Category Archives: PeoplePoweredChange

Young people explain how social media worked in co-designing with BIG

Charlotte Tizzard, Big Lottery Fund web editor, provides an update below on the co-design process with young people that we reported earlier. Charlotte asked young people for their views – and in the video Dharmendra Kanani, England Director, and some of the team also talk about the process. Their insights are going to be really useful in our wider exploration of young people and digital engagement.

In January 2012, the Big Lottery Fund began the process of recruiting twenty 16-25 year olds to work with them on designing their next investment in young people. This sort of engagement reflects our desire to ensure that our investments in England are informed by what we call People Powered Change.
As the digital bod in the team, I was excited about the prospect of using social media to reach a new audience for BIG and get young people from all over England sharing their views, issues and solutions. With BIG’s already strong Facebook and Twitter followings, it felt like an easy enough task to engage a few hundred extra people.
Five months later, the young people have come up with their initial priorities for funding and are now helping us launch our first new investments. Social media and other technology have been an integral part of the process, and along the way we’ve learned a lot about what works, and more vitally, what doesn’t, when using tech to engage young people.
The power of social
February was fast approaching, and a week before the deadline we had received only a handful of applications from young people wanting to take part. We had already emailed all our contacts working with young people, so we decided to Tweet and Facebook the opportunity out to the world from BIG’s main accounts. One week, 80 applications and a very satisfying Google Analytics graph later, we realised the power that lay in the networks of organisations and individuals who were connected to us online, many of whom we had never met or even heard of.
As we felt social media was so important, we decided to have a dedicated social media team within the group, working alongside those young people responsible for analysing and discussing priorities for the investment and those working on evidence and learning within the process. So a group of seven young people were chosen, based on their interests and experience, to lead the social media effort. Following an initial get-together and planning session, this team worked virtually, keeping in touch with the other teams via phone calls and a closed Facebook group. One of the wider team recently described the social media campaign as “the powertool pushing our agenda forward,” but how successful has it really been?
I spoke to Craig Blake, 20, from Essex, a member of the social media team, about how he felt the campaign had gone.

Overall, I feel that the social media campaign has been a very big success. We have managed to outreach more than we first anticipated. A large percentage of young people use these sites on a regular basis, so it has been a free, efficient way to market the process to other young people.

The group’s initial brief was to share what we were doing and collect views and opinions from young people and youth organisations about the biggest issues they faced. This was quite a broad message, but Craig and the team were able to ensure it was targeted by using their existing networks and fan bases.

This allowed us to keep the campaign small-scale and precise, saving us time and effort and avoiding irrelevant requests.

Although the team didn’t receive the volume of responses they had expected, some deep and insightful evidence was gained through conversations with other users, and over 100 young people responded to a SurveyMonkey designed by some of the team.
Reanna, 21, from Manchester, also a member of the social media team, volunteered to blog on behalf of the group. This involved her coming to more face-to-face meetings with the team analysing the evidence collected and coming up with priorities.

I’ve used social media to support this process by blogging about what the team has been doing to try and make it more accessible for young people to read. I’ve learned a lot about blogging – how to take a back seat, listen to people and write it up in a way which is accessible to everyone. I found it challenging as I didn’t quite realise how much time it would take!

Reanna’s blog has been great in allowing the team to give their own perspective, while utilising BIG’s wide audience to shout about the significance of this process. The posts have received some lovely comments and been viewed by hundreds of people.
Promoting team spirit
Within the wider group of 20 young people, a private Facebook group has allowed close working between teams and individuals. Unlike picking up the phone, social media allows you to share information with whole groups of people. Whether or not they pick up and respond to your message is another matter. For the BIG staff team, Facebook has been a great way to get important messages out to the group and get quick responses from the young people. George Poole, 17, from Cornwall said:

A very daunting prospect from the start was that we were from all over the country – to communicate with all those people from different places in an efficient way felt like it would be difficult. That’s where the Facebook group has been great. I’ve been able to say, ‘I’ve got this meeting, what questions should I ask?’ Having feedback and new ideas on this from people has been amazing. I’ve had a place I can go if I need help with something. It’s really helped promote the fact that we are spread out all over the country yet working tightly as a team.

Micah, 16, from Croydon also felt it was really valuable:

Having the group has been a really critical part of the project. I didn’t have email addresses for everyone, but we were all on Facebook, even the staff. We’re all on there anyway, and the group focused on what we’re doing helped a lot. You can post more views with the public one and have other young people sharing their issues and how it affects them, and their ideas for solutions. You get such a wide variety of good and bad views.

