Author Archives: admin

Explaining to London's Deputy Mayor how mapping can help connect Londoners and #reclaimourspaces

As I reported earlier in the this update, I’ve been working with community groups and networks to develop ideas for a more networked approach to support for London’s civil society.
Last week I was able to pitch some of those ideas, developed with Drew Mackie,  to Deputy Mayor Matthew Ryder QC. There’s a full report here on the Connecting Londoners blog, together with background on the Reclaim Our Spaces campaign who organised the event.
We produced a poster summarising why we believe network connections are needed at different levels.

This week I and others will be pitching at an RSA Ideas event. There we’ll explain further how we’ve been working with the Our Way Ahead initiative to map London networks.
Our idea is that we should run a participatory process to co-design the way in which different levels of networks can join up with the proposed London hub. Background here and more in a further post.

Looking for ideas at @LDNCommMedia summit on how community media can help in Connecting Londoners. Here's our headlines.

Originally posted on Connecting Londoners
I’m going to the London Community Media Summit later today, hoping to have some useful conversations about the role of local blogs, news sites, online communities and radio in Connecting Londoners and making London a more Networked City. It provides a good nudge for me to write some headlines summarising where we at, with reference links and notes.
In summaryConnecting Londoners developed from an exploration into how to make London a more Networked City. We are pitching ideas at London Funders, City Hall and others about how to introduce more network thinking and digital technology into current plans to reframe support for London civil society.
Our most recent piece: How to move TheWayAhead into the networked age by Connecting Londoners

Reporting on London civil society

Networked City and Connecting Londoners

Recent blog posts

Main sites and briefing notes

I’m sure the summit will offer a refreshing take on media, both community and mainstream. It’s now nearly 40 years since I was a planning reporter on the London Evening Standard, and 20 since I helped start UK Communities Online. I’ll be looking for new ideas and inspiration for a few more years.

London as a #networkedcity gains support at first event. Now here's the plan

Update: there’s now a wiki containing background on the Networked City exploration and an archive of posts from the Networked City blog
First published on
We had a terrific meeting at Newspeak House earlier this week, which I trailed as the launch of the London Networked City exploration. I wrote previously:

The exploration we are launching tomorrow, with the London Council for Voluntary Action, aims to complement a much bigger exercise by London funders, LVSC and Greater London Volunteering.
That initiative, called The Way Ahead, was prompted in part by the fact that traditional ways of doing good through charities, voluntary organisations and community groups face funding cuts by public bodies, who now focus on contracting.
In addition the future of organisations like LVSC and GVA is in doubt. Fresh thinking is needed on the way that the whole system operates, from individual citizens working with others to improve neighbourhoods and support each other, to borough-level councils for voluntary service, and London-wide networks of interests and support.

The next steps for Networked City are to plan further events on January 31 and February 22, develop task groups around specific topics, and set up a blog and wiki and other tools.
I’ll post more shortly, including signup details for the January 31 event.

Here is the background paper we circulated for the event. It explains the relationship to The Way Ahead initiative in more detail, offers some models for thinking about civil society, and describes how we’ll use the fictional but realistic London borough of Slipham as a testbed for new ideas.
In the last post I pondered  or  … and on reflection  wins out for now. We do of course think it will be really good…
Thanks to Matt Scott who led the way on Wednesday, and everyone else who contributed so much energy. We’ll be in touch more directly as well.
For other information please drop a comment here, email or DM @davidwilcox


Help us co-design a Living Lab to show #thewayahead for London’s civil society

Recently I’ve been writing at about a major initiative from London Funders, called The Way Ahead. Here’s some reference to TWA. The aim is to rethink how community and voluntary organisations are supported in future – not just through funding, but by infrastructure organisations like councils for voluntary service. The original report contained no significant reference to the role of digital technology, and there is  currently no budget for engagement and communication with Londoners, as I reported here. Here’s a proposal that might help on both fronts. Originally published on
Word cloud of post
The organisations that fund London’s community groups and charities, and support volunteers, are exploring how best to make the capital a better place to live and work at a time of big funding cuts and population growth.
Here’s how you can contribute ideas, in a modest way, on the role of technology and network thinking in enabling citizens to play a part – something so far missing from future plans. Read on for some background and our ideas for a Living Lab …
… or signup here for our January 10 event
In summary: we are going to develop the fictional London borough of Slipham, showing the relationships between citizens and organisations.

