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A little recap on Big Society

I’m really enjoying Paul Twivy’s book Be Your Own Politician, which champions social action and citizen engagement, informed by his insider knowledge of how challenging it is to promote and negotiate support for that within the political establishment and Whitehall.

Paul recounts how he succeeded through work with Comic Relief, Timebanking, Change the World for a Fiver, and the Big Lunch, among much else – but not so much with the Big Society Network and Your Square Mile. His chapter on how this unwound is fascinating, and generally confirms my understanding as an independent observer and also paid-for socialreporter for the Network at one stage. Here’s the Big Society Wikipedia entry.

Paul recounts the point at which the change of leadership of the Network, from his initial role to that of Steve Moore, emerged through Steve promoting the fact in his bio for a TEDx event in Athens in November 2010. I picked up the bio reference – without any briefing from Steve – and blogged a piece “Steve Moore leads new Big Society Innovation Platform“.

I aimed to provide people with an even-handed update on Big Society developments, because they were so difficult to come by,  and declared I’d known Steve for a some years and worked directly for him and then the Network. I explain that Paul had worked hard on developing Your Square Mile, and this was due to launch soon.

Unfortunately Steve had jumped ahead of any official announcement, and Paul recounts in his book the difficulty and embarrassment this caused. (I didn’t appreciate until now that Steve had used Paul’s slides for his talk). May I offer a retrospective apology for my part in the upset? I probably should have checked, since I had worked for the Network, and owed it more than a purely journalistic relationship.

On the other hand, there was considerable public interest in Big Society and the Network, and I think it’s fair to say I was one of very few people trying to get behind the politics and provide a running account. I was frustrated by the lack of briefing – although reading Paul’s account, I can now better understand the reason for that. It wasn’t an open process.

Anyway, you can read that particular blog post here, and judge its tone yourself. The tag cloud on this blog – right sidebar – shows that that over the years I’ve written more about Big Society, Big Society Network, and Your Square Mile than most topics, starting with a report of the launch. That includes a video interview with Paul and Nat Wei, as well as David Cameron’s remarks. I subsequently joined the Your Square Mile mutual, reported the launch, including an interview with Paul.

I’ll leave the retrospection at that for now, although it would be interesting to reflect on what Your Square Mile was trying to achieve, and whether there are lessons for what’s now needed for local social action, blending digital and non-digital methods.  There may be some wider value in the work I’ve been doing with Drew Mackie on Living Well in the Digital Age, and the idea of local Living Labs.  Here’s some thinking on operating systems and social apps, connecting local frameworks with the DCLG Grey Cells model.

Two reports promote people-led local solutions – Big Lottery Fund strategy and a Locality campaign

Two launch events today promote more local control and citizen involvement in the delivery of services and the development of community projects.

  • Locality, through its Keep it Local campaign, is pressing for more public service contracts to be let to local organisations, instead of large private sector companies. They quote research promising big savings, and well as more responsive services.
  • The chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund, Dawn Austwick, has launched a strategic framework Putting People in the Lead, saying “we want to start with what people bring to the table, not what they don’t have; and from the belief that people and communities are best placed to solve their problems, take advantage of opportunities, and rise to challenges”

Locality is, in part, arguing on behalf of its 500 members, some of whom supply local services under contract and would like to do more.

However, I think there is a very valid argument more generally for local contracting, because it it will be increasingly important to make the most of local assets and relationships as public bodies face more cuts.

There’s a rather good 2012 Locality essay here by Jess Steele on new-style regneration.

New regeneration will be driven by local people as agents of neighbourhood change, connected through solidarity networks, with the state and market as enablers. It will focus on the fine grain of the lived neighbourhood, abjuring all silos and proactively weaving new fabrics of ownership and responsibility for the built and social environment. It will work within its means, finding new ways to unlock resources and capture value. It will encourage and reward the grassroots virtues of thrift, impatience and sociability.

That doesn’t work so well if a lot of the resources for local delivery are controlled centrally, and directed to standard formulae.

