Category Archives: Engagement

A game to realise community assets

Since running a workshop game on Saving Slapham community spaces at the Community Matters conference, Drew Mackie and I have been working with staff there on a more sophisticated version about business planning and community assets.

The narrow focus is on how an organisation or social enterprise can continue to develop services and activities in the face of cuts in grants. We have built on an earlier business planning game to create a set of props that include:

  • The fictitious scenario of the town of Slapham, with its various groups and agencies
  • Profiles for different organisations, including their current activities, staff and legal structure
  • Ideas for business activities they take on to generate revenue
  • Cards indicating risks and opportunities that may crop up along the way

The game is designed so that it can be played “for real’ by substituting data from actual organisations, and there is scope for using a spreadsheet linked to more detailed business planning.

The wider and in many ways more interesting scope lies in using the game – as we did at the conference – in prompting groups to think how they can work collaboratively with others in the town to share accommodation and other resources. This is highly relevant at a time when Big Lottery Fund and others are promoting asset based community development: here’s how it is working in Thornton Heath for example.

We are still developing the game materials for a test run next week, and I’ll have more after that.

Meanwhile, I mentioned the game to Gavin Barker, who had blogged enthusiastically about the conference version, and who I knew does a lot on mapping community assets.

Gavin has now added his own ideas in a blog post here on how geographical mapping could be added to the game … or rather to a further development of the game, since the Community Matters version has a tight brief.

As we were sharing blog drafts and emails around this, I spotted the first newsletter from Spacehive, which is an online platform that enables local groups to pitch their projects for funding. This can certainly be one of the business development ideas to include as options for organisations in the game … but could perhaps play a bigger part in promoting collaborations.

Drew reckons that we need some social network mapping in there too, since collaboration depends very much on the building of trust and relationships. Seeing who know who, and who holds what resources, is an important starting point.

Overall we are getting to the point where we can see the Slapham scenario and props as the basis for a virtual lab to test out different sorts of games. We are also working on an upgrade of the social media game.

The orginal conference session developed because Community Matters kindly asked if I would keynote at the conference … to which I said I would much rather run a workshop. In the event Drew did most of the work, and while some of the props were a big rough, the session was a big success because the pieces of card and maps were good enough to spark some conversations … and release the knowledge assets held by those participating. Much more useful than any presentation that I might offer.
If you are interested in the gsame, do drop a comment or get in touch here.

Starting to stock the Good/Big Society DIY store

Recent blog posts by Nat (now Baron) Wei, unpaid adviser to the Big Society programme, give further clues to government thinking about the way that local services should evolve, with more support for groups at neighbourhood level. (Earlier posts here). I’ve been pulling together some tools and links that may be useful – including reports of a couple of sessions using a neighbourhood media version of the SocialbySocial game. I played the one above last week in Holland. read more »

How to make Big Society really engaging: divert 1% local public funds to communites

I’m taking much of my Big Society blogging over to the Designing for Civil Society group on SocialbySocial, where I’ve posted some interviews I did yesterday at an excellent round table event organised by New Start magazine and the National Association for Neighbourhood Management. I’ve also set up a wiki to gather resources.

However, I want to pull out one of the most interesting conversations I had after the event – with Tony Bovaird, who is Professor of Public Management and Policy at the University of Birmingham.

Local government doesn’t figure strongly in Big Society discussions about social action … so I asked what councils could do, and what could be done differently.

Tony emphasised that councils can add organising capability and money to the mix of community assets and opportunities – then went further.

Why not take the Total Place idea of pooling budgets in an area another step, and make an officer in every city directly accountable to Parliament for total local spending. And how about taking one per cent of public sector budgets and making it more directly available to the

Let’s also dispose of the idea of grand top-down strategies, beloved of bureaucrats, and focus on how to support a mass of action by individuals.

Tony said that the important thing to realise is that what we do wasn’t planned – we didn’t get here by planning, we got here accidentally. No body else in Europe does it the way that we do.

“Although from where we stand it looks as if it couldn’t be any other way, actually it could be very radically different. So we’ve got to open up to the best ideas from elsewhere in this country and elsewhere in Europe and recognise that there is a big potential. Over 45 per cent of people in this country do something that has social significance at least once a month. They want to do that – and they want to do it with more help”.

My question about Total Place was prompted by a particularly interesting post on the edemocracy blog Total Place: The Missing Element that suggested putting this experiment in budgeting for a locality across agencies, together with experiments in participatory budgeting.

If you added in Tony’s idea for a one per cent shift of spend to community purposes, you could develop a really engaging Big Society game – cutting and creating together. Bring community interests, public agencies and businesses together to figure out how to make best use of the totality of community resources. Kevin Harris and I started a conversation about this the other day, and I’m looking out more ideas about how it could work.

Pretty much everyone agrees we are going to have to do more with less … so let’s get together and figure out how to do that.

Previously: Let’s co-design civil society, before government does it for us

The appropriation of citizen empowerment

Kevin Harris offers a strong challenge to the approach RSA is adopting in it’s Citizen Power project in Peterborough, arguing it is the latest example from the empowerment industry of appropriating ideas of citizen action to wonkdom. Prestige launch at London HQ set the tone this month … citizens get their chance in May, when a more open style is promised. I’m hopeful.

Is the Summer of Social Media Love a fading memory?

