Category Archives: socialbysocial

Exploring the new community enablers, and how digital may help them

Over the past few months I’ve been nudging at a number of projects and storylines that really needed linking up  … as well as developing explorations as a way to making sense of complex situations, joining up different interests, and helping people use social media. I think that’s what social reporting is about, and it’s coming together.

Here’s news of a new exploration to follow the ones with Big Lottery Fund and Nominet Trust. It’s about community organising, building, mobilising … networks …. and how digital technology can help. I hope you’ll find interesting the way that it has evolved, and maybe make some suggestions.

The storylines leading towards this exploration have included Networking civil society, Sociable events to build networksCelebration 2.0, Games to realise community assets, Digital literacy, the limitations of citizen journalism in community building, and the official and unofficial connectors that may make localism work.

These and others fill out – more by chance than design – the framework I wrote about last year which focussed in new roles, new structures, new resources and new methods.

The projects that I’ve wanted to join up are firstly some interviews with community organisers and builders, commissioned by Community Matters, to help citizens and community groups understand the different models and what could be useful for them; secondly the Media4ME project on social media in multi-cultural neighbourhoods; and thirdly social reporting training.

Several things have acted as catalysts to turn this into a package. Firstly, as I trailed here, and reported more fully in my previous post, Drew Mackie and I ran a day’s workshop with the community builders at Forever Manchester, and I also talked with Mark Parker about his experience as a community organiser in Southwark.

A common strand was joining up networks both online and face-to-face. Then in addition, Drew and I have been working with Ben Lee, of the National Association for Neighbourhood Management, on the Media4ME project described here. Part of that work is helping people in Fishermead, Milton Keynes, use social media around summer fun days, bringing together many creative projects in the area.

So – here my proposed exploration, as a draft invitation.

The new enablers

Join us in an exploration of the new roles, skills and approaches of community enablers, including how can they can include digital technologies in their tools for network building and neighbourhood change.

We will be looking at the growing numbers of community organisers, builders, connectors and mobilisers now being trained and supported both by Government and independent organisations.

While there are differing philosophies of social change, there is some common ground on methods for organising and facilitating action by citizens.

Several are exploring how best to use digital technology in their work, including support for community media projects, citizen journalism and social reporting.

During the exploration we will be interviewing key people in the different movements and organisations, curating information on the different approaches, and blogging about new developments.

David Wilcox of is running a workshop with Communities and Local Government where he will preview a game that will help enablers choose suitable social media methods.

On May 10 Socialreporters, Media4ME, and community organiser Mark Parker are running a seminar focussed on developing further practical ideas on the use of digital technologies in neighbourhoods, and in particular network building both online and face-to-face. How do we ensure digital is really useful for local network development?

We’ll be collaborating with those who are training community enablers of various types, and developing a social reporters kit with a number of groups now experimenting with social media in neighbourhoods.

As part of our work with the European Media4ME project we are working in Milton Keynes to support local people using social media to develop new connections in their community – and will be reporting on similar work in other European projects.

As part of the Celebration 2.0 project supported by the Nominet Trust we’ll be producing a kit specifically focussed on how to use social media to amplify community events.

We’ll also be drawing on lessons from earlier exploration with Big Lottery Fund on People Powered Change, and with Nominet Trust on how young people can use digital technology to engage socially and economically with their communities

Our outputs will be a report on community enablers, advice on using social media as part of neighbourhood change, and a kit for social reporters.

I’ve posted it in draft because I would welcome any suggestions. Subject to that, I’ll post an update here shortly, and then move over to where we are running the explorations. I’m also wondering whether this might be the occasion to re-animate our Social by Social network.

