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Taking digital social innovation to the next level

23rd January 2018

Matt Stokes from Nesta introduces the latest phase of DSI4EU. Read on to find out more about what we'll doing and how you can get involved. 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rapid growth in the number of people using digital technologies to tackle social challenges, a trend we call digital social innovation (DSI). While other terms exist to describe similar phenomena (like “tech for good”, “civic tech” and “social tech”), for us the important thing isn’t its name, but rather its aims:

  • to reorient technology to social ends, and to harness it to improve lives and benefit the many rather than the few;
  • to empower citizens to take more control over their lives, and to use their collective knowledge and skills to positive effect;
  • to make government more accountable and transparent;
  • to foster and promote alternatives to the dominant technological and business models, alternatives which are open and collaborative rather than closed and competitive;
  • to use technology to create a more environmentally sustainable society.

Examples come from a vast range of areas: healthcare (such as the Open Voice Factory), education (such as Apps for Good), democratic engagement (such as Decide Madrid), accountability (such as Funky Citizens), environment (such as Precious Plastic), science (such as Zooniverse) and finance (such as QuidsIn) to name just a few.

But DSI still has a long way to go

Unfortunately, of the hundreds of DSI initiatives across Europe and the world, relatively few have grown to deliver positive social impact at scale - and none have come close to the extraordinary growth of commercial digital platforms.

There are several reasons why DSI has failed to enter the mainstream, which we explored in our DSI4EU project - you can read our research report here and a summary of our findings here.

With so much work left to do, we are therefore delighted to have received funding from the European Commission - a longstanding supporter of DSI through the €65 million CAPS programme - to continue our work on DSI4EU over the next 18 months.  

Nesta and Waag Society, based in London and Amsterdam respectively, have been working on DSI since 2013, and we’re thrilled to be welcoming five new organisations to our team: Barcelona Activa and IAAC (both based in Barcelona); betterplace lab (based in Berlin); WeMake (based in Milan); and the ePaństwo Foundation (based in Warsaw). Thanks to these new partners, we’re now active in more countries than ever, with bigger networks of contacts and a better understanding of what’s going on around Europe.

What we’ll be doing

Between now and mid-2019, we’ll be carrying out a range of activities including:

  • working with policymakers and key influencers at the European, national and city levels to shape the future of DSI;
  • researching what emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain mean for DSI;
  • creating an experimental index to help policymakers understand how they can foster and support DSI.

Perhaps most importantly, though, we’re going to be putting even more effort into supporting and connecting the DSI community across Europe, and we’re going to do this in three ways.

Firstly, we’re continuing to map DSI initiatives and stories of innovation, as well as sharing the latest news, events and funding opportunities, through the platform.

Secondly, we’ll be developing new DSI clusters focused on specific social challenges, each of which will be led by a different member of the project consortium. Within each cluster, organisations will be developing a series of peer learning and networking events and policy discussions and blogging, as well as being your first point of contact for support, connections or even just a chat about what’s going on in DSI. Check out the blogs below for more information about each cluster.

Finally, we’ll be continuing our online and offline communications, including sharing updates and stories from across the DSI world through our monthly newsletter and Twitter, bringing stakeholders together at events, workshops and roundtables, attending and speaking at conferences and festivals, and blogging on the website.

Get involved - we want to hear from you!

DSI4EU is all about supporting the people involved and interested in DSI - from practitioners building technology for good, to charities interested in delivering services better through technology, to policymakers who want to support the growth of DSI, and beyond.

Get in touch! If you’d like to tell us about our work, if you’ve got an idea for collaboration, if you want to share your knowledge with us or have a question for us, if you’d like to write a blog, if you’d like to find new contacts - whatever it is, drop an email to [email protected]. (Unfortunately the one thing we can’t provide is funding!)

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We can’t wait to work with the thousands of inspiring people working on DSI across Europe. We hope to hear from you soon!  



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