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Crowdsourced Map Uncovers Social Innovation in Austin

Researchers at UT Austin’s RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service are launching a map that allows visitors to easily find the city’s social innovators.

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AUSTIN, Texas – As social entrepreneurs and impact investors descend on Austin for South by Southwest’s SXGood programming, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin’s RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service are launching a map that allows visitors to easily find the city’s social innovators. A collaboration with social enterprise accelerator UnLtd USA, the map displays key organizations and players in the sector and the relationships that connect them.

The Austin Social Innovation Ecosystem Map is a crowdsourced social network map of actors and stakeholders addressing social issues through innovation and entrepreneurship.

The map was created with initial data from UnLtd USA and enhanced by Mark Clayton Hand, a UT Austin adjunct assistant professor of social entrepreneurship, and lecturer Clare Zutz. It displays people and organizations as nodes connected by ties representing relationships such as employment or affiliation, investments and donations. Users can contribute information about their own organizations and then interact with the visualization to filter, focus and cluster data shared by others.

“Because Austin’s social innovation ecosystem is just emerging, its culture and norms are still being formed,” said Zoe Schlag, executive director of UnLtd USA, which offers seed funding and venture support to entrepreneurs tackling social and environmental problems. “Creating a more transparent ecosystem will be advantageous to both Austin social entrepreneurs and impact investors by accelerating the impact they want to have.”

Rather than limiting contributors to the map, Hand and Zutz invite all individuals and organizations who self-identify as social innovators to participate.

“There are so many nonprofits and for-profit companies in Austin doing great work,” said Hand. “We see it as our role to connect as many of them as possible. We also anticipate that it will inspire new donors and investors to engage, as they see the array of activity in Austin.”

“Austin’s thriving entrepreneur and nonprofit communities are coming together more and more to advance the public good,” said LBJ School of Public Affairs Dean Angela Evans. “The LBJ School’s location amidst the university’s expansive network of support for student entrepreneurs affords us the opportunity to play a critical role in transforming the next generation of social innovators.”

“Our students are driven by the promise and potential that comes with solving social problems in new and innovative ways,” said RGK Center Director David W. Springer. “This important research is part of our larger initiative to serve as a pipeline for young professionals seeking careers in this space.”

The RGK Center anticipates the project will inform research regarding social innovation in Austin and the application of crowdsourcing as a method for social network analysis. Zutz will analyze the data collected and present findings at this year’s International Network for Social Network Analysis conference in April.