The prospect of doing some interviews at the seminar on Jemima Gibbons book, Monkeys With Typewriters, later today set me thinking on some gentle provocations to get things going … particularly ones that are a bit metaphorical.
Recent conversations and exchanges dispel any remaining simplistic enthusiasm for the possible benefits of social media. It isn’t a magic potion. We should pay far more attention to the context in which social media is used, for what purpose, by whom and so on. read more »

Participation literature review

The Pathways through Participation project is “exploring how and why people get involved and stay involved in different forms of participation over the course of their lives”. They have now produced an excellent and wide-ranging literature review covering community development, volunteering, public participation, social movements, everyday politics and ethical consumption. Download from here.

How Twitter brought an event organiser to offer free tickets

A few months back I wrote Is your event worth the price of the ticket? and explored how far event organisers would be able to charge high prices when there was an increasing move to free, self-organised unconferences. I quoted the organiser of one £300 two-day event as saying “Next year we are going to have to make it free”.

Well, it’s happened faster than that. Last week Ten Alpsco-founded by Bob Geldorf – staged  Digital Engagement – Empower Citizens and Government through Digital Innovation. Top ticket prices for corporates were £895, and people were reporting being asked to pay up to £15,000 to speak on a programme including Martha Lane Fox. The public sector rate was £195, and people were also being called with offers of £95 … so it wasn’t all top priced.

Even so the costs went down badly with some folk who actually work at grass roots in digital engagement, and who were put out to see government departments and other agencies that promote inclusion lending their logos and support to what seemed a rather exclusive do. There were also complaints about the sales techniques as Anke Holst reports.

At this point Twitter-power came into play, and after some fast and furious exchanges people were being offered free tickets. Paul Clarke documents the whole thing here and follows up with an assessment of the day itself. They are excellent posts, prompting well-balanced discussion about the style and content of the day as well as the cost. The managing director of organisers Ten Alps Publishing, Stuart Brown, joined in too. In my view he was a little off-track, saying:

The event was simply the start of what we feel should be an ongoing and changing debate, and whilst some people may feel our event was not what they wanted or expected, I am pleased that we took the step, and committed to the expense, of doing something. We felt the subject was not out there enough and if we have achieved anything then we have certainly started a healthy debate, with some excellent contributions as many of you have kindly recognised.

… rather ignoring many other events including the fourth annual Digital Inclusion conference of a couple of months before, well documented here (disclosure, I worked on the social reporting there).

I was at last week’s even for free, because with Amy Sample Ward I was helping the Media Trust Community Voices project launch their programme at a seminar. I confess I couldn’t face the Powerpoint-heavy early presentations, but I heard good reports of sessions later in the day.

In my earlier post I tried to tease out  some of the issues around events involving social media (planned or otherwise), including how far they are open or closed, with a pre-planned agenda or  collaborative agenda setting process. The price people pay will depend on the value that each setup offers, in any particular context. High-value exclusive content will command a price. The difficulty Ten Alps faced was that they were pitching into a space where there is an increasing expectation of a gift economy around digital engagement content and activities.

Quite a few people made a comparison with the free unconference organised the previous Saturday in Stoke on Trent by the Talk About Local team led by Will Perrin. As I reported here it was friendly, passionate, without Powerpoint, and full of extraordinarily interesting people. That’s what engagement is all about … and you don’t have to do it in #thatlondon.

Time to celebrate failure at FailCamp

When you are starting something new the most useful stories are often honest accounts from those who have failed – as Clay Shirky said in an interview last year. Now the social media folk in Birmingham – source of many successes – are promoting the idea of FailCamp. As Pete Ashton says “A day where you tell us about your online experiments or experiences that went horribly, terribly wrong”. More on Twitter. I’m with Pete when he says:

Meanwhile I’m getting bored. Well, maybe bored is the wrong word but I want to shake things up a bit. The way I see it once you’ve got something established it’s time to move on. Sure, there’s an important case for sticking around and solidifying this new thing but that doesn’t interest me and there’s no point pretending. I want to be excited and amused. Going over stuff that’s worked well is good and important but the notion of slapping any complacency about how utterly fabulous the Brum Interwebs community is with a big fish and turning it all on its head appeals no end.

Over the past year or so we’ve seen an enormous growth in meetups and Twittering about how brilliant social media is, and how it will change the world … but as soon as you get outside the circle of “people like us” you usually get bland stares. No good sneering “they don’t get” … you need some really good stories to tell. I love this one on the Digital Engagement network from Chris (@cyberdoyle) about how social networks can do something to replace the over-the-garden-fence conversations we have lost.
However, working out just what sort of social network or other tool may help isn’t simple … it depends enormously on the situation, the people and many other factors. The answer to “what works?” is “it depends” … and that’s when the stories of what didn’t work are so useful.
I think FailCamp will be a huge success … and that’s OK.

Update: Ben Whitehouse, who sparked the conversation leading to FailCamp, says “Failure is the stuff that glues together to create success” and suggests October 17 as the date.
Update 2. There’s a now a Failcamp blog, which is already sparking an investigation into a possible failure … a council website.

The Community Engagement Pyramid

The Widerearth blog believes you can simplify the way most people engage with online communities into five simple stages:

  1. Everyone starts off as Visitors, either because they were invited or because they stumbled upon your community;
  2. They may sign up to become Members if there is a clear cost/benefit;
  3. If they are moved into action, they will become Contributors of content;
  4. With enough positive experiences they evolve into community Evangelists, inviting others to join;
  5. And finally, they may step up as community Leaders.

10 approaches to digital inclusion

Tim Davies has produced an excellent analysis here of themes from the recent Digital Inclusion and Social Capital seminar at the RSA, that I mentioned the other day. read more »