Search Results for: people powered change

The challenge of networking civil society

Summary: local activists and volunteers need to share their achievements and experience in hard times. The publicly-funded sites for this have some limitations, and  smaller sites, mainly run by volunteers, don’t have the resources to grow. Is there scope for more joining up, rather than further top-down solutions?

Government policies of localism and cuts to the voluntary sector are pushing citizens and community groups to do more for themselves on the ground, and find their own ways of learning from each other nationally. A couple of recent events prompted me to review what is available online.

The first event was an invite to chat informally to a new team in the government department of Communities and Local Government about the role of social reporting in helping sharing. It was very encouraging to meet a young team full of enthusiasm and enquiry, who describe their remit like this:

The neighbourhood engagement team are working to open up the conversation on neighbourhoods policy to a greater range of people: sharing enthusiasm, tapping into a wider pool of ideas and examples and exploring how government can best support those who want to have greater control and influence in their area. Workshops and online platforms will empower those active in the community to continue the conversation across professional silos, supporting each other to innovate in local arenas with less central government direction.

The second event was a webinar, organised by Globalnet21, on whether social networking can “help create a network of mutual independence that strengthens the countless groups that are the social glue of our civil society”.

That nudged me to prepare the slides that I posted earlier, based on work I did last year with Big Lottery Fund, as well as the blogging I’ve done here about social reporting. I’ve linked a lot in this piece so you can find starting points for your own research, and draw your own conclusions.

I started looking at what platforms are being developed to help people share – about which more later. However, as you’ll see from the slides, I was also emphasising that sharing is about networks, not one-stop-information-shops, and it is people who make that work. It takes people who have some digital literacy skills, with the support of facilitators. An excellent post by Tim Davies says it very well and is worth quoting at length:

When we look at a successful example of online collaboration the most obvious visible element of it is often the platform being used: whether it’s a Facebook group, or a custom-built intranet. Projects to support online learning, knowledge sharing or dialogue can quickly get bogged down in developing feature-lists for the platform they think they need – articulating grand architectural visions of a platform which will bring disparate conversations together, and which will resolve information-sharing bottlenecks in an organisation or network. But when you look closer at any successful online collaboration, you will see that it’s not the platform, but the people, that make it work.

People need opportunities, capabilities and supportive institutional cultures to make the most of the Internet for collaboration. The capabilities needed range from technical skills (and, on corporate networks, the permission) to install and use programs like Skype, to Internet literacies for creating hyper-links and sharing documents, and the social and media literacy to participate in horizontal conversations across different media.

But even skills and capabilities of the participants are not enough to make online collaboration work: there also needs to be a culture of sharing, recognising that the Internet changes the very logic of organisational structures, and means individuals need to be trusted and empowered to collaborate and communicate across organisational and national boundaries in pursuit of common goals.

Online collaboration also needs facilitation: from animateurs who can build community and keep conversations flowing, to technology stewards who can help individuals and groups to find the right ad-hoc tools for the sorts of sharing they are engaged in at that particular time. Online facilitators also need to work to ensure dialogues are inclusive – and to build bridges between online and offline dialogue. In my experience facilitating an online community of youth workers in the UK, or supporting social reporting at the Internet Governance Forum, the biggest barriers to online collaboration have been people’s lack of confidence in expressing themselves online, or easily-address technical skill shortages for uploading and embedding video, or following a conversation on Twitter.

Building the capacity of people and institutions, and changing cultures, so that online collaboration can work is far trickier than building a platform. But, it’s the only way to support truly inclusive dialogue and knowledge-sharing. Plus, when we focus on skills and capabilities, we don’t limit the sorts of purposes they can be put to. A platform has a specific focus and a limited scope: sharing skills lays the foundation for people to participate in a far wider range of online opportunities in the future.

The challenge of supporting sharing and local innovation was picked up last year by the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) under its banner of People Powered Change, with investments of £5.76 million in a range of programmes including Your Square Mile and the Media Trust’s Newsnet, as I first wrote about here, and followed up later. I then worked with BIG for a few months exploring, with John Popham, how they might be more than a funder. Posts here.

As part of that work I put together a Netvibes dashboard taking feeds from the main community and voluntary sector sites.

