Driving Social Innovation Through an Open Data Initiative

The open data initiative focuses on freeing data so that it can be access by anyone who needs it. This initiative has taken momentum around the world and at present time more than 20 governments have adopted this initiative, providing more than 200 local, regional and national open data catalogs, as part of their strategy to strengthen their democracy and incentive transparency in their society. The goal of this initiative is to allow access to data so that social innovators can use it as a tool for creating solutions to problems that affect their society. The approach of sharing data allows individuals and organizations understand where problems are located and where solutions are needed. This approach has many benefits for different types of organizations, such as government agencies, NGOs, private companies and clusters.

This article aims to explore how an open data initiative can drive social innovation in a community. To achieve this, we will explain different aspects of social innovation such as the definition of social innovation, the importance of social innovation for creating change in a community and the barriers that exist for social innovation to prosper. With a clear understanding of social innovation we will precede to explain the importance of an open data initiative, how the open data initiative by itself is a social innovation and how it can also be a platform for driving social innovation. To show how the initiative is an enabler of social innovation we will present four cases on open data initiative and the impact they have had in their community.

2. What is social innovation?

Defining social innovation has been a difficult task for both scholars and practitioners since there has been little consensus over the concept of social innovation. One problem is that the concept of social innovation can be interchangeable with other concepts such as social entrepreneurship and social enterprise (Yeung, 2007). Many view them as different concepts, but reality is that social innovation is compose of social enterprises and social entrepreneurship (Phills et al, 2008). Innovation in general needs enterprises and entrepreneurs to thrive and so does social innovation. These misunderstandings of the difference ignore the greater impact that social innovation has. Social entrepreneurship focus on social change in the individual level, social enterprise focus on social change in the organizational level where social innovation focuses on social change in the system level, which would also require change in the organizational and individual level (Westley and Antadze, 2010).

According to Goldenberg (2004), social innovation is the development and implementation of new or enhanced activities, initiatives, services, processes or products to address social and economic problems experienced by individuals and communities. From another point MaRS (2007) defines it as a new set of creative solution to unmet social needs that goes from environmental degradation and homelessness to global poverty. Frances Westley provides a broader definition by saying that social innovation is a complex process of introducing products, process or programs that profoundly change the basic routines, resources and authority flows or beliefs of the social system in which they arise (Westley, 2009). Westley also adds that for a social innovation to be successful it has to be durable and of broad impact (Westley, 2009).

In a much simpler way Mulgan et al. (2006) defines social innovation as new ideas that work to fix problems that affect society by providing solutions to unmet needs and by improving the lives of the people of that society.

From the preview definitions we can identify that the purpose of social innovation is to transform social problems that are deeply rooted by providing new ideas, solutions, guidelines and/or policies for the benefit of the community at large. With this we follow Phills et al. (2008) more generic definition that social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable and/or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole. This social innovation can be presented much like other type of innovation as a product, a production process or a technology. It can also be a principle, a piece of legislation, a social movement, an intervention or a combination of them (Phills et al., 2008).

The main difference between social innovation and other types of innovation is that social innovation takes place in daily life, social relationships and behaviors. Other types of innovation are trapped by any standard measures of economic activity making them to be located within the market economy. Another main difference is that social innovation aims to create social value for the wider community rather than for personal profit (Hazelkorn, 2009). It is widely known that innovations in general are created with the intent to revolutionize the world, but not all innovations are social. They are only social when they considered the gain of society in the overall as their main target (Phills et al, 2008).

Just like innovation in science, technology, business and other areas, social innovation has to be adopted and diffused; normally this is done in the context of a period of time. The great depression of the 1930s created social movements in the US that led to the creation of the New Deal. Back then governments developed the social innovation needed to fix the problems that societies were facing, but now the roles have change and social innovation is being led by individuals that identify solutions to problems that are affecting their society. Shifting roles and relationship between sectors is not new in the innovation literature and social innovation is not saved from this. Collaboration is needed from many different sectors for social innovation to thrive. This means that governments, enterprises and entrepreneurs need to collaborate so that social innovation can flourish. These variety of actors will incentive and develop this social innovation for the greater good of the society.

3. Importance of social innovation

Social innovation doesn’t occur in markets driven by supply and demand, but mostly in failed markets. The interactions between the concepts of supply and demand in these markets are more complex, than where typical innovation occurs (Antadze and Westley, 2010). The outcome of social innovation is targeted to fix problems in a society and normally the consumers of these solutions are not the ones that can afford the cost of them, this implies that the demand is consume by someone and paid by another. As an example we could mention shelters for homeless people, the homeless are the consumers of this service but the cost of maintaining the shelters are covered by donation or financial help by other organizations. These circumstances accentuate the need of collaboration from different actors to thrive social innovation.

