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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.

We need to talk about Media Trust Newsnet

The big backgrounder story for UK community reporting at the moment is the roll out of Newsnet by the Media Trust, with a £1.89 million investment from the Big Lottery Fund as part of People powered Change. That was controversial at the time. The latest development is that the Trust have appointed three large commercial consultancies, with Civil Society Governance reporting:

The Media Trust describes newsnet as “the UK’s first online network of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers”. The online portal aims to provide local people with a platform to connect and tell their local stories, as well as find resources and share ideas. The ultimate aim is to support community cohesion at a local, regional and national level.

I hear that this has further upset some people in the field who have been developing community reporting for a few years. There’s a feeling the Trust is failing to acknowledge or work with these other potential partners, so the Civil Society news headline “Media Trust collaborates to deliver citizen journalism project” rankles just a bit.

Community and social reporter types may be keeping their heads down (if they’ve heard the news) because Media Trust could be a client/news distributor, and anyway who wants to upset Big Lottery Fund (BIG).

However, comments are taking off under the story, with a strong challenge from Gary Copitch of People’s Voice Media, who have been running community reporter programmes for over three years. He says: “I am afraid to say this is just another example of an organisation who receives Lottery funding only to duplicate existing provision”.

Community media veteran Steve Thompson has been working in this field since 1997: “Folks should always be cautious about claiming “firsts” as there is nothing new under the sun”.

I can add an archive of material and activities going to to the mid 1990s, when a group of us set up UK Communities Online.

(Incidently, I couldn’t find any other coverage of this story … and there’s nothing on the Newnet blog or a Media Trust press release. Strange.)

I find it particularly difficult to write about this, because like others in the field would love to work on Newsnet. I know and respect the people involved, and recent had a very cordial interview with Adam Perry, and earlier with the Trust’s director of marketing and communication services Gavin Sheppard.

In addition, I’ve spent the last few months working with BIG on how they might develop People Powered Change. John Popham and I did that by a process of open exploration on socialreporters.net, summarised here, and leading up to a very creative workshop. BIG are now reflecting on future plans, with decisions at committee next March.

The focus of the work ended up around how BIG can be more than a funder, perhaps operating in addition as a broker and convenor to help nurture the development of existing activities as well as funding new ones. At local level BIG supports the idea of Asset Based Community Development, as I reported here. With hindsight, it might have been better if this approach had extended to the big investments made under the people Powered Change banner. I reflected on the launch here: People Powered Change needs ppchange communications.

It’s always tempting to over-flatter a client, but I must say how impressed I’ve been with the way that BIG staff have given John and I a free hand in reporting, and have now started some significant internal discussions triggered by the conversations that started. There’s particular problem for a funder in opening up and taking on additional roles, because there’s usually “give us the money” in the background.

So: how to report on this story, in a way that helps move things forward positively? What’s the storylines … beyond the easy controversy angle?

  • Is the criticism just sour grapes from some community media types jealous of new people in the field? The Media Trust does have the skills and resources to do things at scale. But shouldn’t they build in the skills of those with grassroots experience?
  • Is there a danger that the focus on “news” in Newsnet will miss the opportunity to bring to the surface deeper insights about the ways that people are taking action locally – the sort of thing revealed by the recent micro-mapping research?
  • Is BIG investment of public money (that is, our lottery punts) in Newsnet leading to some unfair competition with organisations like People’s Voice Media? I would be interested to hear also from Talk About Local, who do excellent work in the field as well.
  • Should BIG give some sort of steer to their People Powered Change beneficiaries – who are listed as partners, and not just grantees?

And have I just wrecked my chances of further work with BIG, and any relationship with Media Trust? Maybe – but I don’t think you can call yourself a reporter if those jobs that verge on consultancy prevent you writing about significant issues.

I think that the solution is fairly simple … if BIG will forgive a little cheekiness on the last day of my contract. How about convening an open event in the New Year around the role of community and social reporting in People Powered Change, inviting Media Trust and other interests along … and running that as a consensus-building workshop.

The one big problem I found at the start of the work on People Powered Change is that people didn’t talk to each other enough because they were busy delivering (although I think that’s now changing). What better topic to start a new round of open conversations than with community reporting? We can’t aim to help people in local communities find their own voice, if we can’t do that among the various interests involved.

