Putting Social Good on the Map

Chris Moss (left) of Pillar Nonprofit Network and Amanda Stratton search the socialscape map on a tablet following the London, ON Mapathon at Covent Garden Market. Photo: Sean Meyer/London Community News. Jul. 2013.

Putting Social Good on the Map

Ontario-based start-up aims to transform tacit social change knowledge into a public resource

As the fairly young sectors of social enterprise, social innovation and social change continue to grow and build momentum, it can be challenging to gauge what’s happening in these spaces — especially in an empirical manner.

In order to fill this gap, a team of developers, led by Igniter founder Michael Lewkowitz and venture director Renjie Butalid are prototyping a digital platform using open source software to map the social change space on a global scale and make it publicly available.

  Socialscape mapathons focus on tactile activities for idea generation before digitizing content. Mapathon in Waterloo, ON. Oct. 2013.

Based in Ontario with offices in London and Toronto, the team is developing the socialscape mapping project at Igniter, in collaboration with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, MaRS, Ashoka and CatalystsX.

“We’re building a tool where community organizations, policy advocates — anyone doing work in the social change space — can reference empirical data of what their community looks like in the form of a map. We’re finding that tool currently doesn’t exist, or if it does, people are reinventing the wheel each and every time,” Renjie says.

He provides the example of mental health and play. If someone were currently interested in getting a sense of what organizations are involved in these areas, they would most likely opt for a Google search. The list this would generate is not necessarily complete, replicable or shareable.

“It (the list) doesn’t really become as useful as it could be if all the information was on one platform, that people could choose to contribute to, choose to reference or choose to use,” he says.

The goal with socialscape is to make it easier to generate a clear and up-to-date picture of what is happening among social change organizations and leaders.

Renjie was one of the Canadian delegates at SIX Summer School in Seoul, South Korea in early September, where social innovators gathered from all over the world to consider how to harness the energy of a city’s inhabitants to encourage social sustainability.

There, Renjie and Michael held a pre-event mapathon with conference participants. Together the group co-created a wall-sized, sticky-note covered map of the global SIX network, which socialscape later digitized and published on its online platform.

Mapping a global network in this way was atypical for their mapathons, which tend to focus on local geography, but the exercise elicited an example of issue-based mapping.

“Every mapathon workshop is a learning opportunity,” Renjie says. “It’s then a matter of continuing to work on the maps and process to work with (people) to map their respective communities,” Renjie says.

  Socialscape hosted a mapathon in partnership with Pillar Nonprofit Network in London, ON with nearly 20 participants mapping the "social good" landscape in the city. Jul. 2013.

Mapathons provide a way to generate data by mapping communities from their own perspectives. They also help organizations find the best ways to use the information they generate through the process.

“After the London mapathon workshop, Social Finance London actually used the list that was generated as the list of the most promising social innovations and enterprises coming out of the London area, which they then used for a report for the Social Finance Roundtable,” Renjie says.

Since the socialscape project is still in development, the team appreciates stories like this one that elicit new possibilities around how communities can use this information once it’s translated from tacit to explicit public knowledge. The project is part of a decade-long social innovation strategy to build tools that support the social impact ecosystem.

“When you’re talking about social innovation as it relates to changing resource authority flows you’re really talking about changing existing power structures and existing social systems, recognizing that around the world social systems are on brink of collapsing or they’ve already collapsed,” Renjie explains.

The team is dreaming up ways to not only map communities, but to create issue-based maps that can overlay what’s happening in a community with its flow of capital, for example. They hope to unlock new potential sparked by individuals and organizations coming to see their relationship to various contexts in new ways.

“Through mapping — whether it’s on an individual level or an organizational level — you see yourself in the context of your community,” Renjie explains.

“The social process changes the way we see ourselves within the context of our community and our capacity to effect change. In turn, mapping also influences how the community sees and engages with us.”

For more information on socialscape, visit their blog or the interactive map at socialsca.pe.

A version of this article was originally written for the Urban Matters news service. This repost, for which we received permission, follows the style guidelines of the original post. To learn more about generative newsroom options for your organization or community, please contact peter(at)axiomnews.ca.

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