Meet the author of Turning Up the Dial
We go behind the scenes of our recently launched report into Digital Social Innovation in Northern Ireland and get to know the author.
Sophie Hostick-Boakye, the Young Foundation, will be speaking at our ‘Tech for Social Good’ discussion event on Thursday 10th April at NICVA.
What made you the right person to put together this piece of research?
I have been working at The Young Foundation for over five years now. In this time I have worked on a wide range of topics – from youth crime to social enterprise and digital activism – with a variety of organisations including individual campaigners, small community organisations, local authorities and national government.
Tying all these projects together is social innovation, which is at the heart of The Young Foundation’s work.
Have you worked on any projects similar to this research recently?
I worked with six very small community campaigners/organisations on how free online digital tools could be used to hear the voices of local people in campaigning on the issues that matter to them.
I supported the campaigners with developing their use of web tools such as Crowdmap, Twitter and WordPress to engage with local people and amplify messages to people with influence.
What made you want to work in research?
I studied Sociology and Social Anthropology and was inspired to work in a field where people’s voices could be heard to bring about change. I started my career as Hate Crime Coordinator at Humberside Police, running a hate crime reporting scheme, while looking to reduce hate crime and increase community cohesion.
I then moved across to be a Research Officer conducting reviews and gap analyses into practices, policies and departments of Humberside Police to ensure the force could improve and provide a good service locally.
How did you join the Young Foundation?
I joined the Young Foundation to work on the Innovation Catalyst programme, working with local authorities to look at how they could reduce youth crime in their areas.
Since then, many of the projects I’ve worked on have involved a mixture of research, practical work and community engagement to develop new and innovative ways of tackling social problems.
These projects and experiences fed nicely into the Digital Social Innovation in Northern Ireland research.
Is Digital Social Innovation a keen interest of yours?
Yes. Social innovation is important and vital to tackle structural innovation. Very few social innovations develop today that don’t include a digital element.
That being said, digital social innovation is also increasing.
Disruptive social entrepreneurs are developing some great tech solutions and digital social intrapreneurs – people working in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector and public sectors – are developing new tools to help them in their work, such as Shaped.By.Us and Who Owns My Neighbourhood? Organisations and institutions are also increasingly using digital tools to support delivery, such as Patchwork.
Can you take me through your methodology for this piece of research?
First I carried out a literature review into digital social innovation and digital technology in the UK and Ireland and put out a call for digital social innovation case studies that could be profiled.
I then carried out over 20 interviews both in Northern Ireland and beyond with key stakeholders from the public, private, VCSE and tech sectors to understand the drivers and barriers for digital social innovation both in Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. I then compiled findings into the report.
What key findings were you not expecting?
That’s a difficult one! Social innovation is a term that not many people understand, but Digital Social Innovation is even less understood. I guess I didn’t expect such a wide array of answers. When asking participants what Digital Social Innovation is I got such a wide range of definitions – some very specific and some very vague. But what became clear was that everyone felt the need for a simple and open definition of Digital Social Innovation to help everyone in Northern Ireland understand and explore it.
What recommendations did you make to help Northern Ireland move forward with Digital Social Innovation?
Quite a few! But key to it is creating a movement around Digital Social Innovation.
The problem in Northern Ireland is that people don’t really know what it is – either because it’s not happening much, or because it’s happening under the radar and isn’t celebrated.
Northern Ireland needs to start by bringing people interested in Digital Social Innovation together, whatever sector they’re in, to learn from each other, start to engage the community, develop a plan for supporting and enabling Digital Social Innovation in Northern Ireland and inspire and spark understanding and awareness of Digital Social Innovation, specifically in the VCSE sector.
How does Northern Ireland compare to other areas in the United Kingdom when it comes to Digital Social Innovation?
There appears to be much more Digital Social Innovation in England than in Northern Ireland. One of the problems is it isn’t really seen so can’t be celebrated or built on.
As one interviewee said: “It comes down to a lack of exposure. In London, you see exciting innovative programmes. When you see ideas you can tweak them to fit to something else. In Northern Ireland it’s a density issue, not a smart issue".
Has Northern Ireland got a good basis to grow from?
Northern Ireland has the people with the passion to make it happen; they just need the support to get there. They need to see the good things that are happening across the country.
If you or your organisation would like to attend the discussion event at NICVA on 10th April, please click here.