I’m a little circumspect in what follows, because BIG is a client, and I know the people involved in Newsnet and Your Square Mile, and admire what they are trying to achieve.

Here’s Linda Quinn of BIG,  Gavin Sheppard on Newsnet,  Paul Twivy of Your Square Mile, in interviews last year.

The bad news is that at present it is almost impossible to find out what is going on, where to get help, how to to connect. As I aimed to show in this slide from the webinar (pdf download), there’s a big gap between local networking and national, with many unconnected initiatives in between.

I know it is early days, but as well as the CLG neighbourhoods team work, further announcements are due soon from BIG about People Powered Change (see below), so it is a good time to review progress so far, and how to build on or complement those investments. We have the elements of a rich knowledge ecosystem if we can join them up.

Your Square Mile (£830,000) has a powerful vision of what people may need locally, and a site that does a smart job of aggregating useful data and advising people about local services and the part they may play. There is currently no networking, but that may be a feature of next stage development. Baroness Newlove, Government’s Champion for Active Safer Communities, favours the site as the hub for community activists, as I reported earlier.

In addition Newsnet (£1.89 million)  has a vision of local hubs to connect a network of citizen journalists. Their site has some limitations, but there is interesting discussion and some good examples of hubs, with ways to upload and network news promised later.

In my view something like Newsnet has great potential if it can blend the dynamic of community reporting with citizens finding their own voices to tell their own stories. However this will take time, and on current plans Newsnet site will be archived in two years, when BIG funding ends. We can’t reckon it will be a long-term element in the mix (however, see update below).

Meanwhile a range of unfunded online communities like Our Society, ABCDEurope, and NatCan are doing well in each attracting hundreds of members and a wide range of discussion and resources. Networks like Transition TownsFiery Spirits and i-volunteer show what is possible with some modest investment in platform, and far more facilitation. Tim Davies facilitates Youth Work Online here.

(Disclosure: I’m one of the group running Our Society).

Mandeep Hothi, writing for Guardian Voluntary Sector Network, reports on the results of some other BIG-funded work supported by DCLG’s Empowerment Fund, confirming again that investment in social media and technology is not in itself the answer. It is people who connect. Social media can amplify and assist … but we need to understand the fine grain of how that works as a blend of face-to-face, SMS, email, forums, Facebook and other methods.

Another of the People Powered Change partners, NESTA, are just beginning a big programme of research and development in the field of hyperlocal communications. Interest from the BBC may help catalyse a network of hyperlocal activists in London.

So … we know that just investing in technology isn’t the answer, and that instead it would help to improve and support the digital literacy of activists. We know there are a number of programmes that could join up to achieve this: I’ve only highlighted a few.

But who is going to help bring it together? Big Lottery Fund is a strong supporter of the idea of asset based community development: making the most of the resources that you have in any neighbourhood, rather than just looking at the problems and putting in more funds. Could BIG apply that philosophy to networking for civil society?

After the workshop we ran with BIG in December, Linda Quinn wrote:

We’ll then spend some time working our thoughts into an overall strategy that will inform a paper to our Committee in March. My sense is that much of what we discussed is about how we engage, how we share and how we collaborate. Some of this I think we can test out in pilots, some of it requires us to think how we might change our internal processes but all of it requires that we carry on the conversation with those who have helped us so far and hopefully will remain constructive critical friends and supporters in the future.

In drafting this post, I started at this point to write that Power Powered Change phase two, when announced, may be more about investment in people than in technology platforms, and that it might be developed in part by bringing together the various initiatives I’ve mentioned, and others, to co-design something  for the future.

However, I don’t know if that will be the case – and on reflection I don’t know that we need to wait on BIG … however welcome their support would be.

I then wondered whether there was more scope for joining up the smaller sites I mentioned – even if only by sharing newsletter items and some feeds, and having a shared signposting system of who is doing what where: a more accessible version of the Netvibes dashboard I developed.

Ideally this network of networks should be animated by some social reporting … helping people make sense of the civil society ecosystem, and joining up conversation. It would be the online equivalent of local community building, in this instance designed to make the most of the knowledge assets that we have.