Then we’ll play through how a mix of new approaches can help them create a better life in the digital age. It will build on a workshop we ran with the Centre for Ageing Better

The Way Ahead – Civil Society at the Heart of London – a report from London Funders – emphasises that Londoners and their communities should be at the heart of any future plans, through processes of co-production:

Co-production is where Londoners work with those in power, and each other, in a way in which all voices are heard equally in developing a shared understanding of need and in crafting solutions to make London a better place.

But as I reported here the funders and other organisations face a challenge in explaining civil society**, and moving from high-level ideas towards practical ways of putting co-production into practice. In order to work, co-production has to engage citizens, businesses and public bodies as well as community and voluntary organisations.
One further issue is that there was no significant mention of the role of digital technology in The Way Ahead. That’s now recognised, and there is a group working on data sharing. In addition, as I wrote here, Drew Mackie and I are working with one of the partners, the London Voluntary Service Council, to explore how people can use new methods for social action.
This could range from people using their smartphones to connect with friends, family and other interests – and groups and organisations – to campaigning and organising, and to the sort of innovations listed by NESTA and the Nominet Trust.
Digital technology, and the networks it enables, are important to the civil society organisations themselves. It may put them out of business – as has happened in so many other areas. As one group, the Community Sector Coalition wrote recently in a position paper:

The Voluntary & Community Sector as a collection of national bodies is over. Ministers and policy ‘think tanks’ have largely concluded that they can do without it, that social action can be generated through other means. We are proposing to embrace that shift towards independent action: increasingly a new generation is using digital technology, demanding and influencing change and which takes place increasingly outside of the voluntary sector and formal coalitions.
Clusters and groupings can mobilise almost instantaneously to take collective action. In such a world we don’t need a sector, an organisation or even an alliance of organisations to move forward: we only require, the spaces, platforms, networks and technology to mobilise and take action.
There is an issue about the infrastructure to support this new direction. But the agenda cannot come from Government – it has to be a critical and reflective eco-system, created by us all acting together with a shared and emergent vision. This is something we have to do for ourselves and our suggestion is to focus on building networks, alliances and active critical spaces. We propose we do this together in a non- hierarchical way. We can co-ordinate our own organising by working together, neither above nor below one another.

This provocative scenario may overstate the ability of people to self-organise – but it’s interesting that it comes from people rooted in the community sector – not technology futurists.
It seems to me there are three challenges for The Way Ahead: explaining the idea of “civil society” to those outside the community and voluntary sector, and engaging them in change; bringing technology and network thinking into the mix; and demonstrating how people might “co-produce” creative solutions locally in future.
One way to do that would be to develop a local demonstration in a London borough. But that would take years to organise – and The Way Ahead will be reaching conclusions in a few months.
So instead we are develop a simulation, which we call a Living Lab. We have created the basis for the fictional London Borough of Slipham, with characters, organisations, and a map of relationships. We are assembling a menu of ideas for making Slipham a great place to live and work – if the various interests will cooperate and collaborate to co-produce some solutions.
You can see here how we ran a Living Lab workshop in May with the Centre for Ageing Better to play through ways to help older citizens connect with services and opportunities in Slipham.
On January 10 we are inviting anyone interested to join us in planning how we can further develop and run the simulation, with several aims.

  • to show what civil society means by creating a cast of characters and telling the stories of their lives in a fictional by realistic setting
  • exploring what challenges and opportunities they will face – and how digital technology, together with existing well-tried methods, can help
  • engaging London funders in the discussion, to help them consider where they might invest in future
  • creating a model for co-designing local solutions that could be useful in later phases of The Way Ahead.