Locality have also been playing their part in realising local assets, and building networks, with their 5000-strong programme of community organisers that has supported around 1500 new community projects and actions over the past four years. The programme has been funded by Cabinet Office as part of the original Big Society vision. A new legacy organisation – Community Organisers Ltd, or CoCo – will launch this summer.

The Big Lottery Fund framework is admirably short, with the emphasis on some key principles and general statements about the way the Fund will work as an enabler and catalyst as well as grant-maker. Dawn Austwick writes:

We also want to be more of a catalyst and a facilitator – recognising the feedback we got about our place in the funding ecology and civil society more broadly. It’s not our job to prescribe but it can be our job to link, to share, and to encourage. To be a network, or a central nervous system that people navigate around, finding fellow travellers, being surprised and intrigued by the work of others, sharing evaluation and impact stories, and so much more.

There are three specific first steps:

Accelerating Ideas: a pilot programme providing a flexible route to funding for innovative practice that can be adopted and adapted more widely to grow its impact.

Awards for All: new test-and-learn pilots are underway to simplify our open small grants programme.

Digital Community: a new function of our website which will begin to put digital at the heart of our grant-making. The community will enable people and organisations to network, collaborate and communicate, opening the Fund up to our stakeholders.

I know that these ideas have been some time in development, from work John Popham and I did for BIG on People Powered Change back in 2011–12. I don’t know if our input made much difference, but Shawn Walsh, Linda Quinn and other staff were very responsive to the ideas we were reporting, and Linda’s blog at the time foreshadows some of today’s directions *.

As I wrote earlier BIG have already soft-launched their digital community, which you can see here in test mode.

There’s a blog post about the Strategic Framework but as yet comments are not enabled (see correction**). However, Dawn is inviting responses on Twitter @DawnJAustwick.

BIG are currently interviewing for the post of Digital Community Manager, so there may be more scope for online engagement when that post is filled.

We certainly need somewhere to discuss how things will play out locally in the face of another round of austerity, which looks likely whatever the government, and pressure on local government to save money through digital services.

More ideas later on what it may take to blend digital into people-powered local developments, and help realise Jess’s vision.

* More recent, and extensive, consultations about strategy were carried out last year: Your Voice Our Vision

**  commenting is open on the post about the strategy once you join the site. Obvious really – apologies.

Deep conversation needed on BIG’s Ageing Better community platform. How about asking people in for a coffee?

Update at the end of this post confirming the online community is likely to be launched within a few weeks, and that it will be public and open to anyone interested. I’ll be promoting the idea of additional networking to the Age Action Alliance via their Digital Inclusion Group.

Following my Storify of tweets yesterday about the Big Lottery Fund’s Ageing Better online community, Paul Webster helpfully responded “a conv to watch”. But how to keep the conversation going?

Some really important issues were raised by Paul, Shirley Ayres and Alastair Somerville, following Ken Clemens picture of the announcement sheet at an Ageing Better event. Backstory in these posts.

  • Is there a general strategy for digital engagement and innovation in the £82 million programme?
  • Will the knowledge sharing platform be closed, for programme leaders only?
  • Wouldn’t it be better to connect with conversations already taking place on blogs and other social media?
  • If a new system is planned, wouldn’t a networking tool like Yammer be better?
  • Will the winning submissions from partnerships be published, so we can see what is being planned?
  • Shouldn’t the programme be setting standards for transparency, online learning and public debate?

And all that in a few messages of under 140 characters.  Far more cogent than I see in many forum-based online communities.

The issues are particularly important – as I’ve argued in more detail in this paper – because the knowledge-sharing and innovation challenges faced by the Ageing Better programme typify those of competitive,  centralised, big-spend approaches. It seems crazy to focus so much money on 15 areas (among many more who expressed interest) and then spend so little effort on helping those beyond the privileged few learn from the activity. There’s also the question of how much learning from well-funded projects will be relevant in the leaner years ahead?

The difficulty in holding a conversation about these issues is, I suspect, compounded by BIG’s role as a funder and inevitably rule-bound organisation. On the one hand anyone in receipt of BIG funding, or hoping to get some, will be wary of wading in.

On the other hand, BIG has to be seen to be scrupulously even-handed and cautious … particularly after the little difficulties about funding for projects related to Big Society. (However, I do recall that there were attempts to question, at the time, whether those investments were such a good idea … more open conversation might have helped avoid later embarrassment:-)

I should declare some further interest here, since I led a small team carrying out an exploration for BIG into directions their People Powered Change programme might take, back in 2011-12. That involved a lot open blogging, tweeting and a creative event. So I know that BIG is open to conversation within an appropriate format.

I don’t think anything so substantial is needed to get things started. Nor do I think online exchanges should be in the lead. Maybe something like a David Gurteen Knowledge Cafe? If the Treasury can host a discussion on How can we more actively share knowledge, BIG could host its own. David has even produced a tip sheet on how to run a Cafe yourself – though I know it will be best if he facilitates.

So the answer to the challenge of how to keep the conversation going could be as easy as “pop in for a chat and a cup of coffee”. And tweet it as well.

As a small contribution to the online chat I’ll also be posting shorter pieces over on this Known blog that I hope will more easily integrate posts and social media comments.

Update: just after I pressed the button to publish this post I got a tweet from BIG’s Older People team following up my earlier requests for a chat saying one of their Ageing Better managers would be in touch soon. That’s really encouraging.

Further update: the chat was very helpful in confirming that the online community will be launched within a few weeks, and that it will be open and public. I felt, from our discussion, that there was acceptance of the value of strengthening digital innovation in the programme through links with a range of interests in the field. I’m sure BIG will be make their own connections – and I said that additionally I would report to the Digital Inclusion Group of Age Action Alliance with a proposals to complement the new platform with some bottom up network building – as outlined here.

How BIG could digitally amplify the impact of its £82 million investment tackling social isolation

The Big Lottery Fund’s investment of £82 million in 15 partnerships, that are working to reduce social isolation, could spark innovation and benefits beyond the 200,000 older people immediately involved in the programme. However, to achieve that I think the programme deserves more attention than it is getting, and the addition of an innovative approach to promote storytelling and learning.

The programme was announced earlier this year, as a joint initiative with the Daily Mail, and a couple of weeks ago BIG confirmed which partnerships would be funded from the 30 shortlisted. Originally a much longer list of areas expressed interest, so it has been a highly competitive process. As BIG says in its release:

Currently, there are 10.8 million people aged 65 or over in the UK and this is expected to rise to 16 million over the next 20 years. Of those 10.8 million, 3.8 million live alone, and one million say they are always, or often feel, lonely. 17 per cent of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours.

More people are now at risk of becoming isolated as the population of older people grows, lacking contact with family or friends, community involvement or access to services. The Big Lottery Fund aims to encourage changes and improvements so older people are happier, healthier and more active, contributing even more to their communities.

That’s a major social issue, and as BIG says “partnerships in the fifteen areas will test what methods work and what don’t, so that evidence is available to influence services that help reduce isolation for older people in the future”.

The release adds:

Throughout the Ageing Better investment, evidence will be produced to show the social and economic impact of a range of approaches. Ecorys, working with the Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies at Brunel University and Bryson Purdon Social research, will measure the impact of the funding and share successes and lessons learnt so projects deliver sustainable improvements.

Before going on I should declare a slight interest, because I’ve been marginally involved through sub-contract work in planning how asset and social network mapping may be used by partnerships to underpin the community engagement and asset based approach advocated by BIG, and summarised by BIG England chair Nat Sloane:

There are concerns about a ticking timebomb facing adult social care, but older people have a wealth of experience and skills to offer their communities. We need to tap into this – to help them help themselves and others living alone. Our Ageing Better investment will put them at the heart of the way the projects are designed and delivered to ensure that future generations of older people not only live longer but also live well.

There’s lots happening in the partnership areas already, with many excellent ideas hinted at in the information so far released. That makes me feel there is plenty of scope to share stories day-to-day about local projects over the next five years of the programme, as well as undertaking the structured assessment planned by Ecorys.

All partnerships are expected to put older people at the heart of their programme, both in guiding projects and acting as volunteers, and that provides a lot of opportunities for community and social reporting – which is, of course, one of my interests. However in this instance I would advocate that partnerships work with local social media enthusiasts to develop the necessary skills, and with people like my friend John Popham, whose blog details his work on digital storytelling and what others are doing in the field. I could list a dozen other people – like Shirley Ayres – who blend professional work with a personal commitment to sharing learning about social innovation using digital technology. I expect to meet quite a few at the Futuregov Expect Better event this week.  Perhaps nationally Globalnet21 could help with some of their excellent webinars and events, as well, of course as organisations like Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness.

The announcement of winners on September 8 received no significant coverage that I spotted – apart from making the lead in Tony Watts new Later Life Agenda newsletter. Tony’s OBE for voluntary work in the field is well deserved. Nothing in the Mail, and as far as I could see, little local coverage (I’m wrong on that – see update below). Nothing about the vision statements setting out the programmes in each area, that will now be developed into plans by the end of the year, and hopefully funded from next April.

I think BIG deserves more credit for the meticulous way in which the programme has been developed – and the partnerships for their innovative proposals. Even more I think it is essential that there is some way for people involved in the programmes to tell the stories of what is being achieved – and the challenges they face – to maintain their enthusiasm and inspire others around the country, beyond the 15 partnerships.

However, I wonder whether there may be a problem here for funders like BIG. They know the power of digital storytelling, use social media themselves, and increasingly fund projects enabling people to tell their own stories. They can issue press releases, and put out competitive contracts to promote programmes, and hook up with big media. All important – but not on their own enough to help foster the social ecoystem that releases the energy of local partnerships and people (who may not yet have the skills for storytelling) and also uses the amplifying capacity of people like John, Shirley, and Tony (to name a few … multiply that by scores).

What’s needed is the national equivalent of the local approach being promoted by BIG: look at the existing communication assets and networks in the field – and not just the big organisations but the freelances and volunteers. Set out some comms objectives, and invite people to pitch ways and means to achieve them by training, support, content creating, publishing to a range of media. Bring people together to build the human networks that will create five years of buzz in the virtual ecosystem. A modest investment in facilitation would yields much higher returns on the £82 million.

My suggestion would be to start this as soon as possible, so that partnerships can move from their competitive and secretive mode – imposed until now – into a more open and cooperative culture that will produce some cross fertilisation of ideas in plans now being prepared.

That would also help carry partner organisations and volunteers through the flat spot between January and April when full funding is confirmed, based on December submissions.

The obvious question is “how much would this animation cost” – but I don’t think it is the first thing to ask. That should be the same as the one partnerships are addressing locally: “how do we find out who is already doing good stuff in this field, and what would it take to encourage and support them to do more”.

Disclaimer: these are personal ideas, and do not reflect those of others I have talked to in the programme or elsewhere. I’ve drawn on inspiration from similar explorations I’ve worked on, including one with John for BIG on People Powered Change.

Update: I clearly wasn’t watching my Twitter feed as closely as I should in the week of September 8, when Hall Aitken – who are supporting partnerships – did great work in tweeting local coverage of the awards as it emerged. But there doesn’t seem to be any one place to find out details: the main Big Lottery Fund page about the programme has a latest news link, but it goes to a piece about Middlebrough, not the press release.

Further update: link now fixed, to the press release. There’s a list of the partnerships with funding. The Old People Twitter account @BiglfOlderPeop provides updates.

There’s now a Storify of the Twitter responses to the announcement.

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

 

Update from the Media Trust’s Newsnet

The other day I wrote briefly about developments in the hyperlocal field, with news of the Institute of Community Reporters and Saturday’s Talk About Local conference. I checked in at the Media Trust’s Newsnet, and enquired about latest development in their project, which I’ve written lots about in the past. It is a communication flagship of the Big Lottery Fund People Powered Change programme.

The always-helpful marketing director  Gavin Sheppard provided a very full update, which I’m delighted to quote here:

Hi David, interesting piece – totally agree with Gary’s views about the difference between citizen journalism and community reporting, and actually supports our view, I think, that it’s not as much what it’s called that matters as what people are doing and why it matters to them.

We’ve been focusing more on community reporting and community media and as you know will be supporting innovation in these areas with some inspiring voices grant awards via the newsnet forums.

