Monthly Archives: November 2011

The 3-legged stool: Student energy to fuel People Powered Change

James Derounian, principal lecturer at the University of Gloucester, looks at the potential for university-based initiatives to support the Big Lottery Fund’s ideas for People Powered Change – reporting from a conference this week on community engagement.

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement(NCCPE) looks after six ‘beacons’ – these university-based collaborative centres dotted around England, Wales & Scotland – “are at the forefront of efforts to change the culture in universities, assisting staff and students to engage with the public. Their partners include further education colleges, museums, galleries, businesses, charities, TV and press, and public bodies.” Here’s the link.

29-30 November the NCCPE staged a sparky Bristol-based conference, Engage 2011: Making an impact. Delegates had the opportunity to “explore effective models for engaging with the public and ways universities and research institutes can support staff, students and the public to engage in mutually beneficial ways.” The four conference themes covered

  1. Making an impact with research
  2. Creating an engagement culture
  3. Effective partnerships and
  4. Engaging students

Our own session, The three legged stool: academic-staff-community dialogue in community based learning, was fittingly a joint presentation between a lecturer, the chief officer of a community-based regeneration charity (that has hosted student ‘placements’) and the University of Gloucestershire’s SU Welfare Officer.

The conference and work of the National Co-ordinating centre chimes with People Powered Change (PPC), in a number of ways: In terms of trusting “people to tell their own stories”; in this case contributions centred on higher education in support of PPC. Colleagues from the University of Nottingham, for example, reviewed their research links with the third sector & social enterprises through case studies and discussed their approach to evaluating community benefit, as well as the gains for students/university. An interactive workshop with young people from Barnardo’s Cymru sought a better understanding of the two-way process required in community engagement, so that it is a genuinely mutual learning experience.

The importance of language was emphasised at the conference, so delegate packs included Jargon Bingo (“Cross off the jargon if you hear it mentioned without explanation. First full house…wins an on the spot prize1”). What was also refreshing was the fact that a good third of delegates were employers, with the other two-thirds, academics and students.

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A young audience enjoying University College London’s (UCL)‘Bright Club’, where researchers perform stand-up comedy about their work: source

A session on social media and public engagement asked whether this represented evolution or revolution. There then followed a fascinating discussion about the professional and personal uses and pitfalls of twitter & Facebook. Similarly confidentiality, tone, respect and online manners all reared their head. The London School of Economics, for example, has published a ‘twitter guide’ for researchers and staff

The University of Gloucestershire presenters highlighted work by American researchers, DeLind and Link (2004), who contend that “daily life is not a backdrop to education, but education itself…students need to carefully and critically examine what exists under their feet and outside their front (and back) doors.” In an age of reducing our carbon footprint, pursuing sustainability and of financial austerity, this sentiment of understanding our immediate surrounds becomes even more pressing.

A highlight was Fiona Reynolds’ presentation about her decade as National Trust Director General; this rounded off day 1. She described how the organisation that she inherited elicited a cool public response: “respect, admiration….but not warmth”. She was particularly pleased to have empowered staff by going local – giving each property team “authority for what they do, and how they do it”. And in an echo of community development and people Powered Change she intends that “everyone who comes across us is touched and inspired”.

The conference also offered a new angle on the Innovation Unit’s emphasis on “using the power of innovation to solve social challenges”. My own idea to fuel innovation and People Powered Change is a simple one, which I believe could produce profound and massive benefits for communities, climate change remediation and sustainable development: I am keen for the UK Government to consider an extension of to the National Citizen Service NCS (already in place for 2ndry school pupils): to pilot a BigGreenGapYear (of 6 months duration) which would enable young people to contribute to communities & Big Society activities.

Those undertaking Gap Service would gain an educational credit (of say £3,500/head) – as a contribution towards their first year university/college tuition fees. My idea chimes with similar suggestions e.g. David Blunkett MP’s National Volunteer Programme and Prince Charles’ suggestion that “a young person deferring a place to spend four or six months volunteering might be able to get some credits toward tuition fees” (speech dated 29 May 2006). Furthermore, this possibility links to the ‘Giving’ Green Paper points re “exchange”, “reciprocity” and moving “away from a caricature of giving as a one-way street”. The BigGreenGapYear is elaborated in my 2011 article for the Guardian online

 

The community engagement iPhone app in detail

As I reported here, a new iPhone app is being used in Milton Keynes to capture and share conversations in the community. I was given an impromptu demonstration on the spot by Corrina Milner and Andy MacDermott – but it was difficult the see the detail. I asked if we could see some screen shots – and these were kind provided by David Livermore, assistance chief executive at Communityaction:MK. Below David explains why they developed the app. As I explained in the earlier post, it isn’t yet in the official app store.

