Social App Store gains support in the North

Earlier this week Big Society in the North launched with an open event in Sheffield, and as I expected it was a great opportunity to test some ideas developed mainly in London against harder local realities – including the Social App Store. The bsitnorth group had taken the DIY philosophy of Big Society and decided they would explore the challenges and develop opportunities without waiting for any more from Whitehall.
Lucy Windmill of Amplified has done a terrific job of live blogging the event, and pulling together tweets and videos here. Organisers Julian Dobson and John Popham have blogged thoughts here and here.

You’ll find videos that I shot here. More links below. These excellent reports leave me free here to concentrate on the idea that I was promoting – an online store of practical tools that will help people build big (or small) society in their neighbourhood. Earlier disussions here.

Although I already knew Julian and John, I was a little uncertain how the store and other ideas would fare – so it was great to be warmly welcomed before the event by some of the team at the Sheffield-based Community Development Exchange – Sophie Ballinger, Emma Lees, and Tanwir Rauf – with some really constructive ideas.
I get the sense that, in Sheffield at least, the different tribes in community work, social enterprise and social media are working together. They are already creating big/small society.
During the event I pitched the store idea, and was then joined by about a dozen people to talk it through … with a great mix of tech and nontech expertise. We focussed on the idea of a Social App Store, that had first surfaced in my mind after the Big Society Network Open Night on July 6 – reported here.
Broadly the idea is that there’s decades of expertise in local social action and community development, so let’s not re-invent the wheel. On the other hand, it is very scattered, because funding regimes and organisations’ natural self-promotion does not encourage easy navigation and linking of resources. Those in the main networks will happily swap news of the latest reports, toolkits or smart tools … but then walk into any local meeting in government, community or voluntary sector and there’s maybe 10 percent acquaintance of key resources across the fields. That drops to near zero for any new neighbourhood activist. Just Googling gives you a bewildering mass of resources, and the best stuff may not be online anyway. Even if you find what you are looking for, it may not be in a form that is easily digested and used. There’s too often more thought for the funder than the customer.
So – how could we find or develop useful stuff that’s as easy to use as a mobile phone app, downloaded from the Apple store or Android market?
These need not be tech. One of my favourite examples of a really simple app is the one-page waiver proposed by the National Association for Neighbourhood Management, enabling you to cut the grass on publicly-owned land. John Popham found some great ideas when he visited one of the Big Society vanguard areas, Eden District. Car sharing, village welcome packs, planning applications online, connecting second home owners, using the schools’ IT network.
The idea of the store is that it will be a market place, and so success will depend partly on how it is framed (who manages the space) and who will pitch up with some goodies. (I’ve had some terrific inspiration from Anne McCrossan of Visceral Business on how we might blend experience from retail, social media and open business approaches … more on that another time).
On the night in Sheffield I was delighted that marketing and social media specialist Clare Mackenzie was keen to pull together the discussion and report back, as you can see above.
I’m responsible for taking the store idea forward for Big Society Network, and I’m excited by the possibility of collaboration with Clare, John and other talented and enthusiastic people I met in Sheffield (and then with others).
Meanwhile back in London we’ve been thinking how best to make the store idea real, and decided that a first step is to create a simple showcase of the sort of apps we are talking about. I say create, but in the spirit of open co-design and co-production it will be more a matter of seeding the showcase and then inviting people to put up other ideas. That will also help us think through what might be an app and what not, and who might decide. We’ll need a core group of collaborators and ways of ensuring that the apps are what people really need, not just what we want to put in a store. Sheffield seems like a great place to start with that. (… awaiting early challenge from Birmingham:-)
If you want to keep in touch, I’ll keep reporting back on SocialbySocial, where you can also join in discussion. I’m also in discussion with one network who has the sort of site we might be able to semi-clone for the showcase and more structured discussions. If someone has done it already, let’s see if we can borrow.


  • July 30, 2010 - 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi David

    Not quite Birmingham, but I’m keen to explore the social app store idea in Dudley, and also see how it might to link to a range of training and support around community engagement we’re providing to all sorts of officers.

    What could I do next in terms of working with your to try out the idea? Could I link to anything you try in Sheffield? (As Chair of CDX I’m in Sheffield every now again and can happily link in to anything Sophie, Emma and Tan do with you.)


  • July 30, 2010 - 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Lorna – that’s really encouraging! I’ll be more organised next week on collecting ideas, but as you suggest it would be useful for now to keep in touch through CDX. I think John Popham and Clare Mackenzie are getting organised, so could you connect there? Thanks again for your interest.

  • August 2, 2010 - 10:41 am | Permalink

    Hi, I am a Volunteer Centre Manager, part of a network of Volunteer Centres across London. Many of us as VC managers sit on the Local Startegic Partnership networks in our local authority areas and have opportunity to influence the local service delivery approach. I am very interested in what is going on with stakeholders on this blog and wondered if you’d thought of using the VC network to help push forward these ideas at local authority decision making levels? I attended the NESTA ‘Innovation in Local Governemtn’ event last week and I made the point that ‘Big Society’ is already being ‘done’ at local level and has been for years – so to what extent is local authority ‘consulting’ with the Voluntary and Comunity Sector infrastructure agencies that already exist in order to avoind ‘reinventing the wheel’ and build on programmes that already exist. Personnel think ‘innovation’ is new ways of approaching old or new challenges. I would suggest that innovative thinking is actually about using existing ideas and solutions that work in new and more progressive ways. In order to do that we need collaboration, real collaboration across the Third, Public and private sector practitioners. I’d also like to bring to your attetion the volunteering social network
    Nesta event info can be found at:

  • August 3, 2010 - 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi Helen – working with volunteer centres sounds as if it has lots of potential. We now a group space for ideas and development of the Social Apps Store over here on Social by Social – I hope you might pitch the idea there if you think it resonates. Maybe a small get-together to share ideas?

  • August 3, 2010 - 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Great that the North meeting was a success and to read so many different thought-provoking articles around this debate.

    My first impulse is to jump up and say “Bring your Big Society to Stoke-on-Trent”, but first of all I’ve already done that and second of all it’s probably better to start thinking about what places “like” Stoke-on-Trent can offer to all this and the Apps store in particular.

    So as well as ideas and a broad range of views to bounce those ideas off, we have practical skills here. It’s an area that lacks resources so a very accessible app store would help us to turn ideas into action without money.

    We have thriving creative communities here who can turn written ideas into things that will look beautiful and eye-catching on screen: animations, icons, shiny social maps and diagrams etc. And of course mugs! My unabashed motive here is to get people commissioned and North Staffordshire’s work sold, but if that prospect isn’t on the table at this stage I think the Apps store could make a great wide-ranging project for students to get their teeth into.

    I guess the hyperlocal bloggers have a role here too, to write about the people they know who aren’t themselves waving up and down and shouting “Hey you, the Big Society’s HERE!” As can the local and national politicians, of course, who are often the ones most often in contact with the local community pests/activists.

    Just a few thoughts, as ever you’re very welcome to come and see us in Stoke! 🙂

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