Social Innovation Driven By Digital Innovation: Conditions of Citizens' Participation in Technology-Driven Innovation Processes

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Davide DUSI, Ghent University, Belgium
Recent technological advancements fostered the change of users' role from passive to active participants in the development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This shift harbors promises for social progress through technological development and power reconfiguration through participation. Nevertheless, the interpretation of emerging socio-technical arrangements as capable of generating social innovation raised contrasting opinions. Some scholars celebrate people's involvement in ICTs development for social purposes, whereas others emphasize the downsides of their participation.

Adverting to this scenario, and making use of ethnographic research methods, I am analyzing the development of a project called We for Work Flanders. It is a trajectory where citizens gathered to create digital solutions to face social issues supported by social and digital experts, entrepreneurs and creatives. Participants were asked to engage in idea-generation activities, to transform the generated ideas into digital prototypes, and finally to develop the prototypes into functioning digital tools. The goal of this contribution is twofold: to describe the socio-technical arrangements characterizing processes of bottom-up ICTs development for social innovation; and to clarify the role of citizens in these practices.

Preliminary findings show inconsistency between the way in which the project was launched, as a socio-technical process, and how it eventually evolved, as a mainly technical activity. The asymmetric power relationship between the organization responsible for the initiative and its partners and funders crucially affected the outcome of the project, the role assigned to participants as well as the way in which their participation was rewarded and acknowledged. Thus far, the criticism emerged from this project invite us to question the conditions of citizens’ involvement in processes of digital innovation to foster social innovation. Finally, greater attention to the design of these initiatives to favor the alignment of the involved heterogeneous actors and its maintenance throughout the process seems desirable.