Meanwhile, comments are very welcome here, or if you spot that discussion is happening elsewhere tweet @Media_Trust @davidwilcox. The #newsnet tag seems to be mainly German rather than UK discussion. There is also a #ppchange tag.

Previously: Caroline Diehl, chief executive of Media Trust, responded to my earlier story in a comment here, explaining how they will collaborate locally and inviting people to express an interest.

Update: the Media Trust is offering to answer questions in a video interview. Add yours here.

Sociable events to build networks, join up ideas

I’m spending today at an excellent Developing Solutions Camp organised by Kent Connect on using technology for local communities, as you can see here. While developers worked up presentations of their prototypes, and got ready to pitch for prizes, I talked to Tom Phillips, who until recently worked in local government, about the work I’m doing with Big Lottery Fund (BIG) on People Powered Change.

Part of that work is to explore how BIG can be more than a funder, and help groups that they fund to they share ideas and experience. As part of the discussion, I offered a diagram suggesting a change from hierarchical structures to more of a peer-to-peer mesh: Moving from join us, join in, to join up yourselves.

The join-up part of the diagram shows a network that is usually seen as a connected set of people. But Tom made the point that the nodes could just as well be activities, including sociable events. That certain chimes in with my experience, where reporting events has been one of the best ways of doing the join-up  bit of social reporting. Here’s some earlier reflections.

However, to make the events useful for joining up outside the room, I think that the social reporter needs to do a bit more than just shoot video, blog or tweet. It is important to look for stories and ideas that might be specially relevant for people who are not there, and make sure they get both a link and an introduction. It means organising events that allow space for the sort of conversations that I had with Tom here – and also in this post about sociable organisations.

It means some “strategic opportunism”, as James Derounian calls it over here:

…….that is putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.
So 1 example = attending a conference, like yesterday’s on ‘localism’in Manchester….which puts you in the way of a load of other like-minded/interested people; can also of course be virtual…being ‘present’ on certain blogs, tweets, www etc…

That certainly happened to me at a recent event in Manchester, when I met community mobilisers Corrina and Andy and their iPhone app. Today I have been able to make the link between that conversation, and the developments in Kent, strengthening idea of a social app store. So to build networks, hold events that can connect both ideas and people.

The future of online sharing is mobile, appified and people-centred

I first posted this on socialreporters.net, where John popham and I are blogging for Big Lottery Fund about development of People Powered Change. There’s a lot of links to earlier posts on this site about knowledge sharing and the Social App Store idea.

Earlier today I went to an excellent seminar on the Business of Collaboration, about online systems and support for knowledge sharing and collaboration. I wanted to find whether experience in the private and public sector could be useful in development of People Powered Change as a knowledge-sharing space.

I had high hopes, because one of those speaking was Steve Dale, who designed communities of practice for local government, and then worked on the successor knowledge hub as I reported here. The hub is built using Intelligus, an open source software platform from PFIKS, who hosted the seminar at the Dorchester Hotel. More here about Knowledge Hub development. This year Steve is again chairing the Online Information Conference. read more »

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 »

An update on social reporting, including support from BIG

A couple of things came together recently to re-convince me that “social reporting” is a useful banner under which to promote the blending of new and old media and skills for collaboration and social benefit. (Here’s how the idea started, for me.)

The biggest and most thoughtful bottom-up support for the idea, and a big contribution to its practice, has come from the Transition Network, where Charlotte Du Cann and Ed Mitchell are editing and producing a social reporting project.

Twelve writers around the country are compiling a national blog about their real life experiences of being in Transition … moving towards low carbon, lower energy lifestyles and communities. I reported recently from the Transition Network conference.

Charlotte was kind enough to quote me on social reporting, with a definition that Bev Trayner and I developed a couple of years back. read more »

Your Square Mile launches new site and mutual for local action

ypursquaremile site

It looks as if the Your Square Mile initiative, headed by Paul Twivy and supported by the Big Lottery Fund, has found some middle ground between the Tory Big Society and Labour’s Good Society.

Tomorrow YSM will be holding a press event to launch it’s new web site http://yoursquaremile.co.uk now online; show a documentary about the pilot projects they have been working with around the country, and explain more about plans to make YSM a mutual owned by millions of citizens.

