Author Archives: johnpopham

A contribution on young people and digital technologies

I think it’s great that two people I have a lot of admiration for, David Wilcox and Tim Davies are working together with an organisation I also think is great, Nominet Trust, to explore the potential for new technologies to support young people in engaging economically and socially with their communities. See here for details.
Ahead of the meeting, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts from my own experience.
I think there are three key issues that need to be addressed in this sphere, these are (in no particular order):

  • Harnessing the natural curiosity of young people;
  • Helping young people develop the confidence to produce their own digital material; and
  • Improving the digital skills of youth workers and other professionals who work with young people.

Curiosity – I’ve been capturing and distributing video using mainly mobile phones, and, more recently, the iPad, for a number of years now. Most lately, the Celebration 2.0 project has taken me out of the usual milieu of conferences and community events, into public celebrations. And in those environments, there are generally more young people around. Now, I’ve been video streaming and doing similar things, using the iPad and a mobile phone. I often find that doing this can elicit some interesting reactions. Among adults that can mean suspicion. People who are quite happy to talk to the kind of big cameras that film-makers and TV companies deploy, and pose for the local newspaper photographer, can suddenly get nervous and tetchy when a mobile phone or iPad is pointed in their direction. There are two reasons for this; the first is that many people still are unaware that small, portable devices are capable of producing good quality video, so they don’t believe I can be doing anything serious with it; the other reason is that many remain uneasy about being exposed on the internet, believing all the myths about misuse of content.

On the other hand, the predominant reaction of the young people I’ve encountered in these situations has been curiosity. They are often intensely curious about what I’m doing, want to know how I’m doing it, and what equipment I am using. In the context of the internet, adults often try to dampen down that curiosity, tempering it with, sometimes understandable, concerns about security and privacy. But I think curiosity is generally a good thing, as long as it doesn’t lead into dangerous territories. So, we need to harness this curiosity to develop safe environments in which young people can experiment and push barriers back. I think it is that curiosity which leads to innovations and we need to ensure young people can make the most of it before it is ground out of them by life and over-cautious adults.

Confidence – There’s a lot of twaddle talked about “digital natives” and the Facebook generation. While it is evident that there are more people, including young people, than ever before creating their own media content, enabled by the proliferation of available tools; content creation is still very much a minority activity. Mass-produced TV and Radio are decreasing factors in young people’s lives, and it is being replaced in many cases, by peer-produced content. But, to run away with the idea that all young people are pumping out content to the world, would be to misrepresent what it happening. Most young people are watching material generated by their peers, but, by-and-large, it is a case of large audiences for a small number of producers.

So we need to find ways of building young people’s confidence to create their own content. This will probably be a collective, rather than an individual exercise.

And this moves me on to the third point. The digital skills of the professionals who work with young people. This has long been a concern of mine, since I did some work in 2008 on the digital opportunities available to Looked After Children, which concluded that the lack of digital skills of the social workers, foster carers and others who had daily care of those young people, was a key factor in hampering their educational progress. And I’ve seen plenty of evidence since that, although things may have improved slightly, this issue is still of importance. There are, of course, some really switched on youth workers and social workers, but all too many lack the skills necessary to encourage the young people they work with to flourish in the digital arena. And their discomfort in the digital world causes them to fear what the young people, whose digital skills are often far more advanced than their own, might get up to, and thus to hold them back.

I’m really looking forward to the meeting that David and Tim are convening on Thursday, and I hope this is a positive contribution.

Generating Collective Excitement and Momentum

Throughout our work as Social Reporters for the Big Lottery Fund, the fund’s Chief Executive, Peter Wanless, has been a source of inspiration, leading by example the quest for new ways of operating, as he explained to me in this video here. Peter is keen to embrace the new world of social media, as his guest post on Third Sector News illustrates. That post is about a brave initiative taken by the Big Lottery Fund to bring together feuding gangs. The part of the post that took my eye however, and which is directly relevant to the work of the Social Reporters initiative, is in the closing paragraph:

 I’m under no illusions that our good cause cash is what attracts most people to BIG.  However, it’s been fascinating recently how often people have commented positively and publicly about our ability to bring people round a table to generate collective excitement and momentum behind an issue. Our contact book of amazing people from the length and breadth of the UK at street level as well as the corridors of local and national power is an asset we should be generously willing to offer the sector to help address 2012’s most stubborn of social policy issues.

