In my last post, on Big Lottery’s investment of some £10 million in five projects to support the People Powered Change programme, I said I would come up with ideas on how to fill what seems to me to be some of the gaps around helping community groups and citizens share experience and get the know-how they need.
On reflection that’s rather presumptuous – so my best idea is a pretty obvious one … look at the assets and skills we have already, and open the process up to those are already bubbling with suggestions, and create some innovative solutions from there. We might build a Social App Store.
Here’s the backstory: Big Lottery have made grants to the Young Foundation, Unltd’s Big Venture Challenge, NESTA’s Neighbourhood Challenge, and Your Square Mile, announced in March. None of these was competitive. Then last week BIG announced a further non competitive grant, this time to the Media Trust for a network of local community news hubs.
Richard Caulfield, and Gary Copitch of people’s Voice Media protested that BIG should have been given a chance to others in the field. Caroline Diehl, CEO of the Media Trust, explained more about what they will achieve. Peter Wanless, CEO of BIG, explained the process in a comment to Richard and Gary,
However Dave Briggs argued that in the new spirit of localism we need bespoke rather than top-down solutions, and both he and I are doubtful whether the emphasis on journalism will be enough to support the sort of sharing of stories, ideas and innovations needed for citizen-led action in the challenging context of big society.
In my last post I said that networks and resources for learning were particularly important because, owning to the cuts, many were closing. I now gather that the future of the KnowHow NonProfit site, funded three years ago by BIG, is uncertain. Copyright on the hugely useful content – designed specifically for “hard to reach” groups – lies with BIG, so it isn’t up to the rest of us to gather it up and re-use it if the site closes. It is up to BIG to release the content, or perhaps help broker some other future for it. (Correction – as Mark Barratt points out in a comment, it is a Creative Commons license).
The uncertainty around KnowHow NonProfit suggests to me the first part of a solution for the possible knowledge gap: first look at the assets you have. On the People Powered Change site BIG promote that approach strongly for local groups, offering a download of the excellent publication on Asset Based Community Development produced by Cormac Russell.
It would not be difficult to do that at the national level: to research and map the networks in the field, and the knowledge assets that they hold. In addition, BIG must have lots of data on the many excellent projects that they have funded, each of which would yield many stories and insights.
After that, how about an open, creative process to make the best use of what we have in the UK – and through links elsewhere? That would be a good complement to the closed processes adopted so far.
It reminds me of the Open Innovation Exchange process that Simon, Berry, I and others adopted back in 2007 when Cabinet Office tendered a £1.2 million contract for a third sector innovation exchange. We felt that if we just went through the usual closed process of research, forming partnerships, developing work packages and pitching it would be time-consuming, tedious and run the risk that we would get it wrong: even if we won.
Instead we set up a site – which you can see here – and invited people to join us with their ideas. We evolved the whole bid – apart from the figures – in the open … although not without a great deal of effort on the part of Simon and Jane Berry doing the backroom work.
We didn’t win, but were shortlisted down to four. Simon and Jane now run the hugely impressive Colalife project, and I like to think that the experience with the open innovation exchange provided some inspiration for the open approach that is working so well for them.
These days open innovation exchanges are commonplace, and work well when a group of enthusiastic people are prepared to share ideas in one space about possible solutions. Simpl is one of the latest examples, and the Government has its own dotgovlabs for digital innovation in public services.
In the case of People Powered Change – and community action in big society – I think we need something more, not least because few of those involved on the ground spend lots of time online in the sort of innovation hub environments that work well for the digitally confident.
I think we need to go out and find the stories of what people are doing – the inspiring projects who stories may not travel far outside their region or the occasional award ceremony. We need to help people tell their own stories … and to find help and resources that would enable them to do more. We need to organise some get-togethers of the different networks and resource holders to see if they could make what they so more accessible.
I see it as the network equivalent of the best of local community reporting – and call it social reporting, explained here.
So my suggestion is to have an open innovation exchange as a social space where we can map, gather and develop innovative ideas for the future … and social reporters helping animate that process, and helping us realise that we may already have many of the solutions that we are looking for.
The new assets that we would evolve could be the basis for the Social App Store that John Popham, I and others have been promoting. News hubs and newsagents are fine – but we need the knowledge and how-to networks and shops as well.