There was a lot of internet research going on and when team members found great articles, case studies and evidence, they found it so easy to post them online for others to see and comment on. However, the group was used more by some than others, and one of the young people believes this is partly due to the feeling of being ‘watched’.

Some people have been really active on it which has been really helpful and encouraging. But some conversations haven’t gone on there as we know the team is watching – it hasn’t been as honest and open as it could be.

Nothing beats face-to-face
For some members of the team, seeing information shared on the group led to frustration and a feeling that they were out of the loop. They had not all been at the same meetings and had not been filled in individually, making it harder to ask questions. The fact that social media conversation is often very one way was highlighted by Craig as a limitation of the outreach campaign.

I feel that we could have got more views from young people if we had the chance to physically intercept them at events or projects. Social Media could have complemented this. By attending events we would have been able to get views from young people face-to-face. This would have allowed us to ask challenging questions to people on an individual basis and enable us to tailor the questions so that we get the best possible answers.

The opinions collected from the hundreds of young people the group spoke to formed a vital part of their evidence base. Perhaps a more focused effort on meeting with young people in wider range of real-life settings may have benefitted the breadth of evidence and engagement the group achieved.
It’s individuality of conversation that social media lacks. I can read your Facebook status, but I know you are talking to the world. I have to proactively choose to hear myself addressed and respond, and that’s quite a big step for any individual. It was through the whole-team face-to-face meetings that we were able to communicate to the young people the value we placed on their work, and that they were able to tell us frankly what they thought of how we were running the process and how we could improve it.
Confidence and the fear of ‘saying something wrong’ seem to be a barrier to young people engaging via social media. We have seen much wider use of the closed group than the public page, which indicates that even our team, who are never shy to say what they’re thinking, might not be so confident sharing their views online.
The problem of access
During the process we came across one major barrier to using tech to engage young people. It’s easy to assume that all young people now have access to the internet – but we soon realised that’s just not true. A couple of team members have limited access to a PC, and many of them don’t have smartphones. However, with some training and information on how to get online, some of the young people have really grown and learned new skills. One of them, who I helped to set up a Facebook account, told me:

I found it hard at first as I’m not very good at computers. But over the past few weeks it’s been really good to get involved and see other people post things. It’s been really good to see what’s going on in different areas.

Unfortunately, this intensive training and support is not something we can offer more widely. The team also expressed some concerns that some of the young people most in need, who we most need to hear from, might not get a chance to get involved via social media as they simply can’t access what we’re doing online. Abi, 16, from Devon told us:

This process could be improved by getting more young people who are affected firsthand by the themes we have chosen – for example unemployment – to come in and have input. It would be great to hear directly from a wider range of young people.

This is what BIG plans to do as we move forward with our investment plans.
On the other hand, some of the technology we have used has allowed young people to share their views in new ways. We have been using Miituu, an app that allows you to record a questionnaire and leave someone alone with an iPad to record their answers. We were surprised by the clear, candid responses we got from the team each time we met as the young people were so much more at ease than they would have been with a large camera, pushy interviewer and microphone in their faces. Jenna, 23, from Liverpool said of the app:

It’s a great way to interview people in a way that allows them to really express their opinions in an informal 21st century way.

Check out our YouTube channel to see some of the videos we have produced from Miituu footage. Miituu has also allowed us to map the journey of the team, which will be extremely useful in evaluating this process.
As we move into the summer and more consultation meetings, presentations to the BIG England Committee and national launches, we will be providing further training to help the team use their social media and online skills to promote the products of this intense but brilliant process to the media. We’re expecting to learn a whole lot more too! Keep an eye on our Facebook page, Twitter feed and the big blog for more.

Knitting up a stronger community – starting with its strengths

Several interviews and articles have given me further insights into the asset-based approach to community development – one of the main philosophies I’m reporting in the exploration of community enabling. Here’s a round up, with links to resources at the end. It reinforces earlier insights from our People Powered Change exploration.
Last week in Surrey the Lower Green Community Community Association, which is part of the NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge programme, organised an ABCD workshop with Cormac Russell.
Jenny French, LGCA secretary, had been impressed by Cormac’s approach at a workshop in Manchester which I reported last year.
Cormac gave us some great stories and presentations – including reference to the work in Thornton Heath – and in this interview Jenny explains how the approach has worked in Lower Green. It’s about finding what people need, what others can offer, their aspirations, and then making the connections.

