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Designing collaboration - Social innovation Camp


Some of the links are broken, but the Social Innovation Camp blog is available here on the Internet archive

The first Social Innovation Camp took place in London on 4-6 April 2008, at the Young Foundation. NESTA provided funding of £20,000, and the Office of the Third Sector £5000.

NESTA and the Young Foundation and are supporting SI Camp to grow into an organization running two Camps a year, in addition to monthly Meetup events, providing a focal point for the community of interest which is developing in London around the use of social technology for social innovation. The next SI Camp on 5-6 December 2008, and there is a report here of the first meetup. This description and evaluation is based on: - The evaluation report (top right of page) written by Aleksi Aaltonen for NESTA (no longer available) - Other material gathered by Aleksi (no longer available) - My experience of the event blogged

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- The Social Innovation Camp blog (archive link) - Organiser Anna Maybank’s invitation to others to steal this camp (archive link) …offering nine lessons

I’ve developed some themes and lessons from SI Camp here, and blogged an item here.


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.

How the process started

The evaluation report (no longer available) by Aleksi Aaltonen provides the background to SI Camp, explaining how Paul Miller, Christian Ahlert and Dan McQillan met at a policy workshop on the social web organised by the Office of the Third Sector in June 2007.

In a report of the workshop Charles Leadbeater suggested there was scope for an organisation on the lines of NetSquared. Inspired by this and conference formats like Barcamps and Hack Days the group put forward a proposal to NESTA, initially for £136,000, later scaled down to £25,000. (In parallel to this, social technology enthusiasts were meeting to consider how to develop a network, as I reported here. Dan McQuillan, who had worked for Amnesty International, was dissatisfied with the non-innovative approach of most nonprofits, questioning whether charities are broken, and floating ideas for what became SI Camp).

Call for ideas

Anna Maybank was recruited as project manager and started work on January 3 2008, and as I reported here, in February the organisers issued a call for ideas:

Innovation happens when diverse groups of people get together -


ndividuals who can bring something different to the mix and help each other to look at problems in a new light. We’re interested in creating unexpected collaborations between people, organizations and networks. The Social Innovation Camp will be an opportunity for all participants to meet people who think about things differently to them. “The weekend will be designed with this principle in mind. Social Innovation Camp will bring some of the best of the UK’s web designers and developers together with those at the sharp end of social problems. Throw in some people with the business and organisational knowledge needed to make things happen and we’re hoping to come out with some innovative solutions to enable social change.

Choosing the final six

The call was open until early March, and produced 77 project proposals. The organisers chose 20 projects from these to put in front of an advisory panel, who then chose six for development at the SI Camp weekend, detailed here: - Barcode Wikipedia - Enabled by Design - Personal development reports - Prison visits - Rate My CV - Stuffshare

The organisers did not set out any explicit criteria by which projects were chosen, but did describe their philosophy of supporting bottom-up innovation outside traditional institutional or organisational frameworks. It had an echo of Dan McQuillan’s ’charities are broken“. Later, at the SI Camp weekend, I videod Paul Miller and Paul Birch discussing whether it was possible to promote successful innovation within large institutions. They were very doubtful, unless there was a highly supportive culture.

Here’s show the how the SI Camp organisers described the selection process.

The ideas that have been selected for development are all tools to help


sers do or create things or change from the grassroots up.

What’s exciting about online technologies is their potential to help


eople to do things for themselves, outside of traditional institutional or organization frameworks. This puts the power in the hands of the users who are best placed to produce more relevant, efficient and effective change.

But this doesn’t just happen on its own; you have to build the


tructures that support it. And this is what the Social Innovation Camp is all about. All the ideas we have chosen are great examples of disruptive social innovations which create platforms for assisting people to help themselves.

Out of the many fantastic examples that we were sent - from ideas to


elp people share their food to their journeys to work - the advisory board made their decisions because they felt specific ideas created the most social capital, held the greatest potential to create a more equitable distribution of resources (i.e. they didn’t just help people who were already advantaged or who were traditionally technology users) and, crucially, that they had enormous potential for future development.