We have organised an event on the evening of January 10 at Newspeak House, designed to brief people interested in social tech for good on our plans. We’ll explain the simulation, and invite some ideas on how it might work.
Here’s one scenario we might look at – connecting older people, those with disabilities, and others with special needs and interests with new opportunities.
If you are interested, but can’t make it on the 10th, drop a comment on this post, email me at or tweet to @davidwilcox. I post here later other ways to engage online, and news of other events.
We’ll also be experimenting with an online version of Slipham, with a network map, and presence for groups created with the system. We hope to work with the five theme groups working on The Way Ahead. I’ve already been to three, and terrific ideas are developing.
What’s in it for anyone who gets involved with the simulation? One idea we are considering is setting up a coop to develop Slipham, so that we can bid to sponsors and funders on two fronts: to enhance the simulation, and also to back “for real” innovation we may have for using digital technology and network thinking in civil society.
How will it turn out? We don’t know. That’s the challenge and excitement of co-production.

** The Way Ahead report offers this definition of civil society:
Civil society is where people take action to improve their own lives or the lives of others and act where government or the private sector don’t. Civil society is driven by the values of fairness and equality, and enables people to feel valued and to belong. It includes formal organisations such as voluntary and community organisations, informal groups of people who join together for a common purpose and individuals who take action to make their community a better place to live.
Globalnet21 and London Futurists are organising a very relevant event on Ethics and the Digital Age on January 11 2017.

  • Should the widespread disruptions of the digital age alter our conceptions about morality and ethics?
  • Which ethical principles from previous eras should we continue to uphold (perhaps with extra urgency)?
  • Are there new considerations and realisations that we would want to inform our decisions about the future of technology and the future of humanity?
  • In such discussions, what should our starting point be?

You can find out more and register here

Switching focus from Ageing Better to Living Well with tech: it's all personal

The Ageing Better exploration into how innovations, enabled by digital technology, can help support personal well-being, has now reached the point where we can drawn some conclusions and plan the next stage.

As you’ll read in the summary below, the exploration, which I’ve been leading with Drew Mackie, was triggered by the Big Lottery Fund’s £82 million  Ageing Better programme, and particularly the initial lack of ways to exchange experience and introduce digital innovation. We’ve been working with the Digital Inclusion Group of Age Action Alliance. (DIG).
As I reported the other day, BIG has now opened its online community for testing, and there is a space for Ageing Better. We should hear more about local plans – and innovative developments – in a couple of months when the partnerships know how far their business plans have been approved, and receive confirmation of funding.
Meanwhile the main conclusion in our report is that we should switch our focus from programmes, to exploring in more detail what digital technology means to the individual – in different situations, with different interests, needs, capabilities and support. The scope for digital healthcare is likely to be particularly important, as Tony Watts has highlighted.
We’ll be playing through what that means in a workshop next month with DIG, and I’ll be posting more here about the approach we’ll be taking, based on the games and simulations reported here.
Summary from our interim report
The exploration into how to use technology for Ageing Better started in the autumn of 2014 with the idea that it should be possible to map organisations and resources in the field to enable more sharing of experience, reduce constant re-invention, and promote cooperation. The Big Lottery Fund hadn‘t done that centrally in 2014 for their five-year £82 million Ageing Better programme – could we demonstrate an alternative bottom-up approach, building on past work in the field?
This report summarises the journey that is documented more fully on our site – and comes to the conclusion that we should switch our focus from technology in Ageing Better, at a policy and programme level, to technology for Living Well as individuals, together with what is needed to support that in local communities and centrally. The challenge is that every individual has different interests and preferences – so one size of support doesn’t fit all.
Over the four months from September 2014 we moved beyond the basic idea of mapping of resources and organisations to:

