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Spotlight on Spain: Turning Telecenters into Social Innovation Centers

Author: Lize De Clercq
Published Date: 15 June 2011

Recently, I assisted the first Expert Meeting about the Future of Telecenters held in Barcelona.

The meeting was organized by Telecentre Europe's board member Juan Francisco Delgado, who is also the president of the Spanish Association of the Community of Telecentre Networks (Asociación Comunidad de Redes de Telecentros). The purpose was to elaborate a proposal that could serve for the transformation of telecenters towards "Social Innovation Centres".

Surrounded by Spanish experts from the Government of Catalonia & Andalusia, i2cat, Citilab, Fundación Esplai and from telecentre networks from the regions of Navarra, Basque Country and Asturias, the meeting couldn't but spark my interests, and that's what happened!

Telecentres & Open Social Innovation

"In times of crisis, it might be easier to create a job than to find one" is the slogan of Citilab's LaborLab project, aimed at encouraging innovation in employment strategies. The aim is to guide people in creating a 'Projectum vitae' instead of helping them to write a 'Curriculum vitae', which seems to be a waste of time in the situaton of high employment that is suffering a country like Spain today.

It's an example of a best practice that illustrates how telecenters could move to 'Social Innovation Centres', based on the model of Living Labs for technological innovation.

Just like in Open Source software, openess should be key for this new model of Social Innovation. In an video interview made by Citilab, Mitchell Baker, president of the Mozilla Foundation explains what Open Innovation means: "If you choose an Open Innovation model for your creation, you could make use of the things that are done before you, and create an outcome that makes innovation available to others in an easy way to use."

The idea of creating a 'projectum' instead of a 'curriculum' gained a lot of enthousiasm among the participants & the community that was following the tweets, but Isidre Bermudez raised if it is really realistic to think that planting a spirit of entrepreneurship can bring a solution for all the socially excluded that visit our telecentres today? What could for example be the 'Projectum' of a senior woman following a course in basic computer skills? LaborLab's director Jordi Coloborans replied: "We do not only concentrate on entrepreneurs that want to take a risk, also working class jobs can be created. A 'Projectum' answers the question: what is the job you would like to do? Maybe this woman might wish to become a telecentre facilitator herself?"

New challenges, new skills

In a society where innovation becomes that essential, having the skills to create your own job starts to become as essential as being able to read and write (literacy) and to use a computer (digital literacy). The term 'innovation literacy' is being launched and a new role for telecentres to become Social Innovation Centres that foster talent and educate in entrepreneurship and innovation techniques in early ages.

But moving towards social innovation centres should not only concentrate on innovation in employment strategies, also current jobs should make a shift. A new role for telecentres could be to help 'translating' the use of ICT to farmers, fishermen etc. and convert them into 'technofarmers', 'technofishermen' etc.

Another idea is to jump upon the growth of cultural tourism and create a merge of the local tourist infopoint with the local telecentre to create a cultural & knowledge exchange between (both national and international) tourists and the local community.

Those new roles of telecentres will ofcourse create new needs for capacity building of telecentre facilitators, especially because the new roles seem to move away from a purely technological epicenter towards roles that might be better performed by sociologists, anthropologists or philosophers than by ICT specialists. And we have to take into account that higher demands for on-the-job-training may encounter certain resistance from faciltators that already feel overloaded by the present combination of roles (identified as the facilitator as a superman/woman phenomenon).

Another important new role for telecentres is to become a supplier of candidates that fit new professional profiles that are emerging and for which companies do not find enough suitable candidates. Telecentres should help companies identify their needs and train people upon those needs. An example are new jobs that appear around web 2.0 in the fields of marketing, public relations and advertising (described by Cristina Aced in the spanish book "Professional profiles 2.0").

This is an item where I jumped in and shared the experience of my own organization (Eclectica DV), as through our courses in web 2.0 applications we encountered lots of freelancers, artists and small non profit organizations in high demand for training on how to use web 2.0 to become more efficient and to represent and promote themselves online.

Such a switch to 'web 2.0 literacy training' has already been taken up by Citilab too, in order to avoid loosing visitors that felt had now become 'digital literates'. The idea of training freelancers on new web 2.0 tools is important, as these are the people that could become key actors for innovation and the creation of employment. There also seems to be a missing link between small companies & telecentres: we need to work on this missing link, maybe offering on-demand-training or even services like for example fiscal advice.

Conclusions & the role of Telecentre Europe

We shouldn't separate social innovation from technological innovation, not leave innovation in the hands of experts in technological innovation only. The culture of innovation has to be opened through ICT tools, as they permit grassroots innovation instead of having a top-down approach only. That's why telecentres should move from community technology/learning centres towards Social Living Labs, following the European Commission model for Public-Private-People Partnerships (PPPP) for user-driven open innovation.

As the european network of telecentres, Telecentre Europe should take up the role to connect & share knowledge with the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL). We could also participate together with the four Spanish telecentre network managers that will participate and share methodologies with other Living Labs in Europe during the Living Lab Summer School 2011 that will take place at Barcelona's Citilab.

To conclude, some remarks that were raised at the end of the meeting:

  • It's difficult to invent one model for the future of telecentres: lots of them adapt themselves like chameleons to their social environment
  • Politicians continuously ask for the impact of telecentres - but what would be the cost for society of not having them?
  • It's always the same political issue: why do telecentres exist if the market can solve what we offer there? The creation of equal opportunities should always be the answer here!

This article was originally published on Telecenter Europe.