“All innovation involves the application of new ideas – or the reapplication of old ideas in new ways – to devise better solutions to our needs. Innovation is invariably a cumulative, collaborative activity in which ideas are shared, tested, refined, developed and applied. Social innovation applies this thinking to social issues: education and health, issues of inequality and inclusion.”
In a recent post over on Techpresident, Micah unpacked the three branches of We.Gov. The first is the idea of government 2.0, or government-as-a-platform. The second is on whether the net is better for campaigning than governing. And the third is on what happens when you open up the process with real-time transparency.
While I agree strongly with Micah on all 3 points, for me what none of these quite get to is perhaps one of the most powerful uses of the web within the realm of We.Gov – the ability for people to use the Internet to come together and reimagine public value, not (just) public services per se.
While gov20, transparency and campaigning are all beginning to revolutionise the relationship between government and its citizens in profound ways, the fantastic work of organisations such as the Sunlight Foundation and MySociety is very much focused on improving the status quo, a much maligned and mistrusted status quo. Or as Dan McQuillan recently put it:
“My sense is that it’s easier for mySociety types to cleave to The Man because their agenda is to make current modes work more smoothly, rather than to question the distribution of power at a basic level. Shame, because the interesting thing about Stuff 2.0 is its potential to leak a bit of power back to a peer-to-peer model.”
As such, for power structures to be truly transformed I would argue for a fourth branch to be added to the We.Gov family tree – that of social innovation.
Social innovation exists at the intersection between government business and social action, both taking on and improving government services and/or meeting a unmet need. Or as Charlie puts it, approaching public services in a way that is “more personalised, engaging, joined-up, adaptable – providing better outcomes and value for money.”
Clearly this approach is not new. Social entrepreneurs, charities and citizens have been prodding and poking at government for a very long time, picking up where government has left off or never even dared to tread. But what is different is the ease by which people can surface need and rapidly connect and collaborate to address that need, much of it in an ad hoc manner, but now also by far more organised means.
One such organiser, or ‘platform for social innovation’ if you will, is Social Innovation Camp, “an experiment in creating social innovations for the digital age.”
Here to explain more is an exclusive video interview for PDF Europe with Anna Maybank, Director of Social Innovation Camp. Anna explains the what, why, how and where next for Social Innovation Camp.
“SICamp rocks because it helps us come up with new rules for new kinds of institutions – it’s how we can reconceive and reinvent yesterday’s tired DNA”
The Camp is now a relative veteran on both the social innovation and barcamp/hack day scenes, having now run 2 camps in London, 1 in Glasgow and now going international with the first SICamp Central and Eastern Europe in Bratislava recently. And the internationalisation of Social Innovation Camp continues. Given the open and collaborative values at the heart of the camp, the model is freely available to be replicated by whoever wants to pick it up and run with it, meaning there are further camps planned around the world as people now even self-organise the event itself adding capacity and reach to the original idea.
Many hundreds of ideas have been generated by the camps with a good number not only being developed over the weekend itself but also taken forward after the event by committed individuals looking to improve broken public service models or meeting previously unmeet needs. Projects like MyPolice (providing the Police with better means of engaging with citizens) and Enabled by Design (bringing people together to share views on the good the bad and the ugly of assistive equipment to work together for change) showcase the art of the possible and draw on the power of the web for social change.
But as Anna points out, it would be wrong to say that all is rosy in the social innovation garden. Of particular concern currently is the future sustainability of projects in this area. Falling down the gap between business, charity and government business models, a readily accessible and sustainable funding model that will enable impact at scale has yet to emerge, no matter what evangelists for the sector such as Geoff Mulgan may believe.
That having been said, given the agile and effective nature of these emerging micro public service uninstitutions and the commitment of those involved in the movement to make change, it is hard to question that there might just be something in this. Could this be a movement that says ‘We.Gov, with or without You.Gov’?