The Trust at #UnusualGlasgow Part 1

By John Peto

Last week the Building Change Trust went on a study visit to Glasgow to learn more about social innovation at the Unusual Suspects Festival. Here’s what Trust Director John Peto thought about it all….

Social Innovation is such a hot topic in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector that the opportunity to catch up with some of the latest developments and key thought developments in the field at the Unusual Suspects Festival was too good to pass up.

The festival, organised by the Social Innovation Exchange, seeks to bring together interested parties, activists and theorists in the world of social innovation and get them to share work and ideas and see what that might catalyse.

A key part of the thinking behind it is to get those practitioners who are ‘doing’ social innovation but don’t necessarily identify themselves a social innovators, into a space where they might see a wider context for their work and areas where collaboration and sharing with others can add real value.

That this year’s festival was in Glasgow and focused strongly upon Social Innovation in Scotland only served to add to the appeal. Scotland has clear parallels with NI  (devolved Govt, smallish population, well developed Community Sector etc), and Social Innovation can often appear to be very metropolitan in its focus, so the move out of London meant that the omens were set fair for an interesting event.

And it was indeed interesting, a diverse range of sessions looking at Education, Digital Social Innovation, Criminal Justice, Food, Design, Social Care and Wellbeing (amongst others) ensured that there was something of use to  pretty much anyone here.

Scattering the events across a series of quirky venues in the City only served to heighten the sense of Social Innovation as a broad church – with participants getting a real sense of Glasgow as well as the subject matter at hand.

Where things seemed less clear as the festival went on was exactly what the role of Social Innovation was in all of this. The projects showcased were, to my eyes at least, largely traditional Third Sector/Community/NGO type interventions where people and organisations had organized to fill a gap in Formal provision.

Excellent projects, well delivered but it wasn’t clear to me where the Social Innovation theorists or the increasing amounts of jargon that surround the concepts really fitted in or added anything.

The best practice that I saw was around well organized projects with clear objectives and clear roles for partners that were well communicated and delivered by committed individuals and organisations.

Of course, there’s lots to learn from this and the festival was really valuable at that level alone, and perhaps the true value of Social Innovation is at the creative level – to connect things previously unconnected and unleash the potential of that.

In that case, the Unusual Suspects succeeded but it was clear, and very welcome to me, that the action around Social Innovation is often much easier to relate to than the words.

Over the course of two days  a series of genuinely interesting projects, partnerships and programmes were examined, dissected and discussed and there was much to be learned from activity on the ground. As hoped, there are very strong linkages between work here in NI and in Scotland and some great exemplar projects in STEM Education, Urban Farming, Community Health, Tech for Good and Prisoner Education, to name but a few. It was enlightening, and somewhat reassuring, to see the areas of shared learning between us and them and connections were made that will lead to real action and sharing between us.

This blog first appeared on the Building Change Trust’s website.

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