Social Innovation Camp in Edinburgh

I still don’t really know why the Social Innovation Camp format works, but it does. Last weekend we had another great event up in Edinburgh with six teams of fantastic people all trying to take back-of-the-envelope ideas through to working prototypes that could become new social ventures.

The things that struck me this time about the experience were:

  • How much people learn about the issues — This tweet from Paolo of the Invisible Ramps team was pretty striking, but a lot of other people told me they’d been surprised how different it was building web or mobile tools when the people who are affected by the problem you’re trying to solve are there with you.
  • How it gives people confidence in their own abilities — a few people have said how surprised they were that they could pull off such a big task in the space of a weekend. We also have a pretty good track record of helping people rethink their own careers so they can actually do what we do at a Social Innovation Camp during the rest of the working week too.
  • How good some people are at facilitating and project managing in such an intense environment — herding cats in this particular environment is a very niche skill. It’s not like a single meeting but neither is it like longer term project management where you can use more complex tools. Some people are brilliant at it and it’s a joy to watch.
  • How difficult it is to do international link ups — this was the first weekend we’ve had where there were two Social Innovation Camps on at the same time — ours in Edinburgh and one in South Korea. I wish we’d been able to have more time chatting about what they were up to but the mixture of timezones and slightly dodgy sound systems and webcams meant we didn’t really get a proper chance. Here’s what they produced though.

Congratulations to all the teams. I had a lot of fun and I hope they did too. And thanks to all the people who enabled us to make it happen — we couldn’t do it without a lot of help.

Social Innovation Camp this weekend

If you’d like to come along to Social Innovation Camp this weekend in Edinburgh, here are the ideas that we’ll be working on:

1.) invisibleRamps

When a building isn’t accessible it’s pretty easy to see what the problem is, even if you’re able-bodied: no lifts, no ramps for wheelchairs and lots of stairs. But there are many other less-visible factors that make buildings and spaces inaccessible.

For people with cognitive and psychological disabilities there are many apparently trivial changes that could make a huge difference to how they experience the built environment.

invisibleRamps is a site that helps people with those disabilities – from colour-blindness to autism – to identify features of their environment that need to be improved; collaboratively building a database of those features to allow architects, designers or employers to make spaces and buildings better.

It’s a little bit like Fix My Street for things that are harder to spot than a pothole.

2.) Homeshare

A site that matches older people who have a spare room with unpaid interns who need somewhere to stay for the duration of their internships.

The idea is that Homeshare reduces isolation and loneliness amongst older people at the same time as widening access to internship schemes.

3.) Bubble

Bubble is a mobile game for tracking and encouraging social contact between people.

The user creates ‘bubbles’ representing people they have contact with based on their existing social circle across different social media platforms. A user’s ‘bubble’ moves further away from them if they have low levels of social interaction over time. Contacts are brought closer again by the user checking in with them either online or face-to-face. The idea is to encourage people vulnerable to loneliness to maintain important social connections.

4.) Foodini

Foodini is a mobile app and website providing real-time information on local food deals.

The aim is to reduce food waste by local cafes and supermarkets by providing a platform to which they can post cut-price offers to a wide user base of bargain hunters in the local area. It’s for food from your local shop.

5.) Lend-a-hand

Befriending schemes and respite services are typically used to provide intensive, long-term support to carers. However, getting someone to provide quick, fast help with small, simple but unplanned tasks – popping to the shop for some milk, or changing a lightbulb – is more difficult to coordinate.

Lend-a-hand is a messaging tool for carers to ask family, friends and neighbours at the same time for help with quick-and-easy every-day tasks where a little bit of brief help goes a long way, leaving the carer to worry about more important things.

6.) Volunteer Impact

Inspired by the happiness-tracking app, Mappiness, Volunteer Impact is a tool for volunteers to self-measure the impact that their volunteering is having on them and the communities in which they are volunteering.

The app captures data relating to volunteers’ health, well-being, social connections, skills and confidence across a period of volunteering to show the true impact of their activity.