The rationale was that we needed to know what we were looking for in mapping, before starting a big trawl. It‘s been a voluntary effort so far, and we needed to focus. We decided that if we could generate ideas on tech for Ageing Better, and cluster those, we could then look at which organisations might share experience and perhaps work together.
We were able to test some of our emerging ideas against a wide-ranging discussion at a symposium on technology and innovation, organised by the South East Forum on Ageing. Our blog post linking our exploration to the SEEFA discussion was re-published by Age Action Alliance.
What emerged from that – and our other explorations – was that the idea of promoting cooperation among organisations in the field, to achieve greater benefits and innovation, was somewhat naive. As other commentators confirmed, co-operation is difficult because organisations are competing with each other for funding; innovation is difficult because few organisations actually use social technology. The major challenge is culture. We could map ideas, organisations, and resources – but the likelihood of making any difference is low.
At this stage – in February 2015 – we are considering a change of focus towards the individual. It seems likely that the greatest progress will be made by exploring how older people – and those who help – can choose and use technology for personal well-being.
Tony Watts, chair of the South West Forum for Ageing, has set out how to make progress by linking digital health and digital inclusion. Roz Davies provides a model of citizen-centred care and digital health provision. The Grey Cells initiative from the Department for Communities and Local Government provides a framework for digital engagement that could help connect the individual and programmatic models.
So at this stage we are considering reframing the exploration towards Living Well with Technology – what can be done to enable and support the individual. Although our focus is on older people, the lessons will be more widely applicable.
Mapping, connecting, convening is needed at the programme level, but we don’t have the resources to do that, or any leverage to achieve much change. We do, however, suggest some modest ways forward.
Conclusions from the exploration so far
I think we can conclude:

  • There‘s lots of opportunities for innovation and use of tech for ageing better – but it is difficult to move forward on a broad front because of cultural and other barriers in organisations in the ageing and inclusion industries. There‘s great work being done – but also much re-inventing of the wheel. Competition for funding inhibits cooperation. Lack of familiarity with technologies limits development taking account of the consumer adoption of mobile tech. As this blog post summarised, the energy is around people apps and connectors – not organisations.
  • We need a shift of metaphor and framework from digital divide. Instead of thinking how to get people to learn about computers, we need to focus on how to help people adopt just enough tech for their needs, and how to support that. The models needed are personal and social ecologies.
  • We now need to experiment at several different levels: the individual, the surrounding social network and support system, and in programmes.

Overall, the issue is Living Well with Technology – rather than Bridging the Digital Divide.
Here are several ideas for moving forward:

  • Use the workshop games and simulations that we have been developing for our Living Lab to help people play through the options at different levels, and then turn the games into kits.
  • Test the ideas at a neighbourhood level
  • Explore the scope for work with partnerships in the Ageing Better programme, or with towns and cities aiming to create Age Friendly places.

Do get in touch if you would like to know more –

SEEFA symposium identifies challenges to innovation in Ageing Better – it's culture as much as tech

Summary: a symposium on innovation, technology and later life provides confirmation that many of the challenges to making use of tech for ageing better are organisational and cultural as well as technical. We have plenty of tech – the issues are how to personalise and support use appropriate to people’s needs and situation. But ageing organisations can’t do that if they aren’t using social tech themselves.
I found the SEEFA symposium last week on ‘Transforming not excluding – the impact of information technology and innovation on later life’ most useful because it didn’t focus on innovative technology. It was more of a high-level distillation of the sort of day-to-day conversations people are having in the field. However, it could have been even more useful with some additions, including fairly standard social tech. More on that later.
SEEFA is the South East England Forum on Ageing, and the event was hosted in the Lords by Lord Filkin, who is chair of the Big Lottery Fund’s Centre for Ageing Better. Several score people, mainly in later life, were addressed by Baroness Sally Greengross and a good range of speakers with experience in industry, ageing, care and other fields.
I was one of a panel asked to make a contribution, and there was a lively Q and A. The symposium was facilitated with an informal-yet-informed touch by Guardian public services editor David Brindle so that, unusually for this sort of event, if felt like a big, sensible conversation.
I was particularly listening out for confirmation or otherwise of the ten provocations about innovation in Ageing Better that I posted recently, and the challenges I distilled from those for the Ageing Better exploration.
You can also review key points yourself from the symposium, because John Popham declared #itlater the event hashtag and dived in to lead some tweeting and then created a Storify.
Here’s my provocations, (enhanced with some comments I received). I’ve added points from the symposium discussion, and from people tweeting in response to the stream. See John’s Storify for attributions.
1. There isn’t an opt-out from technology – but you can choose how much you participate. (Technology has changed the world dramatically, and it will continue to change. What’s important is enabling people to choose how they engage).

