Playing through council plans for digital participation in the face of cuts

Summary: How we used a cast of fictitious characters and organisations to help a London borough plan its digital participation strategy in the face of austerity cuts.

Over the past few years Drew Mackie and I have used fictitious characters and organisations as the basis for our workshop games, with successful explorations of how digital tech can be used by community enablers, nonprofit consultants, older people and other groups. Recently we’ve coalesced these into Slipham, a place with all the social and civic challenges that we hope digital tech might help address.

We are using Slipham as the testbed for our Living Lab explorations into how to combine a number of techniques, including network mapping and storytelling as well as games. Recently we were delighted to help Southwark council design a seminar for officers, members and local organisations on digital participation. As part of that we created a new and not-unrealistic scenario:

The London borough of Slipham faces major cuts, and the council, community and voluntary sectors have decided to form a partnership to explore how greater digital participation could help everyone in tough times. Top priorities, themes and ideas emerging so far include:

  • increasing people’s chances of getting a job or training through great tech skills and confidence
  • supporting activities for health and wellbeing, including combatting isolation and loneliness
  • reducing costs of running services through greater use of online channels
  • increasing effectiveness of groups and organisations through tech-supported productivity
  • improving collaboration and partnership working across council and other sectors
  • cutting time on meetings through greater use of audio, video, and online methods
  • using online methods to give a voice to the most vulnerable
  • developing online fundraising to help groups facing cuts

To do this a core group of Slipham digital champions are staging a creative planning session that includes some external advisers. They are looking at the assets in Slipham that could be better used, and networks that could be further developed. They are also researching innovations elsewhere.

Some 60 people spent two hours working on the challenge in groups.

  • First they selected some characters from the persona cards we had created (enlivened by Drew’s cartoons), chose a theme to address and some organisations that might collaborate, and created a brief for a possible project.
  • Then the groups exchanged briefs, and used cards with suggested activities and methods to create a project plan. That provided inspiration for possible projects that the people in the workshop could develop “for real”.

You’ll find a full report of the workshop here. In planning the workshop we used the card-based organising system Trello, and afterwards I loaded up all the workshop materials.

Trello is a terrific, free system for organising anything. Imagine a virtual wall of Post-it notes – but with scope to add images, links, checklists, discussions on the back. You can keep boards personal and private, make them public, or use in a team. Here’s a few bookmarks about using Trello.

I’m exploring two further developments with Trello:

  • how we might create cards on Trello and print them off for use in workshops. Currently we do that in Pages.
  • whether we could use Trello for a simple online solitaire version of the game

If you are interested in a game session, and/or further development, do get in touch.

Huge thanks to Kevin Dykes, Cara Pottinger and Southwark colleagues for the opportunity to run the game, and joining so enthusiastically in designing and helping run the session. We’ll be staying in touch as workshop participants and others develop projects triggered by the session, and other work Southwark is doing.

Previously:

 

 

 

Revisiting the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (cities, that is)

Back in the 1970′s, when local councils were knocking down swathes of terraced housing and replacing them with tower blocks, a young architect worked with a group of residents in Macclesfield to fight the authorities, and to save and refurbish homes in Black Road.

Over the next decade Rod Hackney pioneered citizen-led design, and was able to count Prince Charles as an advocate of community architecture. In 1987 Rod was elected President of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Last week Rod returned to the President’s office at the RIBA, with some of his colleagues and friends from the early days of citizen architecture, for the launch of a reprint of his 1990 book: The good, the bad, and the ugly: cities in crisis.

The current President, Stephen Hodder, was our host, and he led the way in providing some reflections on Rod’s work in this interview.

The book is published in the Routledge Revivals series, which last year republished the 1987 Community Architecture book by Nick Wates and Charles Knevitt. I reported that RIBA launch event here, with some explanation of how it chimed with my own interest as a one-time planning correspondent.

Here’s the book blurb from Routledge:

First published in 1990, this title presents the personal reflections of renowned community architect Rod Hackney, who served for many years as President of both the Royal Institute of British Architects and the International Union of Architects. Educated in the Modernist tradition of architecture in Britain and Denmark, Hackney’s return to England in the 1970s changed his outlook completely. Cities like Birmingham and Sheffield had been ruined by ill-conceived planning; whole communities had been torn apart by massive destruction of Victorian terraces, and relocated to grim tower block estates. To those communities that he has rescued from the threat of redevelopment, Rod Hackney is a local hero. Determined to save Britain’s inner cities, he has been a major influence on Prince Charles and a powerful spokesman for the silent majority of the urban poor, who often have no say as to where and how they live.

… and a more personal account from Rod and his partner Tia. They formed Kansara Hackney Ltd in 2008, and it’s clear from the interview that Rod’s enthusiasm and ability to inspire is undimmed.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Routledge Revivals)

A tasty intro to digital – Tea, Toast and T’Internet

Poster

Time was when introducing older people to the potential of the online world – in official pursuit of digital inclusion – meant a computer, trainer, and possibly a bit of a struggle with the mouse.

Now we are beginning to see a less formal approach: tea, toast and tablets. I think it is likely to be more successful. Here’s why.

I was recently delighted, and intrigued, to be copied into an email from Myra Newman thanking people for their support for a London event run at the Central & Cecil Sheltered Housing scheme, together with Primrose Hill Neighbours Help (PHNH).

The note was backed up with photos by Lee Christopher-Coles, showing residents clearly having a lot of fun trying out tablets … many for the first time. Lee wrote:

Some of the residents were amazed you could use an app to find out the next bus, or book tickets to the ballet. And even Skype. The impact it can have using a tablet, instead of a computer – that seems pretty daunting and locked away in another room, is far greater.

Among Myra’s thank-you’s was this reference:

At the `Wealth of the Web’ conference in January, David Wilcox and Professor Leela Damodaran offered encouragement to run a digital inclusion event. Without them, the `Tea, Toast and T’Internet’ session might not have happened.