We’ve also been appointing more beacon projects, some of whom we’re working with intensively to help amplify what they’re doing locally and all of whom are great reference points for anyone interested in how this kind of thing is manifested in different communities.

We’ve launched a programme to support beacon projects with equipment and have been providing bespoke training and mentoring locally (Adam has a blog of some of the people he’s worked with). We’ve continued to increase the number of newsnet members, who are starting to use the online resources to develop their own local projects.

We’ve increased the number of UK360 community news shows to one per week and have had a great response from the 60 communities who have featured in the show as well as from viewers (“Having taken the time and effort to produce a short film that we believe is a cut above the usual community production, we looked around for other outlets that might help us to get our message across and were surprised to discover UK360 – a series with high production values that was already broadcasting on Freeview”) and even the Daily Mail (who say “This thoroughly worthwhile weekly magazine brings community stories to life”).

We’re also broadcasting London360, which is focused on untold community stories in the capital and is made by a team of volunteer young journalists, as well as a wealth of other community content through Community Channel online and on TV (Here’s the TV schedule), including our new Arts360 strand which aims to engage young people in arts and cultural reporting.
Community Newswire, which we provide in partnership with The Press Association, is up to full capacity and has already distributed more than 4,000 community and charity stories into the mainstream local, regional and national media around the UK. We’re going to start geo-tagging that content and making the feed more widely available also.

We’ve launched Local360 in beta at communitychannel.org, which currently contains stories from newswire, UK360 and London360, but which will start to include community reporter content from around the country uploaded via newsnet. This feed is being made available to other platforms and we plan to make it available to anyone who wants it, either for their own consumption or for publication on their own local sites etc.

We’re working with Will Perrin and his teams to further develop the newsnet resources and find our next round of beacon projects, and are supporting this weekend’s unconference. We are also working with Jacqui and her team at the Community Media Association to provide more outlets for their great content and with NESTA as a partner in their Destination Local project as well as a number of partner projects, such as the Village SOS events, at which we’re providing community media workshops.

Next steps for us are to get the Local360 content feed working well and finding new outlets for it, perhaps working with partner organisations to surface the content in innovative new ways, increasing the number of beacon projects and providing more support to them as well as highlighting them as an inspiration to other communities who may want to pursue community media, and supporting other organisations with resources, content and outlets to amplify their work and bring it to new audiences and increase their reach and impact locally.

With Newsnet focussed on links to mainstream media and TV output, as well as supporting beacon projects; accredited training from PVM, and Talk About Local’s growing network and hands-on support for sites, there’s a rich of complementary activities in the hyperlocal field.

Exploring the new community enablers, and how digital may help them

Over the past few months I’ve been nudging at a number of projects and storylines that really needed linking up  … as well as developing explorations as a way to making sense of complex situations, joining up different interests, and helping people use social media. I think that’s what social reporting is about, and it’s coming together.

Here’s news of a new exploration to follow the ones with Big Lottery Fund and Nominet Trust. It’s about community organising, building, mobilising … networks …. and how digital technology can help. I hope you’ll find interesting the way that it has evolved, and maybe make some suggestions.

The storylines leading towards this exploration have included Networking civil society, Sociable events to build networksCelebration 2.0, Games to realise community assets, Digital literacy, the limitations of citizen journalism in community building, and the official and unofficial connectors that may make localism work.

These and others fill out – more by chance than design – the framework I wrote about last year which focussed in new roles, new structures, new resources and new methods.

The projects that I’ve wanted to join up are firstly some interviews with community organisers and builders, commissioned by Community Matters, to help citizens and community groups understand the different models and what could be useful for them; secondly the Media4ME project on social media in multi-cultural neighbourhoods; and thirdly social reporting training.

Several things have acted as catalysts to turn this into a package. Firstly, as I trailed here, and reported more fully in my previous post, Drew Mackie and I ran a day’s workshop with the community builders at Forever Manchester, and I also talked with Mark Parker about his experience as a community organiser in Southwark.

A common strand was joining up networks both online and face-to-face. Then in addition, Drew and I have been working with Ben Lee, of the National Association for Neighbourhood Management, on the Media4ME project described here. Part of that work is helping people in Fishermead, Milton Keynes, use social media around summer fun days, bringing together many creative projects in the area.