What do you think? Is there a problem for activists trying to get information and advice, and connect with others? If so, should we follow Baroness Newlove’s suggestions, and focus on the development of one site, like Your Square Mile? Or should we try and build a knowledge ecoystem of smaller sites, and of civil society organisations better able to network online? (By we, I’m thinking of those who manage online communities or other civil society sites).

The NESTA hyperlocal research and development programme is very timely. Maybe we need something similar at national level.

Update: if you are interested in the big picture, Steve Dale has some deeply-researched slides and notes on The Future of social media and social networks

Update 2: I dropped a query about Media Trust plans into Newsnet discussions, and Gavin Sheppard responded:

“Whilst the BIG funding is for another two years, we’re committed to supporting the platform beyond that date. Obviously further development will depending on what funding is available to us, but I see no reason why the community can’t continue to grow beyond 2014”.

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Media Trust launches Newsnet site and network

The Media Trust have launched their site for Newsnet, which aims to be “a UK-wide hub of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers, providing them with the tools and skills to get more from their local news, as well as learning from the experiences of others.

“The aim is to improve the quality and reach of these stories, through increased sharing amongst communities and distribution to mainstream media outlets, including Community Channel’s UK360 magazine show, which will broadcast some of the best community news stories”. read more »

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Media Trust offers some answers on Newsnet

Earlier this week the Media Trust announced some new developments in its £1.89 million Newsnet programme, and Civil Society Governance reported:

The Media Trust describes newsnet as “the UK’s first online network of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers”. The online portal aims to provide local people with a platform to connect and tell their local stories, as well as find resources and share ideas. The ultimate aim is to support community cohesion at a local, regional and national level.

This caused some upset with others in the community reporting field – as I reported here, with some of the backstory. The upset was partly about the claim to be first, and partly a feeling that the Media Trust should be doing more to collaborate with existing networks. Gavin Sheppard, Marketing Director at the Trust and Community, came back with a long comment, and the offer of an interview.

read more »

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Ask the Media Trust about Newsnet

My previous post about the Media Trust’s Newsnet raised some issue about the extent to which they are willing to partner with other organisations in the field.
It brought some comments, including one from Gavin Sheppard at the Trust, copied below, who also offered an interview.

I wondered how we could do one before Christmas, since I’ve just left London for the hols. Could the Trust shoot some video, if I and others came up with the questions? No problem, said the in-house filmmaker Adam Perry … usually in Leeds, but currently in London.

So here’s some starters, mainly gathered from conversations with others … and reflecting their concerns. Do add your own as a comment or tweeted @media_trust

* The Trust is very good at partnering with major media interests and sponsors – could that now extend to other community reporter organisations and networks?
* You are offering to partner with local reporting sites – but does that mainly mean promoting their content?
* Local sites are struggling to survive. Are there any deals you can broker that will help with sustainability?
* Would you join in a workshop to develop some joint approaches?

Gavin writes:

Media Trust’s belief that citizen journalism can go some way to filling the gap left by a diminishing local media is underpinned by research we commissioned from Goldsmiths Leverhulme Research Centre last year. Whilst we believe that our project is the first to bring together diverse resources and citizen journalism platforms and connect them with the mainstream media, we are certainly not claiming to be the first to support citizen journalism. Media Trust itself has led projects that create and distribute community content for many years.

The work that People’s Voice Media and many others have been doing in this area is testament to the need and effectiveness of citizen journalism. Our approach is to work with diverse partners, we hope including People’s Voice Media community reporters, to help them connect, share and access resources. Our role isn’t to prescribe a particular approach to community reporting, by way of a formal training programme such as that offered by People’s Voice, but to facilitate debate, innovation and inspiration. We are also adding a large-scale aggregation and distribution layer, using our Community Channel online and TV platform and our media partnerships, including with Press Association, to increase the profile of the wonderful community reporting that’s going on around the UK. We have spoken with People’s Voice Media, for example, about showcasing their content and would be very happy to consider it in the future, as we would with any other community or charity organisation. Our new UK360 programme, the second episode of which was broadcast last week, is dedicated to community stories produced locally.