In a class to learn English, the teacher asked what people liked to do in their spare time … they said knitting … so this led to the Knit and Natter group where people both learned the language and produced some great knits. These could have been sold, but the group decided to offer them to men in a local hostel as a way of giving back to the community.
The arts group took off well, learning to make things together … then decided they would join in the knitting. As Jenny said you can knit up a new set of relationships all for little more than the price of a ball of wool. “It’s been fantastic – that people knitting together is actually knitting community”

At the end of the event I asked Cormac if he could summarise the essence of ABCD. He emphasised starting with what you have, welcoming new people into the community, taking a citizen-led rather than professionally-led approach, building relationship power … all things demonstrated very practically in Lower Green.
Cormac also said that he felt there was great scope for the various community building and organising approaches to find some common cause.
Earlier I had spoken to Matthew Bowcock, who is chairman of the national Community Foundation Network, as well as deputy chairman of the Community Foundation for Surrey

Matthew says that we could do a lot more to share stories in communities by using social media. When I asked what stories he was hearing, in visits around the country, he said that on the one hand people might be pessimistic if they were relying for change on traditional approaches of agency-led development and funding.
On the other hand, he found people optimistic and energised when they looked at the strengths they already had in their community … and sought funds only when they could do no more themselves.
He said that many community foundations were changing the way that they operated – shifting from administration of national funds, to the development of communities of engaged local philanthropists. Overall this was part of a tide of change, where people recognised a contract between themselves and their community, with rights but some obligation to give back.
In a blog post for New Start Magazine, entitled The Big Sobriety, Nick Massey applauds the asset based approach to community development – while warning that funding is also essential.
Nick is chief executive of Forever Manchester, which is a community foundation that raises money and distributes it to local people and groups trying to make a positive change in neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. It has the first team of ABCD community builders in the country – as I reported here. Nick writes:

Traditional public sector and foundation-led funding have succeeded only in creating dependency among targeted communities. Providing resources on the basis of need simply underlines the perception that only outside experts can provide real help. Therefore, the relationships that count most for our local residents are no longer those inside the community, those neighbour-to-neighbour links of mutual support and problem solving. Instead, the most important relationships have become those that involve the expert, the local authority, the health provider, the funder.
This virtually ensures a cycle of deepening dependency, particularly with funders, as problems must always be worse than last year, or more intractable than the next neighbourhood, if funding is to be renewed.
It’s a ‘find it, fund it, fix it’ culture. It’s unsustainable and it’s time to change it… it doesn’t work.

Nick adds:

Traditional community development is driven through formal meetings, is agency-led and engages with at best 20% of local people in their communities, usually people who work within established, well-organised and properly constituted groups. This leaves over 80% of people remaining on the outside who would never engage in this way. ABCD is about new ways of working that appeal to this wider audience.
Three months into community building in Lostock, Manchester we have engaged with 100 local residents whom we had never met before, all now talking about what they can do together. That is ten times more people than we engaged with in the local area partnership there in the last three years.
We are already seeing that local people are starting to think about what they can do for themselves. But still while they wouldn’t think twice about raising money for Children in Need or Comic Relief, it remains out of the norm for them to think about raising money for themselves, for their own simple yet exciting ideas.
ABCD is about conversations and talents, and we see our role in coordinating these, connecting neighbours and looking with them at future ways of funding their ideas, often from within. This is where our community building team are starting their work.

I’ll be gathering resources and interviews about other community enabling approaches. Meanwhile, Tessy Britton has a valuable analysis of participatory paradigms here, leading towards her Creative Collaborative approach.

Update: James Derounian responds in a guest post Joining forces for community enabling

How BIG aims to be a more engaged, open and social organisation

Linda Quinn, Big Lottery Fund Director of Communications and Marketing, has provided an update on how BIG will evolve its England programme after a year of People Powered Change.
Linda kindly acknowledges that some of the new ideas draw on the explorations last year documented on this blog. Linda writes:

This included a workshop with some of those people with ideas and a shared interest in this area, informing a paper to our England Committee on future ways of working.
The Committee supported the paper and as a result we are developing a number of ideas which we hope will make us a more engaged, open and social organisation. I also hope it will help us support projects to share their stories, inspirations and ideas.

In her post, Linda highlights:

  • Recognising that encouraging beneficiaries of funding to tell stories and be more sharing has to be reflected inside BIG too: so they have set up BIG Connect as an internal network.
  • Crowdsourcing ideas in how best to map where funding goes and the impact it makes, drawing on people’s willingness to swap and share experience.
  • Support for projects to tell, share and learn from stories including surgeries and games.
  • Testing ideas on the use of social media with projects funded under the Silver Dreams Fund and the Jubilee People’s Millions.