So – here my proposed exploration, as a draft invitation.

The new enablers

Join us in an exploration of the new roles, skills and approaches of community enablers, including how can they can include digital technologies in their tools for network building and neighbourhood change.

We will be looking at the growing numbers of community organisers, builders, connectors and mobilisers now being trained and supported both by Government and independent organisations.

While there are differing philosophies of social change, there is some common ground on methods for organising and facilitating action by citizens.

Several are exploring how best to use digital technology in their work, including support for community media projects, citizen journalism and social reporting.

During the exploration we will be interviewing key people in the different movements and organisations, curating information on the different approaches, and blogging about new developments.

David Wilcox of socialreporters.net is running a workshop with Communities and Local Government where he will preview a game that will help enablers choose suitable social media methods.

On May 10 Socialreporters, Media4ME, and community organiser Mark Parker are running a seminar focussed on developing further practical ideas on the use of digital technologies in neighbourhoods, and in particular network building both online and face-to-face. How do we ensure digital is really useful for local network development?

We’ll be collaborating with those who are training community enablers of various types, and developing a social reporters kit with a number of groups now experimenting with social media in neighbourhoods.

As part of our work with the European Media4ME project we are working in Milton Keynes to support local people using social media to develop new connections in their community – and will be reporting on similar work in other European projects.

As part of the Celebration 2.0 project supported by the Nominet Trust we’ll be producing a kit specifically focussed on how to use social media to amplify community events.

We’ll also be drawing on lessons from earlier exploration with Big Lottery Fund on People Powered Change, and with Nominet Trust on how young people can use digital technology to engage socially and economically with their communities

Our outputs will be a report on community enablers, advice on using social media as part of neighbourhood change, and a kit for social reporters.

I’ve posted it in draft because I would welcome any suggestions. Subject to that, I’ll post an update here shortly, and then move over to socialreporters.net where we are running the explorations. I’m also wondering whether this might be the occasion to re-animate our Social by Social network.

Building a network for People Powered Change

Over the past week the partners in Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change initiative have provided some updating posts about their work, on BIG’s blog.

This was promised as part of the evolution of PPC, which I wrote about earlier, referring there to the work I and colleagues did on the process. It was part of BIG’s exploration of how to be more than a funder, and as Linda Quinn, Director of Communications an Marketing puts it BIG is: “… developing a number of ideas which we hope will make us a more engaged, open and social organisation. I also hope it will help us support projects to share their stories, inspirations and ideas”.

On the communications front BIG is setting up an internal comms system, and experimenting with social reporting from events. In addition they are:

  • Crowdsourcing ideas in how best to map where funding goes and the impact it makes, drawing on people’s willingness to swap and share experience.
  • Providing support for projects to tell, share and learn from stories including surgeries and games.
  • Testing ideas on the use of social media with projects funded under the Silver Dreams Fund and the Jubilee People’s Millions.

The posts on the BIG blog are from Your Square MileMedia TrustUnLtdNESTA and the Young Foundation. They mainly focus on the work they are supporting on the ground, as a result of BIG funding. It is all fascinating stuff, and I hope we’ll see more, whether on the BIG blog or on their own sites.

In my mind it sparks the possibility that BIG could extend its own “sociable organisation” approach to helping create a more sociable network for People Powered Change. As part of our work with BIG, Drew Mackie did some quick network mapping at the workshop that we ran. You can see one of the resulting maps above, showing who knew who and who worked with whom.

Drew also asked what resources organisations held, and you can see those in this online map, by mousing over the nodes.

The map is just a snapshot of relationships and resources at any time, and doesn’t say anything much about the strength of relationships or collaborations that may, or not not, be evolving.

BIG is a strong supporter of the idea of Asset Based Community Development in localities, though which the aim is to nurture and build on resources, rather than just identifying problems and seeking more funds. Or if you are seeking more funds, showing that you are making the most of what you have.

