The Digital Social Innovation Manifesto

The way towards the Innovation in the Digital Society


The unprecedented hyper connectivity enabled by digital technologies and the Internet are rapidly changing the opportunities we have to address some of the society’s biggest challenges: environmental preservation, reducing inequalities, fostering inclusion and putting in place sustainable economic models.
However, to make the most of these opportunities we need to move away from the current centralization of power by a small number of large tech companies and enable a much broader group of people and organisations to develop and share innovative digital solutions.

Across Europe, a growing movement of people is exploring opportunities for Digital Social Innovation (DSI), developing bottom-up solutions leveraging on participation, collaboration, decentralization, openness, and multi-disciplinarity. However, it is still at a relatively small scale, because of the little public and private investment in DSI, the limited experience in large-scale take-up of collective solutions, and the relative lack of skills of DSI actors (civil society) compared to commercial companies.

This Manifesto aims at fostering civic participation into democratic and social processes, increasing societal resilience and mutual trust as core element of the Digital Society. It provides recommendations for policy makers, to drive the development of the European Digital Single Market to fulfill first and foremost societal and sustainability challenges (rather than short-lived economic interests), with the help and engagement of all citizens.

This Manifesto reflects the views of a broad community of innovators, catalyzed by the coordination action ChiC, which is funded by the European Commission, within the context of the CAPS initiative. As such, it is open to incorporating incoming views and opinions from other stakeholders and it does not intend to promote the specific commercial interests of actors of any kind.

The key points for the Manifesto


1. Openness and transparency

To realize the full potentiality of collaborative solutions based on hyperconnectivity, it is imperative avoiding that citizens of the digital world are locked into proprietary solutions, and guaranteeing access and a level playground for fair competition to actors of any size.. EU and national public institutions should enforce laws and promote programmes that make data and digital platforms open and broadly accessible:

  • Promote Open Data approaches (innovative ways of opening up, capturing, sharing, using, analyzing and interpreting open data), and ensure transparency of the algorithms used by platforms with high social value.
  • Sustain Open Knowledge (communities supported by online platforms that collectively analyse data, develop and analyse new types of knowledge or crowdfund social projects).
  • Mandate use and reuse of existing Open-Source (and possibly free of charge) software in national and EU funding streams. Encourage development and adoption of Open Hardware (hardware which people can adapt, hack and shape into tools for social change with no legal limitation).


2. Democracy and decentralization

The decentralized Internet has insofar been a powerful support for democracy and participation in every part of the world. DSI solutions can effectively be harnessed for elections, consultations, deliberations, policy making. And, even in a world dominated by a few de facto Internet monopolies, DSI can inspire new decentralized models for the governance of personal data, ensuring citizens’ sovereignty over their digital life and providing them with a broader choice of solutions, which is a basic need for advanced democracies.

  • Promote citizens’ awareness and political attention towards these new forms of innovation, the creation of new commons, citizen engagement and to the risks (privacy, monitoring) entailed by centralized solutions (including dominant social networks, clouds, and AI systems).
  • Accelerate projects which aim at integrating digital tools into every aspect of democracy, from campaigns and proposals to policy design, spending and scrutiny – and encourage leadership from municipalities, parliaments, political parties, whether through funding, advocacy or convening.
  • Analyze, compare and give broader visibility (for further replicability) to the open democracy and participatory budgeting practices implemented by several European cities.


3. Experimentation and adoption

Developing and assessing the viability of new techno-social models need large-scale testing and experimentation in real situations. EU and national funding streams should promote pilots, rooted into actual communities, that can explore emerging solutions and demonstrate the long-term potential of DSI, for example in healthcare, democracy, making, environment, energy, or new economic models (such as the sharing economy):

  • Bring together existing communities of citizens with entrepreneurs, social innovators and institutions, to assess the real effectiveness of DSI solutions and align regulation, law, technology and user needs in order to eliminate barriers to innovation and to inclusion (without discrimination based on age, gender, cultural background, disabilities and sexual orientation).
  • Set technological priorities of public research programmes as the most effective to cope with societal challenges: low-cost or collaboration potential may be more important than sheer performance.
  • Make sure that EU and public institutions are the first ones to test and adopt DSI approaches. Use new participatory models to engage citizens in everyday life, in their localities.


4. Digital skills and multi-disciplinarity

One of the biggest barriers to making the most of DSI is the significant gap in the skills and capacity to experiment with and develop new digital social innovations. The development of easy-to-use and effective solutions requires a complex combination of expertise from disparate different technological and social domains, which is not provided by the traditional education systems.

  • Incentives for multi-disciplinarity: novel approaches and support are sought to fostering collaboration between the tech community, social scientists and civil society organisations.
  • Promote a much broader base of digital skills among citizens, and women in particular, NGOs and other community organisations, to enable them to get advantage of digital technologies – and contribute to their development into social directions. This includes critical thinking and language skills, which are crucial for media and digital literacy.
  • Information technologies and coding skills, as well as a broad multidisciplinary understanding of Internet governance, should be part of the core curricula both in schools and universities – which requires massive training for teachers as well.


5. Sustainability

The sustainability of new approaches to solving societal challenges cannot rely only on commercial mechanisms or voluntary participation. It is of essence to ensure that funding for innovation in the digital society – whether at EU, national, regional or city level – reaches the actors and areas with most potential for societal benefits:

  • Governance: Redefine the governance rules for public research programmes, assigning a leading role to social innovators (such as makers, start-ups, researchers, social enterprises, civil society associations and NGOs) rather than to large and established companies with powerful lobbies.
  • Methodology: structure funding to fit the distinct stages of innovation – from early stage design to incubation and acceleration and then through to scaling up. Define and experiment new sustainability models for DSI (e.g. leveraging on crowdfunding and CSR programmes).
  • Additional sources: leverage public sector procurement opening it up to the above-mentioned civil society actors and sustainability areas. Increase access to alternative sources of finance and cross-border crowdfunding.


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