Myra was referring to the workshop Drew Mackie and I ran in January with Age UK London, where some 50 people invented a set of fictitious characters, told their life stories, and played through in groups how the online world could help them meet life challenges they faced, and explore new opportunities.

There wasn’t a screen in sight, because we were making the point that the best way to engage people was to start with their interests, not with the technology, and have some fun. I may have mentioned the idea of iPad tea parties.

Since then I’ve been making rather slow progress in gaining official support for further events … but meanwhile Myra and friends have just gone ahead and done something more interesting. I rang Myra to find out how … and discovered the importance of long-standing relationships, volunteers with professional skills, combined with personal determination.

Here’s the story, with some additions from PHNH and others at the event

Primrose Hill Neighbourhood Help manages a volunteer befriending service for isolated older women and men, and also runs information sessions at a Central & Cecil Sheltered Housing Scheme. Digital Inclusion Officer Nathaniel Spagni recently installed WIFI in the lounge. There are computer drop-in sessions at the centre.

Lee, a social media champion from Age UK London ably assisted PHNH with an eye-catching flyer, `Tea, Toast and T’internet’ and helped on the day of the event. The flyer was posted on the main noticeboard at the Centre and residents signed up. Tea and refreshments were prepared and served by a public-spirited resident who took charge.

Myra was for 32 years a Camden librarian, and is well connected with many local groups and networks. With support from Richard Higgins, C&C Centre Manager and confident of the interest of a few residents in having a tablet demo, she made a call to Breezie, who are working with Age UK to market customised Samsung tablets. Breezie provide a service that makes it really easy to set up the tablet, and add more apps as people’s confidence grows.

Myra wrote:

I was bowled over by the number of residents who voluntarily joined us for a cuppa and a piece of toast to find out more about using the internet. The Breezie team guided residents through the steps and along with a cuppa, the `hands-on’ experience was a positive one. For many, the wonders of this new phenomenon was a light-bulb moment.

Quotes from residents:

I was never interested in learning about computers and always thought I’d stick with pen and paper but the demo of tablets has changed my mind. I’m now hooked on the idea of having a tablet.

I was impressed with the enthusiastic people who guided us on a 1-1 basis on how to use tablets.

Sounds like making a fresh, new start as I don’t get on well with my computer.

I’m particularly interested in being on the internet and encouraged by the fact that Email will already be set up on Breezie and that unlimited support is offered for 12 months.

That Device Company, who are behind the project, aim to donate £50,000 to Age UK during 2014 through promotion and sales.

On the day Breezie CEO Jeh Kazimi turned up with a team of volunteers, and six tablets. These run on the Android system, which out-of-the box can be more difficult than Apple iPads – but the virtue of the Breezie is that it provides a simplified set-up that can be tailored to individual use. I think it would be really interesting to arrange a session with iPads for comparison. My hunch is there will be pros and cons on each.

Jeh has written about how Breezie was born from the challenge of helping his mother, on a visit to London, to use Skype to connect with her husband in India.

My wife and I helped her by sticking post-it notes all over the computer screen. Sounds odd but, for mum, it meant that she paid attention only to the parts of the screen she needed to, and ignored any extraneous information and clutter.

From this, an idea formed: why can’t technology become more human, rather than humans having to adapt? The need for apps that can be used by those with little or no technological nous – and there are still more than 6 million UK adults aged 55+ who’ve never used the internet before – and the need to deliver it without patronising or limiting them, was clear.

Tablets are key to solving the problem of digital isolation. While most of us can use a mouse as easily as we can put our shoes and socks on, it’s not that easy for everyone. It’s very difficult for the rest of us to imagine but desktop computers can seem intimidating to those alien to technology. Tablets, however, are portable, unobtrusive and the touchscreen designed to be intuitive – a good starting point for those who’ve never used technology. The next hurdle was to work out how to deliver this to the digitally isolated.

The Breezie approach clearly worked well at Tea, Toast and T’Internet

Laura Wigzell, Coordinator of Community Time Camden wrote:

It was a fabulous event. Having spent some time helping older people on laptops and desktop computers before, I was quite astounded at how quickly some of them picked up using a touchscreen tablet in comparison. It was pretty impressive really! So well done you and the other PHNHers for all your amazing effort in pulling the afternoon together – otherwise those folks would never have had a chance to have a go on such technology and would have remained intimidated by it. Now many of them are intrigued and excited by it and have begun to think how it might be useful to them, which is a much more positive place to be. The tea and cake certainly helped too – a lovely vibe in the lounge that afternoon. Looking forward to the next one!

Laura then blogged a piece with the promise of a further event.

Richard Cotton, Prospective Labour Candidate for Camden Town with Primrose Hill Ward, said:

Congratulations to Myra Newman, Primrose Hill Neighbourhood Help Information Desk and everybody involved in making the afternoon such a success. It was an honour to be there and great to be able to help in a practical way. I think many older people wish to embrace new technology for the way in which it can tackle isolation. For example, my late Mother lived abroad but was able to keep in contact with her wider family through email and skype. Others are able to use the internet for shopping, watching films, social networking or just browsing. It’s important to ensure that older people are including in the digital revolution, which is transforming all of our lives.

And added:

I hope we can find a way of sourcing some kit to extend this. It really is a great idea, which will help tackle isolation amongst older people living alone.

Danny Elliott, Age UK London Communications and Campaigns Officer, sent me this story of the value of showing people what’s possible on the day:

As part of my role at Age UK London I work with older people on a variety of digital skills through our Fit 4 Purpose workshops. At Jacqueline House I spent around half an hour with James Nelson, one of the residents. James had a desktop PC that a friend helped him use due to poor eyesight. He’d never used a tablet before.

At Age UK London we believe that anything can be used as a motivator to get online. James and I looked at a supermarket website and I showed him how you can order groceries online – he was interested in that, but it wasn’t enough. I then asked him who he supported. “Chelsea.” I asked, “What’s your favourite Chelsea moment?” Without hesitation James told me it was the 1970 FA Cup Final replay at Old Trafford. He was there, and saw his team lift the trophy. Within seconds I was on YouTube and James was reliving that day… and he really was reliving it! When Leeds scored he told me, “They went 1-0 up, but they don’t win.” James cheered when Chelsea scored and told me he thought it was ‘amazing’. James had seen the endless possibilities of being online… football is a great motivator!