 

Community Action:MK manage a team of area based community workers called, Community Mobilisers. Over the last couple of years we have been working to refine our engagement and analysis processes, we knew that the levels of discussion taking place within communities were rich, deep and varied yet, in terms of having any real impact in changing service delivery within communities, it was patchy and ad-hoc with a complete over reliance upon survey data from authorities in order to understand what people are thinking. This, survey-based approach is based on the assumption that you know the right questions to ask and that people within communities don’t discuss anything until they’re asked!

We felt that there was a better way of understanding what conversations were going on on the ground at any one time, enable us to spot trends as they emerge and respond to them more cohesively and swiftly. The app is a tool for the Community Mobilisers to record the thread of the conversation they have with individuals, be it an idea, an interest or an issue. Over a period of a month a Mobiliser will typically have between 80-100 meaningful conversations (ie those which go a bit further that the ‘Hi’ in the street – which we also positively encourage!)

These conversations are then entered into the app, either as text, audio or video clips (pictures can also be used). They are then sent into the ‘Cloud’ where they are categorised, themed and analysed and then displayed within an overview screen as pie charts and statistics. We can apply specific filters to narrow down the data field and there is also an internal search engine which can identify any conversations which have included a specific word!

Community Sector Tales from Urban Forum

Helping groups share ideas and experience by telling stories about their projects is one of the main ideas for the further development of the Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change. Here Toby Blume, chief executive of Urban Forum, explains how they are pioneering this approach.

People powered change is what we do at Urban Forum. Supporting communities to play a leading role in what happens within their communities. We believe that improved local outcomes must be based on citizen’s own vision for their area and that with a bit of support and some creative thinking a huge amount can be achieved. That does not, in our view, mean that communities should be abandoned by the state – far from it. Even with the spending cuts in the public sector, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we still spend a huge amount of public money in the UK. If we can align resources to be more responsive to local needs and ambitions public bodies can play a hugely important enabling role and support co-design and co-production.

Urban Forum is also very interested in social reporting and as an evidence-based organisation we see knowledge as one of the most important assets for ourselves and for communities. However knowledge comes in many different forms and resides in different places. We, like many organisations conducting research, have traditionally relied on distilling the findings from surveys, interviews and focus groups and presenting them in reports. Whilst we might feel we present this information in a more accessible way than most, we still tend to do it in a fairly traditional way. With the technological advances of recent years and the explosion of social media and multimedia use, we feel the time is right to find new ways to conduct research and present evidence.

Community Sector Tales’ is our first foray into the world of digital curation. We’re are inviting our members to share their experience and views of life in the local community sector today, with their photos, videoclips, audio, drawings and written words. We’re using the hashtag #VCSTales to curate content from across the web. We then plan to use this to create a montage of content depicting the community sector today, which we also plan to use in a report that the Office for Civil Society have commissioned us to produce on Big Society and the community sector.

Here’s a taster from Chorlton Good Neighbours – Pumpkin pie, and spotted dick for pudding

With Urban Forum’s 900 members engaged in such a wide range of exciting and valuable People Powered Change, we think these stories and images will help build connections and inspire us to learn and share across the sector. We all know how powerful a picture can be, so it seems appropriate to start incorporating this into how we work.

We hope that our experience – and that of the many visual artists, storytellers, social reporters and other people and organisations using creative ways to present information – can help others to explore these ways of working. Perhaps Big Lottery Fund might like to think about accepting evaluation reports in the form of a video or photos? Or there might be ways they could help people powered groups to gain skills and confidence to begin using these approaches? If we start by accepting the benefits of using more visual ways of presenting information, then ideas about the ways to support them will, I suspect, flow quite naturally. First we need to overcome some cultural biases about the value of pictures and stories – a theme I picked up in a recent blog.

I’ll leave the final word to the Nobel-winning scientist Peter Debye: ‘I can only think in pictures…..it’s all visual’.

