Monthly Archives: December 2011

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.

Introducing Biglopoly: planning how to spend £1 million for real

At one level this is a story about a game to help community groups decide how to invest £1 million over 10 years in their neighbourhood. At another it’s about how an organisation – Big Lottery Fund – found the in-house skills to create a very successful method for community engagement, and then tell us about it. First the background:
I’ve been writing a lot recently about how communities may achieve more if they start with local strengths rather than problems, and then immediately jump to the need for outside help. Tessy Britton has developed a Social Spaces game that helps people understand what they can do themselves, when to get help, and what is really challenging.
The same idea of appreciating your assets can be applied to organisations too. There’s a rather good book on it called No More Consultants – we know more than we think.
Big Lottery Fund (BIG) favours asset based community development, as I reported here – and staff in East Midlands have taken the idea in-house. Faced with the challenge of helping community groups think about how to use the support on offer from BIG, they too decided a game would be good, and set out inventing their own. In this instance, there is money on offer: £1 million over 10 years … so Biglopoly was born.
I heard about Biglopoly from Ben Lee at the National Association for Neighbourhood Management. They are working with the Community Development Foundation  on the Big Local Trust, that is distributing an endowment of £200 million to 150 areas over the 10 years, and he put me in touch with Kelly Hart, Regional Development Manager in the East Midlands.
Kelly sent me an impressive package including game rules, facilitators guide, card examples and photos from sessions. At that point I wondered about a trip to interview Kelly and see more of the game … but then thought I might suggest a bit more DIY. Could BIG staff please do their bit of social reporting, and send me a report? Here it is, with the video they shot in-house. No more consultants … or social reporters!
Kelly writes:

Big Local is a new way of thinking for distributing our funds. In the first four East Midlands Big Local areas many people imagined the concept to only be a £1 million grant pot for the local community groups to apply to. But this money could be so much more and could potentially bring in more money to reinvest in the community through methods such as loans or investment in social enterprises. It could also encourage lots more community engagement and help people to make a big difference in the area they live. We wanted to show Big Local areas how they could use their £1 million to make a long-term difference, as well as demonstrate the difficult decisions they may have to make.
We like to think that here at BIG and in the East Midlands regional team that we are creative when it comes to our work and we like to try new ideas to get our key messages across in a more enjoyable way. So after a team brainstorm (with tea and biscuits!) Biglopoly was created just in time for its first outing in Sutton on Sea, Lincolnshire at an East Midlands Big Local network meeting.
The game helps the players to understand that in order to spend £1 million some kind of plan or strategy is required. Not everyone on the panel or in the community will see things in the same way or make the same decisions. We had four games going at once at the network meeting and every team was making different decisions (sometimes after very long debates) which impacted hugely on their monies going forward – could they last longer than 10 years with extra income made? But it also showed the difference they made in their communities each time they received different amounts of community stars.
The game was fun and brought our programme alive making the community members see what they would be going to potentially encounter in the next ten years. The Community Development Foundation thought the game was so good it was rolled out at all the other regional networks and we hope it has provided our first wave of Big Local areas with an insight into what they could potentially achieve with their £1 million.
We are keen to develop the game and use for other programmes and general support for organisations looking to apply for our funding but also to help with community development in communities across the UK. So feel free to contact us with ideas or with similar games and activities you are delivering or working on so we can share learning and enable communities to make a difference.

You can reach Kelly at kelly.hart [at]


Micro-mapping shows the richness of local life

In order to understand the potential for People Powered Change, through people organising for action in neighbourhoods, it’s important to understand just how people may relate to each other in an area.
And for Big Lottery Fund and other to consider how funds and other support may help small groups, it’s necessary to have an idea of how people may manage without full-time workers, grants and organisational business plans. Will a big influx of funding and paid workers help or be disruptive, depending how it is offered?
Research published by the Third Sector Research Centre gives some deep insights into the nature of local activity, developed through micro-mapping in two neighbourhoods. It’s part of the TSRC Below the Radar work that was also explored at a seminar earlier in the year, and a series of online discussions.
The research by Dr Andri Soteri-Proctor is summarised in a Guardian article by Naomi Landau:

Our research in just 11 streets of England brought 58 community groups to our attention. None of these groups were registered organisations. The report describes the various ways they support their immediate and extended communities. Many showed enormous creativity in the way they gained access to limited resources, drawing upon their own members as well as those beyond their immediate community. Some were conducting entrepreneurial activities, others had gained small grants or been given donations in kind.
The groups we identified were undertaking a whole array of different activities, supporting specific facets the community, such as faith or ethnic groups, elderly or disabled people, or connecting people around a particular interest.
One group offered lone parents a chance to meet with others and help their children to learn through play. Another group offered social activities to women from a specific part of eastern Europe. We found a community farm looking after abandoned and abused animals, a support group for refugees and a local activist group who were improving their local environment.
The groups operated in very different communities and social contexts, and were well embedded into their local communities.
With all the public debate about service delivery, this highlighted just how many services are already being provided by small grassroots groups and individuals. These services play a vital role in these communities, but one that is very different from the role played by universal public services.