I hope BIG and partners won’t mind me suggesting that there could be scope for doing the same with the People Powered Change network that we surfaced through mapping at the workshop. It might be achieved through:

  • some more systematic mapping (there wasn’t much time at the workshop)
  • further blogging from those on the network, to let each other and all of us know what they are doing
  • some way to aggregate feeds (perhaps creating a river of news on the lines Dave Winer sets out here)
  • some sociable events
  • ways to promote better internal communications ….

… and hey, I find I’m repeating many of the ideas that Linda and colleagues are already exploring for BIG.

How much more powerful it would be if BIG could become not just a more social organisation, or even a networked organisation, but one that is catalysing a really active network for People Powered Change.

We looked at different network models as part of our work with BIG, using the diagram of this general example representing a shift from a hierarchy through more of  cluster towards a mesh. As Tom Phillips mentioned at the time, the nodes can  be created by sociable events … so that part of BIG’s programme will certainly be helpful.

If the network developed, it could be the strategic movement that would support the one-the-ground developments reported by PPC partners – not just through their individual organisational efforts, but by drawing on the strengths of the network as a whole.

It may well be that some of this is happening already, and if so early examples would be great topics for further posts from BIG and partners, or others in the field.

One great example is the work of the NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge programme, which funded 17 local projects under PPC … reported here by Alice Casey. Each neighbourhood was asked to blog about their work as it developed, and so maybe there’s potential for a PPC network in miniature emerging already.

Social reporting insights from an exploration for BIG

Big Lottery Fund have now reported on plans to evolve their England programme, with some generous references to the work John Popham and Drew Mackie and I did last year.

I’ve posted on their plans at socialreporters.net - How BIG aims to be a more engaged, open and social organisation. Also copied below.

We spent three months exploring and blogging openly about how BIG might be more than a funder, ran a workshop to bring together people we met along the way, and did some network mapping. It seems this has influenced the development of BIG’s future programme in some small but significant ways.

In addition, it yielded a few useful lessons and inspirations for social reporting, as I mention at the end of the earlier post. Here’s further thoughts:

  • The first is that “explorations” are something a social reporter can offer to a client as an alternative to research and consultancy – if you have a client like BIG that is prepared to take the risk and be a little innovative.
  • However, online exploration isn’t enough: the real buzz came from the workshop we ran at the end of the process, where BIG staff were able to meet some of the people we had talked to.
  • Although you can start with a quest, you don’t know where it will lead – and often the most interesting stories arise by chance.
  • The value to the client may come as much from the introductions as from content. We were able to say to people in government and other agencies “I think BIG would be interested in that” – and vice versa.
  • If you blog openly as you go, there’s a good chance you will spark other connections. And you don’t have the chore of writing a report at the end that may or may not be read and acted upon.

Maybe there’s nothing really new in this. Some researchers conduct open processes, some journalists share their contacts and work in progress. Lots of people run creative workshops, and do social network maps.

I’m just re-assured that it seems to stack up as part of the portfolio of services that a social reporter may offer, along with reporting events, and helping people learn how to use new ways of communicating and connecting.

So – how to get paid as a social reporter? Events, explorations and enabling.

Here’s my post from socialreporters.net:

Linda Quinn, Big Lottery Fund Director of Communications and Marketing, has provided an update on how BIG will evolve its England programme after a year of People Powered Change.

Linda kindly acknowledges that some of the new ideas draw on the explorations last year documented on this blog. Linda writes:

This included a workshop with some of those people with ideas and a shared interest in this area, informing a paper to our England Committee on future ways of working.

The Committee supported the paper and as a result we are developing a number of ideas which we hope will make us a more engaged, open and social organisation. I also hope it will help us support projects to share their stories, inspirations and ideas.

In her post, Linda highlights:

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

Linda adds:

In a future world I’d love all our evaluations and grant management to be socialised so that stories and impacts are available to the armchair auditors, enthusiasts and others working in similar areas – this very much reflects the open data work we blogged about here at our joint event with NCVO andNominet Trust. Such a social approach not only shows the impact of National Lottery funding but also provides an opportunity for projects to promote and showcase what they do, share and inspire others.

We’ll also develop our focus on some place and people based initiatives that strongly reflect People Powered Change. For example, our Big Local Trust investment recently announced a further 50 areas that will receive at least £1million for local communities (around ward size) to decide how they wish to spend that money over a ten year period. This is taking decisions out of central committees and into local communities and giving them the space and time to make those decisions.

