Tag Archives: communitybuilding

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

 

A social reporting game for community builders

Recently Drew Mackie and I ran a training workshop about social reporting with community builders at Forever Manchester, as I trailed here. In practice it was more of an exchange of ideas, insights and triggers for further exploration … which is how we hoped it would turn out. We learned a lot.

I won’t attempt a detailed description, but want to share some of the materials we used, partly because they relate to a further exploration I’ll write about in my next post. I also want to mention a couple of interesting developments we’ve seen since the workshop.

Briefly, we gave a presentation about how we saw social reporting supporting community building, with a strong focus on mapping and building networks. Slides here.

Social reporting workshop

Then we played a new variation of the Social by Social game. We invented a fictitious place to give us a context, based on Slapham, which we have used in another game.  We developed some challenges, reflected on how community builders might address them, and then used a set of cards to consider what tools might be relevant.

Social reporting game cards

I need to have a proper catch-up with Gary Loftus and the rest of the team in Manchester. However, at least two of the tools are in use. Gary Stanyard tweeted how he and the team are using the YeD network mapping software, also used by Drew, to draw both social and ideas connections. They are now avidly sharing ideas for development.

The community noticeboard n0tice.com is now in use in Great Lever.

We didn’t really know at the end of the workshop where our initial exploration would lead. Just what approaches and tools may be useful depend very much of local circumstances, and the particularly skills, equipment and disposition of the community builder. I’ve absolutely no doubt that the Manchester team will find lots of innovative applications – because of they bring such diverse experience, skills plus much enthusiasm to the work, and have great support from their organisation. They have started a blog here.

The day in Manchester was one the recent events that convinced me it is worth starting a more detailed exploration of community building, organising, enabling … networks … and how digital technology may help. That’s in the next post. Meanwhile, do drop a comment or get in touch if you are interested in a workshop.

 

The official and unofficial connectors that may make localism work

Yesterday I was at the launch of a substantial report about “official” work in neighbourhoods, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, on how councils can take forward government policies to decentralise control, promote active citizenship and maybe help realise big society.

The language was of good partnership working, civic responsibility, maximising the opportunities in devolution, community leadership roles for local councillors … and professionals working on this for years.

However, success also depends upon the less official matter of how far citizens are prepared to do more for their neighbours, and how councils can encourage people to engage more in providing local services formally or informally.

As Liz Richardson of Manchester University, the author of the report says, the key issue is about attitude as much as policy:

The big lesson is about trust and risk – transfering more control means you have to trust people that little bit more to do things by themselves. Sometimes they’ll mess up, sometimes they won’t. There has to to be some way of keeping that accountable, but allowing space for it to happen.

Liz has been working with Mick Charlton and other officers, councillors and residents in Bradford, where the council already had an impressive record of neighbourhood working before the coalition government developed big society policies.

JRF have been working there since 2004, so it is an ideal place to explore the issues in depth. As Mick explained in the interview, there have been two-way benefits of sharing ideas with researchers.

Earlier in the week I spent a day with a team of community builders at Forever Manchester, exploring how social reporting could help their work in local neighbourhoods – as explained here.

The talk there was of getting out and talking to people, making connections, helping people find skills and resources in the community … and aiming to be able to move on from the neighbourhood within a year or so once new networks were developed.

In London Mark Parker is telling the story of his work with a team of community organisers in Southwark. It is mainly on the street, rather than committee rooms, and in Noticing the unusual suspects Mark makes a distinction between those well-versed in the official world, and the unofficial connectors, a term he attributes to Cormac Russell. Mark writes:

Community leadership needs to be both horizontal and vertical. Some people are eager to speak their mind to the powerful and will tackle the problem they encounter head-on. These folk seldom have time for a deepening relationship with their neighbours and can be criticised as speaking for themselves alone. Others are the glue that link together people and places in any community. They are often well-known locally – in the street or on the block – either as that kind old lady (and often they are women) at No 6 or that old busybody! They hold a great wealth in social capital and are seldom seen at community meetings. Yet their role in bringing people together is vital.

So is there a divide between official, top-down, and unofficial bottom-up, as it is often characterised? I don’t think that’s a helpful way of thinking about it (and certainly not one promoted in the JRF report … they just couldn’t cover everything, and the full report has more about the community perspective).

We need both parts of the system, with more side-to-side connections and networks both in agencies and in communities.

Where the JRF research, and the community organising and building experience do join up, is in the focus on the importance of neighbourhood workers, builders, connectors – whatever they may be called.

Local service delivery is complex, and so are communities. We need the joining-up people. If we agree that, what becomes interesting is the philosophy, and style by which they work, which is something I’ll return to later.

Here’s the key points from the JRF report:

  • Neighbourhood workers are key to co-ordinate partners and services, broker agreements and solve problems creatively.
  • Active citizenship could be strengthened by tapping into the pool of ‘willing localists’.
  • Transferring more control to communities requires new mechanisms to share risk and reward between public sector bodies and communities.
  • Councillors can play a community leadership role, and be honest with constituents, tackle difficult issues head-on, and mobilise the wider community.
  • Central government could offer support, guidance and leadership for action at the local level on the shared challenges facing local public sector organisations and local government.

Links

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