Linda adds:

In a future world I’d love all our evaluations and grant management to be socialised so that stories and impacts are available to the armchair auditors, enthusiasts and others working in similar areas – this very much reflects the open data work we blogged about here at our joint event with NCVO andNominet Trust. Such a social approach not only shows the impact of National Lottery funding but also provides an opportunity for projects to promote and showcase what they do, share and inspire others.
We’ll also develop our focus on some place and people based initiatives that strongly reflect People Powered Change. For example, our Big Local Trust investment recently announced a further 50 areas that will receive at least £1million for local communities (around ward size) to decide how they wish to spend that money over a ten year period. This is taking decisions out of central committees and into local communities and giving them the space and time to make those decisions.
People Powered Change informs a way of working that will develop overtime and we’re keen to continue to hear what others are doing, where we can share and where we can learn. And talking of sharing, you may recall that in March last year we also announced a number of awards under People Powered Change. These were to UnLtd’s, ‘Big Venture Challenge,’ Young Foundation’s ‘Building Local Activism’ project, Media Trust’s ‘Newsnet’, NESTA’s ‘Neighbourhood Challenge’ and Your Square Mile. We’ll be publishing a blog from each of these over the next week or so updating on their activities, investments and learning.

Looking back on the work that John Popham, Drew Mackie and I did for BIG, I’m naturally delighted that it proved useful in helping develop some ideas for their programme. We were given a pretty open brief by Linda and deputy director Shaun Walsh, and encouragement to follow up ideas as they emerged. It was a social reporting exploration – and the reverse of a carefully-planned research and consultancy project.
In the event a lot of useful stuff came up by chance … perhaps because of “strategic opportunism” as James Derounian said over here “putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.”
The post about internal communication Linda mentions – Sharing outside means first sharing inside – arose because I bumped into Tom Phillips at an innovation event in Kent and shot an interview. I went to the event because it was organised by Noel Hatch, and I knew it would be interesting … if not in what way. I got lots of other interviews too.
The post about BIG staff inventing Biglopoly, referenced by Linda, came from an outside source who was working with BIG on the Big Local programme. BIG staff then readily produced their own excellent video explaining what they did: I was really just the story-spotter.
On reflection I think that the 50 or so blog posts that we generated served several purposes:

  • They provided an exploration of the landscape of people powered change, and some insights and ideas for BIG to dip into.
  • They informed the workshop that we organised, bringing together many of the people that we met, providing an opportunity for them to share more ideas directly with BIG staff.
  • They also provided some further stories to share with Shaun over a coffee at several points during the exploration.

Being engaging, open and social is more about attitude than mechanisms, and Linda and Shaun set the style in taking a risk with a social reporting exploration. We just found and told some stories to help things along.

Helping BIG staff become social reporters

Today I’m in Wickford, Essex, reporting at an event organised by the Big Lottery Fund with the local MP Mark Francois and some 130 local organisations who want to know more about how to get Lottery Funding, and also make most effective use of any funds they do receive.
On this occasion I’m helping BIG regional staff do some reporting themselves, led by Catherine Kimberley. It’s a great opportunity to round-off the work John Popham and I have been doing with BIG on this blog. We’ve been exploring how BIG can become more than a funder – and making their events more sociable is one way.
Today’s event was organised because the MP was keen to make sure his constituents had the best possible briefing on funding opportunities, invited BIG chief executive and others to come along and explain how to achieve that.
BIG have a first blog post up about the event, and @peterwanless has already started tweeting. As John reports here, Peter leads from the front in adopting social media.
Catherine and her team are set to record opening speeches, and do some interviews and tweeting during the day. I may experiment with live streaming from my iPad, as well as helping Catherine. I’ll post more here, and BIG will be reporting on their blog.
The twitter hashtag is #wick112, and you can see the twitter stream here.

Sara Betsworth, head of East of England Big Lottery Fund, introduces the event

Mark Francois MP explains why the event was organised – and what he hopes will follow

Big Lottery Fund chief executive Peter Wanless explains funding opportunities

Mark Francois MP and Peter Wanless CEO of Big Lottery Fund reflect on the first half of the event, and agree it is working well.

Catherine Kimberley, of Big Lottery Fund East of England, practises some social reporting in an interview with to Sarah Fogarty and Laura Stammers of Crossroads Care Essex.

Pam McCarthy and Shelley Hall, who work for the local Council for Voluntary Service, explain the funding situation for groups and how they can help.

Brian Marsden-Carleton of the Hullbridge Village Community Group explains the practicality of engaging people in local planning and development issues.

I talked to Barry Langmead, who is organising Wickford Carnival, about how digital media might help engage more people in local fairs and festivals.
Update: Catherine has posted her report of the day on the BIG Blog: Being social in Wickford

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: