€15 Million from EU for Civic Tech Startups

Aug 20, 2012
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This article was cross-posted at the Center for Global Communication Studies, where Kat is also a regular contributor.

If we accept the premise that the intersection of technology-fueled transparency, open innovation and civic engagement is increasingly central to making government work for everyone, perhaps it’s time for new models of governance. Governments need to provide services a little more through results-driven civic entrepreneurs operating in dense community networks and perhaps a little less through hierarchical programs overburdened by bureaucracy. Having worked on both sides of the aisle, I can tell you that galvanizing the co-creation of social services is no simple task. Tapping the power of civic engagement and community problem solving, however, is our likely our best shot at transformative social change.

With an impressive understanding of these issues, the European Commission has decided to build the capacity of the third sector to create new forms of social innovation through its brand new CAPS initiative. CAPS = Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation (A mouthful, I know.) But additionally, CAPS = 15 million euros in funding for “ICT systems leveraging the emerging ‘network effect’ by combining open online social media, distributed knowledge creation and data from real environments.”

European entrepreneurs, NGOs and civil society representatives, here is my best attempt to break this down for you:

Does your innovation initiative:
– support a bottom-up approach?
– tackle sustainable solutions to societal challenges such as youth engagement, health, transportation issues and the environment?
– develop collective decision making tools based on the combination of social networks, wikis and/or IoT?
– contribute to new forms of self-regulation (based, for example, on the awareness of global constraints) ?
– use free software, open hardware and/or open data?
– empower existing communities of citizens?

If you check most if not all of these boxes, then there’s a good chance that call 10 of the ICT workprogramme 2013 will accommodate your proposal. The CAPS initiative, launched under objective 5.5 within the call, supports a broad range of actors to pilot and spin-off self-sustaining programs.

To get a clearer idea of the kind of projects eligible for funding, Dr. Fabrizio Sestini, Senior scientific officer at the European Commission, throws us a few examples:

  • Freecycle (grassroots movement of people giving stuff for free)
  • Zopa (enables lending/borrowing money directly between individuals)
  • Urban Eco Map (encourages eco-conscious decision-making at a local level)
  • Opengenius (an open-source crowdfunding platform for scientific research)

If the shoe fits, you need to take the time to wrestle with some of these forms and apply before January 15, 2013. Or, before you even start rolling up those form-filling sleeves of yours, here’s a suggestion: go to one of the CAPS information days. The next event, hosted by the Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, will allow you to get first-hand information from European Commission representatives themselves, chat with top-notch keynote speakers and pitch. Yes, pitch. You have until September 4th to sign up and email your slides to W3C’s Harry Halpin. If you miss this one, then wait until it pops up in another European capital by regularly checking their website.

So can startups save the world ? Perhaps not. Nevertheless, here is some startup wisdom on the subject from Dr. Sestini:

“Start small, but concrete. Not aiming at building a perfect virtual system from day 0, but at addressing some concrete social problems involving real people and existing communities.”

Clearly, more can be done with this MVP.