Category Archives: citizenship

Creating a whole kit (and caboodle) for community enablers and agents of change

Discussion at a strategy group about the new Lobbi initiative prompted me to write yesterday about an online/offline kit for local change agents, with references to my previous work with colleagues on kits and the use of social tech for social impact.

Here’s the first of a series of posts on what that kit (and caboodle)** could be, as a set of resources for people I’m calling community enablers, with added networking. That’s the all-important caboodle.

As I said yesterday, enablers might be councillors, community organisers, people running local groups, citizens developing a campaign and/or generally working to revive local democracy. This account is a bit of a ramble, but if I try and get every nuance right it won’t get done. Comments welcome. I’ve put most links at the end.

I’m not suggesting this would necessarily be a Lobbi kit, since it develops from other work I’m doing with colleagues anyway, and the Lobbi vision is still emerging.

First the local context as I see it. Whether under the banner of community development, organising, enabling, building, volunteering, or social action lots of people have been doing good stuff locally for decades – and of course before that without the labels. Councillors and professionals work in support of this, and in addition councils and other public services mount extensive programme to consult and engage with citizens. There have been stacks of how-to kits, lots of consultants and nonprofit networks, but resources fall out of print, websites wither, people move jobs or burn out, networks fold.

David Cameron wanted to encourage more of what he called Big Society (without really acknowledging it was fairly big already), but then cut many of the support systems developed over the past decade or so without enabling alternatives effectively. There are good programmes like Big Local and Community First, organisations like Locality, innovative programmes like Transition Towns, to name only a few. However, coverage is patchy, and there’s a tendency to brand rather than share how-to resources because everyone is competing for funding.

This is just the sort of situation in which social technology, coupled with good curation and facilitation, could help in gathering resources, enabling people to share, promoting both peer-to-peer networking and direct agency-to-citizen support. A group of us tried, as volunteers, to do a bit towards that vision under the banner of Our Society, using an online platform, but without resources it was too much of a struggle to maintain. I should offer congratulations to NatCAN for keeping going, but generally I don’t think the conversation/knowledge hub model works too … about which more later.

Now to the real purpose of a kit. I should emphasise that I’m using kit as shorthand for something that would help anyone seeking to organise or enhance community activity using a mix of traditional and more recent tech-enabled methods. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook groups  are no substitute for newsletters, meetings and knocking on doors. Not everyone has access or is confident online, and some stuff has to be done face-to-face.

At the same time it is waste of enabling power not to use technology as a bigger part of the mix in finding and sharing information, telling stories, collaborating between meetings, crowdsourcing funding and so on.

Unfortunately I see something of a divide between those with deep experience of community action who tend to favour face-to-face, and those who see and use the potential of online organising but may not be so comfortable on the door-step or in the community meeting. There are shining exceptions to this distinction working at local level, including my colleague John Popham who has just announced a WOW bus to take some digital enabling on tour. There are many digital enablers operating in larger organisations and as social entrepreneurs, but I think it fair to say digitally savvy community enablers are thinly spread around the country.

So – what could be done to help anyone acting as a community enabler blend tech into their work, develop digital literacies, and also help others do the same? And how could this also be a way to help enablers and others access scattered resources about traditional methods, share experience with others, and build confidence in new ways of doing things … and keep up their motivation? I think it involves development at several levels, personal, organisational, and systemic, with an understanding of communities, technologies, development processes and networks.

What’s the real value of a kit (and caboodle). I believe that addressing the issue of how to enable enablers, by adding some social technology, could help at several levels.