Unusually they are expecting both Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, and Tessa Jowell, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, to wish them well at the event. read more »

BIG promotes a positive approach to community building

The Big Lottery Fund is the largest single funder of the community and voluntary sector (more than £1.6 billion since 2004), providing over 9000 small grants last year through Awards for All alone. As it says in its strategic framework, it is also committed to being an intelligent funder not just a distributor of cash.

It is therefore significant that BIG is putting a lot of emphasis through its People Powered Change programme on what’s known as Asset Based Community Development. Put simply, this means looking for the skills, wisdom, creativity and enthusiasm of people in local communities rather than just starting with the problems, packaging up projects to meet the needs, and saying “give us the money”.

If Government were promoting the approach you might be suspicious that it’s all part of deficit-reduction and cuts … but coming from  BIG it is perhaps more credible, not least since they have a lot of successfully-funded projects to point to. In hard times we do have to do more with what we have – but that can be a good thing anyway.

Yesterday BIG hosted an event in London where we heard from international proponents of ABCD –  Jim Diers and Cormac Russell – and also from Anne-Marie Yiannis of Peckham Settlement. Jim writes here on the ppchange site, and Cormac has produced an excellent guide (download pdf) to the 12 domains of activity where people can change their lives and bring about solutions to their problems.

After the event I talked to Jim and Cormac – asking Jim how things had changed since we last met up just before the launch of the Big Society manifesto. You can see that 2010 interview here. Earlier in the event I interviewed Cormac while we were playing a game – actually a serious exercise devised by Tessy Britton and Cormac.

Over the past few months Tessy has taken the idea of ABCD on the road through Travelling pantry workshops, and made the ideas engaging and understandable through the stories in Hand Made Books. Do take a look here.

For yesterday’s exercise we cleared away the coffee cups on our tables and opened up some beautifully designed packs of cards that enabled us to lay out the 12 domains (like health and wellbeing, safety and security, the environment) down one side, and then across the top choices about things only we could do on our own, things only government could do, and things that needed citizen-government collaboration. We then had to sort lots of possible activities onto the grid.

The government-only areas were far more sparcely-filled.

You can read more about Cormac and Jim’s organisation Nurture Development UK here, and also join a European online community about ABCD here.

I believe that the cards exercise will be available for DIY use, and I’ll see if I can find out more about that and report back. I like the way that the exercise puts a framework for thinking about strengths-based community development on the table and provides some conversation starters.

You can see from blog posts here that Tessy’s repertoire of workshop props extends to Lego and beyond, so that talking moves toward creating together.

One thought that occurred to me yesterday: the next creative step for Big Lottery might be to think about ABCD at national level. We have an enormous wealth of creative talent among different organisations and individuals working with communities, but often we end up being protective of our skills and ideas in order to pitch yet another funding bid or tender at funding agencies. Groups outside London can feel disadvantaged in this process, and it is enormously frustrating and wasteful.

BIG is unusually well-placed to act as convenor and encourager of a more open approach – helping us figure out where we have to compete, where we might collaborate with each others, and how we might work more productively with agencies. That would be a good game.

Update: More videos from Guardian Voluntary Sector Network

Media Trust explains how local news hubs will work

The Big Lottery grant of £1.89 million to enable the Media Trust to develop a network of news hubs, supporting citizen journalism throughout the UK, caused a stir recently because it was awarded without competition, organisations with a track record outside London felt excluded … and in the age of localism should we have central systems or something more bespoke? Read the backstory herethe original announcement, and the latest response from BIG’s CEO Peter Wanless.

Fortunately a more positive story emerged when I was able to talk to Media Trust CEO Caroline Diehl, chairing sessions at the Third Sector Social Media Conference, and the Trust’s director of marketing and communication services Gavin Sheppard.

In the interview Gavin explains that their proposal was based on research commissioned from the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre, led by Professor Natalie Fenton, and published last year.  That argued for the need to support quality local reporting at a time when local papers where disappearing, and for better aggregation through news hubs of the emerging work of  citizen journalists and community reporters. read more »

How helpful is journalism for People Powered Change? Further thoughts.

What sort of community media and support for knowledge sharing, learning and innovation do we need – both locally and nationally – when the big society policy agenda expects so much more of citizen-led action?

The significance of this issue - which I touched on rather theoretically here – is now given more practical import by the Big Lottery fundingfor the Media Trust’s ambitious £1.89 million programme of news hubs for local communities, which I reported here and here. read more »