From the symposium and tweeters:
Why isn’t technology transforming people’s lives as much as it might? Are people aware of the potential?
Technology is changing fast – you don’t have to be older to get out of date.
People can feel more in control of their lives with appropriate technology  – but tech makes things smaller and faster, which can be challenging.
Social connectedness is a key determinant of personal well-being.
Older people don’t want to be singled out – they want to be part of everything.
“Older people” is not an identity but a statistical category

2. Government is concerned that many older people are not online – but there are limits to what government can do. (People will engage with what’s interesting and useful to them, and use devices that most suit their needs).

From the symposium and tweeters:
Focus on the individual, their needs and interests.
Focus on what tech can do – not what it is.
There are distinct business benefits in connecting older people – however some businesses don’t want older customers who create problems.
Everyone needs a reason to change, and changes to services could be the catalyst.
Lack of basic education and literacy is still a barrier for many.

3. Everyone needs Internet access … but beyond that, no one size fits all. (Cost is a barrier, and then personalisation is important).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The lack of rural connectivity continues to be a huge problem.
Confirmation at the symposium about cost – or perceived cost – as a barrier to adoption, and the need for personalisation of devices and use.
There is no such things as a typical older person
Be careful about language. “Older lady said she didn’t need “mobile banking” because her tablet never left the house”.
Need to build people’s confidence

4. Computer courses and basic skills training don’t meet the needs of many older people. (Tablets are much easier to use than computers for most purposes, and smart phones and smart TVs may also meet many people’s needs).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The digital skills needed for work are generally not the same as those needed for non-work entertainment, learning, communication.
People working in organisations have tech “done for them”. It’s a shock to retire and find you have to do-it-yourself.
Older people tend not to search Youtube for user guides. Printed manuals are still needed.

5. Simpler interfaces are needed for computers and mobile devices – not just more functions. (Older people should be involved in design).

From the symposium and tweeters:
A lot of discussion about the need for co-design.
Why are there no big new products for older people at the Consumer Electronics Show?
A lot of support for “simpler”.
Some people were urging inclusion of older people as users of the latest tech, while others favoured more simple, low-cost options. It’s probably not either-or – it depends on the individual, their situation and preference. Personalisation – not general dumbing down.

6. Relatively few organisations in the ageing field are actively engaged in the online world or using collaborative tools. (Using social technology should help enable greater greater cooperation).

From the symposium and tweeters:
If you aren’t using social technology you can’t understand it
Organisations in the field generally don’t provide staff with equipment, software and devices relevant to people’s personal non-work needs
If people in organisations don’t use social technologies, their ability to share knowledge is severely limited
“What does it say that only four people in the room at #itlater have tweeted during the event”

7. Digital social innovations in services are not scaling. (There’s too much focus on the tech, and not enough on what it does, together with a lot of re-invention).

From the symposium and tweeters:
There is much potential for using tech to help people in care lead a good life and connect with friends and family. Why not adopted more?
Funders are supporting new developments, rather than encouraging adoption and adaptation of existing

8. There is a raft of research, but little knowledge-sharing of that and day-to-day practice. (A lot of research is hidden and not transferred to practice. A culture of competitive tendering reduces people’s inclination to cooperate and use what’s already available).

From the symposium and tweeters:
“Not invented here” is a huge barrier to adoption. Partisan discussion of issues and solutions doesn’t help.
Need to break out of the silos.
Much research and other knowledge is in formats that are unusable by practitioners – we need new knowledge products.
In 2015 all digital events should be promoted vigorously with a hashtag inviting wider debate and be live streamed
“We’re sharing as much as we can on ! Plz suggest more & banish wheel reinvention”
The first step to change is securing the buy in – changing organisational culture to be more open to innovation and tech

9. The energy for change lies with apps, connectors and storytellers. (To which we can add, evolution of trusted technologies such as TVs. Bring the storytellers together).

