Social Innovation Meetup: “Exploring Labs for Social Change” – presentation notes

130425_Social Innovation MeetupOn April 25, Social Innovation Meetup #4, organized by Hivos and Kennisland, was held in Amsterdam. Theme: “Exploring Labs for Social Change”.  Social innovation labs are very popular as instruments for “changing the system”. However, what actually happens in these labs? How do they help accomplish social change? What’s in “the black box”?

Keynote speakers sharing innovation stories from Kenya, Finland, and Canada were Daudi Were of Ushahidi, Marco Steinberg of the Helsinki Design Lab and Vanessa Timmer of One Earth. In the two days prior to the meetup, representatives of living labs (hubs, experimental learning spaces, etc.) from all over the world gathered in “Lab2“.  Together, these people in the vanguard explored new examples and solutions for system change, some of which were reported at the meetup.  There was also supposed to be a panel discussion to see how their lessons learnt might apply to the Dutch context, but unfortunately that part was cancelled.
The presentations were brief and intense, relaying a flurry of interesting ideas and references. Like at the “Designing Social Cities of Tomorrow” workshop last year, I took presentation notes. They are rough, and only minimally edited, although I have added some links and excerpts from the sites linked to. Together, I think these notes give a nice overview of the many dimensions experienced at the international front lines of real social innovation.
Introduction 
A brief introductory speech was given by Remco Berkhout of Hivos.  There are many tough global problems, like climate change, for which there are no clearcut solutions. Hivos believes that citizen action is key to addressing these problems. People from all over the world are involved in such processes of social innovation. There are many interpretations of what is social innnovation: any idea that makes the world better, creativity of communities to make things better, popukar participation, with resources going to the communities, and so on. The silos need to go. Cities in the south can be great sources of inspiration. Given the pressing problems, labs there are often much more advanced than here in the West!
Daude Were (Ushahidi, Kenya)
In 2007, all hell broke loose after the Kenyan elections, resulting in many riots and murders. Many stories were un(der)reported. We needed to find stories of what was happening, curate them, map them, and archive them. Ushahidi was born, very quickly, in a couple of days. Ushahidi means “witness” or “testimony”. It really is a platform + community + movement.  The basic idea: from people in need to people who help. Does it work? Yes, it’s use has spread way beyond Kenya,  e.g. during the Haiti earthquake  and the Japanese tsunami the platform was used as an emergency platform. By now, it has got many other uses, including mapping harassments, oil spills, social revolutions (Arab Spring, Occupy), and monitoring elections (Tanzania and Zambia), mapping the different reasons why people voted in the Canadian elections, and so on. It is changing the way info flows in the world. How? We meet you where you are (in creating a great diversity of interfaces for sending to and receiving info from the platform). Both high-end applications (for decision makers) and low-end applications (to reach the masses) are important. In an emergency, you can have it set  up in only a few minutes (via crowdmap.com). It’s “Made in Africa”: “if it works here, it will work anywhere in the world :-)”.
We created iHub. Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers.  It is a place to physically meet, partner up, share ideas, get exposure and support. We have over 9,000 members. It’s much more than just another cybercafe: over 40 companies have come out of it in the past few years.  We also have a number of initiatives designed to build an ecosystem around the Kenyan tech entrepreneur: Hub Research, iHub Consulting, iHub Supercomputing Cluster, and the iHub User Experience (UX) Lab. iHubs are started all over the country.

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Yes We Can 2.0

It’s amazing what transformative power Web 2.0 services are increasingly making available to everybody at (almost) no cost. Using Animoto “The End of Slideshows” I just made a professional looking video supported by (Creative Commons)-music out of my collection of 1993 Clayoquot Sound uprising-pics for only US$ 3,- (30 sec videos are even free):

Compare this to the static slideshows “of old”.

Of course, such “fast and furious” MTV-style videos are not always the best choice, but they could play an important role in energizing, for example, youth to participate in community-building campaigns.

Happy Change Year!

Digital storytelling tools

I am currently attending an interesting session at the E-Campaigning Forum on digital storytelling. Stories are very powerful ways of motivating people to take action, to reflect on the implications of policies, to make abstract concepts concrete and so on.

In this age of Web 2.0 and user-created multimedia content, the old linear textual technologies for supporting storytelling like discussion forums are being complemented by a multitude of innovtive tools supporting new forms of content, interactivity and user involvement. Here are some telling examples of this new wave of tools. They still need to find their niche in the Internet landscape, but it is already becoming very clear that they provide powerful incentives for people to become more (inter)active and engaged.

  • Animoto: automatically generates professionally produced videos using their own patent-pending technology and high-end motion design. Each video is a fully customized orchestration of user-selected images and music. Produced on a widescreen format, Animoto videos have the visual energy of a music video and the emotional impact of a movie trailer.
  • Viddler:
    • Use webcam to record directly to website
    • Tag specific moment within video
    • Post comments to specific moments within the video
    • Have complete control over who sees video
  • JibJab: allows one to put one’s face on video and share it.
  • SproutBuilder: Sprout is a quick and easy way for beginner and pro users to create living content including websites, widgets, banners, videos, music, photos, RSS feeds, calendars and more.
  • Living Cultural Storybases: Nurturing the oral heritage of minority cultures in a digital world.

Good reference source:

  • NFP2: what happens when not-for-profits, social media and people meet

eCampaigning Forum 2008

I have just received confirmation that I can participate in eCampaigning Forum 2008, to be held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, on April 10-11. Last year, I attended their social dinner while visiting a friend, and was struck by the nice mix of expertise and friendliness of the participants. I am really excited about being part of that crowd myself this year!

What it is?

“The 2008 eCampaigning Forum brings together e-campaigning practitioners, managers, freelancers, entrepreneurs and bloggers to share the essential and emerging trends and practices in campaigning (advocacy) using interactive media. The experts are the participants and this event ensures those who attend get to spend most of their time engaging with their peers on topics that concern them most.”

This year, the crowd is even larger, with some very interesting people, from organizations including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, Medicins Sans Frontiers, the BBC, and many, many others. What is especially interesting is that these people are among the world’s top experts on using interactive media to get people moving. We are drowning in information, but using the Internet to make people do things is the holy grail many of us are after. I am looking forward to joining the other Internet knights at the Round Table :-)