June 24, 2009

From competition to collaboration for grant funders?

Filed under: projects — benmetz @ 3:24 pm

I spent some of last weekend following the Social Innovation Camp on twitter (#sicamp and @sicamp).   I managed to contribute with a few connections and my views on the name of the winning entry, as it was being crowdsourced, while sunbathing and playing backgammon in one of my favorite Hackney parks!  More important than my meagre virtual contributions was the feeling I was left with that this approach, in many ways originally pioneered in the barcamp community, holds potential to change the way in which grant funders – and indeed investors – interact and reward their beneficiaries.  The collaborative nature of SICamp left me asking myself why such approaches aren’t adopted by funders like UnLtd or Ashoka, or even more traditional foundations…

SICamp works like this:

  • It puts a call out for ideas (equivalent to a grant funders or an investment funds request for proposals)
  • A small number of these ideas are selected based upon their potential to effect the greatest social change (in SICamps case by a panel of judges but its only a small step to have these ‘crowd-selected’ or selected by grant or investment committee)
  • These ideas are then brough to the ‘Camp’ – a weekend long collaboration where people bring their skills, experience and goodwill to bear on developing the idea to launch and beyond.
  • At the end of the weekend the judges reconvene and select a winner.

Last weekend mypolice won.  But its less about the winning and more about the taking part that I’m interested in.  133 ideas were originally submitted.  Each of these 133 appear to have benefited in some way from SICamp – from feedback, publicity, more interested contributors and partners etc…  Six ideas were selected for the weekend and each of these has benefited hugely – from its own website, branding, tech development and in some cases business plans…

SICamp has a focus on where social innovation meets information technology.  Other Camps, with other foci, are starting to emerge.  PICamp (Political Innovation Camp – #picamp and @picamp on twitter) held its inaugural event this May in Northern Ireland and is coming to Reboot Britain this July.  Its a short step to Policy Innovation Camp, Housing Camp or, dare I say it, Ashoka or UnLtd Camp as a whole new way of distributing funding and support…

A now infamous Stanford University – Mckinsey study found that third sector organisations expend between 22% and 43% of funds raised on transaction costs and that a large proportion of this is incurred in the competeitive bidding process that is pretty much endemic across the grant giving world.  So isn’t it time for a change?

SICamp appears to me to be pioneering a wholly different approach to the development and rewarding of initiaitves delivering social impact.  It is one that realises a margin for those participating through collaboration rather than competition.  Imagine if the 96 first round applicants to the last (competitive) round of Unltd’s level two awards had submittted to an SICamp type call for ideas.  And what kind of social capital and community might have been built if the 17 who went forward to the second round had been crowd-selected by their peers (formerly the competition).  And then imagine how powerful the final seven that were selected might have become if the original 96 applicants had gathered together for an intensive weekend to incubate these seven…

So instead of the lost opportunity cost incurred by 89 failed applicants I wonder what the amplified collective benefit across the whole 96  applicants might have been…?

And I wonder how much fun and how many new friendships might have been born that imaginary weekend.

Surely it’s time for a change of landscape in the competitive environment that is the grant funding world?  We have the tools and the aptitude is emerging so let’s get on and collaborate!


June 18, 2009

wild honey

Filed under: food — benmetz @ 4:18 pm

lunch at wild honey with francesca from prospect-us.  there’s nothing quite as good as being taken to a ‘proper’ restaurant when someone else is paying.  and wild honey, like its sister arbutus is a ‘proper’ restaurant!  simple, fine food, locally sourced in many cases and luxurious.  clipped and attentive service but not so clipped as to be sharp. an excellent mid-english channel approach to dishes.  fantastic shin of veal and a great rissoto.  and in an unlikely turn of events i strayed onto the pudding menu.  the apricot clafoutis reminded me of everything i do wrong when i attempt this french classic.  go – but ideally only when someone else is paying!!!

June 14, 2009

el parador

Filed under: food — benmetz @ 9:37 am

dinner last night at el parador, again…  what is there to say about this place?  i keep on heading back there – the food keeps on excelling.  from the pure de habas (broad bean puree) through the hinojo del parador (roast fennel with beans and a spanish cheese) to the solomillo (fillet steak) it all stands out as the highest quality and most thoughtfully constructed tapas in london.  forget the high brow experience of any of the three brindisas (although in many ways they are fantastic) or the low brow la tasca chain that leaves a private equity bad taste in the mouth – head to el parador and relax into a menu that’s worth revisiting again and again.  and there’s a garden out back perfect for the short al fresco window of opportunity we have in london…

el parador2

June 9, 2009

Social impact or social capital – what’s it to be?