  1. The most obvious is that it would be a way to bring together scattered how-to resources, and add some technology tools to the kit, provided there were support in developing digital skills – something the Big Lottery Fund is investing in more widely. Maybe there could be support there.
  2. However, a how-to kit with added tech won’t do much unless it also helps develop some common ground and frameworks among the various organisations working in this field, who are each creating their own kits and methodologies. There are differences between community organising as promoted by Locality and Citizens UK, ABCD community building, the Transitions Towns and others – but there are bigger areas of similarity. Teasing out a framework to underpin a kit would demonstrate how they all involve similar aspects of process with different degrees of emphasis: listening, mapping assets, building relationship and networks, organising events, raising funds etc.
  3. The further benefit could be networking with the common challenge of learning about tech. Toolkits don’t necessarily enable action on their own. Some people are happy just to read the manual and apply it … but I guess most of us like to have someone to ask and help.  A framework for community enabling (point 2) could provide the basis of shared practice. Learning about technology could provide a further shared interest and common ground. From that it might be possible to add the caboodle – the networking of enablers, or more probably networking of networks.

What could be the contents of a kit. At this point the temptation might be to gather together the various kits, and sites about community action and enabling, add social tech how-to, create a networking site and launch. Or rather, put together a funding bid first, hoping that the funding agencies have forgotten how kits and networking sites have failed many time in the past to make much impact.

I suggest instead taking one of the strongest lessons from community enabling and applying it to a process of developing the kit and caboodle: stuff works best if people have a hand in designing and developing, because it is then what’s needed, and they own it. One way to do this would be to build on the work that Drew Mackie and I started last year, when we invented the town of Slapham, with its neighbourhoods, organisations, enablers and citizens. We ran a workshop in which we all invented some enabler characters, the challenges they and the citizens of Slapham faced, then played through how enablers could use social tech as part of their work. We’ve done this subsequently for real with an organisation recruiting community enablers, and it worked really well.

The next step is to do a bit more work on Slapham (which we are renaming Slipham since that’s a bit less in your face), fill out the draft components of a kit, and run some more workshops to develop content.

At this point the objection might be raised – isn’t this going to be a very big kit, which people won’t read or use? In development so far, we have been working on the basis that the front end of the kit can be as simple as a set of cards, like those developed by the Transition Towns network to support their Companion, or the set created by the Group Pattern Language Project, with ideas and help on running creative events. We’ve used a similar approach in the Social by Social social media game.

I’ll develop more ideas in a later post about the kit, cards and what in the past we’ve called a social app store of back-up how-to resources. I see the kit as an open source/creative commons resource, so people can rework the material for their own purposes, with attribution and links back to the original.

Now for the caboodle. You’ll see in the links below a lot about the challenges of networking, and building knowledge hubs. The problem – as I reported in a briefing paper for the Carnegie UK Trust – is that it is really difficult to get people to move to a new platform when there are so many online spaces already; it takes a lot of professional resource to facilitate and manage a site if you do get people there; and there aren’t easy ways to generate revenue. I raised these points in a post about the initial Lobbi vision. A further post here will be on the idea of instead facilitating social ecologies, which is being explored by Steve Dale.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in being involved do drop a comment or get in touch. This post is by way of setting the scene. I hope things will make more sense as we draft some of the kit, and run a workshop.

** The whole kit and caboodle: A kit – is set of objects, as in a toolkit, or what a soldier would put in his kit-bag. A caboodle (or boodle) – is an archaic term meaning group or collection, usually of people.

Earlier posts on the community enabler exploration

Big Society, Our Society and networking civil society

 

Developing a Lobbi kit for local agents of change

Following a Lobbi strategy group meeting yesterday – which I trailed here – it looks as if one strand of development will focus on a kit of technology tools to support local change agents … that is people doing good stuff in their community.

Those change agents might be councillors, community organisers, people running local groups, citizens running a campaign and/or generally working to revive local democracy. The tools they use (or could use) might be existing ones used by groups like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Eventbrite, Evernote, Dropbox … as well as email, texts and phones, of course.

The tools may also be new ones like the many mobile apps under development – perhaps including some by Apps for Good, who train young people to be developers.

Lobbi’s mission – led by Hussain “Hoz” Shafiei and Steve Moore – is to promote citizen engagement and action through social technology, and as I wrote earlier ” bring politics into the 21st century”.

