Social innovation through digital technology
This blog was co-written with Idan Papier, Director at Innovation & New Shiny Things, CDI-Negev.
Our basic philosophy is that to solve social challenges, you need a comprehensive system-wide understanding of them first. That should sound obvious. But when policymakers or entrepreneurs try to address these problems, they rarely have a truly holistic view–and that limits the effectiveness of their solutions.
That’s why at CDI Innovation–The Center for Digital Innovation we have built a series of laboratories to run interactive simulations of these social challenges and bring together all relevant actors to find original solutions. We have turned the product-development process on its head: instead of devising a solution, then testing whether it works, we first explore what the solution needs to do to work, then we devise a solution. As far as we’re aware, this is the only centre in the world to combine a multidisciplinary, multi-party physical ecosystem with a holistic approach to problem-solving.
CDI-Negev’s flagship project is about Healthy Ageing–a priority in any country with a high life expectancy. We actually built an indoors old person’s house, surrounded by four “innovation zones” for families, healthcare officials, social services, and education professionals. We brought together representatives of these groups, who all have a stake in the wellbeing of elderly people, but don’t communicate. The idea is to get a single discussion going around a simulated test-case to find the best solutions.
Imagine a widower in relative poverty, whose family is abroad–he is at risk of falling into clinical depression. So we can try out technology that identifies when he feels sad, then immediately calls the grandchildren for an impromptu phone call with grandpa. If they don’t answer the phone, the same system might alert the social services that this person needs more regular visits, or the doctor that he needs medication. If the idea works, we can trial it in old people’s homes; if it works there, we can roll it out nationally, and even internationally.
Often, totally different social challenges have a combined solution. Take online bullying. Young people need guidance; old people need company. So if we connect senior citizens to teenagers, we give the teenagers an influential mentor– and dramatically reduce the senior citizen’s risk of clinical depression. Two problems: one solution.
CDI-Neggev is a non-profit, established in cooperation with Ben Gurion University and in partnership with government ministries and agencies. They all understand the need to harness innovation to solve urgent problems. The digital revolution has made it much easier to do things than to talk about them. We believe that in the time it takes others to brainstorm and plan, we can already jump to the implementation stage. If it works, we move on; if it doesn’t, we go back and try something else. The only way to solve big problems is to recognise that modern technology has liberated us to try things out in miniature first, then scale-up in a massive way when we have an answer.