It’s always a really good weekend and we feed and water you from Friday evening through to Sunday afternoon. Oh and you might also just find it changes your life. Sign up here.

Wall Street vs The Social Network — and some problems that really need solving

During a recent trip to New York and San Francisco, a few people said they thought that the movie The Social Network was having an effect on the number of people who wanted to start a startup. Now, on the face of it, The Social Network isn’t a positive film. It’s mainly set in the offices of law firms as people sue each other over promises not kept. Â But there is something intoxicating about the story and I don’t think you can help coming out of the cinema thinking “that looks more exciting than working for a bank”.

When I saw the film last year I wondered whether it might be Wall Street for a new generation. Oliver Stone’s film was meant to be a cutting satire of Wall Street’s excesses (reading Roger Ebert’s original 1987 review is quite enlightening), but in a strange way it actually inspired the next generation of people working in finance who then arguably caused our current financial crisis.

If The Social Network does start a trend of people starting startups just for the sake of starting startups, what we have on our hands is a bubble. As Esther Dyson says, there’s probably enough innovation in the world, it’s putting it to good use that we’re missing. Maybe it’s a long shot but I hope the movie attracts people for the right reasons so if you’re thinking about starting a startup, here’s a list of problems you could have a go at solving. It’s by no means complete, but just some things that I think really need great people. And if you want to work on any of them, we’d love to have you apply to the next Social Innovation Camp in Edinburgh in June or Bethnal Green Ventures in the Autumn.

The new old -Â Whether you think it’s a demographic time bomb or see it as more of an opportunity, there’s little doubt we need to reinvent the way we care for our elders. Again this will need new models of finance and organisation. How can we get beyond the idea of dwindling pensions and depressing care homes? See this documentary by Gerry Robinson if you want more on the problem.

Keeping the lights on -Â If we’re going to tackle climate change, we need new products and services that will help people reduce their energy use by a factor of 10 not just by a few per cent. And we need new ways of getting zero-carbon energy generation to be adopted. How would you do that?

Unleashing underused assets and products — One of the main problems of twentieth century consumerism was that we all had to have one of everything. It made sense for companies to try and sell us new things all the time. In a resource constrained century, that no longer makes sense. Could you build something that helps co-ordinate sharing, lending and swapping of real world durable goods and property?

Hacking education — Education hasn’t changed in structure since the 19th Century but the world has. There’s massive  frustration with the system in the developed world and a crying need for brand new approaches in the developing world. Could you build new ways to organise, finance and expand education?

Prevention engines — We all know prevention is better than cure, yet almost all of us wait until it’s too late before we do anything about it. The problem is that public services generally only know about people when it’s too late. Could you build services that help get to people before they know they need help?

Access to real food — Much like consumer goods, the industrial age made cheap food possible. That was great, but also led to problems. Now we have different needs for a food system. We’re interested in ideas that can make a healthy, sustainable food system just as efficient as the over-processed, wasteful system we have now.

Insuring the uninsurable — What about applying the principles of peer-to-peer lending models to insurance? It’s a massive issue for many people if they’re already close to the edge and something goes wrong.

Disaster technology — When everything goes wrong, technology can save lives. Knowing where people are and being able to get the things they need to them as quickly as possible is vital. If we can do it for ecommerce, we can do it for saving lives. But we need more tools and services.

Loneliness — Partly linked to issues of ageing above, but actually a much wider concern is loneliness. Changes in the way our towns and cities are organised and the way we live our lives in terms of family structures and work have led to a rise in mental health problems — often linked to the number and quality of social relationships people have. Technology is just as good at helping people meet people in the real world as it is at helping them meet online. How could you use technology to help build real world communities?

Find out more about Social Innovation Camp and Bethnal Green Ventures.

A weekend of stuff that matters

Social Innovation Camp

So I’m up in Glasgow using electrical tape to direct people around the Saltire Centre. It’s Social Innovation Camp 3 and the teams arrived last night to start building six new social start-ups in the space of 48 hours. It’s all looking good so far. There’s a great buzz and people are running around Glasgow city centre doing interviews to find out more about their needs for the services they’re going to build. You can follow the action on twitter here or on Flickr here.

Social Innovation Camp returns

So it’s a big day for Social Innovation Camp. Not only is it our meetup this evening, but we’re also announcing the next weekend event which is going to be in Glasgow on the weekend of 19–21 June.

There’s also lots about Social Innovation Camp in the Guardian today — in particular a great piece about the winners of the first camp Enabled By Design who are launching their new site today!

EBD in the Guardian

There’s magic in the Hello

Name badges

Lovely piece by Scott Heiferman and Jeremy Heinmans in the run up to the inauguration event tomorrow about the name badges Meetup are giving out to the crowd. Certainly rings true for the Meetups I’ve been involved with.

There’s magic in the Hello, and the humble name tag functions as a kind of permission to connect in a suspicious world. We’ve seen that magic in over a million Meetups. People use the internet ( to get off the internet and organize community around something important to them — whether that’s getting advice in running a small business or fighting for gay rights or supporting each other through health struggles.

More here.

Why education needs start-ups

Ken Robinson says in his now pretty famous TED talk that if you mention to someone that you work in education you can watch peoples’ faces drop, but ask them about their own experience of education and you can’t shut them up. So it was just over two years ago when a bunch of us sat in a room to talk about how we might set up a new school. One by one we talked about our experiences – good and bad – of education whether primary, secondary, at university or at work. What was obvious to all of us by the end of the day was that education was still designed for the industrial, factory based era and had barely been updated at all. It is still basically a one-size-fits-all system where information is passed down from people who know to people who don’t.

Two years later and I share an office with several of the people in that room. Rather than starting a school, we went away and founded a company, raised investment and built School of Everything. We spotted an opportunity to use the internet to connect people who have something to teach with those who want to learn directly, without the help of educational institutions. It’s growing fast, not just in the UK but in other countries too. We’ve found that there’s a desire to organise learning in a simpler more efficient way.

We’re not the only people trying to do it. In the UK Beanbag Learning, and in the US start-ups like Teachstreet, Edufire and Grockit are all trying to find ways to revolutionise education and it’s a growing scene. Today we got a bunch of UK start-ups together in London to swap war-stories and tips about how to change education from the bottom up at Bettr. Then at the SICamp meetup we got people together to pitch new education start-up ideas and try to find the people who can help them to make them happen.

But why start-ups? Why can’t established large companies or agencies innovate? I believe that small, cheap, nimble organisations using technology to develop new products and services will be better at coming up with completely new ways of thinking about the structure of the education system. When you decide to put your energy into a start-up, you don’t start from the perspective of ‘designing a faster horse’, you think differently. You have an interest in the overall success and scalability of the project, not in a contract. You focus on the end user rather than what somebody would like who already has a vested interest in the way things are organized now.

And despite the downturn, education is one area where the investors are still interested. The penny has dropped that education is a massive opportunity, almost no matter what the economic climate. As the renowned venture capitalist Fred Wilson has said “It’s the entire education system that’s stuck in the past. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, and I’ve come to believe that we need to completely reinvent the way we educate ourselves.” Silicon Valley commentator Umair Haque has also said that reorganising education is one of the biggest opportunities of the 21st century.

At School of Everything we’re trying to change the way people organize their learning. We’re not out to put professional teachers out of a job or commoditize education (plenty of people offer to teach on School of Everything for free). We think the old ways of finding information and collaborating with others will still exist, but education needs a real shake-up and to imagine a way of organising itself that is very different from the industrial age. It’s been start-ups that have done that for the way we buy and sell, the way we find information and the way we communicate with friends and family. Education is already changing but the sense of opportunity is growing. In 10 years time, the way we organize learning will be almost unrecognisable from today.