I’m particularly pleased about this possible strand of Lobbi’s development because it ties in with some work I started last year on community enablers (for want of a general terms), and earlier ideas for a social app store further developed by John Popham. More links below on the background, and what follows.

I’ve used the term “change agents” because during our workshop discussion one group made the point strongly that it’s no good assembling a kit of technology tools to offer to community enablers unless you have some idea of how change happens. That may be through campaigning, working with elected representatives, crowdsourcing funding for new projects, building new networks and a host of other activities. You need a theory of change, and models for how stuff happens. I particularly like the thinking of Tessy Britton and Eileen Conn on that.

So far Lobbi has focused on developing a major web platform that would enable citizens, their elected representatives and officials to interact. In my earlier post I raised issues of what it might take to attract people to the platform, manage and fund it. I suggested a couple of early angles, now emerging:

First, if looking for a niche, consider focusing on how to digitally enable the enablers who help build communities. What help do they need in the personal use of technology, how can they help others, how can they enable their organisations. Go person-centric.

Second, take an asset-based approach nationally. Map who is doing what in this first, and aim to build connections both personal and technical. Use that knowledge both to advise and build kits for the enablers, and to create a strong community and movement for technology-enabled social action.

The ideas went down OK with Hoz and with Steve, who kindly tweeted encouragement:

At yesterday’s strategy workshop we agreed that developing a kit that helps you make a change in your community, with a mix of tech and others methods, could be a good start towards much wider engagement of citizens and their representatives.

The second point I raised – above – could be met by mapping who is doing what already, and developing a network for enabler/change agents to support each other.

What next? I’ll be following through on the exploration and development I’ve already started, with a view to an update on the workshop that we ran last year, which made a start on scoping out a kit. I hope to interest others in the emerging Lobbi network to develop a plan for testing and evolving a kit, with some “for real” local testing, and review that with Hoz and Steve.

Update: I’ve expanded here on the ideas behind a kit in the first in a series of posts

 

Introducing Lobbi – with bold aims to change politics locally and globally

Downloading Democracy 2013 – Archived Live Stream from John Popham on Vimeo.

Earlier this week Lobbi, a new initiative promoting citizen engagement and action through social media, hosted a Downloading Democracy event in London. You can that see that it was a well-informed and lively affair from Mick Fealty’s excellent report, the live stream recording and Storify from John Popham.

As well as convening the event, Lobbi is developing a new online platform, outlined in this interview with Mick by the founder and initial funder of Lobbi, Hussain “Hoz” Shafiei.

As he explains on his Linkedin profile, and the interview, Hoz is “an Iranian by blood an Arab by birth and an Englishman by upbringing” with a passion to revive UK politics with an demonstration of what might also make a difference to other nations and cultures.

Hoz writes:

I returned to the UK in 2011 and decided to no longer work in a commercial industry and started on my journey to enhance global democracy. It is for this reason that I started Lobbi a project that will allow a real time connection between the electorate and their elected representatives….

Lobbi is an innovative and unique method of engaging the electorate to become re-enthused and involved with politics on a long-term basis. This is created through the ever-growing power of social media, with a Facebook/Twitter-esque interactive forum and information portal.

Lobbi provides the voting public with the means to discover current issues that affect them – instantly – via their smart phone, tablet or computer. In addition, they can get their own views across in the same way as they’d post on Facebook or Twitter. But more than this, it’s a two-way street, as politicians and elected representatives also interact, giving them a vital link to the public mood on a ‘real-time’ basis.

In short, Lobbi brings politics into the 21st century – and about time too…

You might ask, what’s new? I’ll come to that … but first, what’s not.

You can find a free event most months in London about how we need to revive democracy, and fairly frequent discussion of the role of the Internet.

We are still asking Is e-democracy now a reality? as the BBC reported in 2007, with periods of excitement around the role of social networks in the Arab Spring and the success of the Five Star Movement in the Italian election.