Social innovations is born as a response to needs or problems that are surrounded by circumstances under certain contexts, this means that the birth of a social innovation is dependent on the existing framework and its impact will be based on the strategies taken by the governments, the media and foundations. The government should create the conditions for social innovations to operate, the foundations should stimulate the relationship between the innovations and system awareness and finally the media should stimulate and promote these social innovations.

There is a lack of strategy for the development of social innovation and governments need to realize that future growth and well-being depends on social innovation as much (or even more) than on the development of new technologies. Most countries develop strong strategies for innovation in business, science and technology, but few have made similar strategies for social innovation.

The importance of social innovation relies on how it helps the evolution of a social system. A system that doesn’t evolve will fail because it will become inefficient and will neglect important aspects of the society that built it. Social innovation will facilitate the introduction of new ideas or new ways of thinking; this will realign the systems to its intentions, and help preserve a system that takes care of it society. If this fail, and the system can still not provide the proper care for its society then by means of social innovation a new system will replace the faulty one. All of this is possible because social innovation comes in different sizes.

4. Barriers to social innovation

Innovators are unique characters because they find creative solution to problems many don’t realize that exist. They create new products or services that once they are here we can’t leave without, but before they existed we didn’t even know we needed them. The case of a social innovator is different, they identify the problems and inefficiencies that affect their society and they persuade their entire society to change. A true social innovator doesn’t wait for their government to act on this needs, he take the initiative and forces the change. This is done because, normally, dominant players, like a government, tend to ignore solution that breaks from the traditional system. They do this because it breaks the model they are accustomed (Christensen et al., 2006). However, as mention before, collaboration is important for social innovation to thrive and lack of willingness to collaborate and support innovative solutions to social problems by the different actors is a major barrier to the existence of social innovation.

For social system to change in a positive way it needs the involvement of all the participants of that system. Novelty occurs by recombining the existing elements, if any group of the social system is excluded their viewpoint, diversity and particular element will be lost. This lost can have a major impact on the outcome of the new system. Social innovation is all about this (Westley, 2008).

Resistance to change is another possible major barrier to social innovation. Most people fear major changes simply because they don’t understand their importance. The main reason for this is that people tend to have high interest in stability and continuity. Some are reluctant to give up what they already know, to adopt new things; simply because at first it looks complicated (Yeung, 2007).

Even if the purpose of social innovation is to improve the quality of a society, to incorporate all the actors that form part of it and bring equality between them. These changes can affect many parts of the society, and just like any other change it will have different forces that oppose those changes.

On last important barrier is that most people feel threaten by any radical change. We built our society based on relationship, these networks positively affect the productivity within our system but these networks also threaten any notion of radical change.

Just like the great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed about the three stages that every truth passes through (first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed and lastly it is accepted as being self-evident), any social innovation will pass through these same stages.

5. An open data initiative

Opening the data can create a possibility of innovation that government agencies or NGOs can’t elaborate by themselves because of their limited resources. Governments, NGOs and private companies have big amount of data that can be used by the public in general. By harnessing the power of the crowd, these organizations can allow for individual to turn that raw data into visual representations that can help understand connections more easily, eventually providing solutions to social problems that would have not been possible without this representation (Boss, 2012).

The more data is share the easier it is for individual to grasp the usefulness of it. Data can be used for many purposes and it can illustrate and engage the society with its representation. Data can be used to promote events that have social impact, to engage communities and incentive participation in movements with social impact or to report and bring awareness of problems that are affecting the society (Ward, 2012).

With open data you can map the collective impact and identify new opportunities for partnership and collaboration to bring solution to social problems. The possibilities of opening the data could provide a map of hunger in a city, making people aware of the issues that are causing hunger in their community and have a more clear view on how to tackle the problem. Duplication of efforts from different organizations can be visualized by the usage of maps and this can help other to understand where help is needed and where investment is lacking. Opening the data is not about creating applications for restaurant reviews but more for creating applications that will bring awareness for problems that affect the society such as analyzing spreadsheets about traffic stops in a city and converting that into a map of potential accident hot spots in that city.

The open data approach focus on developing a platform and network that brings people together so that they can solve problems that are important to their society. This approach allows organizations to reach people they cannot reach by themselves (Kanani, 2011). The right information available to the right people at the right time can be transformative.

