Online and mobile technologies have made it easier for people to champion their favorite causes and connect with others who share their passions.
Typically spontaneous in nature, “creative swarms” as they are often called, are collaborative efforts to shine a light on important issues and invite people who don’t necessarily known one another to work together to solve problems.
Edward Boches, chief innovation officer at the advertising agency Mullen, this week offered an explanation of this phenomenon:
The Swarm is my new term for the digital echo chamber we live in. It’s an acronym for the Social Wave Amplified by Repetitive Media. We see it all the time. … Swarms emerge out of nowhere, create instant social buzz, a flood of content in the stream, then disappear as quickly as they arrived.
Creative swarms can lead to novel solutions for charities since the participants bring different expertise and perspective. In August, Made by Many, a British digital-design company, and Good for Nothing, a project organized by the Pipeline Project, started discussing how they could help provide famine relief in East Africa.
They decided to take a creative approach by stimulating swarms of people to raise money and attention through a project they called 50/50. The effort sought to raise more than $1.5-million for the charity Unicef by inspiring 50 digital fund-raising projects over 50 days.
Here’s how organizers explained the project:
50/50 is a collaborative experiment, a platform of 50 little bets: digital projects created and run by individuals and teams of makers. Each project aims to engage a network of supporters to help spread the word and generate as much money for famine aid as possible.
Tim Malbon, a partner at Made by Many and one of the project’s organizers, chronicled the experience in a blog post this month and outlined plans to focus on the most promising ideas that resulted from 50/50.
Three of the ideas generating the most buzz and raising the most money in the initial stage:
Good Shirts. A collaboration of BBH New York, Unicef U.S. Fund, the artists Christine and Justin Gignac, and Threadless offer custom-designed T-shirts to raise money.
Phone2Food. A program that collects discarded mobile phones and donates the value of those phones to charity.
Online SwearJar. Offers people on Twitter a way to make a small donation each time they use a curse word in their Twitter posts.
What’s most remarkable about this effort is that Unicef had nothing to do with its creation. Instead, the organizers chose Unicef as the beneficiary of their collective creativity and then reached out to the charity.
Participants were challenged to promote their ideas to people in their social networks. While this networked approach to innovation might scare more conservative nonprofits, we can all expect more creative swarms to appear.
What can your organization do to attract creative swarms? What are the risks and benefits of working with them?