In the short space of time Social Reporters have been working with the Big Lottery Fund, the power that it has, particularly in the new era of public austerity, to bring partners together has been very apparent. And, it cannot be denied that being one of the few bodies with an increasing budget at a time when most budgets have been slashed is a powerful attraction. This was evident at the People-Powered Change workshop we held on the 1st December. And the prospects for BIG being able to use this position of influence to help disseminate concepts such as social reporting and Asset Based Community Development are real causes for optimism in 2012.
Peter’s choice of the words “excitement” and “momentum” are very important here. Social change and community development are exciting concepts with the potential to change lots of people’s lives for the better. And yet, so often, policies and initiatives are couched in project-management speak, and pursued in a way that is stifled by risk aversion. I’d like humbly to offer up my own Celebration 2.0 project as an attempt to gain wider acceptance of the idea that the best way of engaging people is to excite them and encourage them to have fun, rather that exhorting them to make self-sacrifices in worthy causes.
I hope that the work we have done so far in the People-Powered Change initiative will have helped to establish some of the groundwork for BIG’s wider endeavour in brokering relationships between the powerful and the powerless. And we stand ready to take this approach to the next stage as and when required.

Social Reporters & People-Powered Change: Time for Reflection

The work that Social Reporters has been doing with the Big Lottery Fund around People-Powered Change has been pretty intense. We started, a few months ago, with an agenda that was about openness, story-telling and sharing in reporting and decision-making processes; but, as we progressed, it became clear that what we were also doing was helping to shape priorities and policies for a lot of what the Big Lottery Fund is going to be funding and supporting in the foreseeable future. A fundamental reason for this is that People-Powered Change is built on the principles of Asset-Based Community Development, and there is increasing recognition that this approach requires the celebration of community assets, skills and achievements, and that this, as I wrote yesterday, is, for the moment at least, much more likely to be achieved using social media than it is via more traditional methods.
The intensity of the process we’ve gone through has meant that we’ve generated an awful lot of content in a short space of time. I am especially grateful to indefatigable colleague, David Wilcox, who has produced a huge amount of material on this blog. I’d like to think that just about all of what we’ve generated is useful and important, but, it is also likely that lots of people will have missed some of what we have been blogging about, because the content has been coming so think and fast. This is why I produced a book of our Social Reporters posts so far, so that anyone can sit down and read through the posts at their leisure. The book can be accessed at the link below.
Social Reporters Book
I hope you find this a useful way of packaging some of the content. Obviously, it misses quite a lot, because much of the material is in the form of videos, which can’t be reproduced in the book. So, to complement this post, I’d just like to pick a few of my personal highlights from the videos we have collected as part of this work.
The first is Dennis Hodson, Director of Dudley’s Local Strategic Partnership talking about joining up people-powered work in the Borough under the banner of “Our Society”

And here is Jim Diers talking to David about the principles of Asset-Based Community Development

And, finally, I loved the presentation by Nick Jankell at SHINE 2011 on “Story-Telling for Change-Makers”. We believe that story-telling is the key to success of what the Big Lottery Fund and its People-Powered Change partners are working to achieve. And Nick sets out a powerful framework for telling compelling stories.


