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28 April 2008updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

Cram a load of geeks in a building…

By Chris Adams

Corbet Place in the Truman Brewery, East London is heaving with geeks and city workers, drawn by the lure of an open bar. At one end of the space people are swapping stories over a beer, while at the other handful of earnest looking men are hovering around a raised stage, with some kind of presentation projected onto the wall behind. One picks up a mike, and starts trying to draw the attention of a crowd; “Okay everybody, lets all do this together. One, two, three…. ssshhhhHHHHHhhhhhhh..” A good half of the bar joins in shushing, and the compere, Christian Alhert, introduces Minibar.

Minibar is a monthly event for designers, programmers and geeks of all kind with big ideas, to meet people with the means to turn their ideas into actual sustainable enterprises, with funding and support, and this month the line up was all about social Innovation.

From Social Innovation Camp we had the two winning teams presenting the fruits of their labours; and continuing the theme, part of the team at torchbox who worked on the Carbon Account were in appearance, along with Dan McQuillan from Make Your Mark.

First up was the team behind ‘Prison Visits’, working to shine a light on the conditions for people visiting loved ones in prison, by letting visitors write about their experiences, and direct that feedback to people who can make improve conditions. Improving the conditions of family visits in prison is proven to improve prisoner behaviour, increase family cohesion, reduce reoffending rates, and crucially lessen the impact that having a parent behind bars has on an inmate’s children. There’s also been some progress on the business model too since we last looked at it; there’s talk of adapting a similar approach to that of Patient Opinion. Patient Opinion is a website that performs a similar function to the prison visits site with NHS Trust hospitals, and stays afloat financially by licensing the data feeds of patient feedback in a format the trusts can use, so the right feedback goes to the right people, and it’s early days, but the team are hopeful about finding a way to make the prison visits website sustainable.

Following on came the team who worked on Enabled by Design, a site set out to use design to make lives for people with disabilities better, by offering novel solutions to mundane but necessary problems, or by giving a voice to the people who have to use the mobility aids on the market at present. Users affected by debilitating diseases like multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease have to make to do with equipment that looks and feels like it was designed 60 years ago, and by creating a shared space for the users of the tools to converse with the designers and manufacturers, Enabled by Design hope to see better designed tools that stop making user’s homes look like hospitals.

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The ‘cram a load of geeks and designers in a building and give them 48 hrs to make the world better’ model piloted by Social Innovation Camp so far has delivered some interesting projects, and while it’s hardly going to replace the current government’s current love of massive big budget IT projects tomorrow, the fact that some of the funding came directly from the cabinet office suggests we may see more of these kinds of events in future.

Which by and large, can only be a good thing.