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David Wilcox

Why digital social innovation requires both bottom-up and top-down - more lessons from #DSInext @Nesta_uk

3 min read

Nesta have provided a full recording of the digital social innovation event that I wrote about here, and it is worth scrolling right to the end to hear chief executive Geoff Mulgan's closing remarks. You'll find them at 7hours 44 mins of the recording.

In the course of his review of the day he makes some profoundly important points about inequality heightened by digital developments, the importance of more skills and capacity in civil society organisations, and joining bottom-up and top-down. He said:

What we have learned - contrary to many expectations 30 or 40 years ago - is that most of the dynamic of digital and indeed the knowledge economy, through most societies, is that it widens disparity, it widens inequalities.

It creates fantastic pockets and hubs of amazing activity in London or Barcelona or Berlin or Copenhagen but actually the distance in terms of life opportunity, income and so on tends to widen, so it is really important that we focus again and again on the social dimension and don’t just celebrate the digital.

We have got a few priorities which are really just about bringing civil society up to speed on what is pretty normal in much of business - and huge, but really quite mundane tasks just around basic skills, basic tools, in the literally millions of civil society organisations across Europe that aren’t using them, and aren’t getting the benefit of them. We need stronger campaigns, institutions, and help to raise the base level.

There is a very big picture in much of what is being talked about today, a very different view of how a state should operate, genuinely with citizens at its core, not just at the end of the line of provision … a very different view of an economy that is genuinely collaboratively enhancing humanity rather than the opposite.

It is important not to lose sight of that small and sometime very big P political side of what is being talked about - but it requires that the bottom-up and top-down link. It is no good enough just to fetishise either - just fetishising because they are grass roots, if they don’t get access to power and money, any more than it is good to fetishise top down, command and control or directive.

It is when the two combine that you get profound and lasting change in this space.

I've pulled the quotes out both because they are, hopefully, an indication of the way that Nesta might prioritise further work in this area, and specifically because they support the way we hope to develop our model of a Networked City.

I'll explore that in the next post about the RSA Network City initiative that I wrote about here.