Le rapport du projet PRANED est en ligne ! (02/04/21)

Vous pouvez le consulter sur https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03189184.

Pour le citer :
Gossart C. (2021). Les pratiques numériques des associations d’éducation à l’environnement et au développement durable. Rapport final du projet PRANED à l’Institut Français du Monde Associatif, 56 pages, téléchargeable sur https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03189184.

Les innovations sociales numériques (ISN)

Quand le numérique rencontre l’économie sociale et solidaire

Les ISN ne sont pas des innovations comme les autres, car elles visent à résoudre des problèmes sociaux ou environnementaux. En outre, elles impliquent la plupart du temps un large public, notamment en utilisant des plateformes numériques (en savoir plus…). Plusieurs catégories d’acteurs sont impliquées dans leur développement : société civile, entreprises privées, organismes de recherche, et secteur public (quelques exemples…). L’économie du partage est un exemple bien connu de l’utilisation des ISN, mais les ISN couvrent un éventail bien plus large d’innovations que celles mobilisées par l’économie du partage. En fait, nombre d’entre elles sont développées et utilisées par les acteurs de l’Économie Sociale et Solidaire (ESS), d’où le nom de ce blog.

Nos travaux sur les innovations sociales numériques (ISN) portent sur un ensemble de questions auxquelles il semble important de répondre afin de soutenir la contribution des ISN à la transition des sociétés humaines vers un développement durable. Nous avons récemment analysé plus de 400 ISN en Europe et développé une typologie permettant de comprendre leurs stratégies de passage à l’échelle. En parallèle, nous menons actuellement un projet de recherche-action sur Plateformes en Communs, un réseau français de plateformes s’inscrivant dans le mouvement du coopérativisme de plateforme.

En savoir plus :


D’autres plateformes sont possibles : la piste coopérative

En matière de plateforme, si la critique est facile l’alternative l’est beaucoup moins. Et pourtant elles/ils sont de plus en plus nombreux/ses à se retrousser les manches pour construire des plateformes plus équitables. Nous vous proposons sur le site The Conversation, un tour d’horizon des plateformes coopératives et des défis qui se posent à elles.

Our new article on platform cooperatives will be available in English in the coming weeks. Keep posted!

DSI Readiness of Europe: A long way to go…

EU takes a range of activities that defines active citizenship: attending meetings, signing petitions, or otherwise participating in activities related to political groups, associations or parties. One question of interest is how active citizenship relates to digital skills? Countries with high digital skills and high rates of active citizenship are more fertile grounds for DSI… but what about others? How can DSI flourish in countries like France where digital skills are relatively low but citizens are highly active?

One thing is sure: both digital skills and active citizenship are highly correlated with income levels. Have a look at the graph we prepared with Eurostat data.

Can digital social innovations tackle big challenges?

While digital social innovations (DSI) are booming in Europe, some observations regarding their potential for providing effective solutions seems to be necessary. These innovations are based on digital platforms to empower people in solving problems in areas as diverse as social inclusion, health, democracy, education, migration, sustainability, among others. Recently the DSI ecosystem in Europe has been growing fast. Examples are civic-tech, neighbourhood regeneration platforms, collaborative map-making for social inclusion, civic crowdfunding, peer-to-peer education, online time banks, and others. Variety of organisations support DSIs, through offering consultancy services, network access, funding, resources and skills.

The UK-based NESTA is one of the central think tanks in the field, as well as the coordinator of the EU funded project DSI4EU. At the EU level, different schemes exist to support social innovations and also DSIs, like the Social Innovation Competition, whose 6th round will take place in Paris on 20th of March this year. Many events, festivals and conferences are also being organised, like the Social Good Week in Paris, which took place during March 2018, or the Ouishare Fest, which was born in France and is now an international event. While significant time, effort, and resources are spent on these activities, there are some obstacles to their development and efficacy in tackling the big challenges of our times, which seem necessary to address.

1 Questioning openness

While many DSIs emphasize participation and transparency, the use of open source software is limited, at least in France. Transparency and openness of a platform are important indicators about its capacity to encourage participation, by decentralizing power, enabling others to access, replicate, and build upon the source code. Proprietary software, on the other hand, raises questions about the extent to which it is being manipulated by the innovator. As expressed by  Valentin Chaput, “when we do not master its code, it is the authors of this code who control us”.

