Mapping digital social innovation

Posted on 17th October 2018

Woman drinking coffee next to laptop

Written by Matt Stokes, Senior Researcher in Government Innovation

Over the past five years, Nesta has been exploring digital social innovation (DSI) across Europe, and how best to support efforts to tackle society’s biggest challenges through tech. Matt Stokes and Codrina Cretu share an overview of the tech-for-good landscape in six social areas.

Over the past five years, Nesta has been exploring the field of digital social innovation (DSI) and carrying out research, policy and support activities to help the people and organisations across Europe who are using collaborative digital technologies to tackle social challenges.

Whether we call it DSI, tech for good, social tech or civic tech, we’ve seen the field grow significantly, albeit not as significantly as we might have hoped. We’ve spent a lot of time mapping out the barriers to growth and challenges for the field.

We’ve found that a major challenge is a tendency to focus on technology first, rather than on the social challenges DSI is trying to solve. This means citizens, the public sector, civil society organisations and funders – all of whom tend to be more social challenge-focused – are less likely to engage.

For that reason, our current project, DSI4EU, has a firmly issues-first approach and is based around six different “clusters” focusing on different social areas:

Each cluster is led by one of our partner organisations across Europe, who all have a wealth of experience and knowledge in their areas. Between January 2018 and June 2019, we’re carrying out a range of research, policy, support and peer learning activities tailored to the specific societal challenges.

Digital social innovation varies significantly across these fields: different levels of activity; different technologies and applications of those technologies; different levels of engagement from the public sector and funders; different existing markets, regulations and policies; and different levels of public awareness, to name just a few areas of interest to us.

Given these differences, we’ve surveyed DSI within the six cluster areas, asking: what does the current landscape look like? What are the opportunities and challenges? What are the big policy questions? In some fields, we’ve focused on specific trends and challenges, while others have a broader scope. They all include lots of case studies of best practice to shine a light on some of the most impactful and exciting projects across the continent.

We hope that by zooming in on different societal challenges, these introductions will be useful to civil society organisations, funders, policymakers and researchers. We’re always keen to hear your feedback, so please do get in touch if you have any questions.

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