Digital Social Innovation (DSI) exploits collective intelligence and mass collaboration enabled by the internet’s network effect. A new study, commissioned by DG CONNECT and run by Nesta, in partnership with the Waag Society, ESADE, IRI and Future Everything, aims to crowd-map the actors, networks, initiatives and drivers of DSI from a multidisciplinary ICT and socio-economic perspective.

From that evidence, by next year they will identify the best innovation strategies combining research, strategy and policy recommendations for DSI in relation to the Digital Agenda for Europe and Horizon 2020 (H2020). The Collective Awareness Call for proposals addresses DSI under the H2020 work programme (and Call 2 is expected to close in early 2015).

Some of the best examples of DSI in Europe that are transforming governments, businesses and society include:

  • cities like Vienna and Santander pioneering new practices in open data and open sensor networks;
  • personal networks like Tyze integrating with traditional social-care provision;
  • sharing economy platforms like Peerby creating new forms of relationships and services;
  • new projects pioneering open democracy and citizens participation through crowd-sourcing legislation, such as Open Ministry or Liquid Feedback, which are transforming the traditional models of representative democracy;
  • organisations like Mysociety and Open Knowledge Foundation developing services like Fixmystreet allowing citizens to report city problems, and CKAN, the biggest repository of open data in Europe.

What is truly disruptive in these projects is the combination of new digital tools (open data, open networks, open hardware and knowledge co-creation networks) and a culture and practice of sharing at a scale that was unimaginable before the rise of the internet.

The unusual thing is that this study specifically looks at civil society organisations, non-profit NGOs, social movements, and civic innovators (developers, hackers, designers) as key stakeholders in support of innovation for social good and active citizenship in the EU.

Too often in the past, civil society organisations were ignored or left behind in the big picture of a top-down technology push (e.g. supply-side approach to Big Data and Big Brother) typical of large top-down innovation programmes.

Unlike traditional innovation actions, DSI and Collective Awareness Platforms are motivated by the vision of building a grass-roots civic innovation ecosystem in Europe to unleash the potential of collective intelligence. This takes into account how innovation can spread across the entire society, as well as how small but significant innovation projects can scale up and be replicated across Europe to solve societal challenges, such as building better health, education, mobility and ultimately improving democracy and redesigning socio-economic models.

The value of this DSI experiment is difficult to quantify using traditional indicators of success and impact, such as GDP, profitability and competitiveness. New sustainable business models and socio-economic mechanisms based on collective and public benefit are starting to clearly emerge. Once the network of DSI actors in Europe is mapped and its dynamics understood, it will inform future EU initiatives, research and policy to foster open and inclusive innovation for social good in Europe.