From the symposium and tweeters:
The potential for using TV was one of the hot topics at the symposium, with recommendations for a number of devices.
Tablets are increasingly proving more attractive than computers – but again depends on the individual and activity.
We need to be better storytellers about how people are using technology
Don’t push people to use stuff they have never experienced. Start by letting them see how others use tech

10. The digital divide is no longer a useful metaphor. Reality is more complex.
I’ve mixed insights from the symposium into the exploration provocations partly for my own purposes, and partly to show how it is possible to build on existing knowledge. All of these points could be remixed into a different set of provocations – and you are welcome to do so.
What’s now important, I think, is focusing on key challenges and developing ideas tro meet them. I’m trying that on the site hosting the exploration into innovation Ageing Better.
When David Brindle called on me for a contribution at the symposium I said (expanded somewhat here) that when I was a mainstream reporter on the Evening Standard in the 1970s we had typewriters, hot metal type-setting and a cuttings-based library. Reporters were a crucial channel – if they did their job well – in transmitting what was new and innovative. Few people had access to a cuttings library. Newspapers and other publishers owned the technology.
I noted as a reporter then, that we would see, in any field, a cycle of forgetting. Faces would change as people moved jobs, but the same stories would resurface as “news” every three or four years, if you checked in the library. Most people wouldn’t have a cuttings library, and so couldn’t know whether it was new or not – which was fine for a lazy reporter.
But why is it that we see the same sort of thing today, when people have the means of research and publication on their smartphones? Why is so much publishing of newsletters and reports designed for the paper-based library, rather than a format that allows easy sharing? Why is research funded that duplicates past work?
At the symposium there was no reference to the work of organisations like Nominet Trust and NESTA in this field,  to sites like Connecting Care, or people like Shirley Ayres who do so much, often unpaid, to share experience in the field. I’ve gathered those and other references here.
I think that discussion at the symposium, and what I’ve gathered from the exploration, provides insights into the re-invention of wheels, lack of sharing, and silos:

  • Organisations operate in a highly competitive funding environment, so they are reluctant to share ideas that might be used by someone else in a bid
  • Funders and sponsors want organisations to demonstrate how their resources produced results. Collaboration could dilute that.
  • Organisations want to promote their work and profile.
  • There is comfort in staying within your professional silo
  • Managers want to control and deliver – not encourage innovation and exploration that might not meet targets
  • Government wants scale and it is easier to do that through one-size rather than personalisation
  • Senior people in London-based organisations are more easily able to go to events and network with policy people and funders than people outside London. There’s not much incentive for the London circle to share.
  • “Networking” is what you do to increase your knowledge and influence … not to help connect others with ideas and opportunities


  • While social technology does not on its own enable cooperation and sharing, it makes it far more possible, and among those who use it engenders a culture for that.
  • Most organisations, and their staff, in this field are trapped in old tech systems designed for a different age. Even if they want to use social tech they may not be able to.
  • Learning has to be done in people’s own time, often with their own devices
  • Where social media is used, it is mainly for broadcast and marketing, rather than sharing useful resources
  • Unless people are using social technology, they don’t know what’s possible

Of course there are lots of exceptions … but am I wrong? John Popham has recorded some heart-felt audio here on organisations and social tech.
As I’ve said in this piece, I found the symposium very useful and interesting, and I was glad of the opportunity to contribute. Big thanks to Peter Dale and Julia Pride. It was impressive.
However I don’t see how SEEFA – or any similar organisation – will be able to take their exploration into technology, innovation and older people to the next stage without more use of the technology themselves.
For example, in terms of this sort of event I would suggest a plan, as part of the logistics, to blend online and offline activity, including:

  • Social media accounts for the organisation – at least Twitter and a blog
  • Online research by staff to scope the field, and curate some resources relevant to the event to set the scene
  • Pre-event activity online to engage people who may follow the Twitter stream, contribute, and/or blog
  • Online registration – if places outside the organisation are available
  • An online landing page about the event which can then be referenced in tweets
  • Speaker bios and outline content so that contributions can be co-ordinated beforehand
  • Recruiting participants to tweet
  • An agreed hashtag
  • Video interviews, and ideally streaming
  • Curation of online content after the event

If John Popham hadn’t committed time and expense to come to the event, and then act as a social reporter to declare a hashtag, lead the tweeting, and Storify the tweets, we would have to wait some weeks for a report. It might then not be in bit-sized pieces that can be shared. (I do the same sort of thing, but John is a better live-tweeter. He does great video too). There wouldn’t have been much external participation without contributions from Paul Webster and Shirley Ayres, creating content and alerting their networks as well as John’s and mine.
So my friendly suggestion to SEEFA is this: before publishing a report of the symposium, no doubt including barriers to innovation, please start using the technology! SEEFA’s experience in doing that, together with some of members, would provide very valuable additional insights.
Update: SEEFA have kindly invited me to talk to their executive about the technology challenges facing organisations. I think this will be a great opportunity for me to share some ideas – and also learn about the realities of running an organisation with volunteers and limited resources, in a fast-changing world.