Our approach is entirely focused on collaboration. The first example of this is our partnership with a number of beacons around the UK, including John Coster’s Citizen’s Eye in Leicester, rightly praised as a centre of excellence in citizen journalism. And we are delighted that John has agreed to chair our own advisory board on this subject. Adam, Alex, Sean, Jocelyn,myself and others in our team are spending a great deal of time touring the UK to identify partners and collaboration opportunities – anyone who would like to contribute, or who feels we might contribute to their work, whom we’re not already speaking with, please get in touch and have a conversation.

This partnership approach has been actively encouraged by the Big Lottery Fund, and is reflective of their approach to engagement, most recently led by some terrific work by David Wilcox and co in bringing together the People Powered Change partners. They have also been rightly keen that our partnerships extend to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and over the last few months my team and I have visited all of the countries and have agreed some great partnerships.

In context of this partnership approach, we accept that our choice of phrasing as “the first” is unfortunate. Whilst we believe our approach in its entirety to be unique, we wouldn’t pretend to be the first to support citizen journalism. Quite the opposite: if Goldsmiths hadn’t identified citizen journalism as having such potential, we may never have taken this approach.

Gavin Sheppard
Marketing director, Media Trust and Community Channel

We need to talk about Media Trust Newsnet

The big backgrounder story for UK community reporting at the moment is the roll out of Newsnet by the Media Trust, with a £1.89 million investment from the Big Lottery Fund as part of People powered Change. That was controversial at the time. The latest development is that the Trust have appointed three large commercial consultancies, with Civil Society Governance reporting:

The Media Trust describes newsnet as “the UK’s first online network of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers”. The online portal aims to provide local people with a platform to connect and tell their local stories, as well as find resources and share ideas. The ultimate aim is to support community cohesion at a local, regional and national level.

I hear that this has further upset some people in the field who have been developing community reporting for a few years. There’s a feeling the Trust is failing to acknowledge or work with these other potential partners, so the Civil Society news headline “Media Trust collaborates to deliver citizen journalism project” rankles just a bit.

Community and social reporter types may be keeping their heads down (if they’ve heard the news) because Media Trust could be a client/news distributor, and anyway who wants to upset Big Lottery Fund (BIG).

However, comments are taking off under the story, with a strong challenge from Gary Copitch of People’s Voice Media, who have been running community reporter programmes for over three years. He says: “I am afraid to say this is just another example of an organisation who receives Lottery funding only to duplicate existing provision”.

Community media veteran Steve Thompson has been working in this field since 1997: “Folks should always be cautious about claiming “firsts” as there is nothing new under the sun”.

I can add an archive of material and activities going to to the mid 1990s, when a group of us set up UK Communities Online.

(Incidently, I couldn’t find any other coverage of this story … and there’s nothing on the Newnet blog or a Media Trust press release. Strange.)

I find it particularly difficult to write about this, because like others in the field would love to work on Newsnet. I know and respect the people involved, and recent had a very cordial interview with Adam Perry, and earlier with the Trust’s director of marketing and communication services Gavin Sheppard.

In addition, I’ve spent the last few months working with BIG on how they might develop People Powered Change. John Popham and I did that by a process of open exploration on socialreporters.net, summarised here, and leading up to a very creative workshop. BIG are now reflecting on future plans, with decisions at committee next March.

The focus of the work ended up around how BIG can be more than a funder, perhaps operating in addition as a broker and convenor to help nurture the development of existing activities as well as funding new ones. At local level BIG supports the idea of Asset Based Community Development, as I reported here. With hindsight, it might have been better if this approach had extended to the big investments made under the people Powered Change banner. I reflected on the launch here: People Powered Change needs ppchange communications.

It’s always tempting to over-flatter a client, but I must say how impressed I’ve been with the way that BIG staff have given John and I a free hand in reporting, and have now started some significant internal discussions triggered by the conversations that started. There’s particular problem for a funder in opening up and taking on additional roles, because there’s usually “give us the money” in the background.

So: how to report on this story, in a way that helps move things forward positively? What’s the storylines … beyond the easy controversy angle?

  • Is the criticism just sour grapes from some community media types jealous of new people in the field? The Media Trust does have the skills and resources to do things at scale. But shouldn’t they build in the skills of those with grassroots experience?
  • Is there a danger that the focus on “news” in Newsnet will miss the opportunity to bring to the surface deeper insights about the ways that people are taking action locally – the sort of thing revealed by the recent micro-mapping research?
  • Is BIG investment of public money (that is, our lottery punts) in Newsnet leading to some unfair competition with organisations like People’s Voice Media? I would be interested to hear also from Talk About Local, who do excellent work in the field as well.
  • Should BIG give some sort of steer to their People Powered Change beneficiaries – who are listed as partners, and not just grantees?

