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.

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