On Sunday I went to Brighton and once I’d traipsed through the rain the long way round the Amex Stadium I found myself at City Camp Brighton. City Camps, if you don’t know, are gatherings of people working together to develop innovative solutions to social problems through the use of technology. Over the weekend people from the voluntary and community sector, techies, local government and the odd punk-rocker or two put their heads together to see what ideas they could come up with. After a couple of days exploring, discussing, designing and refining their thinking, at the end of the weekend people can pitch their ideas and the best idea (or ideas) are given money to take them forward.
Brighton’s second City Camp (following a successful foray into the genre last year) was organised by the Democratic Society and the prize money was put up by Brighton & Hove City council and NHS Sussex. I was asked to chair the panel judging the winners and have the pleasure of giving away someone else’s money to support good ideas J
There were a number of ideas that caught the eye and we ultimately agreed to fund 7 projects, with others being offered in-kind support to develop their ideas. The outright – and unanimous – winner was Gig Buddies, the brainchild of Paul Richards Bass Player from punk rock band Heavy Load. The idea is simple – aren’t all the best ones? – to connect disabled people who want to go to gigs, with people who can help get them there (and home). When disabled people rely on carers to assist them getting around, it’s not uncommon for them to finish work at 9 or 10pm, meaning cutting short gigs and other evening activity. Gig Buddies will help connect disabled people with other people who are going to the gig already to help out. It was immediately obvious that the idea would make a difference to people’s lives. It also helped that they had the pun of the day in the Gig Society.
There were lots of other good ideas – and Wired has done a nice write up of the event and some of the winning ideas that’s worth a read.
Some of the ideas were truly radical – and offering them a £5,000 grant wouldn’t have even touched the sides in terms of what they needed. Others were rough diamonds that clearly had something about them, but needed more work to develop a clearer focus and plan to move them forward. Some, as is always the case when people get together to talk about innovation, were interesting and good projects, but not what I would call innovation. That doesn’t make them bad ideas…just not necessarily right for City Camp.
I think the City Camp model is a good one, though I believe it’s still a challenge to make it truly accessible to grass roots groups. Using technology to develop social innovation has huge potential but I still feel it’s an invited space which non-techies are welcomed in to, to a greater or lesser extent. I can’t help feeling there’s more we can do to establish and support social spaces that put technology second to community action – merely tools to be deployed in furtherance of social aims. I know there are people out there from grass roots groups and communities whose radical ideas for innovation would benefit from technology and help those working with/in technology to use their skills and expertise to greater effect.
But I realise that there are currently a number of obstacles on all sides that don’t make that coming together an easy thing to pull off. Brighton have made a great start….now we need to push further.