers at different levels and across Europe to help decision-makers understand how DSI can help them achieve their priorities, and what they can do to support the growth of DSI;
- Ran and participated in a wide variety of events events to raise awareness about the project and the field, meet new people and build new knowledge.
You can access all the project research and resources, open data, case studies and blogs on digitalsocial.eu.