The study highlights the importance of shared spaces and collaboration, so that groups can make the most of their skills and connections. This was something that Drew Mackie and I played through with a group at the recent Community Matters conference, when the challenge was how groups could maintain their community buildings in the face of cuts. Discussion there mirrored the TSRC research findings. We started with a focus on individual business plans, but found as much value was generated through the collaborations that groups organised.
Because none of the groups studied in the TSRC research was registered as an organisation they are below the official radar. As Eileen Conn says in this interview, they are different from larger groups. To take an analogy from physics, maybe they should be seen as energy waves rather than matter.
There is a lot of energy, if you know where to look. Andri concludes:

What findings do show, however, is that there is a lot going on below the radar and local community level. More so, if this is to be applied to the new UK government’s socio-political interest in Big Society’s policy strand on ‘social action’ to encourage people to get together and do things for themselves, then arguably these below-radar groups can be considered as already doing the ‘Big Society’ – or, even more so, could be considered as an amalgamation of little Big Societies.

This suggests that there are at least two levels of discussion about local action action – whether termed Big Society, Our Society or People Powered Change. One is that investigated by the Commons public administration select committee, which reported as I wrote here that people don’t understand what Big Society is, and a new Minister is need to co-ordinate action. That’s the area where debate is fiercest about the impact of austerity measures leading to reduction in funding for voluntary organisations, and the feasibility of those organisations taking on more public service delivery.
The other area is that of the many small societies, where people are finding how to make the most of life in their neighbourhood, often in ways that haven’t changed in decades. That doesn’t mean changes in policies and funding don’t make a big impact – but it requires a below the radar focus to understand what that might be.
The research paper is worth a detailed read, not least for the (anonymised) descriptions of the areas and the people in them. I do hope TSRC, or others, will be able to follow through with some real-life portraits, helping people tell their stories for themselves. We saw some of that at the recent I Love Thornton Heath event that I reported here.
John Popham and I may be able to capture something of the diversity (and fun) in local areas in the Celebration 2.0 work that we are starting, reporting from local festivals and other events. That’s when the richness of the local scene becomes most apparent.
Following our exploration on this blog, and the recent workshop, Big Lottery Fund will be considering in the New Year what they can do in this area, that may go beyond current grant programmes.
If you take a policy focus, it might be tempting to think about a Minister for Small Societies, and apparently No 10 is already thinking that Small is Beautiful.
I personally think that something non-governmental yet powerful would be helpful, and Big Lottery Fund could have a lot of beneficial impact by acting as a convenor and champion in this field. Some of the potential came through in ideas for the workshop, and reports from it.
At the moment a lot of the ideas about what might be helpful at local level are scattered, and different interests are promoting different models, as I wrote here. BIG is one of the few organisations that could provide or support a neutral, trusted space to explore further methods like mapping, gaming, social and community reporting as well as those being developed in a range of programmes.
What’s important, in my view, is that is should all be done in ways that make sense to the people and groups below the radar, not just those scanning the usual screens.

People love Thornton Heath (and other places too). Here's how and why

A couple of weeks ago I went to a conference in Manchester about the theory of asset-based community development … starting with the strengths in a community rather than the problems. Glass half full rather than half empty.
Last Saturday I went to south London, to see the results of ABCD in practice at a celebration day for I Love Thornton Heath. Over the past few months a group of residents have explored their neighbourhood, and their neighbours, to find the good things that are happening, and think about what more could be done.
On the day, people were greeted by Sarah Taylor and Paul Macey of Croydon Voluntary Action, and Cormac Russell of Nurture Development, who I interviewed in Manchester. Around the room were posters showing the local resources, networks and ideas already gathered in September at the Thornton Heath Festival.
Cormac emphasised that this wasn’t a formal event, but a chance to meet their neighbours to carry on developing understanding and ideas, with professionals in a support role. “Why have a meeting when you can a party”? It was about telling stories, celebrating success, thinking what we can do ourselves using people power, and where we need external help.

