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Open Government = Social Innovation

Governments can build local social enterprise portals to fluidly meet the deep needs of society

Tami McEvoy

Our McS consulting practice specializes in fast-tracking cutting edge, new innovations such as Cloud computing, Open Government and Social Innovation.

These can be utilized by start-ups, providing them a unique invention to launch and grow their business, and it can also be leveraged by large organizations and governments.

The essential ingredient is that rather than these being seperate, standalone topics, the critical point is how they overlap and enable one another. As the title suggests, Open Government is actually a form of Social Innovation.

Canadian Federal Government research explains this, highlighting how Social Innovation is defined through this union, the sweet spot where business innovation overlaps with community innovation.

However as their other report shows there isn't yet enough uptake or progress:

"The report highlights the urgency of the social challenges before us, such as climate change, sustainability, poverty and globalization, particularly in the midst of a global economic downturn, and points to the importance of fostering SI as a solution."

This is where Open Government can be utilized for great value, for enabling much more dynamic and scalable organizational capabilities.

Social Enterprise Innovation
My Guid Life project was one example of this, demonstrating some key principles of Social Business, and also Open Government.

Faced with depleting government funding my remit was to enable local social organizations in Scotland to become more financially sustainable, able to generate their own revenues and reduce their reliance on grants.

Social organizations originate in response to a social need 'at the coal face' and therefore typically start very small, often with only one staff member and perhaps two or three helpful volunteers. Therefore becoming commercially proficient is often too significant a challenge to overcome, and so by aggregating their needs we were able to develop centralized, shared services for them to take advantage of to meet this need.

To get their organization off the ground they needed what all others do too, like a web site to showcase their presence and attract customers and volunteers, and press promotions to announce this to the world.

However as very small micro-organizations these capabilities were out of their reach and so we deployed a central portal site, based on Open Source software, that used Web 2.0 features to enable community collaboration between the 350,000 local residents, including young and old so that it also helped bridge the generational as well as the digital divides.

The portal also included an important feature of 'micro-sites'. These were simple tools that enabled non-technical social entrepreneurs to publish their own web site, and publish it into the directory within the site.

We then conducted press marketing on behalf of the whole site and drew in traffic which they all shared and enjoyed, thus they each integrated business services into their organization but without having to take on the resource directly themselves.

Cloud organization
Cultivating this ecosystem of social organizations highlights the overlap with government, as each one provided some form of "social service", even as simple as companionship for the isolated elderly.

Meeting the needs of such a large volume of small needs is not the strength of government, who have the scale for large social services like hospitals but can be overly bureaucratic and unable to adapt to the wide spectrum of different needs at this level.

Therefore it's their combination that's ideal. Through new vehicles like 'Social Impact Bonds' governments can invest in cultivating these community-driven supplier networks, that can work in partnership with their own agencies to offer an equally diverse and localized spectrum of services.

In their white paper ‘Constellation Model of Collaborative Social Change‘ the pioneers of the Toronto Centre for Social Innovation describe how fluid collaborations across multiple stakeholder groups in government, businesses and social organizations are key to driving successful change projects.

In essence this platform achieves for organizations and people what Cloud computing does for IT applications and resources, a scalable framework for more fluidly adapting to societal needs the same way.

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