2 What happens to user data?

Social entrepreneurs face serious struggles in building sustainable business models that will ensure their autonomy and independence. There exist different business models through which DSIs generate income. One of these is the commercialization of user data. Here, the main problem is not commercialization per se (although to prevent it would be preferred), but how the background business model is communicated with the users. To have information, users needs to read in detail the “Terms of Use” in the platform, which is often not communicated by an attractive design like the rest of the platform, in many cases. As a consequence users can easily skip this part, due to ignorance or lack of interest. Platforms should be more transparent about their business models, and communicate these with the audience in a user-friendly way. This will also reduce some users’ hesitations in involvement, caused by a lack of trust.

3 Systemic change or short-term relief?

There is also a deeper concern than the above. Evgeny Morozov wrote  for the sharing economy: “it’s like handing everybody earplugs to deal with intolerable street noise instead of doing something about the noise itself”. Sometimes this is also valid for DSI. How can innovations that can bring a systemic change be distinguished from system enhancing ones? It is not meaningful to categorize platforms as systemic ones and others, as there are different shades of grey between purely black or white.

But there is some scope for thinking deeper, by observing the activities of platforms. For example, Humaid is a crowdfunding platform in which people with disabilities or their caregivers can raise money to purchase necessary assistive technologies. In doing so, Humaid reproduces exclusionary practices in the society, by taking people with disabilities as objects of charity, rather than as individuals with rights and freedoms, as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Another example is from the sharing economy, KAROS, a car-sharing platform launched a year ago, the option of “Ladies only” car sharing. In doing so, doesn’t KAROS reproduce existing practices that give rise to inequalities at first hand? Rather than using ICTs to alleviate inequalities embedded in societies, such initiatives enhance existing norms and exclusionary barriers. Addressing big challenges require awareness raising and educational activities around rights and freedoms.

4 The struggle of traditional civil society organisations

Established civil society organizations that have field-specific experience with targeted populations, and who are involved in social movements and awareness raising activities can have an important role in systemic change, but most of them find themselves in a vulnerable position faced with digital platforms. For example, some of them are facing competition from start-ups that build resources and finances from the digital sector. Digital competences of the new economy and traditional associations’ field-specific experiences should find spaces of synergy building. But there are barriers to the successful building-up of such spaces, sometimes due to polarized ideological worlds between non-profits and organisations of the digital economy.

5 Under-engagement of users

There is also the important issue of attracting users to these platforms. Most of the DSI platforms rely on civic engagement, which could be for volunteering, providing skills, information, services, goods, opinions. At the same time, the online world is likely to reflect the economic, social and cultural relationships in the offline world (see a research paper by Professor Van Dijk in University of Twente here ). This suggests also that the DSI users could be those who are already active in civic life in the offline world (see research by Marta Cantijoch, Silvia Galandini, and Rachel Gibson here]). If this is the case, DSIs can strengthen existing divides instead of alleviating them. To be able to develop effective and informed policies, more research about the nature of users, their engagement patterns in different platforms are needed, but there are obstacles on the way; most important is the lack of data.

6 Lack of data in a world of ‘big data’

The lack of data on users and the ecosystem are serious barriers to carry out research on DSI and their potential power in addressing big challenges. Platforms do not share data due to privacy and confidentiality reasons. Or, as in the case of France, regulations about data collection can prevent research about the users of DSI. At the national and EU levels, initiatives to collect and standardize data are much needed, so that researchers can have access to essential data about the use of and participation in DSI. This is also important to carry out research on the specific capabilities of different EU countries on DSI and develop means to transfer good practices and make use of potential synergies.

7 Fascination with (rapid) impact measurement

For investors, funders, and social entrepreneurs social impact measurement is essential. But measurement of social impact is problematic, complex and difficult. What’s more it is important to remember the famous quote by William Bruce Cameron , « not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted ». In addition sometimes time pressures result in employing vague and ineffective means to measure impact, which lack a deep understanding of the returns. Amount of funds raised, growth in the number of participants, number of supported projects, and so on, are often used as indicators of success, but such statistics are problematic.

For instance, participants of a platform are often “dormant”, where they register and do not use the platform later on. It is necessary to change the way “social impact” is understood by policy makers and investors, to distinguish what needs to be measured and what not, and if measurement is a must the focus should be on tangible changes that the platform brings (which regulations have changed as a result of platform activities? Which medical research results are obtained by patient-doctor platforms? Which civic projects are realized, and what are potential benefits?). Social indicators should focus on a deeper understanding of how the actual social practices that give rise to social problems are tackled, and what the role of platforms are in this process.