As you can see from the videos I shot, it was a very creative and lively affair. We looked at the work of a group of community connectors, trained by Cormac, and led by Paul Macey working one day a week. They found people had an appetite to connect, through sharing stories, and had brought people together. We looked at what people might be able to do on their own – through existing skills in the community – where they might need help, and where outside support was needed. We concluded with groups discussing where they wanted to take action.
The eight video are compiled into a playlist which will play through – or you can see them separately here on YouTube. Cormac talks through his presentation in the second video, and you can see the slides below.
Afterwards I asked Sarah to provide some reflections on the process, and what happens next:

The ‘glass was overflowing’ in Thornton Heath on Saturday with riches that can’t be bought. It’s incredibly fulfilling working with people who, despite challenges, have an abundance of skills, knowledge, energy and commitment to give to their area and community. Local people and what they bring, their ‘assets’, are so often under valued at a cost to us all. The next steps in Thornton Heath are for Community Connectors and groups of neighbours in Thornton Heath to continue to develop their plans on what they want to act on together with a view to coming together again in Feb/March 2012 for a community planning session. Alongside this a Community First Thornton Heath Panel will take form, with support from CVA, to help local people who are developing inspiring community projects in Thornton Heath to access small grants to enable their work.

Here’s Cormac’s presentation

Discovering hidden treasures thornton heath the story sofar

Cormac has written a primer for other areas interested in the ABCD approach – available here.
While the success of initiatives like I Love Thornton Heath depend ultimately on the skills and enthusiasm of residents, it helps to have the support of a local agency with resources, and the believe in a different approach. In this interview Rachel Nicholson, of NHS Croydon, explains how hearing Cormac at a conference led to Croydon Council and NHS Croydon commissioning the initiative as a pilot project, through Croydon Voluntary Action.

We are looking out for other models and examples of people powered change that can be taken up by local groups and their supporters, so if you know of them do get in touch.

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.


Why community groups are more energy waves than organisational matter

The recent workshop we held on People Powered Change with Big Lottery Fund gave me a chance of catch up with Eileen Conn, and talk more about why the conventional distinction between top-down services (government, public agencies) and bottom-up voluntary and community action isn’t a good enough way of viewing the world. Instead of thinking how they might just join up, we need to work on how they might dance together.
We also need to consider more deeply how to nurture small groups … and that may not be just by giving grants that are challenging to manage. Eileen suggests that one other way BIG might best help is through indirect support for “back office” services, provided by large local organisations for smaller ones.
I chatted previously with Eileen at the Beyond the Radar workshop in July, which explored how community groups (often not officially recognised) could be better supported, and make their voices heard. As you can see, Eileen is a little unusual in being a community activist, in south London, who also worked for many years in Government, and has developed theoretical and practical work on social dynamics and complex living systems.
Eileen suggests we should consider the distinction in physics between matter and energy waves – where organisations with staff are the matter, and informal groups are more like energy. Drawing on complexity theory, Eileen suggests thinking about a “social eco-system dance” in which some relationships are primarily vertical hierarchical, and others horizontal peer-to-peer. That may be more useful than bottom-up and top-down.
Challenging stuff – but I think Eileen puts it across with great clarity in the brief interview I did at the workshop. You can find a more detailed explanation in this paper for the Third Sector Research Centre.
In the interview Eileen says that between half and three quarters of civic activity is not countable – it is below the radar. That’s not just because the activities are small, but because they are different. It’s a bit like physicists spending years looking for the smallest piece of matter, then finding it is better seen as energy waves.
In the community we look for small groups and expect them to operate like bigger organisations who have paid staff and vertical management systems drawn from the world of work. But in fact the small groups operate through the energy of person-to-person horizontal networking.
That doesn’t mean they don’t need support – but it is different. The professional voluntary sector works within a system of grants and contracts drawn from the world of work … and this doesn’t fit well with the horizontal systems of small groups where generally people are not employed.
The workshop was part of our exploration with BIG of how they can do more than operate as a funder. Eileen suggests supporting some pilot experiments in which local anchor organisations provide back office support tailored to the needs of small groups.
That prompts a further thought: if the vertical and horizontal system need to dance together, do we need a choreography? Strictly for community engagement …
I asked Eileen for a few paragraphs to back up the interview, which I have drawn on here.

“In this interview, Eileen Conn explained how small groups – which the Lottery might support – operate very differently from larger groups with paid staff, and how this affects the support that they might need. The distinction she draws between the world of organised work, which is like matter, and the horizontal peer world in communities like energy waves, is further explained in her recently published paper ‘Community Engagement in the Social Eco-System Dance’ , which can be downloaded from the TSRC website. Further link here.

Eileen has submitted short papers to two official enquiries using the model outlined in the paper:

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.

