A new inclusive design accelerator, OpenDoor, has been created by the Social Inclusion Unit (SIU) at Plexal in partnership with political engagement charity My Life My Say.

Supported by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the accelerator aims to help scale innovative designs, services and products that boost levels of social inclusion and make it easier for people facing inclusion challenges to play a more active role in society and the economy. The specific challenge areas will be determined by engaging industry and under-represented groups over the coming months.

The OpenDoor accelerator is being launched in response to the SIU’s mission of bringing the voices of the people who are typically excluded to the forefront. It’s based on SIU insights that how we shape technology directly influences people’s access – or lack of access – to quality of life, work, and leisure opportunities.

Delivered by Plexal’s innovation team, together with My Life My Say, a bespoke 12-week programme will support cohort members to develop and scale innovations that allow everyone to access opportunities and participate more fully in society. For example, the solutions could address the ease at which under-represented groups access employment or transport opportunities, or build empathy and user-centric design principles into everyday products and services people from under-represented groups use.

Successful entrants to the programme must be able to demonstrate that their proposed innovations are directly shaped by insights from their target audience.

Applications to the OpenDoor accelerator open on 24 June 2019 and close on 26 August. Ahead of this, the SIU is welcoming interested organisations to get in touch if they would like to sponsor or support the accelerator, and help define the challenges it will focus on.

The SIU will also be holding a roundtable to collaboratively define the challenge areas and focus of the programme, as well as an Open Innovation Day that will give potential applicants a chance to collaborate and partner with each other before applying.

Andrew Roughan, managing director, Plexal, said: “As the innovation centre at Here East occupying the site of the 2012 Olympic Games Press & Broadcast Centre, Plexal takes responsibility for supporting the community around us – especially people who face complex inclusion challenges. With the Social Inclusion Unit, we’re proud to use our connections with innovators and large organisations to convene a broad spectrum of people together around the challenge.

“By launching OpenDoor, we intend to help scale the impact of innovation, build on what works and address the gaps. It’s our belief that long-term sustainability needs to balance financial viability with social purpose.”

Mete Coban, chief executive of My Life My Say, said: “It’s critical that the UK does better when it comes to making society and our workplaces for inclusive and genuinely diverse – not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it also allows us to tap into a talent pool that’s currently under-utilised.

“Through OpenDoor, the Social Inclusion Unit intends to scale innovative ideas or solutions that boost social inclusion, while ensuring that under-represented groups are part of the process throughout. As we prepare for Brexit, this work has never been more urgent.”

Tech companies can make a difference

OpenDoor is being announced as research undertaken by the SIU reveals that only 30% of people believe that technology companies help excluded people and communities to participate in society.

Exploring people’s attitudes towards social inclusion and how technology companies can help, the study revealed more than half (54%) of people surveyed believe the Government has a responsibility to support social inclusion, while ordinary people (49%) and businesses (30%) were also seen to have a responsibility.

Out of all types of businesses, more than half of respondents (54%) believe that technology companies have a responsibility to support social inclusion.

The study also reveals that a third of those surveyed think that social exclusion will worsen as a result of Brexit, with over two thirds (72%) of these respondents saying they feel the UK will become a less tolerant society, and six in 10 (63%) believing there will be more discrimination.

People are nevertheless positive about the potential of tech companies to support social inclusion, with over half (55%) saying they have a more positive than negative impact on people’s lives. Two thirds (65%) note technology companies’ role in educating and teaching people new skills. A further three in five (63%) say tech companies help people from different backgrounds communicate with each other.

Responding to the findings, Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said: “The SIU’s mission is to bring the voices of the people who are typically excluded to the forefront, to support innovations that allow them to participate more fully in society and to work with industry to enact measures that deliver tangible improvement to social inclusion.

“This work is especially urgent given the challenges ahead with Brexit: we cannot allow our exit, or the debate around the terms of our exit, to make social inclusion any worse. We cannot let inequality and alienation become normalised, or look to everyone else to pick up the slack. This is a challenge for us all to take up.”