All posts Big Society socialbysocial

A invitation to help develop the Good Stuff Store

The idea of a Social Apps Store to support local social action – floated here – has gained enthusiastic support among my colleagues in the Big Society Network, where I’ve played the role of social reporter for a few week. While very welcome, this internal support wouldn’t matter much if the Store didn’t appeal more widely to those who have pioneered the use of social tech for social benefit in recent years … and those doing less shiny but more challenging work on the ground.
I’m really pleased by support so far because it seems a good example of how social reporters can operate.
Consultants are known as people who borrow your watch and tell you the time, and then walk off with the watch. Journalists are under pressure to make things just that bit more interesting than when first heard (so you may not always recognise your idea on page or on screen).  Maybe social reporting can gather pieces of conversation and ideas and present them back in ways that encourage people to say: thanks for adding … I want to help with that … now it makes sense. Being positive, joining up, making sense, helping out, as I wrote earlier. I’ve done a bit of journalism and consultancy, and this is much more satisfying. read more »

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 »

Redesigning Civil Society, collaboratively

The Guardian’s Societydaily roundup quotes my remark that “It’s obvious we are going to see big cuts in local services whoever is
elected, so we had better get thinking” So here we go.

Patrick Butler writes in the Guardian:

I have some sympathy with the signatories of this letter in “defence of civil society”, from a group of social entrepreneurs who feel that the election knock-about over David Cameron’s ‘big society’ has somewhat obscured, misrepresented or trivialised some of the ideas within it – citizen engagement, community ownership, self-help, public services co-ops and so on.


Media cynicism about big society I expected. But I’ve been struck by how a combination of election fever and tribal loyalty has turned some liberal-minded friends and colleagues who I imagined might be sympathetic to some of the ideas in the concept into unfeasibly staunch defenders of the big state, as if what we had before us was a straightforward choice, one or the other. Friends who have for years bemoaned the decline in voting, the scarcity of cub scout leaders, and other signs of the erosion of social capital bristle at the chutzpah of Cameron for proposing to do something about it.

and concluding:

But if we can’t or won’t accept the need to find new ways of filling the spaces from where the state has seemingly no option but to retreat, the forthcoming cuts to public services are going to be even more painful.

The Guardian piece comes in the wake of a letter from Steven Clift, who has been promoting e-democracy and engagement across world for the past 15 years. He writes to 20 of his contacts:

Hey all, through about five different channels across different countries I’ve picked up on growing interest among community builders (particularly at the neighborhood engagement and local democracy level) in some sort of mix of digital guides and connecting tools that help people share lessons and civic energy across local communities. People want to move from talk to problem-solving and direct citizen engagement.

Some of you are into virtual guidebooks, others into Linkedin-like tools, local e-competitions, unconferences, or digital storytelling. I have my own interest in fostering multi-tech online communities of practice. What seems new to me is the level interest in connecting the active citizens (not just connections via trade groups or global sites like at the professional level) across communities directly via digital means. What is definitely new is all the simultaneous interest in channels that are not all that connected and some cases networks are that are new to me.

This is certainly the sort of thing that the Big Society Network wants to promote, and chimes in the exploration of social technology for local action on this wiki and the SocialbySocial network I’ve been developing with Amy Sample Ward and Andy Gibson, co-authors in the SocialbySocial handbook. It also gives me a nudge to do some joining up with guides I’ve written on participation and partnerships, and dig back into some entries on my old blog Designing for Civil Society.

The difficulty in blending social tech, social enterprise and older (but still very necessary) models of community action is that it is complicated … because local communities are complex. You can provide ideas for small scale actions by individuals and groups, but area-wide action involves building consensus among different interests, agreeing priorities, who does what, and so.

One technique I’ve found works (and of course there are others) are the various workshop games developed over the years with my colleage Drew Mackie, and more recently with Amy and Andy for Social by Social. They help people, working in groups, through the process of thinking about their situation, who they want to involve, and their goals, and then offer ideas for action on cards. There is then a follow-through in which people look at roles and resources, and the story of what may happen.

The most recent game focusses on social media, but Drew and did a Regeneration Game a few years back, for NIACE. It’s not now available from them, but we can easily reconstruct the cards and instructions, with ideas for nontech local action.

