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!


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