The Social Good Accelerator had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Stokes, a senior researcher in Collaborative Economy at Innovation Foundation Nesta and lead of the Horizon 2020-funded DSI4EU project, on his opinions on #SocialGoodTech. In addition, Matt has become a collaborator on our European Study as a part of the expert committee as well as an interviewee, with the first results to be presented in November 2018.
Can you present DSI4EU and Nesta?
Nesta is a global innovation foundation with a mission to back new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time. Using our knowledge, networks, funding and skills, we work hard for new opportunities and challenges, to spark creative answers, to shape ideas into practical solutions and to shift systems in a new direction.
We have been working in the field of digital social innovation (DSI) since 2013, exploring and supporting the people, projects and organisations across Europe who are using open and collaborative technologies to tackle social challenges. We’ve published landmark reports including Growing a digital social innovation ecosystem for Europe and What next for digital social innovation?, and developed an online hub for the community at digitalsocial.eu, where people can find information, stories, case studies, funding opportunities, events and Europe’s largest database of DSI organisations and projects.
This program is supported by the European Commission and works within a network of actors. Can you explain the partnerships?
One of Nesta’s core values is to never work alone, and since entering the field of DSI we’ve collaborated with several organisations. Currently, we’re working with six organisations – Waag (Netherlands), WeMake (Italy), betterplace lab (Germany), Barcelona Activa and Fab Lab Barcelona (Spain) and the ePaństwo Foundation (Poland). We bring together our complementary skills, networks and knowledge to maximise impact.
Since the very beginning, our work in DSI has been made possible thanks to the generous funding of the European Commission, specifically the Directorate‑General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG-CONNECT). The Commission was one of the first big organisations to recognise the potential of technology for tackling social challenges and has funded over 50 projects within Horizon 2020’s CAPS (Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability) programme.
We believe that one of our key roles is to help shape a shared agenda for DSI in Europe, to influence policy and to build new connections to speed up growth and maximise impact.
What have been the key achievements and results of DSI4EU? What are the prospects for the coming months?
The heart of the project is the digitalsocial.eu website, which is a valuable resource for all types of stakeholders. At the moment, we’re investing heavily in further development to make it even more useful, including growing the library of case studies.
In our current project, we’re really excited to be increasing our policy engagement, through the development of a DSI Index which will measure how different countries and cities are supporting DSI and create a bank of ideas for policymakers. We’re also developing six “DSI clusters”, programmes of activity focused on specific social areas, which are helping practitioners on the ground maximise their impact. On the research side, we’re kicking off some exciting future-focused work, looking at how emerging tech trends will affect the development of DSI and building positive future scenarios for how technology can help us to address social challenges a decade down the line.
“A lot of the social sector, including charities in particular, lack digital skills and don’t know how to make the most of the opportunities. At the same time, huge amounts of money have gone into research and innovation for digital products, but a tiny fraction has been devoted to socially-oriented digital innovation.”
In relation to your work, why is the pledge of the Social Good Accelerator for “More tech in social good, more social good in tech” important in Europe? Why is this commitment relevant, in your opinion?
This pledge is important because it goes to the heart of what DSI aims to achieve. Over the past few years, social innovation has attracted more and more attention, but relatively little has been devoted to how technology can be used as a tool. A lot of actors in the social sector, including charities, lack digital skills and are struggling to make the most of the opportunities. At the same time, huge amounts of money have gone into research and innovation for digital technologies, but a tiny fraction has been devoted to socially-oriented digital innovation. Alongside this, over the past years pressing issues have come to the forefront of the very foundations of technology: concentration of power and money in the hands of a small number of tech giants, threats to net neutrality (particularly in the US), censorship, surveillance, big data and artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and the nebulous spectre of “fake news.” We think DSI also has a role in influencing the development of technology in a more responsible, ethical and inclusive direction.
What could we do together to accelerate digital social innovation?
There are loads of opportunities for collaboration, from events and research contributions to joint efforts in influencing policy and network-building. We believe that one of the reasons DSI hasn’t reached its full potential is that there isn’t always a shared agenda and a sense of community. Indeed, we still can’t decide what to call the field – social tech, digital social innovation, tech for good, civic tech, good tech… the list goes on. By building a movement together we’re more likely to be able to grow the impact of DSI, and so we’re always keen to work with organisations across and beyond Europe.
From the Social Good Accelerator Team: If you want more information on the Horizon 2020 program, how you can apply (applications close in the coming weeks), or the new program, Horizon Europe 2027, sign up for our newsletter and/or contact us for more information.