ASIX is starting to take really interesting shape
I'm thrilled with the new ASIX website and the way it's looking. It's reflective of a new energy and focus in the Exchange I think and a renewed focus on our driving passion...to find better ways to connect changemakers of all varieties, shapes, sizes and locations so they get to be more effective.
The website itself, if course, is a key part of that task. It's already growing into a powerful platform for people to register their interests, share thier skills and find others with whom they can connect and then collaborate.
But the task is as much about what happens offline as it is about what will happen increasingly online. We're already actively working with small communities of interest and practice in pretty much every state and every capital city (yes, including Hobart and Darwin!). We've run our first successful Social Innovation Camp and a lively and energetic group of innovators are developing something similar, along the lines of the "barcamp" meetings, in Sydney to great effect.
Some of the projects born over that amazing weekend in Sydney when we ran the first camp are going from strength to strength, and you can read about their process in the newsletter and on the website. I'd like to see some more social innovation camps to reinforce their value in rapid and intense collaboration. We need to get better at them and the best way to get better is to keep practising, so we'll look at doing more.
Steve Lawrence and others are busy developing a "social changemakers 101" program that provides a little bit of structured training and learning for those who want to know more about the different elements of the social innovation process.
We've started talking with a small group of smart and energetic folks around the concept of a "hub" for social innovators, a physical space somewhere in Sydney that can provide a physical space that reflects the same instinct for connecting and collaborating as we're trying to build on the website. In Sydney, that group includes John Wells and Stuart Horrex. We're engaged with Brad Krauskopf too and the people who have lauched a hub initiaitive in Melbourne and, between us all, we're keen to discover the right model for a Sydney version. Similar conversations will start, if they haven't already, in other cities and towns. The key is always to work out the right model and approach to reflect each location's cultural, economic and people context...
As well as these initiatives, we're keeping a pretty active profile on Facebook and twitter and using those platforms for a less structured method of keeping people engaged in the social innovation conversation. The truth is that much about social innovation as an idea and as a practice is still taking shape. Quite a bit of it is contentious and attracts some strong views about what social innovation is, or should be and how it ought to evolve and take hold in Australia. It's a global conversation, of course and part of the attraction of the ASIX concept is the link back to the global community of innovators being curated by the Social Innovation Exchange out of London. We've held a few successful "social innovator dialogues" with practitioners and thinkers from Italy, Canada and Denmark and we've got more planned for 2011.
I am just as interested in these less formal, emerging conversations around the ideas and practice of social innovation as I obviously am in the specific projects and activities with which we are invovled. Right now, I think ASIX can do a power of good just by providing a steadily growing, robust and open platform for others to talk and argue about the whole idea of social innovation. That ability to create some shared spaces, physical and virtual, where the Australian social innovation conversation can take shape, strikes me as a pretty useful 'product' especially in these early stages.
Apart from an obvious interest in the role of technology in all of this, given my links to Cisco, there are two things driving my interest in the ASIX venture. One is whether it's possible to define a truly distinctive art and practice of social innovation that tackles difficult social problems, and real opportunities, in ways that break some of the inherited traditions of policy and practice we're working with right now. Can social innovation move the field, as it were, and open up new markets (in a generic sense) for innovation and new practice? I suspect the answer is that it's possible, but not without some potentially bruising encounters with the vested interests and instutional inertia of that sometimes characterise the status quo. From some perspectives, innovators are a nuisance. Maybe that's one indicator we can track?
The other thing about which I remain passionate is that we need more spaces and places to do the arguing, inventing, testing and scaling that any decent innovation "system" takes for granted. The fact is that, in the social innovation space, there is no shortage of people with ideas and ambitions to 'do something'. What is sorely lacking is a solid and inclusive platform that helps other people connect to become more effective. The platform in that scenario is not just another player in an already crowded space. It is a distinct and independent player whose main business in life is to make other players much more successful.
ASIX is an atttempt to respond to both of those ambitions. It is, in a sense, an organisaton without ego (although not totally self-effacing of course!) and an idea whose instinct is to curate networks and communities of people who, because we can make it easier for them to find each other and do good stuff together, get better and more confident about prosecuting the ideas that drive their passion for change.