What’s certain is that we have plenty of online spaces for general campaigning, and specific systems for civic engagement, whether developed for citizens by mySociety or agencies like Delib.

Consumer Focus has sponsored a Digital Engagement Cookbook with 68 recipes, and Helpful Technology offers a Digital Engagement Guide of practical help and ideas.  For a wider perspective, just look at the programme for Personal Democracy Forum in New York next month. For advice on what’s worked or not, check in with Steven Clift who coined the term e-democracy in 1994 and has been promoting it globally ever since.

Steven is particularly informative on the hard slog of achieving an inclusive approach, which may come more by knocking on doors and using email lists than new social tech functions.

So how might Lobbi make a difference? At this stage I should declare an interest, because I’ve been engaged in discussions on a Lobbi Linkedin group over the past few months, and also invited to join a smaller group next week to help inform strategy. I’ve worked with Steve Moore, who is leading Lobbi development, on a number of projects, including in the early days of Big Society Network.

Steve is now developing Britain’s Personal Best (BPB) “which convenes thousands of organisations and millions of people to achieve a personal accomplishment over the course of one weekend each year”. He’s a man with the ability to carry though a big idea.

I don’t know what the Lobbi strategy will be. That depends in part on discussion next week. As Hoz indicates, a mobile-friendly system is under development that could, potentially, connect elected representatives in an area with citizens there, enable reporting of local problems to agencies, and encourage neighbour-to-neighbour cooperation. However, old hands in this field will warn that tech doesn’t do it alone.

Firstly, just build it … and they probably won’t come. Why should citizens embrace a new system  if they are happy with Facebook and its scope to create groups, pages and networks? Why should politicians and officials engage in a system that may not integrate with the ones they already have in-house?

Secondly, local politics and community action requires a blend of online and offline activity. That’s not just because a third of people may not be online – a point made by Chi Onwurah MP at this week’s event. Or that, in my experience, relatively few community activists are enthusiastic online activists. It’s also that getting things done, once you go beyond Clicktivism, involves building new relationships and trust, working through ideas and options, and making decisions in complex situations. Online isn’t enough for that.

Thirdly, if you do manage to get a lot of people online in the same place, you need to put a lot of effort into facilitation and site management. That’s a skilled operation.

The more ambitious you are, the more the costs and management issues increase. Where will the revenue come from, not just to manage and develop systems, but to fund the offline activity?

I suspect that in further discussions to refine Lobbi, those experienced in the field will suggest either focusing on one activity that current platforms and programmes are not offering – and do that really well. Or aim to connect some of the very disparate online activities currently underway. And to be agile – try stuff out small scale, revise and redevelop.

My hunch is that given Hoz’s passion, combined with Steve’s contacts and convening skills, Lobbi might do well by aiming to be as much a movement and community as a new platform. What was very evident at the Downloading Democracy event was the number of people who’ve been around the scene in the last six or seven years welcoming the chance to meet up for a chat. After a burst of activity in 2007-09, and the failed hopes for Big Society, we’ve rather lacked the social spaces to bring together social techies, community activists, new-style democracy advocates … well, forget the labels, I mean people who want to do good stuff locally using a mix of methods new and old.

At local level, there’s general accord that it makes sense – particularly in hard times – to go for an approach that makes as much as you can from the strengths of local people, projects, and buildings before developing new initiatives from scratch and seeking funds that might otherwise support existing initiatives. Map existing assets and networks, and concentrate on community building. Social technology can help in that process, as I’ve explored here and here.

Maybe there’s a couple of new angles for Lobbi: one focused, one more open.

First, if looking for a niche, consider focusing on how to digitally enable the enablers who help build communities. What help do they need in the personal use of technology, how can they help others, how can they enable their organisations. Go person-centric.

Second, take an asset-based approach nationally. Map who is doing what in this first, and aim to build connections both personal and technical. Use that knowledge both to advise and build kits for the enablers, and to create a strong community and movement for technology-enabled social action.