At Age UK London we want all older people to have the skills and opportunity to be online and to use that access to fuel the passions they already have.”

I sent a draft of the post to Professor Leela Damodaran, who helped inspire the tea party, and who has led extensive research in the digital inclusion field. Leela responded on the challenge of maintaining support, if participants are able to acquire a tablet in the longer term:

Lots of important messages are expressed in a compelling way in your report. One additional critical point that needs to be highlighted is the importance of the on-going support that follows after the experience of Tea, Toast and T’internet is over and the new ‘convert’ finds him/herself alone with the device. In other words, a technological device alone – whether a tablet or anything else – cannot by itself solve digital and social exclusion. The value of 12 months unlimited support offered with Breezie should not be underestimated for the confidence and sense of security it promotes – especially among new users. (Clarification from Age UK and ‘That Device’ on how users’ interests will be safeguarded and their support needs met once the 12 months has passed should be sought as a matter of some urgency before widespread promotion of the Breezie proceeds).

It is also the case that the leadership and commitment of Myra and her colleagues, the support from local government, from a member of parliament and from a community such as Primrose Hill Neighbours Help (PHNH) were crucial achieving such an empowering experience for the older participants involved. All these factors working in combination are crucial to the promotion of successful digital participation of older people. It will be important that documented reports of the process make very clear that far more is involved than simply handing out technological devices!

Picking up my perspective on the story …

I’ve added rather more quotes than I usually might to a post because it seems to me the secret of success on this sort of occasion is the connections between people in the area who may not have technology as their main passion, but who see the potential and will support someone like Myra with an experiment. They are the real champions … who may become digital champions and provide support in the longer term.

I should add that the party idea isn’t new: Age UK, and Age UK London have run Techy Tea parties, some of them supported by EE. Digital Unite, who organise the annual Spring Online programme, are also promoting the idea, and I should think we’ll see lots more next year. (see update below).

What seems particularly promising is the combination of local volunteer action with a consumer product to complement the more traditional digital inclusion programmes.

Pictured with residents and a group from PHNH information desk are:

  • Age UK London Communications and Campaigns Officer, Danny Elliott
  • Central & Cecil Digital Inclusion Officer, Nathaniel Spagni
  • Camden Councillor, Patricia Callaghan, Deputy Leader, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health
  • CEO of Breezie, Jeh Kazimi
  • PHNH/Age UK Social Media Champion, Lee Christopher-Coles
  • Primrose Hill Community Library Volunteer/Labour Candidate, Richard Cotton
  • Resident of the Oldfield Estate sheltered housing scheme and resident Board member, Sally de Sousa
  • Kay, resident and provider of tea and refreshments

The C&C-PHNH event was supported by:

  • C&C Centre Manager, Richard Higgins
  • Coordinator Community TIME Camden, Laura Wigzell

Update: as I was finalising this post, I spotted that the mobile network operator and Internet Service Provider EE have won a Big Society Award for running 68 Techy Tea Parties during 2013, with over 565 staff voluteers. David Cameron is quoted as saying: “Whether it’s creating an email account to connect with friends and family, or learning how to use an iPad, EE’s ‘Techy Tea Parties’ are demystifying technology and giving people the skills to get online”.

Olaf Swantee, EE CEO, says they will bring Techy Tea Parties to every store, office and contact centre across the UK this year – so maybe there’s scope for more local partnerships.

The big question, of course, is whether people will buy – or be able to afford to buy – a tablet and mobile Internet connection after the party. I’ll follow up on that in a later post. Meanwhile, cheers all round.

References

 

My idea for digital inclusion – the minimal technology assessment kit

Provocation: instead of promoting an over-rich mix of technology to people who are resistant or not interested, offer a way to understand how the world is changing and then assess how little tech they might need for their needs and interests.

My immediate thought after our successful workshop on digital technology for older people was to develop a DIY version where people could profile the potential user, their needs and interests, offer a rich menu of sites, programmes and apps, then choose an appropriate device. This might be a smartphone, tablet, smart TV, desktop computer or laptop. Or – with the kit – they could do that for themselves using the a kit of cards and other resources, perhaps ending up with a hands-on demo if there were someone to help.

I also drafted an article, copied below, which is in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing, thanks to editor Tony Watts. This floated the DIY kit idea, and also reflected on how we should just see technology as part of the mix of communications and services any individual needs. I wrote:

… a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.

so … reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion).

From that social ecology perspective, the challenge is how to help people build the blend of newspapers, magazines, phone calls, visits, relationships and maybe online activities that is right for them.

The difficulty with the “choose your tech” kit is that it can make tech the solution without enough analysis of the problem.

Tomorrow I’m making a small contribution to an online discussion among members of the Digital Inclusion Group of the Age Action Alliance, on the theme of what can we do in practice to move things forward. The temptation is to offer ideas on how we can do more to get more people online, and so “included” in the world of technology.

But isn’t the real challenge how to help people create or expand the world they want, bringing in technology where appropriate?

But how to help re-frame the discussion, and give us a nudge to change our minds about some aspects of the digital inclusion agenda?

Here’s one idea I might fly. Let’s create a kit that helps individuals – or those supporting them – to profile their needs and interests, their networks, and the various ways that they communicate and get services. What’s working, and what isn’t. How interested are they in exploring new opportunities.

Then how little technology might they need to make a difference, if any at all. If none at present, but the need arises, can someone act as an intermediary to get information, fill in a form, order something. If the minimal tech in insufficient, would it be easy to extend. I’m sure that there are lots of assessment methods from social care that we might build on. The exploration could be done within the Living Lab Drew Mackie and I are developing.

The kit should include explanations of how the world is technology pervasive and dependant, so avoidance may be challenging … but the focus should be on helping people, friends, families and supporters, make choices about how they wish to live in that world.