You’ll find Toby BlumeChief executive, Urban Forum, online here:

UnLtd: It’s all about people-powered solutions

UnLtd is the largest provider of support for social entrepreneurs in the country, and a partner in the Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change. Here Dan Lehner, interim head of ventures, describes their contribution.

The Big Venture Challenge (BVC) was designed as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change programme. It represents a 3 year programme, run by UnLtd Ventures, working with 25 ambitious social entrepreneurs in England who need access to finance, support and networks to help them reach scale.

At UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, we believe that it is people who make the difference. Our starting point is the extraordinary ability human beings have within themselves – some of them to a remarkable extent – to create social change. We work with over 1,000 social entrepreneurs per year and have national reach across the UK. We spot raw talent and we connect high potential individuals to the resources that they need to deliver social impact.

The Ventures team were overwhelmed, figuratively and literally with the response to our call out for BVC applications in April 2011: receiving 1,000 expressions of interest and 638 full applications. The filtering process was an incredible experience. We had a clear idea of what we were looking for: innovative people-powered solutions to social problems in their communities. More specifically we targeted confident, well-connected, committed entrepreneurs, with scalable models, strong social and financial performance, a robust plan and a clear investment need. After 2 months of due diligence, meeting and reading about some incredible people, we managed to select 41 hugely impressive individuals for interview.

To get down to the final 25, we recruited nearly 50 external judges – influential figures from social investors, entrepreneurs, staff at key corporate partners and government – to join the interview panels, over a whole week. With their insightful questioning and expert analysis and a lot of strong coffee, we made our decision on the final cohort.

The final 25 are a diverse bunch. Some pre-revenue, some very well established; some running charities, some for-profit companies; some selling to public sector, some to private sector, some direct to consumers. Many are people who have lived with the problem they seek to solve – the winners represent people who are nurses, social workers, ex-addicts, patients, people with disabilities, people who have experienced mental health problems. Some of the winners are people from the commercial sector including city bankers, corporate managers, computer programmers as well as public sector leaders.

What they share is that they are all ambitious, determined social entrepreneurs who are passionate about delivering social impact at scale, and they all put people at the heart of their solutions. They include:

  • Coalition for Independent Living: a national network of disabled peer brokers to help others with disabilities manage their own care provision using their personal budgets
  • Ripplez: spun out from the NHS to create a social venture to provide support services for teenage parents which will scale across regions
  • The SWEET Project: an innovative, sustainable new business model that provides frontline care for families at risk
  • Patients Know Best: puts patients in control, saves them distress and saves the NHS money, by giving them access to their own medical records online to co-ordinate their care provision
  • Arrival Education: puts disengaged, excluded young people in leadership positions
  • Housing Action: puts homeless people into private rented accommodation
  • Spacehive: created a crowdfunding platform to develop new neighbourhood projects
  • MyKindaCrowd: created an alternative careers service in light of the withdrawal of Connexions

Our aim is to support the Big Venture Challenge Winners to multiply their impact many fold across the country. Yes, we want to scale these ventures – but ultimately, it’s all about the impact they create.

To help their scaling process, each Award Winner receives £25,000 and the opportunity to pitch for funding of £50,000 or £100,000 should they attract external investment of similar levels. They also get access to first class business support and powerful networks. Each Winner works with an UnLtd Development Manager who diagnoses the key areas of support and how we feel we can add value:

  • Which investors are most relevant and when should conversations begin?
  • Which professional support providers can we bring in: lawyers, financial advisors, mentors, PR teams?
  • Who can we introduce them to? Commissioners, entrepreneurs, corporate leaders?

Of course, many connections are happening without our involvement. The offer of match-funding has attracted many investors we didn’t know and the cohort have already started working with each other and with many of the judges they met during the application process. We hope being part of the cohort also acts as a powerful message to potential partners and customers, a marker in the sand of their ambition and an endorsement of their exceptional talent.

Here at UnLtd, we are at the very beginning of our journey working with these incredible entrepreneurs. We’re hoping to learn huge amounts about what it takes to scale social impact through people powered solutions and we’re eager to share this with the rest of the sector.

The challenge of building a sustainable knowledge hub

Nearly four years ago, Big Lottery Fund invested £2.1m in the development of the KnowHow NonProfit site, created by a small team working out of the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness. But how to maintain and develop what was a mainly free resource when funding ends? Here Luke Chaput de Saintonge, formerly Head of Content at KnowHow NonProfit, now Content Strategy Manager, NCVO, gives an honest assessment of the challenge, and the part that the site might play in future developments.

