Below are some themes and lessons I’ve drawn from my experience of Social Innovation Camp, and the evaluation.
A group of three social entrepreneurs, disatisfied with the ability of conventional charities to use new technologies for social innovation, secured funding from NESTA for a Social Innovation Camp over a weekend in London in April 2008. The aim was to bring together those who were working at the sharp end of social problems with web designers and developers who could help create solutions.
Their call for ideas produced 77 project proposals, which the organisation cut back to 20 for submission to an advisory group. From these six projects were chosen. Over the weekend some 80 people worked together to produce prototypes, which were presented at a Show and Tell session. One winner and one runner up were given prizes of £3000 and £2000. An additional project was developed during the weekend, and accepted as part of the process. The weekend, and the overall process, produced enormous energy and connections going beyond the two days. In September four of the seven projects were still under development. NESTA is funding a further SI Camp in December 2008. The organisers have set out their thinking about web-enabled social innovation, and put out a call for ideas. Full account here.
These themes are framed around the set of collaboration terms here. See also SI Camp organiser Anna Maybank’s lessons, which I summarised as: - Make use of all the brain power: unlike conventional conferences, everyone can join in - Get the right people along: the organisers arranged a good mix of skills and profiled people attending - Create moments of self-organising: time was set aside for self-organising - Set yourself a goal: participants had to build prototypes to show everyone within 48 hours - First impressions count: the start of the event was social, with everyone offered sheets of labels to tag each other - The importance of fun and fear: the event was, friendly, sociable - with a strong element of competition - Make your tech invisible: food, coffee and wiki all worked - Embrace the unknown: mix careful pre-planning with self organising on the day, and be prepared to make changes and go with the unexpected - It’s really about people, not technology: there’s no substitute for bring people face-to-face to work out how technology can meet social needs.
The goal for everyone was very clear throughout the process: work together to develop web-enabled solutions to social problems that you have defined. The organisers were also clear about their philosophy of the way that social technology can help people create big changes from small beginnings.
While the SI Camp organisers created a strong framework and process, they left people to organise themselves into teams, and were prepared to allow an additional project to develop during the weekend. They planned carefully, then left things open and flexible.
There was no attempt by organisers to claim ownership of ideas or the model. After the event they encouraged people to take the SI Camp model and apply it elsewhere. The ethos of the event generated by the organisers encouraged everyone to share their ideas.
Everyone turned up with a shared expectation of collaboration, and the format of the event reinforced that.
The blog kept people up date before, at and after the event,
and participants were able to communicate through
Twitter and a Backnetwork online system (inivitation only). This worked well because most people were confident online - and also meeting face-to-face.
The SI Camp organisers created the vision, raised funding, set the terms of engagement, and the process to select projects.
They then moved into a more facilitative mode of working and
created the self-organising space within which people could develop their projects.
While the prizes were small - £2000 and £1000 for winner and runner-up - people appeared motivated by the chance to work
collaboratively in a friendly, fun atmosphere to create some innovative projects.
There was no purpose-built online system: the organisers used Wordpress, Backnetwork and Twitter.
This meant that costs were low and there was no substantial lead-in time.
The process for gathering ideas, choosing and then developing projects during the weekend succeeded in producing seven strong projects.
However, the critieria by which projects were chosen were not particularly clear, and there was relatively little support after the Camp for projects. It may be that the second phase of development from October 2008 - with monthly meetups around the December event - provides the opportunity to build networks of support and generally keep the buzz going.
SI Camp has the potential to develop networks of people interested in web-enabled social innovation,
while recognising the need for more tightly-formed teams to develop projects.
The next phase of SI Camp development recogises the need for people to continue to meet to maintain momentum.
While the projects are web-enabled, the process is substantially face-to-face.
While there was a fair spread of interests at SI Camp,
most of those attending were young, tech-savvy people. The next phase offers the opportunity to recruit more widely - but will this make it more difficult to get the rapid bonding of interests? Is a wider spread of interests and backgrounds important if the SI Camp model is to make a major impact on social problems?
The open, participative nature of the process appeared to create the conditions within which people were prepared readily to share their ideas.
The Big Idea behind Social Innovation Camp is that web technologies enable people to develop innovative projects outside traditional institutions. They can build networks with others and “this allows an individual to affect change by themselves on a scale that previously would have been difficult to achieve.” SI Camp piloted an accelerated face-to-face demonstration of how this can produce a lot of ideas and some developed projects. The monthly meetups and a further camp may begin to show how far the approach can scale up, particularly if others take up the invitation to “steal” the idea and run their own camps.