As technology become more personal, and the world more complex, the importance of understanding and being able reshape context become more not less important. So as well as looking at how to develop digital adoption and skills, look at building social ecologies.

It might be not awesome, but it could be useful.

Here’s the article I wrote, published in AGEnda- Newsletter of the English Forums on Ageing

With huge numbers of older people still not using the Internet, David Wilcox argues that it’s time for a rethink on the way we promote and enable digital inclusion.

The recent Age UK London report on the Wealth of the Web did a really useful job of scoping the challenge of encouraging, persuading and supporting older people into using computers and so engaging with the online world.

The report noted that 78% of Londoners aged over 75 are not online and a total of 661,000 people over the age of 55 in London have never used the internet – and then went on to recommend action by pretty much anyone who could help. These included government, voluntary organisations, private companies and older people themselves, acting as digital champions.

Drew Mackie and I ran a workshop session at the launch event, where some 50 people played through how fictitious but realistic characters could follow their interests and enthusiasms using smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or games consoles as well as computers.

Lots of buzz on the day, but since then I’ve been pondering how Age UK London – and anyone with similar concerns around the country – might move from research and discussion into large scale action. My hunch is that the game has changed, and try harder isn’t going to work. Here’s why.

First of all, as the report showed, a lot of older people don’t see the need to get online, find the idea scary, computers intimidating and costly. Is it really so important – unless essential for communication with distant family, or accessing public information? If the latter, are there intermediaries who could help? Although I’m focussed here on older people, there’s an any-age issue too. I’m a technophile … but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of everyone must be online.

Secondly it has, in the past, proven really difficult to co-ordinate large-scale action, by multiple agencies, on the lines set out in the report … not least because senior decision-makers in relevant organisations are frequently less than passionate about technology themselves. They know how tough it can be to make tech work, and can sense there won’t be easy wins.

Thirdly, the report – and most programmes – are still focussed on computers, when a lot of consumer-led uptake is through smartphones and tablets. I suspect that older people with a potential interest in the online world are more likely to be enthused by a grandchild with an iPad than a computer in a community centre.

So even if you could get all the agencies together to talk about a computer-based digital inclusion programme they would be on the wrong track. And if someone were to suggest (as I might) that they should focus instead on tablets and smartphones, I doubt if they would have the experience as organisations to move forward. Individuals within organisations might well be using tablets at home – but the organisations would generally not be mobile-literate.

It’s good to see Age UK nationally promoting the uptake of tablets through a deal under which people can buy a customised Android-based Breezie Samsung tablet and get a year of phone support in the package.

However, this still focusses on the technology (albeit more usable tech) and I suggest, additionally, a rethink on two fronts.

First of all, reframe the problem. Instead of planning how we get more people into/onto the Internet (digital inclusion), accept many won’t go there, and think in more detail about the networks of information and relationships we each inhabit, served by lots of different media. Then work through how to improve that experience in different cases (social inclusion). Many, many organisations are of course doing an enormous amount on that front, so …

… focus on these intermediaries. Help organisations and carers enhance their digital literacies in ways designed directly to help those they serve, often using mobile technologies. Map who connects with who in the networks, and use technology and other means to enhance those connections and relationships. Age UK London and Positive Ageing in London – and other regional organisations – are well placed to do that with the many organisations in the field … so start at home. Develop mobile digital literacy in key organisations, and build outwards.

I would, however, go with the suggestion in the report about helping older people (or anyone for that matter) help each other. Recruit a core of volunteers who are enthusiastic about using iPads and other tablets like the Breezie and the Tesco Hudls, run some sessions to develop mentoring skills, and build a learning network so people can share experience. Ask organisations to host iPad/Android parties, building on the success of techy tea parties supported by EE, with bring-your-own tech. We could develop a DIY version of our workshop game so sessions don’t have to start with a screen, but with people’s interests.

Of course there will be continuing demand for more traditional computer-based learning. Libraries and centres are invaluable in providing access, support and sociability. I just don’t think they are any longer the ground on which to mount a campaign.

 

Joining up ideas for a smarter democratic London

Summary: inventing some fictitious Londoners and telling the stories of how technology could help them engage with their city could both help create Smart London and enliven the next Mayoral election. A virtual panel of real Londoners could offer a running commentary on the campaign. Celebrations for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, and its role in establishing our democratic rights, could add some historical perspective. Here’s how I got to those ideas, started to join them up …. and how they might move forward.

Several events and chance connections over the past week have given me ideas around how Londoners might engage more fully in shaping the future of our city, and the election of the next Mayor. I’m pitching these now because there’s an event this evening that might help bring them together.

This post is also an experiment in whether the socialreporter role of joining up ideas and encounters to some purpose may have a useful effect … so please bear with me on the twists and turns.

The first event last week was the workshop I helped run about how older people can use phones, computers or tablets to engage more fully … or become digitally included, in the jargon.

The second event was a discussion about the next stage of the Changing London project, with a mix of online activity and events leading to a book of ideas for Mayoral candidates in 2016.

The third event was a discussion about how to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the 1215 Magna Carta, and use that to rekindle people’s interest in the democratic rights that it helped establish.

The common thread, for me, was the tension between living in a world increasingly dominated by global forces … of technology, corporate power, climate change … lessening interest in traditional democratic institutions … yet increasing power in the personal communication devices we have.

So how can individuals use this technology to do more to shape the political context, and improve their lives?

I think that even the most enthusiastic advocates for the power of social media, and potential of online democratic engagement (and I’m one) would have to concede that the Internet isn’t proving a simple fix.

The workshop with older people confirmed one tech size doesn’t fit all, and making use of the power in our pockets, bags or laps – at whatever age – is challenging. We have to personalise our devices, and organisations seeking to support or engage have to work that way too.

From discussions after the workshop the idea surfacing most strongly was the need to help organisations in the field learn how to use iPads and other tablets, and connect through apps. That’s as well, of course, as through current computer-based systems,  face-to-face and in other ways.

Without higher levels of capacity among organisations there will be a big disconnect between office-related digital literacies and the personal ones we need to develop.