No more unsung heroes

Just recently, I seem to have heard the term “unsung hero” more than I had for some time. The most recent occasion was the article in Sunday’s Observer newspaper about that paper’s quest, in partnership with NESTA, to find “50 new radicals actively changing Britain’s communities for the better”. You can read more about that search on NESTA’s site here.
A key element of the work that David Wilcox, Drew Mackie and I have been doing with the Big Lottery Fund’s People-Powered Change programme over the past few months, has been to demonstrate that local heroes need no longer be “unsung” as it is relatively easy, cheap and straightforward, using low cost equipment and free social media tools, to tell the stories of local communities their groups, organisations, individuals, leaders and heroes. If, like me, you find so much of today’s mainstream media coverage to be negative and depressing, it is good to know that there are an increasing number of outlets for positive stories and nuggets of inspiration. I was recently present at a number of the Village SOS Roadshows which the Big Lottery Fund is running with the Plunkett Foundation, and the highlight of each of those events was an inspirational tale of how one community had driven through a successful project against the odds.
All this raises questions about our society’s values and the kinds of achievements it celebrates. Celebrities who are famous for being famous, talent shows which only promote those whose “talents” fit a carefully defined, and profitable, mould, and footballers who get paid millions for kicking a ball, are the icons which our current society celebrates. Being able to sing vaguely in tune on Saturday night TV or eat grubs in the jungle seem to be qualities which attract a lot more attention, and reward, than helping to make life better for local communities. And when mainstream media does turn its attention to such activities, it is often to mock, belittle or patronise those involved. Or, often, all three.
But there is reason to be optimistic that the rise of the internet and social media platforms is gradually changing this. Online phenomena such as TED talks, which showcases inspirational speeches on a variety of topics which never fail to stretch the mind; impromptu movements such as #riotcleanup, in which spirited citizens used social media to take to the streets and clean up their communities the morning after the summer’s riots; and the growing band of community-celebrating “hyperlocal” websites fostered by Talk About Local, among others, are all examples of how people are using the tools now available to tell the world their positive stories and mobilise others around their messages of change.
People-Powered Change takes a lot of its inspiration from the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) movement, explained in the video below by Cormac Russell. ABCD starts from the view point that communities are full of assets that can be exploited for positive change, and rejects the old-style philosophies that communities are full of problems in search of solutions. Similarly, we can use social media to enable communities to tell their positive stories, shake off the negative stigma imposed on them by years of knocking copy, and inspire people to take action in their neighbourhoods. Every neighbourhood has its local heroes, and they are far more numerous than most people would imagine. The days of those heroes being “unsung” should be in the past.

SHINE 2011; Social Enterprise, Story-telling and Change

On Thursday, I was at Shine 2011, which billed itself as “the UK’s leading unconventional conference (or unconference) for socially-minded entrepreneurs”.
Arriving just after the start, while things were already seemingly in full swing, it took me a little time to work out what was going on, as there seemed to be so much happening in different parts of the interesting space that is Hub Westminster. But, after a while, it started to make sense, and I joined a session on money issues for social entrepreneurs.
I was particularly struck, in this session, by the contribution of Dave Dawes, who describes himself as a “nurse social entrepreneur”. Dave talked about what social entrepreneurs get wrong when seeking financing for their projects, In particular, he was critical of those who invest all their efforts in chasing grants. Dave says everyone is after free money, but they rarely take the time to consider the return on investment of the time and effort spent on filling in grant applications and pitching to funders. There was particular derision accorded from session participants to the example of the “social enterprise” which, when asked what it would do when its grant application had been turned down, replied “wait for next year’s round”. As Dave said, any organisation which is serious about being a social enterprise should be aiming to be profitable in as short a space of time as possible, and if you are making profits, you can afford to borrow money rather than chase grants. If your enterprise is never going to be profitable, it is not a social enterprise.
Later in the day, I interrupted a conversation between Dave and Mel Findlater and asked them to talk to me about some of the issues raised in Dave’s workshop session. It was interesting as well, to hear that Dave is working in a similar space to the Social App Store. 

One of the most interesting and relevant (to the work of sessions I witnessed at SHINE 2011, was Nick Jankel‘s presentation on Story-telling for Changemakers. Nick’s presentation was of particular interest as it accords with the work we are doing to encourage organisations funded by, and associated with, the Big Lottery Fund, to tell the stories which illustrate the differences they are making to people’s lives.
The slides from Nick’s presentation are here:

One of the points that Nick makes is that people who are running interesting projects, or doing innovative things, often make the mistake of assuming that everyone else will be similarly enthused by what they are doing. This is never an automatic process, and people need to learn to communicate the story of the progress they are making.
Nick talks about the differences between the stories of the nature of the world which are told from different points of view. One is that the earth is a mechanism whose finite resources mean that humans must be selfish, protect what they have from each other, and compete for a place in the world. The alternative story is that the earth is a living system, all of whose parts are interconnected, which means that humans must share, collaborate and co-create. It is important that, if you want to change the world, you are able to tell the story of the world view that informs your approach.
The basis of all Hollywood film scripts is “The Hero’s Journey” (see slide 37 of Nick’s presentation above), and this can provide a basic outline for anyone to tell a compelling story about their own work. The seven elements of the “Impact Story” are Connection, Context, Conventions, Consciousness Shift, Concept, Conviction, and Concrete Impact (slides 38-46).
After his presentation, I caught up with Nick to get him to expound on his theories. The video is in two parts, because we were interrupted by a security guard who objected to Nick’s voice echoing through the public part of the building.