As a first step I’m planning to rework the local communities wiki with appropriate versions of the game (s). The different elements of the game (understanding your locality, involving others, choosing project ideas) can be linked to more detailed information, and where possible practical examples of neighbourhood action.

One of the most interesting issues for me, in linking tech-enabled social action with older methods, is how far the world of social media helps promote the principles and values we need for working together.

Amy, Andy and I had a lot of fun putting together a set of propositions for the Social by Social book, which you can see here. And just to show how things join up, I’m just off to a Net Tuesday event organised by Amy where David Turner will facilitate a discussion on the Cluetrain Manifesto which inspired our propositions. It has started me thinking about some proposition for redesigning civil society, big or otherwise. I’ll report back tomorrow. I’m expecting to re-inforce ideas about being open and human, generous … co-designing, learning from others, connecting across boundaries. I do know there will at Net Tuesday be people who think and behave that way … which is ultimate why social tech may help in our civic redesigning. It is people and collaborations that make things work, not tools, however smart.

All posts asides government local socialbysocial

Local by Social

We always hoped that Social by Social would be a book that could be chunked up and re-written for different audiences interested in social tech for social benefit – and now co-author Andy Gibson has done a great job for local government.
Local by Social: how local authorities can use social media to achieve more with less was commissioned by IDeA and NESTA. As Ingrid Koehler writes at our companion site – – “this document does provide a compelling argument for how social media can be used as a tool (and not as an end in itself) to support engagement, democracy, improved services and perhaps even especially efficiency.”
There’s more details here on the IDeA site, with additional links.
If you are looking for further front-line insights on Web 2.0 for customer service in local authorities, see the latest excellent presentation from Michele Ide-Smith.

Social media for public services: how about an Open Innovation Exchange?

The Crowdsourced Council event earlier this week was for me interesting at three levels. First for the idea expressed in the name – that councils should use a variety of different methods to find out people’s opinions, engage with them, and improve performance in doing so. Secondly, for a useful demonstrations of tools showing how this might be done. And thirdly some insights into just how difficult it is to introduce these innovative new methods to councils, even when costs are low.

I came away with a new/old idea: that we need an open innovation exchange to help entrepreneurs, councils and customer/citizens collaborate to find new ways forward.

The event was organised by FutureGov in partnership with Capital Ambition, and we had demonstrations from  Uservoice, Best Before Media, YooskDebatewise, GovDelivery and Quiet Riots. Follow the links to see the goodies on offer. They provide a terrific range of ways in which people could discuss issues, vote on their preferences, create audio and video content, get updates and more.

In the four video interviews Dominic Campbell, of FutureGov, explains the thinking behind the event, and we hear from Tim Hood of Yoosk, Dave Worsell of GovDelivery, and also Shane McCracken of Gallomar. They just been award £200,000 from the Wellcome Trust for I’m A Scientist, Get me out of Here – explained here. (You’ll see the four videos in the frame once you start playing, or mouse-over).

As well as the cleverness of the tools in front of us, what really intruiged me was the background story I heard from those developing them: they were often prepared to make some of their offer free; they would collaborate to see how they could offer councils a menu of options and ways of making things work together; some were taking big personal risks to develop something of real social benefit. Yet whether big or small they found it difficult to get their products and services in front of the people who could make decisions, or find ways to test and evolve new tools with both citizens and councils.

A number of barriers emerged. The big one was procurement procedures, which could meant that if you weren’t on the approved list of suppliers you didn’t get a look in.  In theory councils would specify what they needed, and then go out to tender: but that doesn’t work well for innovative products. As one developer said: “If you don’t know what you want, because you haven’t seen it yet, how can you specify it?”

Another problem was that decisions usually involved a lot of people in the organisational hierarchy, and often in partner organisations. You couldn’t get them in the same room together. They didn’t even go to the same conferences: “The senior people will be at the old-style big ticket events, while those lower in the hierarchy who may know what’s needed are at the informal barcamps and unconferences.”

