Digitally enabling the fictitious communities of Slapham

Our exploration into the skills, roles, and approaches of community enablers – and how they can use digital tools for network building and neighbourhood change – took a big jump forward last week with a workshop of some 20 people to play through these issues in the fictitious town of Slapham.

Local community organiser Mark Parker hosted our event at the recently-rebuilt Cambridge House in Southwark (a terrific venue), and my colleague Drew Mackie tweaked the Slapham game that we first developed for Community Matters, and then used in a workshop with the Forever Manchester Community Builders.

Over five hours we developed stories about what was happening in the four neighbourhoods of Golson, Tarley, Blaybeck and Stobben – and how the community enablers Beatice, Dave, Hawa, Matt and others were helping citizens collaborate to tackle the challenges there, using a mix of methods. This is a first report with the material we generated, to allow participants to add their thoughts if they wish. I’ll do more detailed analysis later.

I started off with a short presentation using some of these slides from the Manchester workshop, including the one above. The main point is that in any situation it is best to consider the context, the purpose you are trying to achieve, the people who will be involved, and only then the nature of the processes and methods that may enable action. Otherwise you may jump to the latest shiny tool. We describe  the process in detail in the book Social by Social.

That’s fine in theory – but how to help people work out what it means in practice? That’s where the Slapham game comes in. Here’s how it was played:

We split into four groups, each taking one of the neighbourhoods on the map below. Scroll down for neighbourhood descriptions.

Slapham Neighbourhoods

There were then three stages to the game:

  • First, groups read the scenario and added extra material to their adopted neighbourhood, including the assets and issues. They then passed this extend scenario to the next group – who inherited the challenges.
  • The groups then took the neighbourhoods that were passed to them and created two characters: community enablers who would help local people address the issues. We asked for names, a cartoon if possible, history, skills, character traits and a summary of what they were trying to achieve.
  • Thirdly, the groups examined a set of cards with tech tools and chose those that the community enablers might use. These were the same as the cards we used in Manchester, coded for personal, group and public use, and rated as basic, intermediate and advanced.

Social reporting game cards

I asked each group to do a short presentation about  their area and enablers, and also captured reporting back on the technology plans. Apologies for the quality of the video in the Stobben tech report back – glare whited it out. I have created a gallery of all flip charts as well.

The game certainly produced a lot of lively conversations during the day, and discussion afterwards. I’ll do a further post on one with Eileen Conn, which I found particularly interesting. Among the points I took away were:

  • Several groups invented enablers who had lived in the area … and their approach could be quite different from those were introduced from outside.
  • There’s a bit difference between the development of action in an area that emerges naturally over time, and that which may be accelerated/imposed by external interventions. Anyone who is being paid will have targets and timetables to meet.
  • Technology can increase the divide between initiatives in a community, because of the different levels of access and skills people have.
  • It is important to use a mix of communication methods, and also to aim to join up the online and face-to-face networks that evolve. The people who are active online are not necessarily those who are active in local projects, and vice-versa.
  • Technology should be used to complement and enhance community activity, not drive it. There’s a danger that those who are familiar with tech tools will push forward with their favourites.
  • However, technology can substantially speed up developments, if used appropriately.
  • We should not believe that young people who may be using Facebook personally will favour that for group use. They are as likely to use Blackberry Messenger for that.

On reflection, we should have offered groups a wider range of both tech and non-tech methods – as we have done in other games. By only offering tech solutions we distorted the plans.

While groups were highly creative in developing tech-enhanced plans, covering one or two years, these were probably unrealistic in practice. Several people made the point that you won’t know what methods to use in the longer-term until you have got started.

In  practice the way that tech tool are used will be highly specific to any situation, enabler and local people … and we need to do far more to explore that complexity in practice.

Overall I think the session worked well – but I’m keen to get more comments from participants!

  • People generally said it was a lot of fun, a chance to meet new people with similar interests, and a creative way to explore the issues.
  • The game was a good way to emphasise “start with context, people, purpose – don’t jump to the tools”
  • We generated a lot of material that we can analyse further
  • The community enabler characters were great … and will find their way into the next version of the Slapham scenario. Drew and I are developing Slapham as a virtual lab for a range of games.

We’ll be talking with Mark and others about the potential for a further large event. Meanwhile, if you wish to run a session yourself do feel free to download the material and go ahead. If you get in touch, Drew and I will be glad to provide some additional guidance … or come and run it with you if you have some budget.

Finally, a big thank you to Mark and Cambridge House for hosting, and to everyone who came and contributed so much on the day.

Update: Interview with Eileen Conn: Respecting the importance of emerging community enablers

 

Update 2: since 2012 Slapham has become Slipham. You can see here how it as used in May 2016 to explore the role of community connectors in helping older people find services and opportunities in their community.

2 Comments.

  1. It is well worth a read and has some interesting ideas and it is always a help to find out how others see the process working.
    The most important element is missing though – money. Using existing social media does not generate the required traffic to attract more people, it is purely join in or don’t. It is important to get those that do not view the world the same as the group, this the influences the group to a more central position – if the group is to enable as many as possible. An independent site is also required if those who make the decision are going to be able to read, some councils, government departments and the like block some social networks.
    Online maps are fine to an extent and are easy to publish through the groups own web site. Difficulties come with any links are to the online map and not the groups site – the point of sharing is lost. Being able to add a menu to use a variety of overlays, custom icons/images and adding a choice of links from a feature are not possible. In Southwark a map of bookies would be useful at present as would overlays of the Elephant and Castle regeneration. The bookies is a simple online map yo do, polygons and undefined shapes for E&C is not a solution for a shared map. Having both maps as overlays is going to have more cross fertilisation and that is solely a self publishing.
    Non-digital media is, undoubtedly, an excellent method of reaching as many as possible, using a reasonable VPS system for a year will only provide a couple of issues of a paper.
    To make communities truly digital savvy the digital savvy should be teaching. There are people out there that want to have their writing seen by organisations that have public relations departments, what stops them is the workflow of web sites – the same workflow used by public relation departments.
    The map example requires that some advanced training is offered. To have a map server the affordable solution is to have the servers in-house and available to an online site. Back to the premises.
    Grants for the technology required, hardware donations and office fittings are obtainable – what is not is somewhere to put the stuff and use it

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