Projects funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and bringing about People Powered Change, have some powerful stories to tell, as is often evidenced when they are showcased on television in shows such as the regular Saturday Night lottery programmes, and Village SOS. New social media tools, and the advent of cheap video cameras, camera phones, and other recording devices, mean that it is becoming even easier for such projects to tell their own stories.

How Charitable Trusts and Foundations can use Social Media

Peter Wanless at #ACFSocMed
On 8th November, some 30 people gathered for an event in the Guildhall, London, hosted by the Association of Charitable Foundations,on how Charitable Trusts and Foundations can use social media. Speakers were two Chief Executives in the sector who have become well known for their use of social media for both personal and professional reasons, Toby Blume, of Urban Forum, and Peter Wanless of the Big Lottery Fund. Both speakers gave an interesting insight into how they blend their personal and professional profiles to engage people using social media.
Toby gave the audience a tour through different social media tools, outlining his 5 C’s of how social media can add value to an organisation’s work: Connection, Collaboration, Commerce, Campaigning, and Communication. Toby communicated the message that no organisation can ignore social media channels today, particularly through the story of the United Airlines passenger whose guitar was broken by baggage handlers, and who released a song about the experience on Youtube which resulted in 180 million dollars being wiped off the airline’s stock value in four days, and which, to date, has had over 11 million views. From a personal point of view, Toby recounted how a tweet questioning the official publicity about banks channelling money through Big Society Capital led to him being interviewed on Radio 4’s “Today” programme.
Here’s Toby’s presentation:

Peter Wanless talked about how his own use of social media started almost accidentally, and happened well ahead of its adoption by his organisation. Peter believes his own social media use, and the example it set, both allowed him to push for its wide adoption by the Big Lottery Fund, and gave staff within the organisation confidence to experiment themselves. He admitted to initial nervousness among some staff at the way social media communication subverted some of the hierarchical relationships, but he believes that BIG is on it’s way to becoming an open, sharing organisation, which is setting an example to others. He illustrated this by describing how photos and messages from the National Lottery Awards ceremony on the previous Saturday evening were released live on the web from a number of sources, when, in earlier years, it would have been a case of carefully managed press releases going out on the following Monday morning.
Expressing a sentiment which is common to many social media users, Peter described how he has reluctantly come to accept the widely-held view of him as the “tweeting Chief Executive”, as he feels that he is on a constant learning curve.  Here is Peter’s presentation.
A lively question and answer session followed. Audience members were particularly interested in how small organisations could adopt social media when they have few resources or staff. Peter’s response was that he does most of his tweeting on the train to and from the office, when he would otherwise be bored or reading the newspaper, and he no longer needs to buy a newspaper because he gets all his news from Twitter. Toby suggested that social media should not be seen an additional burden, but that it can streamline processes and replace out-dated practices. Thus, he also no longer buys a newspaper, sends and receives a lot less emails, and blogs instead of writing policy papers.
Another issue concerning attendees was how to persuade trustees, many of whom are older people, that social media was a legitimate use of time and resources. Gentle introductions to the tools were suggested, and an approach which seeks to tie in with trustees’ personal interests. Toby suggested that the United Airlines video could be a powerfully persuasive tool.
During the discussion, Peter Wanless touched on the reason David Wilcox, Drew Mackie and I have been engaged to work with the Big Lottery Fund, when he talked about how the Fund hopes to use its influence gently to persuade organisations it funds to move themselves to approaches based on open data and sharing of their practices and lessons using social media. Here is the audio of what Peter had to say on this subject:
Peter Wanless at #ACFSocMed (mp3)
As the event wound up, I caught up with both Peter and Toby for interviews about their impressions of the day.

There seemed to be a lot of positive intent in the room to go away and apply the practices described by the speakers, and there were clearly some of those present who already had stories to tell. As David Wilcox and I have advocated elsewhere, one of the keys to successful social media use is the ability to tell compelling stories. Charitable Trusts and Foundations have lots of stories to tell about the differences they have made to the lives of individuals and communities, and, social media can provide them with platforms via which to tell such stories which can be far more compelling and engaging than dry and dusty reports which sit on shelves unread. As we progress through the work that the Social Reporters team is doing with the Big Lottery Fund, we are getting much support for this approach, and hope to see it much more widely adopted in future.
And, if you still doubt the power of social media; here is the United Airlines video highlighted in Toby’s presentation:


Can people power bring the internet to remote communities?