Long time ago electricity was locally produced by every factory that needed its usage and this was disrupted with the development of the electrical grid. A similar grid most be created for the sharing of data, this is because data is the new platform for change. In electricity the grid is being transformed so that electricity can be generated in a decentralized way but distributed where needed. Data has to take this approach, generated decentralized but accessed in centralized way (Bernholz, 2010).

6. Open data as a social innovation
An open data initiative itself can be considered to be a social innovation. As we already mention, an open data approach allows multiple actors of a society to share data. To fully explain how this initiative is a social innovation we will use the framework on social innovation dynamics (Westley, 2008)

6.1 Social innovation is an initiative, product, process or program that profoundly changes the basic routines, resources and authority flows or beliefs of any social system

The open data initiative creates a break from the traditional form of our social system in many ways. In a first look, this initiative brings transparency to organizations that implement it. By opening their data they allow other organizations and/or individuals to access this data and understand their actions. In the government level, it enables the elimination of corruption. Also with this initiative government can encourage participatory democracy and allow citizens to take action where is needed with this data. This openness in government is a break to the traditional way of operation in governments, by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of them. This open data initiative is a way to strengthen democracy in any country.

Form the position of NGOs, an adoption of this initiative would create a better understanding on social need and where investment is needed the most. With an open data initiative organizations can clearly identify where help is being provided, what type of help is given and more important what is still needed. Open data will provide the opportunity for new partnerships and collaboration between different organizations. This would ultimately reduce duplicity of investment and help identify places where help is lacking, making it easier for help to come where is needed, when is needed.

These organizations not only benefit by having a better understanding on where and what type of help is needed, they also benefit on the transparency advantage that adopting this initiative provides. By having a transparent look on their data, donors can have better understanding on what their operation is and people who do not know them can get to know them. This could create a better situation for them to attract donor for sustaining their operation.

Since the data would be available to individuals too, this would provide an important tool for social innovators, after all they will be the ones that will identify the problems and inefficiencies that affect our society.

6.2 Successful social innovations have durability and broad impact
Open data challenges the social system and social institutions which govern our conduct. Free sharing of information is not something we are accustoms to do at the moment, and free sharing of data is even more difficult to do. The open data initiative needs legislation that supports the cause so that important actors (such as the government) accept it.

This initiative is sustainable with the interaction of all the actors of the society. Data would be generated in a decentralized way, and anyone can contribute. Government agencies and other organizations already collect data from the society, and some of this data are not used properly. Engaging the locals to analyze this data can be more productive for those who gather the data, than them doing it alone.

This initiative call for all actors of society to collaborate for a better system that takes care of the needs of all.

6.3 While social innovation has recognizable stages and phases, achieving durability and scale is a dynamic process that requires both emergence of opportunity and deliberate agency, and a connection between the two.

Different to other types of innovation, social innovation flourish when there is an opportunity for change and when the right actors collaborate for this change to happen. An open data initiative needs the involvement and collaboration from social entrepreneurs that seek changes and social enterprises that can back them and help with the institutionalization of this change.

The opportunities for an open data initiative are everywhere. Citizens are demanding more transparency and less corruption. They wish for stronger democracy. This are changes that opening the data provide. Key individuals have created the mechanism for countries like the US and the UK to adopt this initiative and many other individuals are lobbying for their country to adopt it as well.

6.4 The capacity for any society to create a steady flow of social innovations, particularly those which re-engage vulnerable populations, is an important contributor to the overall social and ecological resilience

The open data initiative allows anyone to access the data and provide solution to problems that affects them. This initiative creates the possibility to use the data in the best way to solve a problem or to bring awareness to the problem. Most solutions come from people who are affected, or who believe in a cause.

The open data initiative builds a capacity for social innovation since it offers continuous novelty by providing data to those who need it, at the same time it draws on the diversity and abundance of the crowd that utilize it by engaging vulnerable and excluded elements. This initiative re-engages vulnerable population by providing a mechanism to better understand their need and bring awareness and possible solution to these needs. They are important because they will bring their unique view to problems to which others outside of this population can’t understand. Finally the open data initiative brings resilience in that it links social problems and solutions, providing social justice with elements of a healthy vibrant economy.

7. Open data initiative as a platform for social innovations

The open data initiative can work as a platform to allow the birth of other social innovations. To prove this point we will analyze four cases where the initiative has been adopted and present we will present evidence on how this initiative has allowed the creation of innovative solution to problems affecting the society and how they have had a positive impact on their society.

7.1 City of San Francisco, Ca.

The city of San Francisco in California launched the open data initiative in August 2009. With this, San Francisco provides datasets in various categories such as Environment, Geography, Housing, Public Safety and more. To incentive a broad community around the data, the city allows developers and interested citizens to comment on the dataset, rate the quality of the dataset among other types of feedback.