Hoz and Steve have been generous in bearing with the challenges that I and others have raised during earlier discussion, welcomed new ideas and connections, and remained determined to press ahead. With that sort of spirit, Lobbi could be a catalyst for a fresh approach to politics and local action.

As Mick Fealty puts it more eloquently in his report:

There’s a term in evolutionary biology called punctuated equilibrium which suits the uncertain times we are living in. The gist is that big changes in living organisms largely occur in short episodic bursts when their external environment undergoes some form of drastic change. In such terms, the current multiple crises in democracy is being driven by sudden and rapid technological advances in human communication.

The resulting uncertainty is a necessary precondition for the emergence of novel theories and practices for how we might functionally respond, both as collectives (nations, communities, sharers of a global environment) and individuals (politicians, priests and citizens). None of us really know where any of this is taking us, though we can see and feel seriousness of the deficits that arise as a result of the disruption of ‘business as usual’. There are no road maps.

When life isn’t business as usual, we need people like Hoz and Steve. If only to get me blogging about this stuff again.

Local democracy is a competitive business: how can Create a Council be more engaging?

Last night’s event on why Londoners might wish to campaign for the equivalent of local parish councils brought home to me the gap between new and older forms of engagement and representation – and prompted some ideas on how to blend the two.

I’ve followed up my earlier post about the event with one over at socialreporters.net, where John Popham and I are blogging for the Big Lottery Fund People Powered Change programme. I’ve copied that below to save you some clicks.

As you’ll see there was a strong case, in principle, for new local councils as a way in which local people could have more control over their area, raise funds through a precept, and decide how to spend it. I found the people from the National Association for Local Councils (NALC) – who represent 9000 parish and town councils – very knowledgable and engaging. They had invited along some passionate enthusiasts for local councils to talk to us at the Coin Street Community Centre, were generous with the wine and nibbles, and well equipped with leaflets..

It was a great treat to see Ellie Stoneley, who is tweeting furiously for @createacouncil, along with her #unbornbaby, and then read afterwards about her trip to the smoke. read more »

Local democracy is important: but will we vote for it?

It’s a good time to talk about local democracy – whether the type you vote for, the type you get involved in, or both – and so I’m looking forward to the Create a Council event in London tomorrow evening.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) – which represents parish and town councils – argues that that “if local people are elected by their community to influence and make decisions that will affect their own area, it will have significant impact on improving lives throughout the capital”.

In their media release of October 17 NALC suggest the engagement of people after the recent riots, in helping clear up their neighbourhoods, could be supported by new, small, local councils.

The creation of new local councils in London would give communities a voice and this in turn could help address some of the underlying causes of the recent London riots. Local councils have already been created in urban areas such as Leeds, Birmingham, Bradford and Milton Keynes and have helped address social issues caused by deprivation by providing community leadership and brokering relationships with Government at large.

Localism and the Big Society have been much heralded and discussed by the Government and the Prime Minister himself, prompting much debate from Whitehall to town and village halls. What better way to ensure local ownership of decisions, control of assets and to get people involved in their area than to genuinely give power to the people.

Of course, electing representatives is just one way of engaging with the civic sphere.

read more »

Starting to stock the Good/Big Society DIY store

Recent blog posts by Nat (now Baron) Wei, unpaid adviser to the Big Society programme, give further clues to government thinking about the way that local services should evolve, with more support for groups at neighbourhood level. (Earlier posts here). I’ve been pulling together some tools and links that may be useful – including reports of a couple of sessions using a neighbourhood media version of the SocialbySocial game. I played the one above last week in Holland. read more »

Designing the Big (Civil) Society – it's DIY time

Summary: there’s now a fair amount in the open about The Big Society, but still many questions about just What Is It Going to Be. The answer is – the Government isn’t going to tell us the whole story. We are going to have to do it ourselves. So who is interested in Designing for Civil Society?

