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Smart cities

3.1 Using digital social innovation

Some of the innovations here could surprise you. One example is citizens involved in real science – helping analyse real cancer data through game apps, and making a real contribution to the development of new and better treatments. This and other instances of digital social innovation have a significant social impact.

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We've had half a century of wave after wave of digital innovation, everything from computing and data and the world wide web, and then a more recent wave of social innovation. The creation of new social models of health care or consumption or finance. And what's happened in the last few years is an attempt to bring these together. What we're trying to look at is what are the new methods which can help grow digital social innovation ideas, which could be new ways of organising money, new ways of organising democracy, new ways of people sharing resources. How do we help those grow from often very small projects to begin with, into ones which can really change everyday life?
Citizen Science is about enabling the general public to get involved in real science. So for us at Cancer Research UK, that's about enabling the public to get involved in real cancer research. What they're doing through our apps, is they are helping analyse real cancer data. And once they've done that analysis, that goes back to our researchers and that enables them to feed that data into their research and that helps them to develop new better treatments for cancer patients, and will hopefully enable us to beat cancer sooner. Our first product was Cell Slider. Cell Slider is very close to the science. You're basically doing the job of a researcher but on a very small scale.
We then developed Genes in Space which is a mobile game. And your mission in the game is to gather as much of these clouds of purple space dust as possible. What's really clever is that we've taken genetic data from cancer cells and it's actually that genetic data that is determining where the purple element alpha is that you are flying through. In the first three months, the citizen scientists were able to use Cell Slider to do analysis which had taken our researchers 18 months to do. So that's six times faster. And so that shows us that there is real potential for Citizen Science and crowd sourcing as a concept to make a massive difference in terms of accelerating cancer research.
What OpenCorporates does is to take the information, public information from government sources - so for example you can search for all the Barclays companies around about the world. You can look at directors in companies in other countries for example.
Whatever country you're in, there's often money disappearing off public funds. Normal people's tax money just disappearing. And with open information about government spending we can start to track that down. We can understand where money goes, where public money goes from tax revenues through governments making budget decisions. Where the money is actually spent in procurement and in final expenditure, and the impact that had. And that means bringing together lots of information about government spending, about company ownership, who owns and controls the companies who are taking government money, so you can then join all the dots and follow the money through.
Journalists massively use us, not just to search for companies, but to search for directors and to search for other companies that they're connected with. Other businesses, SMEs, governments are using this. Banks are using this. All of these things really depend on this underlying data set. And that's what we've been producing, this underlying base level data set of companies.
There's always an imbalance of power between citizens and individuals and big corporates, governments and so on. And information can help balance that power. We should know as much about governments and corporations as they know about us as individuals. And so there are a great applications of open information in uncovering corruption and holding power to account.
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Activity 4 Thinking about digital social innovation

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Is digital social innovation applicable to tackling your city problem?

If yes, what approaches have you seen that you would want to explore further for generating ideas and potential solutions?

Make some notes on your thoughts and add them to your Smart Cities Project Ideas Template.

Next you’ll learn how to crowdfund a project, which is a particularly useful approach for digital social innovation.


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