The Changing London event was a chance to both explore key themes – developing a friendlier London, and one good for to children to grow up in – and how to develop more ideas online and through events.

I made the point that we were getting, through the excellent Changing London blog, lots of specific ideas that could be coalesced into the sort of big ideas that Mayors like to promote. But what was missing was the personalisation. What would a particular policy or programme mean to different Londoners? If we could personalise the relevance we could expect people to engage more fully.

At this point I remembered a chat, after the workshop, with staff running the Greater London Authority Talk London site that offers Londoners the opportunity to engage with researchers and policy makers. They suggested looking at the tech-led Smart London initiative which affirms that “A Smarter London must reflect London’s needs and character, both its residents and its businesses”.

Indeed … but how to make the connection? Fortunately I was skimming the latest always-informative NESTA newsletter that included an article by its chief executive Geoff Mulgan on Smart Cities … and at the bottom of that was a reference to work they had supported on Future Londoners. This involved creating some imaginary characters to explore the possibilities of urban life in the future.

Some of the Future Londoner profiles

That was just the sort of thing we did in the workshop with older people: invent some characters and then work through their needs and interests to apps and devices that would help. Our bigger vision, as I wrote yesterday, is developing a Living Lab for that sort of exploration.

At this point I happened to exchange emails with a friend who asked if I was going to the Involve 10th anniversary event this evening … where Geoff Mulgan would be speaking. I had dropped a comment on Geoff’s blog post, but a chat over a drink would be more effective, and Involve are specialists in citizen engagement who might be interested in these ideas.

I’m particularly impressed by their NHS Citizen project, which is about creating discovery-gathering-assembly spaces, online and off, to connect service users, providers and Board members. It’s being developed by some of the best people in the field: The Democratic Society, Public-i and Tavistock Institute as well as Involve. It’s just the sort of whole-system approach that’s needed more widely.

My ideas crystalised a little more through the meeting about Magna Carta, reconvened yesterday with Hoz Shafiei and Steve Moore, who I know through Lobbi (earlier post here). I wondered whether the celebrations might include ways to encourage people – young or old – to explore what democracy has meant through the ages, and how best to exercise our rights now.


As you can see from the tweet, Hoz and Steve are setting up a new charity – the Great Charter Foundation – with some inspiring ideas focussed around events and awards during next year’s 800th anniversary celebrations of Magna Carta. Maybe we could recreate some characters at different time over the past 800 years, tell their stories, and compare with those of citizens today. We’ll hear more about the Foundation very soon, I believe. **

Fictitious character are fine to help us think about different people’s needs, and how their skills and circumstances affect the opportunities they have. But how could we bring real Londoner’s into the discussions in a way that might liven things up?

At this point an email pinged in from Mark Magnante, who is developing the Miituu app and web system video that enables people to record their views in text audio or video via their own devices (webcams and Android/iOS tablets and smartphones). The results of the visual questionnaire can be displayed in lots of ways, including as an impressive video wall. Mark was updating me on their latest developments and wondered if I had some ideas on how these might relate to any of my projects.

National Voices members use Miituu to say what patient leadership means to them on a video wall

First thought – perhaps we could create an online panel to both generate ideas and provide feedback on whatever Mayoral candidate were promoting? Maybe it could be continuous sounding board during the campaign rather than the equivalent of a one-off focus group.

The video wall is just one method that might be used, among many.

In order to take things forward we might run a workshop, a bit like the one last week, to co-design a whole-system process of engagement.

We could start by filling out the characters of fictitious Londoners – today and in tomorrow’s Smarter London – and then choosing from a pack of ideas the activities, policies and programmes that might meet their needs and interests.

We could look at the dependencies between ideas – if you choose this, what about that – and who would need to be involved to take things forward.

We could explore how different communication methods could help develop the social-political ecosystem needed to engage citizens, organisations and agencies in making a better London.

The Changing London blog and book would certainly be in there, and ways to use the Magna Carta celebrations. But I’m sure we could come up with dozens of ways to encourage mainstream and citizen-led media to join in.

A first step would be to do some mapping of the communication hot spots and connectors in London. Maybe we could end up with a London Citizen equivalent of NHS Citizen. Involve and their partners would be the people to talk to on that.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, back in 1977/8 I co-authored a book about the future of London for Thames Television, associated with a conference – London Looks Forward. We got it out just before the GLC elections of 1978, with a suggested manifesto drawn from our researches. While it was well-received, I doubt if it made much difference.

These days we have the means by which Londoners can help develop their own manifestos …. ideas for the Mayor, suggestions and requests to other agencies and organisations, and the means to explore through personal technology what they can do to improve their own lives.

I don’t really know how these ideas might join up – but it matter at this stage? I particularly liked one blog post from David Robinson on the Changing London site, where he likened the creative emergence and coalescing of ideas to Trusting to the rumble – tipping up a big wooden box of children’s building blocks, old cotton reels, random wooden offcuts and all sorts of odds and ends, and then seeing what you can make. These days the Internet is that digital box of pieces. Please throw in a few more to this small selection. I’ll let you know if any of the organisations I’ve mentioned are doing their own joining up.

Update: Here’s an audio interview I did with Geoff Mulgan, NESTA CEO, and Simon Burall, director of Involve, at the 10th anniversary event, and Simon’s post about his vision for the future.

** Update 2: More now here on the Great Charter Foundation

Preview of the Living Lab for (digital) life

The workshop that Drew Mackie and I ran last week, exploring how to help people adopt digital technology, is part of a suite of games and other methods we are developing, with Sangeet Bhullar, under the title of Living Lab. I wrote then that I would explain further – so here goes.

The Lab idea follows on, in part, from work we did for Nominet Trust on the usefulness of technology at different time of life: firstly for young people, and then for later life. We now have a proposal in with their funding challenge on technology during life transitions.

I’m naturally delighted that we are through to the second round. As well as filling in the appropriate forms we were asked to provide a short video, which is here. I confess I left it rather to the last minute – but the Trust were very helpful in saying they wanted enthusiasm rather than high production values, so I hope it does the job. Drew provided the illustrations.