Detail: We now have a Minister for Civil Society in Nick Hurd, the launch of the Big Society programme at No 10, and a lot of online comment. Here’s my bookmarks, and previous posts on this blog.

The main points of the programme reflect the pre-election vision presented by Mr Cameron: more powers for local government and communities; encouraging volunteering; National Citizen Service; supporting mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises; funds from a Big Society Bank; training for local community organisers.

The comment includes warnings from existing organisations … don’t start without us; don’t forget the old lessons of community; a plea to bring capitalism into the mix; plus some healthy scepticism. We are getting daily roundups from Patrick Butler at Guardian Society Daily.

We have become rather conditioned by the central policy-making and programming of the previous government to expect a blueprint for what happens next. We’ve had one from the Respublica think tank, promoting the idea of local social hublets. read more »

Incubating the Big Society in local social lablets

Today in the Guardian Simon Jenkins says the Conservative’s central manifesto idea – the Big Society – has been moved off the Westminster political stage, and only the new secretary for communities and local government, Eric Pickles, can save it by removing the central cap on council taxes. This would free up their spending and give powers to allow localism to flourish.
I found a very different and more optimistic spirit last night at the launch party for today’s SHINE unconference for social entrepreneurs.
There people felt the solution would come from from local activists, and from gearing up the efforts of those already running the sort of social enterprises applauded in the Big Society. Government support is needed – but it’s not going to be the driver.

Explaining how this would work were Cliff Prior, chief executive of Unltd, Phillip Blond, director of Republica, and deputy director Asheem Singh, who I interviewed. More below on their work.

First up we has Paul Twivy, giving more details about the non-partisan Big Society Network that aims to develop a 15 million-strong mutual organisation to support local action – as I wrote here. The key anouncement – which you can read here – was the launch of “Your Square Mile”:

It will act as a collective voice of citizen needs and be a challenging partner to Government. It will be supported by Government policies but also suggest Government policies. It will work with and across every political party. It will particularly focus on areas where there is little social capital (everywhere has some).It will be a mutual: an organisation owned by its members and run for their benefit. Every citizen will be able to become a member by registering their social action, however big or small, as an individual or as part of a group, with Your Square Mile. In return for this, plus paying a very modest fee of a few pounds, they will receive benefits and dividends.

They will receive advice on how to tackle whatever local issue is their passion: putting a new pedestrian crossing in; setting up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme; saving a public park; helping older people; petitioning their council. The advice will involve first steps to take; case histories from across the UK and the World that might inspire them; links to partner organisations or other individuals interested in the same cause in their postcode; offers of help from Local Authorities.

Some actions will be simple and take a few hours and some will be complex and take a few years. People can take the first step up the ladder from disenfranchised citizens to active citizens and that first step should be fun, sociable and rewarding. Many will go no further but others, as they gather confidence , knowledge and resource, will become more fully fledged community activists or even social entrepreneurs.

It is an inspiring vision, if it supports, amplifies and builds on what’s happening already, so I commented on Paul’s blog item:

Thanks Paul – you’ll see from comments on another post there’s some goodwill now surfacing, but there will also be the inevitably “don’t compete with existing networks” “don’t re-invent the wheel” “don’t just focus on social entrepreneurs”. Fair points … but how to flip them around, rather than have to go into defense model again? My suggestions: help people tell their own stories rather than presenting case studies; aggregate and repackage existing howtos rather than Yet Another Toolkit; build relationship before setting up final legal structures. In all that use the brand to support activists and social entrepreneurs, not the other way around.

More detail on the way that support might work came from the next speaker, Phillip Blond, whose Red Toryism has informed some of David Cameron’s Big Society thinking. Here’s a sympathetic interview with Phillip on Transition Culture. Other’s aren’t so kind. Big Society discussions produce arguments and endorsements crossing traditional lines, which make them so refreshing.