To access the data the city requires individual to register. Once they are register they can have access to the more than 200 datasets that they provide. From this form of collaboration the city has incentive the development of applications (web and mobiles) that utilize these datasets. By now, more than 60 apps utilize one or more of these datasets. The applications cover various aspects of the city, for example finding the nearest park with opening time, available traveling distance using public transportation in a time frame, collaborative platform to tackle issues of public safety and the environment by reporting incidents to government agencies, applications to map every tree in the city and the amount of oxygen it produces, a locator service for open parking space, applications for mapping criminal activity and violent incidents in the city, and overview of restaurant health inspection score, among others.

Recently the city improved their platform and introduced cloud capabilities to their open data initiative. With this they now offer social citizen interfaces and APIs to the existing datasets. This improves the access to information which enhances the engagement with developers and drives innovation.

This approach of opening the data has proven to San Francisco that it can engage developers to create tools that can increase quality of life in the city.

7.2 City of Washington, DC

Washington, DC opened their data to the public in early 2008. At the moment they have more than 487 dataset from multiple agencies in the city. To incentive the usage of their dataset, the city created a contest they called “apps for democracy”. With this the city of Washington, DC engages its citizens to present ideas about problems that can be solved through the usage of this data sets. This allowed the city to engage the populace of Washington to ask for their input and their unique views on the problems that are affecting the city.

The contest provided 47 apps that used the city’s dataset. The apps generated in this contest provided solutions to users such as allowing users to access the city’s 311 service site through their mobile devices and through Facebook, this application allowed them also to report specific issues to the service by also allocating the location on where they are occurring. Other applications allow users to submit service request by problem types, map vacant buildings in the city, wiki based architecture combined with the city’s 311 service, crime map of the city, among others.

The success of this approach of opening the data and conducting a contest to stimulate the development of applications with the usage of the open dataset inspired other cities (both in the US and abroad) to create similar approach to the open data initiative and the linking it with a contest.

7.3 City of Amsterdam

In February 2011, the city of Amsterdam decided to open some of its data. To incentive the usage of this datasets by local developers it decided to create an app development contest that utilized one of these datasets, similar to that of “Apps for democracy”. For the contest and the opening of datasets the city of Amsterdam partnered with Waag Society media lab and Hack de Overheid.

In the initial launch there were 5 dataset available but 3 month after more than 20 datasets from the city were available for developers. Some of the available data where regarding incident data from the fire department, soil pollution, traffic flow, trash collection, location of public facilities (toilets, schools, art work, etc.) and special needs parking.

With this the city obtained 48 applications that covered different needs from the local community. The top applications allowed users to see how energy efficient the buildings in their neighborhood are, public school ranking based on criteria set by the user, explore and enjoy the different nationalities that live and form part of Amsterdam, available public toilets around the user, among other applications.

This initiative has also permitted the sharing of dataset by different agency that forms part of the city; this has enhanced the transparency of the city government and the efficiency of them.

7.4 US Government

The Obama administration has made part of their legacy the initiative of open data. This initiative has been supported for more than 3 years now and holds more than 445,000 open datasets. These datasets are contributed by all the departments, agencies and organizations that form part of the US federal government.

The data is open to anyone who wants access to them This has led the development of more than 1,200 applications that range in the fields of education, energy, ethics, health, law, manufacturing, ocean, safety and the semantic web. More than 200 of these applications have been developed by citizens.

This data are available raw or through the utilization of APIs. With the API the developer has a simpler way to mashup different data for the application. The service also covers those that do not have developer skill by allowing them to submit ideas that can be developed by others. This platform not only works by providing the data needed but also by allowing the citizens to connect with others to provide solutions to existing needs.

8. Conclusion and Discussion
Open innovation provides a way to enhance the way that a society operates. It does this by improving all the organizations that operate in the society. It brings transparency and accountability to the government; it allows NGOs and private organization to operate more effectively. This initiative also allows both social entrepreneurs and social enterprises to better understand the problem that are affecting a society and to deploy help where is needed when is needed.

A fully operational open data initiative is scalable and grows with the entrance of new organizations that provide their data; allows to identify when needs are either over-served or not served at all; offers a solution that is simple and less costly; and generates its own resources by captivating new datasets and volunteer man power that makes it scalable and sustainable.

For the open initiative to succeed it is important to know what data should be open. It is also important to understand how data will be shared and how collaboration with partners will be handled. These aspects are important because it covers sensitive issues such as national security and citizen’s privacy. Future research can concentrate on determining the proper framework to identify what data is safe to open considering these two issues.

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