Below is the backup document that we also submitted. This further diagram from Drew makes the connections between the different elements in the Lab, showing how the three basic activities of Games, Storytelling and Network Mapping can combine to:

  • Define connections between individuals, groups and agencies.
  • Locate assets that might be shared
  • Develop the personas that are typical of the community of users, and the digital literacies they need
  • Define the tech selections and workflows that would benefit the personas
  • Assess the implications for strategy

Element of Living Lab

Here’s the document supporting our proposal.

The Living Lab is a space to explore, online and face-to-face, how we can use personal technology to make the most of life, at whatever age. Our two explorations for Nominet Trust showed the importance of digital technology for young and older people, particularly at times of change.

We distilled common principles for policy and investment from a wealth of examples, heaps of research, and scores of innovative projects. But general principles are of little practical use in finding what might work for an individual, their friend, children, or elderly parents.

The reason is that everyone’s needs, skills, circumstances and preferences are different, so one digital size doesn’t fit all. Outside organisational systems, all technology adoption is personal. If people can’t understand and choose, they can’t enjoy the benefits.

And being smart with computers doesn’t mean you necessarily have the digital literacies needed for meaningful and safe online participation for young and old online, or can advise and support people on smartphones and tablets.

This raises a number of challenges:

  • How can organisations, that are aiming to help, understand diverse personal needs, match those with rapidly changing technology, and scale up support?
  • How do we ensure that all those involved in providing support to others also have the necessary digital literacies to inspire and engage young and old to develop their own knowledge, understanding and personal learning journeys (online and offline)?
  • What might these look like and what are the digital literacies needed by all involved in the process, to create a supportive ecosystem, able to respond to individual and diverse needs and interests? How best should this be delivered?

The Living Lab provides a way for individuals, groups and organisations to explore these issues, learn about possibilities, and plan ways forward.

Over the past 30 years, working in community engagement and social technology, Drew Mackie and David Wilcox have found three approaches that work well. Firstly, games enable people to play through possibilities. Secondly, stories make the use of technology human. Thirdly, networks enable learning together.

The Lab will add another dimension by combining these three elements with the essential ingredient of digital literacy.

In the last 20 years, Sangeet Bhullar’s work has focused on supporting adults and young people to develop a critical and meaningful understanding of online spaces, services and communities (referred to here as digital literacy), as well as the necessary digital competencies needed to benefit from these online communities and services, and use them safely.

Together we are creating a suite of workshop games about choosing and using technology, developed from experience over the past 15 years. These are linked with group storytelling techniques designed to bring to life a range fictitious characters and their experiences. We will use some elements of the game as well as stand-alone exercises to help explore and develop the baseline and other digital competencies needed for positive and safe online experiences.

We have developed the fictitious town of Slipham, populated with some engaging characters and supportive organisations, to provide the context for the games, stories and the way networks and digital literacies can develop.

Slipham also provides a set of networks through which the various connective needs of individuals, community groups, enterprises and agencies can be explored. Existing assets (skills, equipment, premises, organisational structures, etc) are also modelled.

All games materials will be available online for download, with Creative Commons licenses, and each element will link to further resources online. Together they will create:

  • A DIY system that can be used face-to-face and online by anyone without our support.
  • An open process of gathering stories, situations, and methods to foster a network of people interested in further development.
  • An open source framework within which others can add or develop solutions.
  • A space to explore the digital literacies needed for effective online use, and the implications of the move towards personal, mobile, “appified” technology solutions.

We already have a range of workshop materials that can be developed for DIY use. We have started to build a site where workshop cards provide a design framework to link through to more resources onsite and elsewhere.

Here’s some of the work that we have done that underpins our approach.

Guides examples:

Games examples:

Explorations

The idea of Living Labs

  • Wikipedia
  • Open Living Labs network
  • The Digital Practitioner - Digital Leader Programme Collaborative Blog – a collaborative blog developed for a ‘Digital Leader’ programme to support Community Digital Inclusion workers and volunteers develop their own knowledge, skills and digital literacy so that they could, in turn, provide better support to their organisations, peers and service users in their use of online technologies.

Update April 10 2014: we have now learned that we were unsuccessful in the bid to Nominet Trust, who said “although we were incredibly inspired by your proposal, we are simply unable to fund all of the high quality applications we receive.” However, we do have a number of projects through which we are starting to build elements of the Lab, and will be seeking investment elsewhere.

Changing London – a blog that might do just that

There are now so many blogs and other opportunities to publish and comment it’s difficult to think that another one more might make a difference to big policy issues, unless backed by a substantial organisation and other resources.

However, I have a hunch that Changing London, started a few months ago by David Robinson and Will Horwitz, might just do that. They say:

We have set up this site to showcase, debate and develop bold, ambitious ideas from you: London’s citizens and friends. You can submit your idea right now, or get in touch with us, via the form on the right.

We are also planning some street activities and some community consultations to widen engagement.

After 6 months we will pull together the best ideas and use them to inform and influence the debate about the mayoralty and ultimately, to help lift the ambitions of the next mayor.

This is not a political blog about the personalities, Westminster rumours or the latest twists in the selection saga. It’s a blog about the big ideas that could shape our city for decades to come. We hope politicians will pick them up and if they don’t we will try to persuade them.

The site isn’t flashy, commenting is a bit limited so far, but there is an impressive range of high quality content, and a strong sense of integrity about the intention and style of operation, that I think will give it influence. That’s not least because of David’s impressive work in East London with Community Links over several decades, his connections at national level, and his colleague Will’s diligence in researching, curating and promoting material. Will’s posts about other cities have been inspirational too. There’s credibility there.

Tomorrow evening, January 30, there’s an open meeting at Toynbee Hall to discuss two themes that have emerged from contributions so far: The best place on earth grow up; The world’s friendliest city, plus a discussion of next steps:

We plan to run the blog until Easter and to lead or to support other crowd sourcing activity throughout this period both off line and on. During this phase we will also begin to draw together some of the principal threads in the conversation. Each of these themes, probably eventually about 8 to 10, will be shaped into a topic for discussion at an open meeting. The combined product will finally be published as a book at the start of the party conference season on October 1st 2014.