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.

The Cola Road Documentary and what's next for Colalife

The RSA Great Room, with its James Barry paintings of The Progress of Human Knowledge,  was a fine setting yesterday for the launch of The Cola Road Documentary telling the story of the Colalife mission to deliver medicines to poor mothers in isolated Zambian villages. There was lots of learning for us – not least more on how the original idea of delivering the medicines in Coke crates has changed.

As you can see from the applause pictured in my panorama, and the tweets below, the film by Claire Ward was very well received, with further news coming through during the evening about Colalife being presented to the UN General Assembly as one of 10 breakthough innovations to save lives.
The original Colalife idea, that captured people’s imagination, was to use Coca Cola’s unique supply chain to deliver ant-diarrhoea medicines to save children’s lives. That has worked in trials, and the Kit Yamoyo won a Design Museum Product of the Year award. However, the real innovation proved to be designing a value chain that rewarded people all along the line, without necessarily using crates, as I reported earlier.
The change in design approach was highlighted by BBC global business correspondent Peter Day in a programme broadcast on Radio 4, and yesterday Peter chaired the panel discussion after the showing. Here’s his account of finding a better business story than he expected from the Kit Yamoyo award.

Later in the RSA Gerrard Bar I was able to catch up with Simon Berry – who created Colalife with his wife Jane – for an update on future plans, and also meet Ali who cycled from Cairo to Cape Town with Lizzie to raise money. Their story here.
As well as explaining how the Colalife programme now aims to move from pilots to national coverage, Simon highlighted the importance of social media in developing Colalife. As you can see from the Colalife blog, he has done an extraordinary job of openly chronicling the programme.

Here’s a selection of the tweets during and after the showing.

Earlier posts about Colalife

What's digital life like for a community enabler?

Following my rather theoretic post about developing a how-do kit and networks for community enablers I’ve had a couple of exchanges that fill out the reality. Here’s an amalgamation of those, combined with my experience and workshop discussions.
The voluntary sector community enabler’s story

I’m a development manager in a voluntary organisation that supports local groups, so I work with colleagues and volunteers on training, providing information, helping with fundraising, dealing with the council and programmes funded by Big Lottery and other agencies. Life is too many meetings, too many calls, too many emails, too much paperwork.  I enjoy it, but would love to find ways of using technology better to be more effective.
We need to be on top of the latest information nationally and locally, and already use sites like KnowHow NonProfitKnowledgeHub, Locality, Getlegal, Directory of Social Change for advice. Then there’s Zurich’s Community Starter site for groups planning action, and Community HowTo for digital tools.
Despite all that it is really difficult to put together help for people that I support – and manage my own personal information. I’ve got an iPhone but know I only use a fractional of what’s possible, and on my computer I’ve ended up with collections of bookmarks, lots of pdfs in different folders, spreadsheets storing contacts. I know I should transfer to our website and share with others, but there’s never the time.
Communications online is a mess. One large project is using Basecamp, some groups have Facebook pages, and Twitter is OK for quick messages, but not for groups. Mostly we end up with lots of cc emails.
I’m interested to see what Urban Forum found in their survey of social media use, and might try Yammer when I have a moment … but it’s no good if others won’t use it.
As well as managing our own communications we have to try and help some local groups who have been told that they must set up blogs to report how they are using funding under one of the big national programmes. That’s pretty challenging for volunteers who may be excellent at face-to-face relationships and newsletters, but just don’t have skills or confidence to do much online beyond email and standard websites. A few did manage to use the simple Posterous site, but that was bought out by Twitter and closed and they had the nightmare of trying to transfer elsewhere.
It’s tempting to think that some sort of new platform for everything might help … wasn’t Your Square Mile aiming to do that as part of the original Big Society plan? The problem is getting people to move from the familiar, particularly if their friends aren’t there and they are doubtful whether it will be maintained.
I would love to see someone trying to develop useful ways to help people like me and the groups I support – and would do what I can to help.
But it can’t be one-size-fits-all, and it shouldn’t duplicate what’s happening already. We need better connecting of existing resources, and ways in which people can pick and mix the simplest set of tools they need, with some confidence that they will continue to be available. Of course it’s not just about the tools, it’s about developing digital literacy as well as all the other literacies we need in this sort of role.
Where can I find other people like me interested in learning together?