You might find one council officer prepared to take an interest, but they would change jobs. If you didn’t get everything lined up at the right time of year, you could lose six months because of holidays and other delays.

All this might be of little concern if it were just a bunch of profit-hungry corporations trying to sell products that councils could better develop in-house – or that tough competition would ensure a better deal for us all.  A few years ago it was perhaps the case that councils had to specify major development work through big suppliers. But these days there’s a vast array of social media tools – like those on show – that can be delpoyed rapidly, and at relatively low cost, provided councils can make fast and informed decisions. That means really getting to know what’s available and working collaboratively with suppliers and citizen-users.

Tim Hood summed it up: “People think private companies are just concerned with profit. That’s clearly not true. People risk their livelihoods to try and innovate for public good, and there’s no shame in trying to make some money out of it. There no shame in the decision makers and people in procurement being in the same room and talking through collectively how they can make the whole process work more efficiently”.

But that often isn’t happening. I heard that it can be just as tough for council officers. Unless you are passionate about social media it’s really difficult to see what’s available, and get your ideas adopted. Of course there are brilliant exceptions … officers and whole council departments around the country who are doing great work: Devon, Kent, Barnet, Barnsley keep getting mentions, and there are quite a others as I explored at another conference about knowledge management. It just doesn’t seem sensible to have such clunky systems when it’s desperately important to improve public services and reduce costs at the same time.

Is this a fair analysis? Or did I just happen on a group of people – developers and officers – who, by their interests and enthusiasms,  find the current system particularly frustrating and unproductive?

Let’s say the analysis is right at least in part. What might be done in a small, collaborative, organic, social media-ish sort of way? I’m really impressed by the work that Ingrid Koehler, Steve Dale and others are doing on the IDeA knowledge hub, which I’ve written about here. In the longer term the new system and associated development and training should help move all councils, not just a few, across into new ways of working.

But that’s going to take years. Meanwhile Amy Sample Ward and I have been talking to IDeA about ways in which we could use the Social by Social network as a space in which to pilot some ideas. There’s already some groups there. Out initial thinking was on three fronts: how to combine discussion and knowledge sharing, with a market place, linked to events. The aim would be to bring together people working in public bodies with social media developers and suppliers, and with those working in the hyperlocal programmes and third sector. And anyone else interested in how to use social tech for social impact … the substance of our book Social by Social (buy or download free here).

During the Crowdsourced Council event these ideas crystalised into thoughts of an Open Innovation Exchange. It’s not new: Simon Berry, I and others first proposed something like this back in 2007 for third sector organisations, in an open bid to Cabinet Office. We didn’t win, but generated a lot of interest as you can see on the original site here. My friends – and clients – at the Innovation Exchange are now doing a great job in taking forward the winning bid, but it’s focussed on third sector organisations, and social media is only a part of their business.

In essence we would create a complementary space into which anyone could pitch an idea, request, product or service … whether free or paid for. It would be up to IDeA and other public sector organisations – if interested – to promote the exchange to their sectors and interest groups. Similarly for the hyperlocal and third sector interests. We would run some associated workshops and turn up to events like Crowdsourced Council to do some social reporting, broker connections, and recruit people to the exchange.

When I floated the idea to a few developers at this week’s event they sounded seriously interested, and even said they might contribute some seed funding if public sector interests would come in.

That’s as a far as I’ve got with the idea. At this stage I just want to check out if it makes sense. If so, I’ll discuss further with our friends in IDeA, NESTA and other bodies. If they are interested I would suggest that we run an open workshop in January to co-design what’s needed, with the key interests. Let’s model the collaborative exchange process we propose.  At this stage I’m not suggesting that the current Social by Social platform would do what’s needed … but it could be a gathering space for those interested.