Apart from an interest in the themes, I’m fascinated by how the process will turn out. Some 35 years ago, after working as planning reporter on the Evening Standard, I co-authored  a book on London for Thames Television. It was called “London The Heartless City” because in those days there was a lot of concern about people leaving, and London’s economic decline. We’ve got problems today, but that isn’t one of them.

Back then it wasn’t possible to crowdsource ideas, so unless you did a lot of interviews, the temptation was to rely on official sources rather than the views of Londoners. I think Changing London will have more impact because people may feel it is theirs, and they can make a difference. I hope there’s a good turn out tomorrow. I’ll certainly be there.

How our workshop game confirmed all digital adoption is personal

This week some 50 people joined us in exploring how older people, or indeed anyone, might be encouraged to engage with digital technology and the Internet – without a screen in sight. Instead we used bits of card, flip charts and a lot of animated conversation. The aim was to start conversations around the research we carried out for Nominet Trust last year into technology in later life, and hopefully spark ideas for ways forward.

Drew Mackie and I ran the workshop, that I wrote about earlier, as part of the launch event for the Wealth of the Web report from Positive Ageing in London (PAIL) and Age UK London. I think people enjoyed themselves, and we gained some useful human insights to add to those in the broader scoping report written by Ben Donovan.

The challenge for the session was how to offer people online opportunities, digital devices and support when everyone’s interests are different. The Government wants more people online for their own benefit, and to digitise public services, but one size doesn’t fit all.

So Drew used his iPad mini to create some wonderful cartoons of Alice, Jenny, Faisal, Eunice, Sam and other characters who we introduced to groups in our workshop. Their first task was to fill out our starter description of their character, identify the main life challenges and opportunities that they faced.

 

Above: Jenny’s initial character card, and the expanded description from the group

We then offered the groups a deck of 18 cards with some online activities that might help. Each of the cards had a brief description of a possible activity, and then on the back we gave two or three examples of web sites or tablet apps that could be useful.

Some of the cards we offered to groups. You can see all of them here.

We asked the groups to describe what devices their character used at present, what key challenges and opportunities they faced, and to choose three or four of the cards. After that we asked how the life of their character might be changed if they adopted the ideas on the cards, and then to consider which device might be most appropriate – desktop or laptop computer, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or games console – and what sort of support might be useful. Would they, for example, benefit from access and training at the local library or online centre, if that were available, or get the help and encouragement they needed from friends and family?

Groups identified challenges and opportunities, possible online activities, and then described the difference they might make.

The aim of the workshop sequence was to emphasis that technology is not the best place to start. First consider the individual, their attitudes, interests and skills – and then what online activities might be beneficial. At that point you can look at the range of web sites, apps and other options available, what devices and support might be appropriate. We did all of that in an hour and a quarter. Your can find the workshop materials that we used, and the flip charts generated, here. We’ll have a transcript, and more detailed instructions, later. Update: transcriptions here, thanks to Age UK London admin volunteers

The discussion brought home to me several key points:

  • People may be fearful, with some justification, of the risk of going online. Can you trust sites with personal information? Guidance and support on that is essential.
  • The process and costs of getting personal access are confusing. It is difficult to compare different home broadband and mobile broadband offerings, and  monitor usage.
  • Even those with computer skills may find upgrading to a new machine problematic, because much will have changed.
  • Tablets like the iPad and Tesco Hudl are increasingly attractive because they are more intuitive to use, and the apps provide a quick route into useful activities.
  • Organisations offering access and support may find it difficult to keep up with the move to tablets. Help is just as likely to come to come from friends and family.
  • At the same time, libraries and centres are enormously important for social learning and support.
  • “Techy tea parties” run by Age UK London with corporate sponsors, and their Micommunity intergenerational learning programme have been very successful.

Overall I believe that the key message was that all digital adoption is personal. Whatever the broad policies and programmes in place, everyone is different. One size doesn’t fit all. It’s not just a choice between laptop or tablet, smartphone or smart TV. It’s about what apps may be useful, and how to move from one to the other. It’s about how to develop the digital literacies to live in an increasingly technology-dominated world.

Drew and I are really grateful to PAIL and Age UK London for the opportunity to try out the game, and to everyone who took part.  The game is part of a proposal to Nominet Trust for a Living Lab of games and online resources for the Life Transitions challenge. I’ll be writing more later about that, and other possibilities for taking forward the momentum we achieved at the workshop. If you are interested in applying the game to your work, do get in touch.

Meanwhile TalkLondon, the discussion forum for the Greater London Authority, have an item on the event which we’ll be expanding. Any comments welcome below too.

Update

Turning a digital adoption report into a game of phones, tablets, TVs – and maybe computers

Summary: the impact of reports and campaigns urging digital adoption may be limited because people’s needs and interests are different. A game about online activities could provide insights into how to personalise. Your ideas welcome.

Last year I worked with colleagues on a report for Nominet Trust about how digital technology can help us lead a better life as we get older. It was well received, but not much help if you are sitting down with someone wanting to show them practically that it may be worth them touching a keypad or screen for the first time.

Nor is it much help, in my experience, to tell people tech is a Good Thing, or the Government wants to save money by putting services online and they are Going To Have To Go On or Miss Out.

Digital Inclusion and Engagement is a turn-off to most people who are unconnected … or who may actually be online but don’t use their Smartphone, Smart TV or games console like the computer that it is.

But the Internet is important because it is re-shaping our world, and may help at the personal level in combating loneliness, managing finances, getting goods delivered, dealing with health issues and so. That’s as well as the fun stuff.

You don’t need a report to prove it. Just look at the newspaper inserts detailing 500 must-have apps for phones and tablets, under those headings. The Telegraph has just published two such guides.