Does this ring true? As I wrote yesterday, enablers might be councillors, community organisers, people running local groups, citizens developing a campaign and/or generally working to revive local democracy. Do please drop a comment, or email me and I’ll fictionalise if you prefer. Then we can run a workshop like this one.
I have embedded links to most of the references above, but they aren’t showing up too well. I hope to fix that shortly.
Thanks to the enablers who shared their digital lives. More please!

Exploring tech "later in life" offers lessons for tech challenges anytime

As  I reported in my previous post, I’ve just completed a team exploration at into how we may use digital technology later in life for personal wellbeing. It has thrown up some wider lessons about how we might think about, and use, digital tech at any time in life.
The idea of an exploration as on open curating and reporting process came about from some work with the Big Lottery Fund, and then when the Nominet Trust invited me to write a provocations paper about young people and technology. Background on that here.
Instead of a closed research and drafting process, why not crowdsource ideas, run a workshop, develop contacts and aim to generate momentum around the topic at the same time? As I’ve summarised here, that process worked well on our latest exploration as well as the earlier one.
We now have a report with 10 proposition about digital technology and later life, a lot of background resources, and a network of people interested in learning more. You can join that network here.
It’s now time to see what more we can achieve, and to do that it seems appropriate to move from the structured approach we designed with our client on, to something more free range, personal, and maybe a bit more provocative. I’ve explained the reasoning here.
John Popham has already made a start with an excellent post following up an issue I highlighted – the lack of collaboration between the bigger organisations in the field. That’s partly, I think, because there is intense competition for funding and little trust that a good idea or new theme won’t be picked up by another organisation without an offer of some part to play. However, John raises an even more fundamental issue:

The professionals and institutions which work with some older people are not comfortable with new technologies themselves. Issues here range from organisations which continue to block use of social media and will not or cannot provide their staff with smartphones, to technophobic frontline staff who pass their fears on to people they work with.

The organisations researching or promoting the use of digital technology with older people, often under the digital inclusion banner, may not be using it. Their “clients” are in reality funders who may not have a very nuanced idea of what’s needed either … so policy and development defaults to teaching people how to use computers and getting the numbers up for those allegedly engaged.
John identifies another couple of barriers to progress: the scariness of unfamiliar technology, and the lack of confidence (or willingness) of those who may be able to help older people to do so.
While these issues may be particularly evident later in life, I think they apply to many organisations and for many people at any time in life.
So one of the themes I’ll be exploring is whether we might use the challenges, and opportunities, of digital technology later in life as a good window through which to look at technology in life.  Our tag has been #dtlater. Should it now be #dtinlife? The government’s policy of moving services – and benefits – online means that opting out is difficult. Either you learn to cope with tech, or have someone act as a proxy.
Below are some of the 10 propositions we developed for the digital tech later in life exploration, that seem generally relevant to any time of life. Full report here.

  • Look at personal needs and interests as well as common motivations – one digital size won’t fit all.
  • Build on past experience with familiar technology as well as offering new devices – they may do the job.
  • Consider the new life skills and access people will need as technology changes our world – using technology is ceasing to be optional.
  • Turn the challenge of learning about technology into a new social opportunity – and make it fun.
  • Address social isolation and other challenges through a blend of online and offline – they don’t need to be different worlds.
  • Use digital technologies to enhance existing connections of family and friends – and help each other learn.
  • Look for ideas among those providing digital training and support – and help them realise them.

Here’s the main links cited above