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CAPS: Harnessing the power of ICT for social change

Marta Arniani from Sigma Orionis, coordinator of the CAPS2020 project, discusses to the concept of Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation (CAPS) and the recent CAPS conference in Brussels.
CAPS: Harnessing the power of ICT for social change
New platforms enabled by advances in the ICT sector are helping to drive collective action for social progress like never before. Open-source, community-led, grassroots projects advocating for social change are gaining ground, and the European Commission has taken note. A specific call was established in 2013 under the FP7 programme to support the emergence of such platforms – known as Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation (CAPS). The CAPS calls continue under Horizon 2020. Additionally, the EU-funded CAPS2020 project has been set up to help harness the momentum of the CAPS movement in Europe, in particular through organising annual international conferences.

The most recent of these conferences – CAPS2015 – took place earlier this month in Brussels. It gathered together, among others, 11 projects that have received funding under the CAPS. Marta Arniani from Sigma Orionis, coordinator of the CAPS2020 project, spoke to CORDIS news about the concept of CAPS, the significance of the event and the next steps for CAPS2020.

CAPS seem to cover a huge diversity of projects and ideas. Could you explain what CAPS means to you?

We asked ourselves more or less this same question while preparing CAPS2015. That is how we came up with the ‘Networked Social Responsibility’ theme of the conference: no matter the specific focus of their actions, the CAPS field actors share the characteristic of acting in a network, making use of technology to empower this network, and being committed to social change. In the end, the underlying concept of CAPS is to develop and to make use of technology for social purposes or causes that are in the interest of people.

Why is it important that there is a specific call for CAPS under Horizon 2020 rather than CAPS projects falling under ICT or the specific societal challenge that they address?

Both things are important: CAPS is the only call which explicitly addresses grassroots communities and citizens, and consequently goes beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and big, structured players. On the other hand, the CAPS call has demonstrated the need for, and the feasibility of, this ‘empowering’ approach, which could also be implemented in any other European Commission calls with a social innovation aspect. Somehow, CAPS ‘hacked’ the system without quitting it, which is even more remarkable: that’s how you change things, getting your hands dirty. Throwing tomatoes does not lead anywhere!

Was it a challenge to try to capture everything that CAPS represent in a programme over two days?

It’s one of those pleasant challenges: on the one hand, it gave us and the CAPS projects the opportunity to think about where we are with our activities and the main messages we wanted to share with attendees. On the other, it was an opportunity to get in touch with external initiatives, such as the For a do Eixo from Brazil - an affiliation of ‘cultural producers’ who use the internet to connect and organise in the name of sustainable independent music and the arts. Besides this, we opened the programme to external projects through an open call. This allowed us to include in the programme exciting subjects like MakeSense which brings together members of the public and social entrepreneurs to address societal challenges and the Colombio App which connects citizens with journalists. As with the first edition, we also gave attendees the opportunity to present their own project in the Forum of Ideas.

What do you think were the main outcomes of the conference?

In general it was a great occasion to see the results of the first round of CAPS projects, to cross-pollinate ideas and to get in touch with new actors (there were many new faces, which is a sign that the community is expanding).
In terms of content, there was a general urge to go beyond enthusiasm and to share and learn actual best practices. Co-design, and design in general, emerged as important factors for the impact and effectiveness of such initiatives: we’re talking about ‘how’ to reach common objectives together instead of taking for granted a mechanical and tech-centric view of engagement. That’s why topics such as democracy and collective intelligence were at the centre of the debate, alongside the need to rethink citizens' sovereignty on their data and privacy, and set up decentralised structures.

With the CAPS2020 project ending in August, Marta and the team are now focused on the reporting of CAPS2015 event and project’s other activities over the past two years – including its central contribution to the first CAPS handbook which was published last year.

The next CAPS call will open in spring 2016.

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Source: Based on event coverage at CAPS2015 and an interview with Marta Arniani from Sigma Orionis.

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