The problem is that everyone is different. The must-have activity and app for one person may be irrelevant to another. People who learned touch typing may like a keyboard, others a touch screen. If you have figured how to Skype your family on your Smart TV, hitting the Facebook app there is going to be more appealing than learning a new device.

While there may be some basic skills that are going to be important for everyone in future, learning how to switch on a computer and use a web browser isn’t necessarily the place to start for many people.

If you are personally fairly familiar with the possibilities, you can probably find out someone’s interests and capabilities and take them through what’s possible on, say, an iPad or the much cheaper Tesco Hudl.

But if you are designing a campaign to make a difference to a lot of people, how can you think both about scale and about personalisation?

Positive Ageing in London (PAIL) and Age UK London have given Drew Mackie and I a chance to try a different approach on January 27 when they launch a report on digital inclusion.

Before the policy makers engage with the comprehensive overview report prepared by Ben Donovan we are going to run a workshop game with PAIL and a few dozen people – a few of them experienced online and others not.

We are following a similar approach to other games we have run, first developed some 15 years ago to help groups decide how they might wish to use computers in community learning centres. These days learning can be more personal, mobile and appified.

We’ll start by asking people, working in groups, to invent some fictitious characters: their situations, skills, confidence with technology and life challenges. They’ll then pass the profile to another group – and receive one themselves.

The groups will have a deck of cards with ideas for online activities, and choose some appropriate ones for their character. After that they will consider what device might be most appropriate: a computer, tablet, smartphone, smart TV or maybe a games console.

The final stage will involve thinking about what sort of support might be needed: formal training, informal social sessions, help from a tutor, or friends and family, for example.

The results of the discussion will be shared with policy makers and funders attending the second half of the event. That should lead to follow-on discussion about who can do what to help.

Here’s where you can join in before the event. I’ve drawn up a long list of ideas for online activities, as below, and also put them on an open-to-edit Google doc here http://bit.ly/JWiEFn

  • Emailing individuals
  • Email discussion group
  • Web browsing
  • Playing games
  • Shopping online
  • Watching live TV
  • Catching up TV
  • Renting movies
  • Video calling (like Skype)
  • Viewing and sharing photos
  • Online banking
  • Facebook and networks
  • Reading books, mags and newspapers
  • Taking online courses
  • Exploring to learn
  • Using maps
  • Texting
  • Blogging
  • Private network (e.g. Finerday)
  • Taking photos and video
  • Recipes, food, drink
  • Planning travel
  • Ancestry research
  • Health and fitness advice
  • Topic research and sharing

During our exploration for Nominet Trust, Geraldine Bedell ran a discussion on Gransnet which gave some terrific insights into what may be useful or not, and I’m expecting a lively discussion this time around too.

If you any further ideas – or want to suggest changes – please do so on the doc, or in comments here. I would also be really interested in thoughts on which device may be most appropriate for which activity. I’ll follow on with a further blog post about that.

I think that you can do many of the above activities without a computer, and that for a lot of people a tablet is preferable unless you need to do office work. If that’s the case, the challenge for organisations who wish to support people in adopting digital technology is that they may need to do some learning themselves.

 

 

 

Citizen journalists animate a virtual high street for independent living support and conversation

Access Dorset TV (ADTV) is developing a virtual high street where a team of citizen journalists will help disabled people, older people and carers share opinions share opinions and experiences, provide each other with support, and also review products and services.

I’m mentoring the first group of projects at Our Digital Community, a new programme helping social and community enterprises to use digital technologies. My role is to help with stakeholder engagement, about which more later.

All the projects are really interesting  - as you can see here – in either developing a new digital product or service, or adding digital to their existing activities.

The challenge that the ADTV project is addressing, explained here by Jonathan Waddington-Jones, is that the day-to-day lives of one in five people in Dorset are limited by disability.  That’s some 70,000 people – with a similar proportion in the population elsewhere.

While there are a wide range of support services – some already provided by Access Dorset and partners  - more could be achieved if people had better ways to explain the challenges they face, help each other, and promote useful products and service.  Much of that can be done online.

ADTV is moving the concept of an online support community further forward by recruiting volunteers from within their membership to act as citizen journalists, with training from Bournemouth University. They will create short films for the ADTV site, and also help with blogs, polls and reviews.

Whether it is called citizen journalism or social reporting, I think that this intermediary multi-media role is potentially important in any online community or network. The ADTV project should help us understand the range of skills and tools needed to serve a diverse community with different levels of online access and literacy, and connect with agencies and suppliers.

At present the Our Digital Community  projects are developing pitches to potential sponsors and funders, supported by programme leader Marc De’ath and mentors Simon Bottrell, Christian Alhert and Peter Brownell.

ADTV has a prototype system, with early funding from the Office for Disability Issues, and  is now looking for a partner to help develop user stories, test the value of the approach, and document outcomes. This will lead to a functional tech specification and more detailed development programme.

My focus with the ODC  programme has been on how projects can best inform, consult or co-design with a range of different interests. To help with that Drew Mackie and I have developed a simple game with a deck of cards containing ideas for engagement methods. I’ll post the cards and instructions when we have made a few revisions.

I’ve been enormously impressed with the vision of Marc and ODC co-founder Annemarie Naylor since I first met them a few months ago, and more recently with the input from other mentors. The biggest buzz is from engaging with such a diverse range of inspiring projects.

The main lesson from me is that designing stakeholder engagement for an enterprise – rather than, say, a public agency – sharpens the nature of the offer. You have to think not just about your vision of doing some good, but what real benefit you are offering to someone in inviting them to respond with feedback, ideas or creative input. It’s the old principle of what’s-in-it-for-them not just for-me.

With that in mind, ADTV research suggest that they can offer business sponsors some potentially good returns if they position themselves in one of the zones in the virtual high street.
Currently disabled people have a spending power of £80 billion nationally, (£6300 per head). Applied to the County of Dorset, it would indicate that the spending power in Dorset is £945M.

If ADTV can demonstrate that their virtual high street offers benefits to users and suppliers – and also potential savings to support services – it could scale and replicate nationally.