Yet a glance through the submitted ideas shows you that there are a


umber of other needs in the technology-social change nexus that have been identified here. There’s not a single answer for how technology can be used for socially desirable ends; there are many. We hope the Social Innovation Camp process has been a way of drawing some of these out”.

The weekend

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The weekend started on the Friday evening with a sociable and fun session where everyone was invited to tag each other with labels indicating interests, attitudes, dispositions - whatever. There was plenty of free beer and wine, and we all ended up in the pub, as I reported here. Aleksi describes the process: “On Saturday morning around 80 participants divided into six project groups, led by the people who had submitted the ideas in the first place. The organisers had set the objectives, but in general the teams organised their work independently. The organisers made it clear that the event would be produced to a great degree by its participants and, in this spirit, an additional ‘rebel project’ emerged around Saturday noon when one of the participants pulled together a small group of people to work on a separate idea. “Working through Saturday and Sunday morning the event concluded in an open Show and Tell session, in which project groups presented their work to the members of the advisory board and other participants. The first prize of £2,000 went to Enabled by Design, whilst Rate Your Prison won £1,000 runner-up prize. Apart from minor technical hiccups during the closing session the event unfolded without problems. After the event the organisers made an effort to help projects develop what they had created further. The organisers held meetings with project teams, assisted in solving various problems and made introductions to potential partners. Enabled by Design and Rate Your Prison were presented to the London internet community at a Minibar event organised by Christian Ahlert on 25 April. At the time of writing, at least four out of seven projects were still in development”.

As I remarked here, the ethos of the event was very different from much that was evident in the traditional voluntary sector. “There is a presumption that ideas will be shared, the process will be open and publicly online, individuals rather than institutional formats are important”. Communication throughout the event was excellent, with a dedicated Backnetwork system, and extensive use of Twitter, which continued afterwards.

After the camp

The weekend generated an enormous amount of blogging - listed here by Aleksi - with quite a few people, like Christian Kreutz, feeling that it would be an inspiration of other events and social innovation processes. I wrote: “Of course buzzy events, bright ideas, new networks are developed all over the place. Charities, community groups and volunteers do good stuff every day without as much media profile. However, I think Social Innovation Camp will make a difference because it serves as a sort-of all-purpose reference to quick, fun, creative, cross-sector, generative. It gives confidence to those who want to do things differently, and has helped create a stronger network of those who will make things happen”. At the 2gether08 Festival in July, SI Camp organiser Anna Maybank explained that they wanted the model for the camp to spread virally - like Barcamps - and gave a presentation encourging people to Steal this Camp! Here’s Anna’s nine lessons (with my summary explanations) - 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 next camp and get togethers

NESTA is supportinga further camp on 5-6 December 2008, and month meet-ups are also taking place. The call for ideas - closing November 7 - invites people to think about how small innovations can make big changes: “One of the things that excites us most about the web is its potential to change something big by starting something small. “With simple technology available to anyone, an individual can now create the kind of impact that in the past might only have been possible if you had the resources of large, cash-rich, professionalized organisations.

Take, for example, the actions of a UK bank last year. HSBC was forced


o change its policy on student accounts following a campaign started by a single student and run – for free - on Facebook. In the past, people had to rely on political parties, large charities or professional campaign and pressure groups to force this kind of change. Now an individual can create the same effect by starting small with far fewer resources because the network the web creates can become more than the sum of its parts.

What happens if you could have a similar impact on other big things?


ot just a commercial organisation like a bank, but things that affect a lot of people in important ways? What about schools or the health care system for example? The prison service or the way our climate is changing?

Social Innovation Camp is an experiment in solving big problems by


tarting small and supporting the individuals with the ideas, skills and tools to create change by leveraging the power of the web.

I’ve developed some themes and lessons from SI Camp here.

collaboration/social_innovation_camp.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 10:20 (external edit)