NetChange Week (#ncwk) is underway in Toronto, at the MaRS Discovery District. The MaRS Center is a location-based incubator, accelerator, learning community and set of tools that mix technology, innovation and social enterprise. NetChange Week is a conference + skills exchange + problem solving/brainstorm space. Beth Kanter gave the opening keynote, drawing from her new book, The Networked Nonprofit (Co-authored by Allison Fine, available June 21)

I'm headed to Toronto for this session on the Future of the Web and the World. I'm looking forward to the conversation with John Thackera and Gerri Sinclair and learning with all the folks in the room. But what I'm really looking forward to at NetChange is FutureLab.

FutureLab is a two day effort matching social media innovators with community organizations to brainstorm and present possible solutions to real problems. The teams and problems were selected a few weeks ago. The teams will start work with a group of advisers beginning on Thursday morning and they have until 2:30 local time on Friday to come up with solutions to present to the conference. I like this approach because it puts the problem and relevant knowledge first, and technology/social media in the support position. I like it because it has a little more time to it than typical app contests. I like it because the larger community is (at least a little) involved. And I like it because it takes advantage of all the wisdom that gathers at a conference and gives that wisdom something to do.

Here's the list of problems they'll be working on:

1. Designing a National Digital Address System:
How can the Internet be used to better connect citizens with their government and the government with citizens? The SI GovConnext group will develop a series of protocols for opening up a dedicated digital channel between government and the public.

2. Recruitment for rare medical disease research
Clinical trials for medicines require an adequate number of appropriate people participating. This is really hard for rare diseases. The Lab will be used to develop an outreach strategy to people most likely to develop a rare disease like ALS, those genetically predisposed to it. This project is a collaboration between Emory University and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

3. Independent media/information dissemination in areas of conflict
In areas of extreme violence reporting the news is a life-threatening endeavor. In some areas of Mexico entire neighborhoods stay inside in order to stay out of harm's way. Reporters have to focus on mundane stories or risk their lives - because if you share what people need to know you put your life in jeopardy. Can social media help get the news out and rebuild a sense of humanity in broken societies?

4. Sustainable Behaviour Change
Helping people "see" the energy their homes waste and "see" savings has been shown to increase use of energy conservation strategies. "There is a $28.8 billion opportunity for cash positive energy retrofits to Canadian Homes. Based on environmental education research, it is proposed that if Canadians could see the energy savings potential of their homes, compare themselves to their peer group and get rapid feedback of their relative energy performance, we would see transformative instead of incremental change. Can innovative social media be the key to unlocking the potential?"

Can't wait to see how this works and what the groups come up with. Follow the tweets at #ncwk and tune into the Vimeo channel.

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