First beacon hub plus an innovation centre for Newsnet

The Media Trust – which is a partner in People Powered Change – have announced the first Newsnet beacon hub in their £1.89 million plans to develop a network supporting citizen journalism: it is Citizen’s Eye in Leicester. Here’s an earlier interview about Newsnet with Adam Perry.
Gavin Sheppard, director of marketing and communication services at Media Trust, now writes on the Newsnet blog about last week’s workshop.

The Big Lottery Fund, our major funder for newsnet, hosted an event last week on ‘people powered change’ and how we might empower communities to come together to achieve great things locally.
It was attended by a diverse mix of Big Lottery partners and community organisations and I was struck by how much agreement there was in the room about the power of stories and the importance of sharing.
Our vision for newsnet is that we play a part in inspiring and supporting communities to come together to tell their own stories, report the news that matters to them and share their opinions and views to inform and inspire others. And if we get it right, we’ll hopefully find that the inspiration spreads far further than the community boundaries, the premise being that you don’t have to be part of a community to be inspired by what they’re achieving.
The question is, how compelling is citizen journalism as a mechanism for connecting communities? And how do we identify the existing inspirational citizen journalism activity and encourage others to have a go? We’re starting by identifying and appointing beacon hubs around the UK – Citizen’s Eye in Leicester is our first – so if you know of anyone we should be talking to, we’d really love to hear your ideas!

Earlier interview with Gavin on my personal blog.
Newsnet will launch its site early in the New Year, with  an innovation centre. Nic Jones writes:

One exciting area of the site is the Innovation Centre, a place for like-minded souls engaged in local storytelling to share any new tools, sites and inspiring content that they’ve come across – or created.  It would be great to know what ideas to highlight when we launch, so if you have any burning questions about community reporting, citizen journalism and the like, let me know in the comments below.

You can register your interest in citizen journalism and community reporting with Newsnet here.

Food for thought?…More like A Feast!

Linda Quinn, director of communications and marketing at Big Lottery Fund, reflects on the development of ideas for People Powered Change, and next steps.
Over the past 12 weeks or so we’ve been working with Social Reporters to share insights, explore ideas and occasionally think some of the unthinkable for developing People Powered Change.  A number of these ideas we’ve collected on the way, some borrowed and some new, are outlined here.
Yesterday was a chance to start discussing and exploring some of these with people already involved, engaged or thinking about these areas already. The workshop was facilitated by David Wilcox and Drew Mackie and provided much challenge, inspiration and food for thought…some of that thinking is still happening via #PPChange and we hope that will continue. A report from the workshop can be found here.
The buzz and enthusiasm for some of these ideas and many more have left us thinking that we are definitely pushing in the right direction on this. The importance of this engagement was also highlighted by the number of other ideas that tumbled out of our discussions.
So where do we go from here?
We need to now digest and go through the ideas discussed and debated yesterday and over the proceeding weeks. But we also want to keep the door open to those outside the room to contribute. We’ll post some thinking around development in the New Year on the Big Blog and continue to tweet those using the tag #ppchange. We want to maintain this sense of open dialogue.
We’ll then spend some time working our thoughts into an overall strategy that will inform a paper to our Committee in March. My sense is that much of what we discussed is about how we engage, how we share and how we collaborate. Some of this I think we can test out in pilots, some of it requires us to think how we might change our internal processes but all of it requires that we carry on the conversation with those who have helped us so far and hopefully will remain constructive critical friends and supporters in the future.
So this feels like the start of what will hopefully be an enlightening journey.

Reporting from the People Powered Change workshop

We are facilitating a workshop on People Powered Change for Big Lottery Fund to develop ideas on how BIG can be more than a funder. Background here We started with a presentation from BIG’s director of communications and marketing, Linda Quinn. (Update below with reports from discussion groups)

The videos below are in a playlist – starting with an interview with Linda. You can see the videos individually on YouTube here. I’ll add more later

Update: As you’ll see from the videos above, we undertook some mapping of who’s who in field, based on the working connections that people had. Drew Mackie circulated a questionnaire, and he’ll analyse the data and produce a map.
After that we offered a set of flags, each of which had one of the ideas listed in the earlier post here. Drew auctioned off the flags and also invited people to develop their own.  Those people with a flag then invited others to form groups, and developed three minute reports, which you can see below. This is a playlist, so videos will play one after the other … or you can see them individally on Youtube here.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, joined us in time to listen the report back presentations. As you can hear in this interview, Peter was keen that the the dialogue started in the room continued in some form from now until proposal are put to a BIG committee. We’ll report back later on how that might be achieved.

Further updates: