For the Social Tech Digital Nation Action Project the key question and objective is how do bring together the right group of stakeholders, identify social impact needs and scale the impact of those projects.
Organizations like the Homeless Network are at the front line, so the fundamental question is what can tech and entrepreneurs do to best help them?
Adam Lang of NESTA explores this in a series of articles, on How we improve social innovation in Scotland, through Changing the narrative, Rethinking risk and most importantly, Providing more space for experimentation.
Social Tech Innovations and Best Practices
Adam makes the critical point that “we need more approaches to testing, designing and scaling practical solutions to shared social problems”, through more innovation labs that try out new ideas and then integrate lessons learned into public policy. This is what a Social Tech innovation group would be ideal for.
For example in a previous blog I identified two key learnings from my own experience of homelessness. One being a need for more ‘Social Reporting’ and the other community knowledge resources, capturing the street know how from those on the streets and sharing it with those new to it: “Social Mapping”.
In short something like this homeless map of Newcastle would have been ideal, a map of the city endorsed with local knowledge by homeless people there.
Of course a paper-based map would have limited value and in this day and age online map directories are very simple to produce.
For example The Glasgow Community Food Network provides this map of resources like food banks. On a global scale the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team apply advanced capabilities towards global scale needs.
This highlights the first step that can be taken, to build a team with capabilities in key tech areas and showcasing how others have used it as a stimulus to encourage further ideas for where else it could be applied.
Mapping is one technology and there are many others. For example Eric Rice believes at AI can solve homelessness, and with Scotland recently forming an AI Alliance there is a cluster in that field that could contribute this expertise towards this end. A great example of the powerful effect achieved through the intersection of these fields is how UrbanTide is using AI to produce fuel poverty risk maps.
Through the use of open source and hackathons much of these are easily translated into actionable tech innovation projects that can be piloted for little effort and cost, so the potential for real impact is distinctly tangible.
There is also the process of learning from and repeating innovations already developed by others around the world. As AWS documents the Texas Homeless Network used their services to pilot a data sharing project, which offers not only domain experience learning but highlights the key benefit of the Cloud, which is that these apps and thus their best practices can be easily repeated.
Scaling Social Impact
The second main question is then one of scale; how can test bed projects be rolled out on a much larger scale and in general how can we achieve a wholesale systemic transformation?
In his article Adam Lang emphasizes this challenge for Scotland, noting that there are few policy innovation mechanisms for growing social impact in Scotland, asking questions such as “Where are the innovative finance mechanisms for long-term public benefit?”
Investigate journalism cooperative The Ferret provides a taste of where this type of need exists in the public sector, reporting that local authorities own over 1,100 vacant properties in Scotland’s cities.
Clearly this is a massively under utilized public asset and as I tweeted, is an ideal scenario for the type of Social Tech innovation project, using the tools described here, combining mapping with community and marketplace process features for matching ideas and project proposals to properties.
Financing large scale change is also a field with many innovative ideas and developments that could be called upon to scale impact.
In Scotland there are organizations like Social Investment Scotland, who provide investment for Social Enterprises and on a broader basis there are policy innovations spanning from Social Impact Bonds through to emerging ‘Social Stock Markets’, the same principle as any other stock market except all the companies that are listed are also socially active in some way. For example India has a Social Stock Exchange.
Again the intersection of new technologies and these innovations presents potential for hugely accelerated impact. For example in Gibraltar their stock exchange has been acquired by a Blockchain technology business, with a view to integrating the use of that technology to link traditional securities with NFT ownership.
This represents a fusion of two massive drivers of financial leverage. Cryptocurrencies have only just begun to transform global finance and within the right context offer a tremendous potential for very large scale social change, of new models for democratized asset ownership and wealth distribution.
Scotland’s opportunity is to be at the forefront of realizing that potential, combining our technology abilities and ambitions with our national desire to build a modern, socially progressive and inclusive country.