Anyway, Phillip was launching a report by Respublica, the research organisation he set up after leaving Demos. It was commissioned by Unltd, the organisation supporting social entrepreneurs, and is part of their SocialFuture programme. Entitled The Venture Society,  and written by Respublica deputy director Asheem Singh, the report says that it is a blueprint for David Cameron’s Big Society.

The report calls for a radical new structure to support social entrepreneurs by developing a network of a ‘community lablets’ that would act as an incubator for new social enterprises by providing the basic infrastructure, advice and funding to dramatically boast the number of start-up enterprises.

The report recognises that key to the success of the lablets would be a strong connection to the local area and draws heavily on successful models in Denmark and the US.

It lays out plans for the community lablets to be supported by established social enterprises and organisations, like UnLtd, who would develop a set of specialised hubs or ‘Social Labs’ that would test, drive, and support innovation in the sector.

The large social foundations would crucially provide financial support and guidance to these new enterprises, which is still the major reason for failure of social enterprises.

And in a major change of direction the report recommends that regulatory powers are transferred to the Social Labs who would also get the power to approve new flexible venture-lite structures for social start ups funded by community lablets.

It also calls for the creation of a Bureaucracy Task Force that would cut the burden of regulation on early stage social entrepreneurs, which it concludes represents a major barrier to new social enterprises.

And calls for the establishment of a number of pilot virtual advisory boards, which would work with existing providers to lever in more funding into the sector.

The report backs the creation of a new fund and plan to support mutual, co-operative and foundation models, which can then make local decisions about venture priorities. And it calls for a switch in funding from existing programmes to provide greater support towards start-up costs and local infrastructure.

In the longer term, the report backs the development of a capitalised social investment bank, targeted tax breaks for new investment vehicles and a community reinvestment act. Formalise the process by which service delivering Whitehall departments pay for the demand reduction benefits of social ventures.

The report calls on the new Government to place the responsibility for implementing this ambitious programme and new structure of community lablets and social hubs with the Cabinet Office.

The report is a substantial piece of work, and I haven’t got through it yet. Fortunately I was able to get a quick overview from the people behind it when I chanced upon them at the bar … Cliff Prior, chief executive of Unltd, Phillip Blond, director of Republica, and report author Asheem Singh.

I’m now heading back to SHINE. Tomorrow at The Hub, Kings Cross, I’ll be acting as social reporter in a game designed by Cliff to simulate some of the ideas being developed in SocialFuture. It should help us tease out how Your Square Mile and community lablets might work in practice – hopefully with central and local government support.

The aim – to co-design the ideal support environment for supporting social and community entrepreneurs in a disadvantaged area. Swap experiences on the challenges you faced as a start up – and what helped most. Design the ideal support structure for social start ups from local up and from national down. Crowdsource the best ideas to set a priority list for the next Government.

Maybe we could offer to run a session for Eric Pickles and officials, with Simon doing the reporting.

Redesigning Civil Society, collaboratively

The Guardian’s Societydaily roundup quotes my remark that “It’s obvious we are going to see big cuts in local services whoever is
elected, so we had better get thinking” So here we go.

Patrick Butler writes in the Guardian:

I have some sympathy with the signatories of this letter in “defence of civil society”, from a group of social entrepreneurs who feel that the election knock-about over David Cameron’s ‘big society’ has somewhat obscured, misrepresented or trivialised some of the ideas within it – citizen engagement, community ownership, self-help, public services co-ops and so on.

Adding:

Media cynicism about big society I expected. But I’ve been struck by how a combination of election fever and tribal loyalty has turned some liberal-minded friends and colleagues who I imagined might be sympathetic to some of the ideas in the concept into unfeasibly staunch defenders of the big state, as if what we had before us was a straightforward choice, one or the other. Friends who have for years bemoaned the decline in voting, the scarcity of cub scout leaders, and other signs of the erosion of social capital bristle at the chutzpah of Cameron for proposing to do something about it.

and concluding:

But if we can’t or won’t accept the need to find new ways of filling the spaces from where the state has seemingly no option but to retreat, the forthcoming cuts to public services are going to be even more painful.