 

During its short but fruitful existence knowhownonprofit.org has flirted with greatness but also strayed close to the digital scrap heap. So where is it today? Will it go the same way as so many other voluntary sector support sites – into some web archive abyss? Or could it yet prove to be one of the Big Lottery Fund’s great successes?

Earlier in 2011, when KnowHow’s lottery funding ran out, it had not managed to implement a sustainable business plan. However, its successes made it hard to ignore: 865,000 visits; two and half million page views; 20,000 registered users; a suite of genuinely unique services designed to improve self-directed learning and organisational development in the sector. These achievements placed it firmly in the top tier of the sector’s capacity-building websites.

In a move endorsed by the Big Lottery Fund, NCVO agreed take on KnowHow NonProfit, the aim being to consolidate staff, technology, and online services to create a joint, ‘better than both’ online solution for voluntary sector capacity-building.

This merger marks a major shift in the positioning of both KnowHow NonProfit and NCVO in terms of their web provision to the sector. For KnowHow NonProfit, it’s the opportunity to deliver on its early promise and prove that its commitment to social learning, collaborative technology and low-cost e-learning can cut it on a grand scale. For NCVO it represents a shift away from a predominantly expert-driven, ‘broadcast’ model of web publishing to a more facilitative approach that will see it finding new ways to foster debate, dialogue and knowledge exchange within the sector.

The work to build the ‘better than both’ solution has begun. The aspiration is to build an online space for advice, learning and support that is owned by the sector, but ‘powered’ and facilitated by NCVO. It will transcend but include what’s already been created in the NCVO and KnowHow NonProfit websites. And, by uniting their combined expertise and reach, it will become the ‘go to’ place for people wanting to do their jobs better or help their organisations achieve more.

We’re currently in a research phase – gathering thoughts on what the sector needs, what’s technically feasible and how we build on our strong foundations. However, it’s likely that the eventual solution will:

  • foster a strong and diverse learning community whose members benefit from having access to many of the sector’s learning materials in one place
  • have financial sustainability at its core so that it can survive and grow
  • have a strong focus on creating an online ‘marketplace’, where users can buy and sell ‘premium content’, eg publications, e-learning, training, toolkits – creating new revenue streams for the sector
  • be guided strongly by user need and usability best practice
  • bring together key voluntary sector players in new forms of collaboration
  • link up with what’s already out there on the web, as well as one or two initiatives that we know are being commissioned from other parts of the sector.

Once we have our ‘straw man’, or several ‘straw men’, we’ll be asking the sector to feed in their thoughts on our progress so far. This is scheduled for next February and we’d really appreciate your input.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual for NCVO. As for KnowHow NonProfit, don’t expect to see a cyber gravestone just yet.

 

Ideas from our exploration of People Powered Change

We are in the final phase of our exploration, with Big Lottery Fund, about how BIG can become more than a funder – initially under the banner of People Powered Change (PPC). On Thursday December 1 Drew Mackie and I will help run a workshop for BIG in London with some of the people we have met along the way, and those whose ideas we have borrowed. Fellow reporter John Popham will be sharing his insights, and I’ve no doubt doing some more reporting.

You can see here a summary of the blog posts recording conversations and ideas we have picked up about ways that BIG could help the groups that they fund to share ideas and experience, and the context for this. We have included some reports and posts from partners in PPC, and will have more shortly.

As you can see from this initial interview with Linda Quinn, BIG is open to a wide range of possibilities. Here are some we started to explore, prompted by that interview:

  • BIG can work with its partners in ppchange to develop new ways of working, drawn from their experience. Working together creatively can yield more than the separate, funded programmes. How can we catalyse that?
  • There are thousands of grant proposals being processed by BIG at any one time, with many innovative ideas. How could these be shared?
  • Improving the reach and understanding of Lottery funding. We should use a mix of media and methods, and the power of networks, to reach people and offer the opportunity. What successful examples can we build on?

At one stage in our work, we wondered if we could use the workshop this week to identify the main elements for a new, distributed People Powered Change learning space. In practice that’s going to be a jump too far. The issues are complex, there are many people in the field who could be part of any solutions we haven’t talked to, and more conversations are needed inside BIG as well as outside.