What do you think? Do drop a comment here, and I’ll also post across on

All posts colalife socialbysocial

Double inspiration at Chain Reaction


I had a splendid day yesterday at the Chain Reaction event, including a chance to catch up with Simon Berry and the Colalife campaign, and an opportunity to run the Social by Social game near the top of one of the office blocks in Canary Wharf. A double dose of inspiration.  I’ve posted a piece about the game over here explaining how we took as our scenario the community below us.

I’ve written quite a bit before about Colalife, as you can see here. Simon and supporters have done an amazing job of gathering support, using social media, to engage Coca Cola with the idea of using their unique distribution system to get life-saving medicines to African villages, where one in five children die before the age of five. The campaign has reached a crucial phase – and I hadn’t caught up with the fact that Simon is giving up his Civil Service job to concentrate full-time on the campaign … even though no funds are yet available.

He keynoted at the event, and then talked to me afterwards. Why the move? His reply: “I’m going to try and make this happen – I think if I don’t do it now, I’ll regret it forever”. Let’s get fundraising.

Local social tech: can communities do it themselves?

We had a terrific workshop about local communities and social tech yesterday with some 40 people crowding into the boardroom of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills for an unconferency session.

We heard news of major national programmes like Community Voices, Talk About Local, Local 2.0, Timely Information to Citizens – details of those here – then broke into groups to discuss a wide range of topics. Videos over on the localcommunities site, twitter stream here.

Thanks to Steph Gray of BIS for the accommodation, Antonio Irranca of Communities and Local Government for convening – background here – and my Social by Social colleague Amy Sample Ward for co-organising.

Julian Dobson – who edits New Start magazine – provides a thoughtful analysis over here, warning  “the danger is that this all becomes a love-in for geeks with a bit of community engagement thrown in”, and urging the spirit of cooperative community activity rather than too much Government sponsorship. Or too many consultants driving the agenda.

While there are clear gains for governments in having better skilled and more engaged citizens, and potential value for money in moving more public services online, we shouldn’t act as if nothing can happen without government funding or sanction. The co-operative movement started with a few poor people pooling their funds to set up a shop in Rochdale that provided local people with essential goods at a fair price. The trade unions started with workers clubbing together to provide hardship funds and representation in their fight for better pay and conditions. Communities are still capable of generating their own solidarity. Far better, surely, that they generate the funds to employ the social media experts directly than continually going cap in hand to civil servants.

Fair enough. What particularly pleased me about the event was that we managed to get into the same room a mix of people from central and local government, social media consultancies, community development projects and also bloggers and managers of local community networks. Plenty of room for continuing debate.

What next? The Media Trust offered to convene another workshop, and Talk About Local have an unconference in Stoke on October 3, which is a must. Amy and I hope the local communities site could be a neutral space for all interested in local social tech to share experience, resources, ideas. Can progammes share a virtual space, as well as a physical one? Talk About Local have led the way with a group on the site, so I’m hopeful

Free download of Social by Social book

The Social by Social handbook written by Amy Sample Ward, Andy Gibson, me, and Nigel Courtney and Professor Clive Holtham of Cass Business School got a really nice mention from Craig Newmark (as in Craigslist) in no less than the HuffingtonPost.

Hey, if you’re interested in using social media in your organization, and you should be, Social by Social: A practical guide to using new technologies to deliver social impact is the real deal.

Its focus really is on how to get your organization really using the stuff, looking at practical measures like getting buy-in from the top and the bottom.

As I wrote earlier, we launched at Reboot Britain with a web version, but you can now download  a pdf of the whole 275 pages for free. Once you’ve done that, and skimmed through, I’m sure you’ll be convinced it is worth ordering a copy for £9.99. Sometime print is, well, more of a pleasure to read, and there’s a lot there. Download and ordering here.

All posts games socialbysocial

Playing the Social by Social Game


Full size image here

The Social by Social Game really took off at Net Tuesday this week when some 20 participants invented a south London borough, created a set of project ideas for better health, happiness and the environment, and then went on to plan how social technology could yield these social benefits. All within 90 minutes. read more »