Social Innovation meets Education

Social Innovation meets Education

02 October 2014

Patricia Flanaghan, Project Manager, SI Camp, explains their big plans to work with further education colleges in Northern Ireland.

The main principle behind SI Camp is ‘Tech for Social Good’ and this is something that we are hoping to achieve in Northern Ireland in the coming months. Since April of this year I have been identifying social challenges by speaking directly to community groups.

I have also been looking for a member of the community who will take responsibility for these issues, an ‘owner’ who has a real and genuine interest in reaching a solution to the problem. 

The most pressing issues we are finding surround elderly loneliness and problems faced by those who are caring for the elderly.

We are also seeing problems with young people, isolation and encouraging students to continue education arising time and time again. In general, local challenges will come under four main headings; aging population, health, renewable energies and education. 

Technical Solutions 

What we are trying to do over the coming months is to match the owners of these issues with groups of people from a range of education institutions who will be able to offer technical solutions.

We are hoping that by bringing people together from different backgrounds we may be able to achieve new and innovative ways of thinking. 

We have already made connections with several education partners, including universities and further education colleges. They are putting forward students to take part in a training exercise focused on the creative thinking process.

This will prepare them to think outside the box about problem solving before they get the opportunity to attempt to solve a live social challenge. 

This process will run from the end of September until October. They will then be given a real challenge to work through, which they will develop a concept for the end user. This will be presented to the challenge owners who will feedback on how doable and deliverable the solution is. 

Main Event 

On the 26th November we will hold an event at Crumlin Road Goal with all of the teams. We will mix students from various disciplines into new groups to build on the concepts that have been produced. At the end of the day we hope that there will be prototype solutions to take to the challenge owners. 

We are hoping for students from a range of courses – from IT, computer science, business, animation and renewable energies to name a few. Creative thinking is what we are hoping to achieve and we want very different people to come together with their own take on new solutions. 

I am project managing these plans on behalf of SI Camp. Prior to this I worked in education in a further education college and I have been actively involved in introducing creative thinking processes to my students. I wanted to use design thinking from every discipline in order to problem solve and this project matched that exactly.

I was working with the Creative Problem Solving Institute in June of this year in Buffalo, where I trained in advanced facilitation. This is a worldwide process and we are seeing it grow in Ireland slightly more in the last year. 

Spreading the Word 

Meeting with the community groups has relied on the contacts that I have known and word of mouth recommendation. Building Change Trust has put me in touch with suitable contacts and I found the social enterprise hubs particularly beneficial when building this project.

As this is something new, I needed to sit down with people and explain what we are doing and trying to achieve. Most of all they want to know what benefit it will bring to them. 

My network within the education sector was a great strength when trying to encourage colleges to come on board.

I had taken part in a creative thinking trip to Stanford quite recently and several of the education contacts I am now working with had been involved on that. They understood the concept and were keen to see it being brought into action in Northern Ireland. 

For others, this has been a leap of faith. It is a pilot project for them, but they understand that it will increase their students’ employability skills with real life experience, encourage team work, communication and problem solving abilities. 

At the event in November there will be a prize made available for the best solution. Building Change Trust has other initiatives in the pipeline that these ideas could filter into and we are keen to work with the Trust to take the best ideas forward. 

We think that this SI Camp will encourage everyone to come together, to view the challenges differently and to come up with creative and innovative solutions that can work for the greater good.

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