And have I just wrecked my chances of further work with BIG, and any relationship with Media Trust? Maybe – but I don’t think you can call yourself a reporter if those jobs that verge on consultancy prevent you writing about significant issues.

I think that the solution is fairly simple … if BIG will forgive a little cheekiness on the last day of my contract. How about convening an open event in the New Year around the role of community and social reporting in People Powered Change, inviting Media Trust and other interests along … and running that as a consensus-building workshop.

The one big problem I found at the start of the work on People Powered Change is that people didn’t talk to each other enough because they were busy delivering (although I think that’s now changing). What better topic to start a new round of open conversations than with community reporting? We can’t aim to help people in local communities find their own voice, if we can’t do that among the various interests involved.

Meanwhile, comments are very welcome here, or if you spot that discussion is happening elsewhere tweet @Media_Trust @davidwilcox. The #newsnet tag seems to be mainly German rather than UK discussion. There is also a #ppchange tag.

Previously: Caroline Diehl, chief executive of Media Trust, responded to my earlier story in a comment here, explaining how they will collaborate locally and inviting people to express an interest.

Update: the Media Trust is offering to answer questions in a video interview. Add yours here.

Joining in Celebration 2.0: social media for sociable events

Reporting from events, and helping make them more sociable, is where a lot of my ideas on social reporting developed … with a early boost from the 2gether08 Festival a few year back. I’m therefore particularly delighted to be part of John Popham’s team for Celebration 2.0, which he has launched with a post here.

The genesis of Celebration 2.0 was the #twicket initiative that John ran on Easter Monday, live streaming a village cricket match, with local commentators and a global audience. Wikipedia entry here. John identifies three important lessons from #twicket:

  • “Fun” events can achieve large scale, global audiences online and attract mainstream media attention;
  • People who previously had seen no use for new technologies in their lives radically changed their attitudes as a result of being involved in an event that was enhanced by technology;
  • Serious messages can be conveyed to large audiences engaged by their interest in the fun nature of the event.

And adds:

So the core of Celebration 2.0 is to do more of what #twicket was about. Essentially, I will be going where people are having fun, helping them to use new technologies to enhance and amplify their events, engage new audiences, connect with others in the world doing similar things, and celebrate their traditions and cultures. And, in doing so, I’ll be looking to disseminate some practical strategies for engaging the reluctant in the use of new technologies.

There’ll be live streaming, recording audio and video, blogging, tweeting … and helping people do all that and more themselves. I do most of my reporting on an iPhone, uploading straight to YouTube, and a lot of people have the same capability on their phones. If not video, do some audio from any phone. We’ll produce a toolkit by the end of the project in  mid-2012, expanding the one I started with Bev Trayner.

The project is supported by Nominet Trust, and we will be working closely with the Talk About Local team who support local online sites.

I’m also hoping that the Media Trust’s Newsnet project – which I wrote about on socialreporters.net – might provide channels for wider distribution, and that is further scope for building on the work John and I have been doing with Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change. The Big Jubilee Lunch next June could offer some terrific opportunities.

John is the main point of contact on all this, and he provides details in his post. We are keen to hear both from people running events, and also from policy people and organisations looking for fun ways to engage people using a mix of media. It’s not just about the impact of one event. As Tom Phillips says here, events can help build networks too.

 

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Understanding and building Big Society (whatever you call it)

Big Society resurfaced this week with a public administration select committee report saying people don’t understand what is, and there should be a new Minister responsible. Kate Wiggins assesses proposals in Third Sector.

NCVO and TSRC hosted a seminar to provide a critical re-appraisal, that yielded lots of tweets (thanks mainly to @commutiny). Slides and agenda are now here too. Pathik Pathak has blogged that it was illuminating, optimistic but adversarial. Panelist Matthew Taylor found it downbeat and rather grumpy.