I sense that this journey may turn out to be more about how BIG operates, than creating a new space or programme called “People Powered Change”. I personally think that could be a more radical outcome. It is relatively easy for funders to invest in new initiatives – while it may be much more innovative and beneficial for them to start operating in open and networky ways. The Connected Citizens report, referenced here by Beth Kanter, provides some pointers.

So I think that the event on Thursday is going to be mainly a means of getting conversations off the screen, where they have mainly happened so far, into the room, and in the process starting to build some new relationships. After a presentation from BIG, and a Q and A session, we’ll be exploring ways for BIG and others to take forward the exploration we have started here. We’ll pitch up some ideas, invite others to come up with their own, form groups, and get creative. We have a few spare places, so if you feel you could contribute on the day, do contact Laura Lacey and explain what you might offer.

Here’s some suggestions for BIG and partners that have emerged from our exploration. They provide a backcloth for the workshop, and some might be developed on the day.

  1. Map the different models of people powered change – and then looked at who is active within these different “tribes”. We need to understand the context people and projects are working within before trying to share ideas http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=321
  2. Map where the current BIG partners are running pilots and use that as one basis for network building and sharing (this is already underway) http://peoplepoweredchange.org.uk/partners/
  3. Review the other investments that BIG has made – including the Knowledge Portal http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=59 - to see how these can help. That would take the Asset Based Community Development approach BIG supports to a strategic level. Build on your strengths, as Cormac Russell explains http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=285
  4. Look at the way other funders operate to promote an asset-based approach. Cormac Russell suggests the Kellogg Foundation, in the interview here http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=285.
  5. Explore the idea of a social app store, given new impetus at the Kent Connects event last week http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=326 and piloted in Milton Keynes http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=310
  6. Trust people to tell their own stories, by supporting hyperlocal activities, as suggested by Will Perrin http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=235
  7. Help BIG staff become social reporters in their own right, picking up the work we have started here. That would help on two fronts: getting knowledge from inside BIG outside, and vice versa, and helping build networks. Focus on events to do that, as Tom Phillips suggests here http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=350
  8. Link the practice of social reporting with development of the Media Trust Newsnet, as I explored here with Adam Perry http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=285 Maybe we need a social reporter network for people in organisations, as well as those working in local communities
  9. Start using Yammer to promote internal conversations, and to connect with others. Another good idea from Tom Phillips http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=285
  10. Explore how to help groups meet each others – as Richard Edwards proposed here http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=88
  11. Encourage local councils and organisations to stitch together the various programmes that BIG support – as we discussed in Dudley http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=63
  12. If you want to build a network, with some strong underlying principles and values, using a mix of media, look at Transition Network for ideas http://www.socialreporters.net/?p=129

All these are the sort of ideas that might end up, in private, in a consultancy report if we were undertaking a conventional study. I’ve been enormously impressed that BIG are prepared to support this exploration in public – modelling the sort of open sharing approach that could fill out the initial vision of People Powered Change.

It’s a small start in the sort of ideas crowdsourcing that I hope may be continued by BIG and others. Maybe now is the time for an Open Innovation Exchange, as a few of us proposed back in 2007

What happens after our workshop? In part, I expect we’ll decide that on the day. However, I do know that a report will be written early in the New Year to get support from committee members, there is talk of piloting, and I hope it will be possible for BIG staff to continue the work that we have started.

Meanwhile, do please pitch in your own ideas, either as a comment below, or by contacting us here.

 

How sociable events can help build networks and connect ideas

The Kent Connects Developing Solutions Camp on Friday provided inspiration not just from the main activity of developers working on applications for open data, but from the side conversations that this sort of relatively unstructured event encourages. I’ve added additional videos to my original post, and you can see them in a playlist here.

I’ve already posted one conversation here with Tom Phillips, about the need for big organisations to practice open conversations internally if they wish to use social media externally. Tom has worked extensively in local government, and with community and voluntary organisations.

We also talked about different models of networks, and revisited an earlier post here on networks. I posted what follows first on my personal blog.

Part of the work I’m doing with Big Lottery Fund (BIG) on People Powered Change, with John Popham and Drew Mackie, is exploring how BIG can be more than a funder, and help groups that they fund to they share ideas and experience. As part of the discussion, I offered a diagram suggesting a change from hierarchical structures to more of a peer-to-peer mesh: Moving from join us, join in, to join up yourselves.