8  Innovation-(un)readiness of population

While most of the policy focus is on supporting the generation of innovations, the innovation-readiness of the user population is not given enough attention. Investments in developing Internet skills are of crucial importance, which include, operational, formal and strategic skills (see for example the research by Professor Van Dijk on this). In addition, potential users can be unaware, uninterested, or unconnected, even if they have a benefit to gain. Paradoxically, those who are most likely to benefit from DSI are more likely to be unaware, uninterested, or unconnected. Instead of being confined to the online sphere, social entrepreneurs should work actively with target populations in the field, in developing solutions and encouraging participation. As expressed by Tom Saunders of NESTA, it is important to “remember that there’s a world beyond the Internet”. For example the city of Amsterdam is remarkable in some activities.

9  Duplication, duplication, duplication

Most digital platforms operate according to the logic of network externalities, also called as multi-sided platforms. This means that the existence of one group of users in a platform makes it more attractive for other groups to join (some resources on this topic can be found here). In this way, certain digital platforms build up their user base rapidly, and become dominant players. While this can be problematic in terms of building up of monopolistic power, too many startups in the same field is also problematic, which is the case today in some domains of DSI. For example, there are more than 20 civic-tech platforms with similar functions in France. The potential gains and losses in terms of social welfare and efficiency should be understood and evaluated better in the case of DSI. Many of these platforms struggle to grow, their user base is divided, and finally they close down within a few years of launching. One solution can be to allow for sharing reputation, or other information about users between platforms, which helps in sustaining diversity, while avoiding centralization of power.

10 Lack of cross-fertilisation

The importance of the above problems also depends on the field of activity and type of DSI considered, as there are many different types of DSIs. Aggregating all DSIs in a single group maybe misleading. At the same time it is precisely this diversity that gives this emerging ecosystem its dynamism and resilience. Unfortunately this diversity is not made use of in an effective way. Instead, field-specific bubbles have formed with weak interactions between them. Cross-fertilization and synergies between these are potentially important to increase resilience, but networks rest weak. A recent initiative in France is Plateformes en Communs, which aims to form a common platform of cooperatives and associations in diverse domains of activity, so as to leverage synergies between them.

Given the high level of penetration of digital technologies in our everyday lives, digital social innovations are promising to address big challenges, yet for better outcomes more needs to be done. Participation to civic life (whether online or offline) is always valuable in an increasingly problematic world. Digital platforms make this participation much easier. As the saying goes, little drops of water make a mighty ocean.

Muge Ozman

Note: DSI4EU, Muge Ozman and Cedric Gossart are organizing a special stream on digital social innovations in the 10th International Social Innovation Conference which will take place in Heidelberg, in September 2018.


Types of digital social innovations (and why they are important…)


History of technology is full of examples in which certain periods are marked by intensive innovative activity in a certain domain. These incremental innovations come into being by exploiting the opportunities enabled by an initial and more radical development. In the case of mobile apps, digital platforms form one of the underlying building bricks.

In at least one way  digital platforms are different from previous waves of innovations, as far as their potential role in sustainability is concerned: They open up an important space for improving the way societies tackle social and environmental problems. Innovations that occupy this space are called digital social innovations. We take them as digital platforms that increase the capacity of civic society to formulate a problem, bring it to the fore of public arenas, and engage a variety of stakeholders to jointly frame and solve this problem.

How do digital social innovations help tackle social problems? In two ways: 

  1. By expanding the space for civic engagement considerably, compared to offline possibilities.
  2. By reducing the barriers caused by geographical distance in gathering advocacy and support for  a cause

According to Jennifer Light and Danielle Allen  civic agency is “oriented towards how people live together – whether locally or globally- shape their worlds together, especially in conditions of diversity, working both through and outside political institutions”. Digital platforms widen the range of choices available in civic engagement; from a few clicks when signing an online petition, to more deliberative exchanges with others in virtual forums. In a few minutes, one can donate to a community project in a civic crowdfunding platform. And aside from facilitating such altruistic contributions, there are also digital platforms in which participants themselves benefit,  like time banks to exchange services in a neighbourhood.

In addition to the expansion of civic engagement, there is also the issue of geography. To remind of the famous book written by Cairncross in 1997  (The Death of Distance) digital platforms overcome the barriers of distance in access to distant worlds. But our research on digital social innovations reveals that these platforms not only overcome the barriers to distance, but can also strengthen local communities through economic development and increased social cohesion. Take the digital platform déclic.toi  which collects and diffuses information about accessible social events for people with disabilities in Reims, or the platform Diffuz.fr for accomplishing small tasks that help achieve community objectives.

