What next for digital social innovation? Realising the potential of people and technology to tackle social challenges

Matt Stokes et al at nesta: “This report, and accompanying guide, produced as part of the DSI4EU project, maps the projects and organisations using technology to tackle social challenges across Europe, and explores the barriers to the growth of digital social innovation.

Key findings

  • There are almost 2,000 organisations and over 1,000 projects involved in digital social innovation (DSI) across Europe, with the highest concentration of activity in Western and Southern Europe.
  • Despite this activity, there are relatively few examples of DSI initiatives delivering impact at scale. The growth of DSI is being held back by barriers at the system level and at the level of individual projects.
  • Projects and organisations involved in DSI are still relatively poorly connected to each other. There is a pressing need to grow strong networks within and across countries and regions to boost collaboration and knowledge-sharing.
  • The growth of DSI is being held back by lack of funding and investment across the continent, especially outside Western Europe, and structural digital skills shortages.
  • Civil society organisations and the public sector have been slow to adopt DSI, despite the opportunity it offers them to deliver better services at a lower cost, although there are emerging examples of good practice from across Europe.
  • Practitioners struggle to engage citizens and users, understand and measure the impact of their digital social innovations, and plan for growth and sustainability.

Across Europe, thousands of people, projects and organisations are using digital technologies to tackle social challenges in fields like healthcare, education, employment, democratic participation, migration and the environment. We call this phenomenon digital social innovation.

Through crowdmapping DSI across Europe, we find that there are almost 2,000 organisations and over 1,000 projects using open and collaborative technologies to tackle social challenges. We complement this analysis by piloting experimental data methods such as Twitter analysis to understand in further depth the distribution of DSI across Europe. You can explore the data on projects and organisations on digitalsocial.eu.

However, despite widespread activity, few initiatives have grown to deliver impact at scale, to be institutionalised, or to become “the new normal”.

In this research, we find that weak networks between stakeholders, insufficient funding and investment, skills shortages, and slow adoption by public sector and established civil society organisations is holding back the growth of DSI…(More)”.