Spring camp, but not as we know it


If you’re reading this post, like me you probably spend too much time on the internet, much of it contributing to online communities of shared interest. As exciting as it sometimes is to find people with similar views and interests online I’m not always confident that my virtual networks are going to amount to much.

Social Innovation Camp is interested in addressing exactly that issue: how the online world can be used to create better solutions to social problems in the real world.

Earlier this year the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, the Young Foundation and the Yahoo! Developer Network issued a call for ideas for using the social web to facilitate social change.

They were looking for genuinely innovative ideas that addressed a specific social need using technology.

They received more than 70 ideas. A panel made up of the event organisers then chose the most promising six for further exploration.

They were:

Barcode Wikipedia: site for storing user-generated information – such as carbon footprint, manufacturing conditions and reviews - against a product, identified by its barcode number.

Enabled by Design: a resource for anyone looking to make adjustments to their lives, be it as a result of disability, injury or impairment.

Personal development reports: an online system that supports young people to identify their personal skills and qualities.

Prison visits: a tool to support the families of prisoners coping with the experience of being apart from a loved one.

Rate My CV: a site for helping jobseekers using Web 2.0 tools, and

Stuffshare: Freecycle meets Street Car: a stuff club.

As well as soliciting ideas for technological solutions to social problems sicamp issued a call for designers, developers and online producers who had the expertise and skills necessary to bring the selected ideas to life on the web.

75 highly skilled professionals responded. Sicamp then asked them to choose one of the six short listed projects to work on. It then gave the teams that had assembled around each of the projects 48 hours over a weekend to work up their idea and develop some protoype web applications.

Each of the teams had a five minute slot at the end of the weekend to demonstrate what they built and tell the judges about their social need, how their project will be sustainable and grow and, crucially, what they want to do with it next.

One of the incentives for presenting was £3,000 in prize money aimed at helping the best ideas along.

First prize, went to Enabled By Design. It’s social mission and practical application clearly impressed the judges. The £2,000 the project gets as a result of winning will I think really help bring this project to life.

Second prize went to the newly named RateMyPrison, the newly named prison visitors project, which was my personal favourite. Although just to be fair I should say that it happened to be the project my partner was working on. But I also really do believe it has a real chance of making a big difference to the lives of both prisoners and the families and friends who visit them.

But all of the projects under development have huge potential and I have no doubt that by participating in sicamp that they’ll be better, more useful and brought to life more quickly.

One of the challenges for social entrepreneurs and activists with great ideas is finding people with the right skills and expertise to work on their projects.

Sicamp addressed that very challenge and in doing so has helped six really important public interest projects take the next stage in their development.

I’ve got at least five ideas I’ll be submitting to the next camp. Bring it on!

This was cross posted to Ode