People Powered Change informs a way of working that will develop overtime and we’re keen to continue to hear what others are doing, where we can share and where we can learn. And talking of sharing, you may recall that in March last year we also announced a number of awards under People Powered Change. These were to UnLtd’s, ‘Big Venture Challenge,’ Young Foundation’s ‘Building Local Activism’ project, Media Trust’s ‘Newsnet’, NESTA’s ‘Neighbourhood Challenge’ and Your Square Mile. We’ll be publishing a blog from each of these over the next week or so updating on their activities, investments and learning.

Looking back on the work that John Popham, Drew Mackie and I did for BIG, I’m naturally delighted that it proved useful in helping develop some ideas for their programme. We were given a pretty open brief by Linda and deputy director Shaun Walsh, and encouragement to follow up ideas as they emerged. It was a social reporting exploration – and the reverse of a carefully-planned research and consultancy project.

In the event a lot of useful stuff came up by chance … perhaps because of “strategic opportunism” as James Derounian said over here “putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.”

The post about internal communication Linda mentions – Sharing outside means first sharing inside – arose because I bumped into Tom Phillips at an innovation event in Kent and shot an interview. I went to the event because it was organised by Noel Hatch, and I knew it would be interesting … if not in what way. I got lots of other interviews too.

The post about BIG staff inventing Biglopoly, referenced by Linda, came from an outside source who was working with BIG on the Big Local programme. BIG staff then readily produced their own excellent video explaining what they did: I was really just the story-spotter.

On reflection I think that the 50 or so blog posts that we generated served several purposes:

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

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

 

Joining up community building, organising and social reporting

Later this month I’ll be doing some work with Gary Loftus and his new team of community builders at Forever Manchester, when we’ll spend a day exploring how social reporting can play a part in Asset Based Community Development.

As you can see here, I found some great stories when I reported from an ABCD conference that Forever Manchester ran with Cormac Russell and Jim Diers in November.

Community builders need to use a range of communication methods to find out and map what’s happening in an area, build connections, and help people communicate better themselves. I think there’s a good fit with the ideas and practices of social reporting, and also the development of digital literacy that I sketched here.

While planning what to do on the day in Manchester, I spotted this post by Mark Parker, who is both studying and practising community organising in Southwark. (There are some interesting differences between community building and organising methodologies, but network building is core to both approaches)

Mark and I have had some stimulating chats in the past – but this post really brought home to me the big gap between networking realities on the doorstep, and the more optimistic hopes we may have for networking civil society.

Mark makes the point here – and in a further chat we had – that many people that organisers meet do not have computers or mobile phones, and may just have landlines. Networking is enormously important – but online will play a small part for many people. Mark said to me:

It’s not just to leave the minority out of the network by focusing mainly on digital means. We must find ways of using the online experience to drive real face-to-face networks.

We need a sophisticated understanding of the impact that online networking, and practices like citizen journalism, may have in an area – as I touched on here.

I don’t think any of this downplays the importance of social reporting and digital literacy skills for community builders and organisers. As well as networking citizens using a range of methods, old and new, they will also need to bridge between the increasingly digital world of news and knowledge, and conversations on the doorstep.

As both local papers and local voluntary organisations close, and councils move to digital-first, the risks of digital exclusion increase. Building community will mean supporting those with least online access to create more effective networks with each other and with those who are more powerful.

Who you know has always been as important as what you know, and increasingly both of those are achieved online: or at least started online. Relationship-building still needs face-to-face, but the range of possible relationships can be greatly extended online, and maintained in part that way too.

It is difficult to develop projects with a group, when some members don’t have email, but others are sharing documents and tasks online.

As Mark mentions in his post, some community organisers will be receiving digital media training from Locality and izwe. I’ll do my bit of network building by introducing Gary and Mark, and then look for more opportunities to connect community and social reporting, citizen journalism and community building and organising.

One good opportunity may be at the Social Networking Below the Radar event being held next month at Big Lottery Fund.

Link summary:

See also Mark’s post for further useful resources