A new report and ‘crowdmapping’ project, led by innovation foundation Nesta and funded by the EU, has been published to show organisations across Europe that are tackling social challenges – from air pollution to engagement with political systems – using digital technology.
In what has become a movement for digital social innovation (DSI), across Europe people are using digital to tackle social challenges in fields like democracy, education, employment, environment and healthcare.
Nesta lists 1,068 projects and 1,890 organisations across the continent on its ‘DSI4EU’ list. It has produced an interactive, real-time map as part of the project, alongside a report, which it launched at a major DSI event in London this week.
The Nesta report warns that the potential for these organisations to scale is far from being realised, because the funding and support offered by local, national and European governments, alongside policy, has not yet aligned with the needs of the innovators.
The report says that funding has so far mostly been directed towards individual projects. But it also argues that a focus on the intermediaries and support organisations – including incubators, accelerators, event organisers, meetups, networks, physical hubs and training initiatives – could have more success in helping these initiatives reach scale beyond their current setting.
It says there are very few incubators or accelerators specifically for digital social innovators, even though they are increasingly popular and successful for commercial innovation. London-based Bethnal Green Ventures is rare – it is a tech for good accelerator programme, early-stage investor and support network for startups using technology to change the world. It is funded by a combination of public and charitable funding.
The map reveals a west-east divide with ‘digital islands’ forming, as some countries foster a higher level of activity and a greater number of connections between organisations.
It shows that the five countries with the most DSI organisations are the UK (361), France (246), Italy (222), Spain (160) and the Netherlands (108) – representing 74% of the organisations mapped.
Countries in northern and eastern Europe have less activity and report difficulty gaining access to funding and networks, even though there is no evidence that there is less appetite for DSI among citizens.
Examples of digital social innovations across Europe include:
Open Tech School – Berlin-based initiative providing educational courses on using technology through hands-on events
Decide Madrid – platform facilitating citizen engagement in local planning and policymaking; allowing any resident to propose local laws
Precious Plastic – Dutch open hardware and design project that offers a new way to recycle plastic by creating an open-source blueprint for a recycling machine
Nesta’s head of collaborative economy, Peter Baeck, said: “There is a swell of spirit and ambition in the community of digital social innovators. It comes at a time of great technical advancement that is powering social change and this has got to be harnessed. Governments have the key; they need to unlock networks and open themselves up to be a part of the movement.”
Building digital skills among existing civil society organisations and forging collaborations with local DSI initiatives is also recommended. The report states this is one of the most promising routes to increasing digital capacity and awareness in the third sector and delivering real social impact, offering huge benefits to both parties.
Download the report, What’s next for digital social innovation, here.