I’m writing this a few hours before setting off on an odyssey around the country, highlighting the problems of rural communities which suffer from poor, or non-existent, broadband connectivity. Many of these communities are also the same areas which struggle to get mobile phone signals. The idea for Can’t Get Online Week came about due to the clamour of frustration I heard every year during the official Get Online Week from my contacts in rural communities whose locations at the end of very long copper wires effectively excludes them from many of the benefits of the modern world.
There has been movement in recent months; Government has pledged some £530 million to addressing the rural broadband divide. But, match funding rules and procurement regimes, threaten to delay the implementation of solutions, and, all the time, children are growing up and missing the opportunity to complete homework tasks online, businesses are relocating to areas with better connections, and rural areas are being depopulated, in part due to this disconnection from the 21st century. And, even when the Government-driven broadband plans are rolled out, there will still be at least 10% of communities which remain beyond reach.
This is why some communities have taken the bit between their teeth and connected themselves to the network, deploying a wide range of different technologies, including, crucially, in a number of cases, farmers digging up their own fields to lay fibre cables. Here’s an example, where Chris Conder tells how she installed fibre connectivity to her own farm in Lancashire.

In the era of people-power and localism, I often find that DIY internet-connectivity in areas the mainstream players cannot reach is still a little known phenomenon. Similarly, many people who DO enjoy good connections are often ignorant of the plight of the plight of those who don’t. Thus the twin aims of Can’t Get Online Week. I will be touring rural areas, from the New Forest, to Essex, Norfolk, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland, and Yorkshire, aiming to tell the stories of the disconnected, and what being disconnected means to their lives, as well as offering them opportunities to experience what difference being online, with decent connectivity might make.
This is a story-telling journey. I want to tell the story of disconnected England, while providing the people who live there with an all too rare platform to tell their own stories. I hope that, by the end of the week, we will have made some small difference to their lives, brought a little closer the day when they can get online, and done something to join up the connected and the disconnected.
There are more details about Can’t Get Online Week at and on Facebook at

People Powered Change in Dudley – Joining up the strands

Last week, David Wilcox and I visited Dudley at the invitation of Dudley CVS’s Lorna Prescott to document some of the work that is going on there to join up some of the different initiatives intended to assist local people-led development. Partners in the Borough have been realistic about the new environment they have found themselves in since major public spending cuts started to be felt. Finding that the government’s “Big Society” rhetoric was not necessarily appealing to many in their communities, Lorna was instrumental in helping local partners to come to their own vision, which embraced the Our Society concept, which Lorna, David and I have helped to develop on a national basis.
The local Our Society strategy has moved forward, powered by the drive of people like Lorna, and with the leadership of the Borough’s Local Strategic Partnership, the Dudley Community Partnership. David and I talked to Dennis Hodson, Director of the Partnership about the challenges of supporting people-led development in the age of public austerity, including the tale, which hit national headlines, about what happened when a local community wanted to take over the cutting of grass verges which the local authority could no longer afford to undertake.

One of the most important roles of the Our Society Strategy is in pulling together the strands of different activity in the Borough , particularly where there is funding available. Money is scarce in this field at the moment, and it would be criminal to waste it by duplicating activity and failing to take up opportunities to achieve synergies. There are some key programmes which are able to offer financial support, including the Big Lottery’s Big Local programme, Community First, and others, and Dudley’s Our Society Strategy is designed to ensure the Borough makes the most of these opportunities by strengthening the linkages between them. As highlighted in this discussion between Lorna, Donna Roberts of Dudley Council, and Joanne Weston of Dudley Community Partnership, a prominent concern is to ensure that equalities issues are given due attention.

In times of tight resources it is ever more important to take advantage of free tools, like social media platforms, to help bring people together and progress their plans. In this video, Lorna talks to David Wilcox about how social media is playing an increasing role in developing community initiatives, and also touches on some of the frustrations of engaging with key public partners which are lagging behind in adopting such methods.

We had an enjoyable day in Dudley, which passed by far too quickly. It is clear that there are some very interesting lessons to be learned from emerging practice in the Borough which is starting to prove that progress can be made in supporting People-Powered Change even in quite disadvantaged areas if reduced levels of funding are carefully targeted and linked together.