The join-up part of the diagram shows a network that is usually seen as a connected set of people. But Tom made the point that the nodes could just as well be activities, including sociable events. That certain chimes in with my experience, where reporting events has been one of the best ways of doing the join-up  bit of social reporting. Here’s some earlier reflections.

However, to make the events useful for joining up outside the room, I think that the social reporter needs to do a bit more than just shoot video, blog or tweet. It is important to look for stories and ideas that might be specially relevant for people who are not there, and make sure they get both a link and an introduction. It means organising events that allow space for the sort of conversations that I had with Tom here – and also in this post about sociable organisations.

It means some “strategic opportunism”, as James Derounian calls it over here:

…….that is putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.
So 1 example = attending a conference, like yesterday’s on ‘localism’in Manchester….which puts you in the way of a load of other like-minded/interested people; can also of course be virtual…being ‘present’ on certain blogs, tweets, www etc…

That certainly happened to me at a recent event in Manchester, when I met community mobilisers Corrina and Andy and their iPhone app. Today I have been able to make the link between that conversation, and the developments in Kent, strengthening idea of a social app store. So to build networks, hold events that can connect both ideas and people.

Sharing outside means first sharing inside

Part of our work with Big Lottery Fund (BIG), on People Powered Change, is to help the organisation explore how they can be more than funders, and how they might help the groups that they fund share ideas and experience. We all agree that involves telling stories, opening up conversations, and in doing that saying what worked and what didn’t.

It can be difficult for people to have that sort of conversation with BIG, without fearing they may not get a grant next time around. There has to be some degree of trust. So perhaps BIG staff have to learn how to encourage open conversations … and while they may well be excellent at that in their personal lives, it’s different when representing the organisation.

The BIG CEO Peter Wanless leads the way in openness online through his Twitter account. He recently explained to John Popham how he does that. But how to spread some openness and sociability through BIG or any other large organisation?

While at the Developing Solutions Camp in Gravesend today, talking about how technology can be used to improve local communities, I met up with Tom Phillips, who worked for many years in local Government, and with community and voluntary organisations. I posed the challenge to Tom – how can an organisation become more sociable?

His response was that you can’t be sociable outside, if you aren’t social inside … so the place to start having open conversations is inside the organisation.

Tom is a big fan of Yammer – as I am. It is a bit like private Twitter, without the limit of 140 characters. You can create small or large groups around specific topics, and also create online communities that go outside the organisation. Here’s an explanation of Yammer, and how it can be used.

Tom says that the best way to introduce Yammer is just to get started, and then see who joins up. Encourage the enthusiasts. If you try and impose it, people may well resist.

Our friends (and clients) in BIG are keen to experiment, so there’s a fair chance they may be prepared to have a go. And the beauty of something like Yammer is that, if it would be easier, we can just set something up and invite people to join, including partner organisations. Offer opt-it. People Powered Change can work within organisations as well as outside.

Kent Connects shows the way to smart solutions and a social app store


An event in Gravesend today showed me how a mix of open data from councils, the skills of software developers and smartphone apps could lead to a social app store that residents could use to benefit themselves and their community.

The Developing Solutions camp, organised by Kent Connects and hosted by Gravesham Council, has brought together technology designers and other working on a range of ideas for using tech for neighbourhood benefit. You can see the ideas here, originally pitched on the Dotgovlabs innovation hub.

The ideas include community vehicle booking, mapping council land and empty shops, and an exploration learning game. The task of those present is to develop a prototype that could win them a prize of £1000 at the end of the day.

In recent years there have been quite a few of this type of event around the country, and it sounds as if we may be getting to the point where there are enough viable solutions around to make it worth bringing them together. This might be the basis for a social app store on the lines that I, John Popham and others have been promoting.

The app store idea started here, and chimes with the idea that the future of online sharing is mobile, applified and personal.

Today Darren Everden, Gravesham IT service manager, and Antony Parker, Kent Connects business implementation manager, explained how the release of data held by council can create value and lead to community benefits.

Developers are able to package the data into smartphone apps that solve problems and provide services to citizens. The apps cost only a few pounds – but if enough are sold, that creates a viable market and leads to community benefits without major public spending.

At the moment the apps are being developed in different places. While the data may be specific to different localities, the underlying technology to make it accessible to people could be common. So there could be an app store with common solutions tailored to local needs.

As I understand, the problem is that data is currently held in  different formats, and it needs some policy directive from government to push public agencies to collaborate. If that were done, there could be some major benefits.