Filed under: projects — benmetz @ 11:20 pm

I had a good chat with UnLtd CEO Cliff Prior over dinner last night at Pham Sushi on whitecross street.  Time didn’t allow for the us to do justice to the broad range of subject matter we got stuck in to but one strand worth dwelling on, just for a few lines, is to ask what’s more important – fostering social capital or pushing for social impact at scale?

In many ways Ashoka is all about creating social impact at scale while UnLtd’s mandate is much more about supporting the development of social capital at the local, grassroots, level.  Do we disregard the nurturing of a thousand flowers, however disorganised and unstrategic, in favour of focusing resources on a few big hitting wins that shows the world what impact social entrepreneurship can provide?  Or do we opt for a focus that, through a myriad different manifestations, strengthens the fabric of society and people’s ability to respond to and care for each other and the communities around them?

Well obviously the answer is both…  But in a sector that is under-resourced, early stage (naive?) and expanding fast we have to be thoughtful about where our focus should be placed.

The expectation of government and the media is for social enterprise and social entrepreneurship to deliver at scale while the infrastructure the sector has developed is more geared to flag waving and cheering any and every attempt, however feeble, in getting initiatives started.  Clearly there is a mismatch between expectations and resources and abilities in this nascent sector.

Personally I believe we can have both – and to do so we need to focus on creating large scale social enterprises whose social impact is to foster social capital (not just delivering vanilla public sector contracts – a complete distraction in my opinion and a surefire way for government to keep occupied the revolutionary talent in these organisations capable of delivering real change!).  UnLtd needs to focus its efforts on the exactly this while Ashoka needs to get off its high horse and really examine which of the initiatives it supports foster meaningful development of social capital, at scale.

And both organisations need to be a hell of a lot more ruthless in who they support.  And a hell of a lot more challenging to those they do support…  Less flag waving please – we don’t deserve it yet!

June 1, 2009

A day with Patient Opinion

Filed under: projects — benmetz @ 7:49 am

I spent Friday in Sheffield with Paul and James, the founders and directors of Patient Opinion, a web platform that empowers NHS patients to provide feedback and so help shape and improve health services. It’s a phenomenally powerful initiative – bringing the reduction in the cost of providing voice and the revolution in connectivity that the Internet provides to the health service in the UK.  But it doesn’t stop there…  I met with them at a time where there is real and building interest for PO to:

  • roll out internationally
  • scale up significantly within the UK health service and give the current incumbent (NHS choices) a run for its money, and
  • replicate into completely different sectors – education, policing, etc….

So you can imagine it was an exciting and energising meeting.  And another good example of the kind of stuff I’ve been working on over the last few years – and what I hope to continue working on following this soon to be had career ‘discontinuity’!

We spent the day discussing strategy and the structure and financing required to realise the opportunities currently unfolding for them.  Rather than nail our conversation down in this post it’s probably better to explore it through the kind of questions we were asking.  Plus – this is a dynamic and ongoing conversation so these are the questions that are still on the table and will be shaped and answered in forthcoming meetings:

  • How to prioritise development opportunities – specifically how to enable international roll out without creating a drain or distraction on the major opportunity of delivering real change across the UK health service.
  • Possibilities for monetising international roll out without compromising the open source, collaborative nature of PO.
  • How to engage with a major potential investor.  Identifying what PO’s non-negotiables are, what social and financial return will be, what the legal structure required will be and whether this combined package will be acceptable to the prospective investor.
  • How to create both a greatly increased PR and media prescence and a coherent and impactful lobby.
  • Interesting and funky mechanisms for the combining of funding and public engagement with PO…

To get involved with these guys over the next few months, such an important and formative time for PO, is a real privelidge.  It’s also a great opportunity for me to hone my approach and to road test whether the kind of swerveball strategy thinking I have come to specialise in is a saleable commodity.  Early indicators are that this is very much the case.  Watch this space…

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