We identified 4 types of digital social innovations in our research by taking into account these differences. First, we distinguished two ways in which civic engagement can be realised: by collaborating, communicating, exchanging with other users, or by simply participating oneself by donating, voting, signing, or providing information (aggregative). Second, we also realised that each of these different types of civic engagement can be realised virtually, or in real spaces. The resulting types are given in Figure below:

Each of these types have different characteristics and different benefits in terms of how they contribute to sustainability, as given in the table below with examples.

Why are these important? First, digital social innovations are getting significant policy support, but if these policies are to be effective, the impact of each type is important to consider, and a match with the policy priorities and community needs. Second, there are important obstacles in the development and diffusion of digital social innovations. But these obstacles also depend on the type of DSI. To overcome these obstacles, one needs to have a good understanding of the nature of digital social innovation types.

Muge Ozman

Can digital social innovations be transformative?

In a 2014 Guardian article about the sharing economy, writer Evgeny Morozov wrote: “…there is nothing to celebrate here: it’s like handing out everybody earplugs to deal with intolerable street noise, instead of doing something about the noise itself”. Is it the same for digital social innovations (DSI)?

DSIs empower civil society by enabling exchange and sharing of resources and information on digital platforms. For example the beTobe network matches individual volunteers with non-profit organisations, CALM by SINGA platform in France matches refugees with local hosts. The crowdfunding platform Humaid collects funds for disability projects, while the I Wheel Share platform collects data on accessibility conditions in real spaces.

Ideally, a transformative innovation is a game changer; it brings about systemic change that solves a problem at its root, rather than providing ex post solutions effective only in the short run. Sadly, most DSI cases seem far from being game changers in this sense, but rather provide temporary relief in the wake of a severe economic crisis and in the face of deepening environmental and social problems.

However, given the vast advantages of increased speed and scale of interactions enabled by ICT, DSIs can fulfil their transformative potential. This highly depends on their efficacy in helping civil society and communities to construct and formulate problems, in bringing these problems into public arenas, in enhancing their perception of their own agency, and in engaging a broad variety of stakeholders in finding solutions. For this to happen, there are at least three obstacles, however.

Obstacle 1: Survival and autonomy

Most DSI platforms have problems with sustaining themselves to ensure their survival and autonomy in the long run. Non-profits often have fund raising and resource access problems and rely on donations.  Those backed by a parent non-profit (or for-profit) organisation, often rely on complementary activities of the parent, which makes them dependent on the latter. Some other business models in for-profit cases are based on commissions from users, premium payments, or commercialising data of users, which cause privacy problems. These business models can be in tension with the social mission that their existence relies on. Therefore in the long run they can turn into mainstream for-profit enterprises.

Obstacle 2: Digital literacy and civic engagement

According to recent data on digital economy and society in Europe,  85% of people have internet access. But digital inclusion goes well beyond mere access and concerns questions about what people do on the internet when they are connected, which depends on socioeconomic variables and geography. The most common activities in Europe are sending and receiving e-mails, finding information, social media and online shopping. And some studies show that those who are active in civic platforms are the ones who are already active in volunteering or other civic society activities, raising concerns about the extent to which DSI can truly bring about structural change.Moreover, according to studies, participation in open platforms like Wikipedia also depends on a range of socioeconomic variables, clearly pointing to persistent exclusion of certain groups or geographies in engagement. The digital society landscape is still far from being truly inclusive and egalitarian.

Obstacle 3: Lack of cross-sectoral networks

A third problem is the lack of enduring networks between different stakeholders contributing to social and environmental progress. Digital social innovators seem to be cornered in digital bubbles, in niche sectors supported and fed by specific ecosystems where contradicting interests prevail. Most of these networks originate from the digital sector, rather than sector-specific experts in related problem areas. The existence of bridging organisations that could serve as intermediaries between different stakeholders is critical, but weak. For example in France, national digital think thank Conseil National du Numérique does not address social and environmental issues, and neither does the digital cluster Cap Digital, reinforcing the isolation of digital networks from specific sectors concerned.

Whether these obstacles will be overcome in the future remains to be seen. The transformative power of DSI also depend on which sectors they address, but these three obstacles seem to be critical for all of the sectors concerned.