The Guardian piece comes in the wake of a letter from Steven Clift, who has been promoting e-democracy and engagement across world for the past 15 years. He writes to 20 of his contacts:

Hey all, through about five different channels across different countries I’ve picked up on growing interest among community builders (particularly at the neighborhood engagement and local democracy level) in some sort of mix of digital guides and connecting tools that help people share lessons and civic energy across local communities. People want to move from talk to problem-solving and direct citizen engagement.

Some of you are into virtual guidebooks, others into Linkedin-like tools, local e-competitions, unconferences, or digital storytelling. I have my own interest in fostering multi-tech online communities of practice. What seems new to me is the level interest in connecting the active citizens (not just connections via trade groups or global sites like Zunia.org at the professional level) across communities directly via digital means. What is definitely new is all the simultaneous interest in channels that are not all that connected and some cases networks are that are new to me.

This is certainly the sort of thing that the Big Society Network wants to promote, and chimes in the exploration of social technology for local action on this wiki and the SocialbySocial network I’ve been developing with Amy Sample Ward and Andy Gibson, co-authors in the SocialbySocial handbook. It also gives me a nudge to do some joining up with guides I’ve written on participation and partnerships, and dig back into some entries on my old blog Designing for Civil Society.

The difficulty in blending social tech, social enterprise and older (but still very necessary) models of community action is that it is complicated … because local communities are complex. You can provide ideas for small scale actions by individuals and groups, but area-wide action involves building consensus among different interests, agreeing priorities, who does what, and so.

One technique I’ve found works (and of course there are others) are the various workshop games developed over the years with my colleage Drew Mackie, and more recently with Amy and Andy for Social by Social. They help people, working in groups, through the process of thinking about their situation, who they want to involve, and their goals, and then offer ideas for action on cards. There is then a follow-through in which people look at roles and resources, and the story of what may happen.

The most recent game focusses on social media, but Drew and did a Regeneration Game a few years back, for NIACE. It’s not now available from them, but we can easily reconstruct the cards and instructions, with ideas for nontech local action.

As a first step I’m planning to rework the local communities wiki with appropriate versions of the game (s). The different elements of the game (understanding your locality, involving others, choosing project ideas) can be linked to more detailed information, and where possible practical examples of neighbourhood action.

One of the most interesting issues for me, in linking tech-enabled social action with older methods, is how far the world of social media helps promote the principles and values we need for working together.

Amy, Andy and I had a lot of fun putting together a set of propositions for the Social by Social book, which you can see here. And just to show how things join up, I’m just off to a Net Tuesday event organised by Amy where David Turner will facilitate a discussion on the Cluetrain Manifesto which inspired our propositions. It has started me thinking about some proposition for redesigning civil society, big or otherwise. I’ll report back tomorrow. I’m expecting to re-inforce ideas about being open and human, generous … co-designing, learning from others, connecting across boundaries. I do know there will at Net Tuesday be people who think and behave that way … which is ultimate why social tech may help in our civic redesigning. It is people and collaborations that make things work, not tools, however smart.

Citizens UK stage a pre-election "fourth debate"

I’ve just caught up with the news that Citizens UK will be staging a “fourth debate” next Monday May 3 with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and “a senior Labour representative” addressing their 2500-strong Assembly. This will focus on six issues in a People’s Manifesto. Citizens UK say:

Although they won’t debate with each other on stage, it will be the last time before the polls that all three leaders address the nation from the same stage.

And unlike the prime ministerial televised debates which millions tuned into but which involved almost nobody, at the Citizens UK assembly the candidates will be responding to an agenda which reflects the priorities of ordinary people.

There will be music, powerful testimonies and political negotiation. This is a people’s assembly – of the sort many thought no longer existed.

Three days before the nation goes to the polls, the leaders will be quizzed on their commitments to specific policy pledges – on wages, housing, immigration and the recognition of civil society.

read more »