Kent Connects Partners have a track record of innovative collaboration between citizens and councils, and last year ran a Transformed by You event that I reported here. Kent Connects is providing the partnership for local collaborations, so I hope the Cabinet Office might see this as an inspiration for a route to achieve big benefits from minimal spending.

Update

I’ve now uploaded other videos, including an interview with Roger Gough, Kent Council Council Cabinet member responsible for technology, and interviews with the winners.

If you have problems viewing them here, the individual videos are all available in this playlist.

I have also posted two interviews with Tom Phillips, who I met up with at the event

The many models for People Powered Change

The idea of People Powered Change is appealing – that citizens should be helped to collaborate among themselves, and with agencies, to improve their neighbourhoods, meet local needs, and realise the creative capacity there it in any community. Maybe mount a campaign where necessary.

But putting that ideal into practice is more complicated, and there are many different models for action, and tribes of professionals and activists promoting them. There’s seldom one right way of doing things, but how do you work out what’s appropriate as a citizen, for your are area, or what to support, as a funder?

And if you want to share your experience and learn from like-minded people, how do you find them on the landscape of community action?

Do you favour Asset Based Community Development, Community Organising as promoted by Locality and funded by Government, the rather different model promoted by Citizens UK, small local councils promoted by NALC, the Transition Towns model, community development and campaigning, social enterprise, or socially-responsible business? I know I will have missed several other approaches.

When we started working with Big Lottery Fund on this project, we included the idea of some mapping. That might be where to find online resources and discussions, or discovering who connects with whom, and who may be missing out. I’ve started to develop an online dashboard, and Drew Mackie has lots of experience in developing network maps. You can even do that quickly at events, as we did last year at a Big Society Network event. As you can see from the summary of past posts on this blog, we have covered a number of the models.

One purpose of our explorations here is to help BIG review how to be more than a funder, and to promote more learning and collaborations. It is therefore important that there is some lens through which to view these different approaches – not , I should think, for BIG to play favourites, but to become a well-informed participant in the complex conversations that surround community action.

Why are they complex? Isn’t it a matter of people of local people identifying problems, then getting together to do something, and enlisting support? Not necessarily, and the importance of different models was brought home to me the other day when I attended a workshop to help a national programme develop plans for a challenge fund. Under this, individuals groups or companies could pitch innovative ways to support local action, get together to work these up a creative two-day session, and win support from a challenge fund.

What was needed from us, in advance of the challenge process, was a list of typical problems from neighbourhoods, and the typical barriers that people might face in taking action. On the face of it that seemed very sensible, but only a few days before I had been to an excellent event on Asset Based Community Development, as you can see here.

There Cormac Russell did a very good job of arguing against starting with “needs” – but instead focussing at the start on the strengths, assets, resources in a community. That’s because successful action will almost certainly depend upon building new relationships and – particularly in these hard time – finding as many resources as you can close to home.

I argued, at the challenge workshop, that asking a group of people from different places to describe “needs” would just give a list of the usual issues: litter, dog poo, graffiti, noise, young people hanging around … This wouldn’t be very helpful because solutions depend very much on local circumstances, a process of finding assets, building relationships etc. Then presenting “problem” might mask deeper issues. I was surprised how strongly I felt about the different methodologies.

The organisers took my objections in good part, and I felt that if we were looking at local challenges that could be seen as opportunities or problems, the process would not be too skewed.

However, it did reinforce the point I raised in my interview with Russell, that is is relevant to to BIG: if the grant application form starts with “what are the needs in your community” you will be nudged into one model, while “what strengths might you find ind your community to tackle people’s concerns” could take you in a different direction.

So – it is important for a funder to understand the models in order to develop the funding offer, and also to more beyond funding to help people share experience. Just helping people tell stories from projects may not be useful unless it is clear what are the underlying approaches values.

Fortunately Tessy Britton has been thinking about this for some time, informed by her travels around the country running workshops (Travelling Pantry) and developing an engaging series of Community Lovers Guides. As Tessy explains here, she has found many of the models unrewarding, and instead is promoting one based on creativity and collaboration. There is a really useful matrix analysis of different models, and a further post on the issues that emerge in creating new knowledge for the creative/collaborative participatory paradigm.

I can’t do justice to Tessy’s analysis in a summary, so I do encourage you to read it as the most thoughtful contribution I have seen to this field recently.