The Big Society Network launched a new website, with a one-year-on report from director Steve Moore

A couple of commentators followed through, with Ruth Porter in the Telegraph on Building a Big Society from the bottom up (we need a Smaller State), and Janet Morrison in the Guardian Lose the egos and collaborate (charities must live up to their values). Each interesting, if predictably aimed at respective core audiences.

A few references to academic papers surfaced: Building the Big Society: evidence about civic engagement and community control from June, Empowerment or Abandonment? Prospects for Neighbourhood Revitalization Under the Big Society, lessons from Baltimore and Bristol, this month.

Urban Forum produced one of their concise and readable briefings, this time by Caitlin McMullin on the Localism Act.

This post isn’t an attempt at a comprehensive round-up, and my focus here is less on the substance of the reports and seminar than on the means of communicating the Big Society idea/project/initiative/brand … whatever it is. Previous posts here, including how the public call to action side of it has faded, while policies like Localism and Open Public Services are changing the framework by which government shifts the balance between what they do, and what we are expected to do for ourselves.

What struck me about the re-emerging Big Society debate was how distant it was from the way that people actually talk about their local community, and do things for mutual benefit (unless they are paid community development workers, in which case they naturally pay a lot more attention to diminishing career prospects, and are rightly concerned about policy developments).

I caught a terrific dose of community optimism last Saturday, when I went to an event in south London, celebrating the I Love Thornton Heath project. I’ve blogged about it here, as part of the work I’m doing with John Popham and Drew Mackie for the Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change.

 

As you’ll see from the post and videos it was all about the stories people want to tell each other about their neighbourhoods, and the scope for helping each other that comes from that. I’m sure it would have gladdened David Cameron’s heart, and that of Ministers like Francis Maude and Nick Hurd, responsible for Big Society … but I don’t think I heard the words once. (Nor did we hear much about the riots, which happened up the road: the starting point was strengths, rather than problems, although these were acknowledged).

The response from Cabinet Office, quoted by the Guardian, to the select committee report which claimed people didn’t understand Big Society, and that concerted action was needed, was:

Programmes such as Community Organisers, Community First and National Citizen Service will help stimulate more social action by bringing people together in the communities they live in to solve problems and make the most of opportunities and assets. And there is a clear plan of how government will support this. The Localism Bill give power back to local communities, while the Open Public Services White Paper will empower individuals by giving them choice over services and empower neighbourhoods to take greater control over local services. In addition the Cabinet Office business plan sets out a clear set of objectives for the Office for Civil Society.

I suspect that the response from people like those that I met in Thornton Heath might be something to the effect that we’ve being doing what you call Big Society for years, but we can’t quite see how the policies and programmes that you are talking about will make a difference. Not that they won’t – but it isn’t clear. We just don’t understand.

I hope I’m not putting hypothetic words into people’s mouths: I’m just connecting the conversations I had last Saturday with one I had with Eileen Conn at the recent People Powered Change workshop.

Eileen suggests that the way that informal community groups operate, with no paid staff, is fundamentally different from the more conventionally managed operations of funded voluntary organisations (and public services, of course). The groups work through horizontal person-to-person networks, while organisations operate vertically and hierarchically. Taking an analogy from physics, one is matter, one is more like energy waves. Thinking about joining bottom-up and top-down misses the complexity of the social ecosystem.

If you accept Eileen’s analysis, it goes a long way towards explaining why Big Society – as expressed by Cabinet Office – doesn’t play out on the ground. It’s not just a matter of “something invented by the Tories” or too tied up with the cuts: it is just from another planet.

So how can we develop some common understanding, between Government, central and local, other public services, voluntary bodies and community groups? I think there’s broad agreement – certainly evident at the seminar – that we need a mix of all of these.

Tessy Britton’s Social Spaces project has a game that provides a way of playing the issues through – and like Tessy and her collaborators I find that games are a great way to create spaces within which people from different backgrounds can have useful conversations (here’s one Drew Mackie and I ran about community spaces).

In Tessy’s game – described here – people sort through a collection of 100 skills that are printed on cards, and consider:

  • skills that the group can do
  • skills that their friends can do
  • skills that to their knowledge neither they nor their friends can do

My experience of the game is that people find that there are a lot more cards in the first set than they might expect. Tessy reports:

“Through workshopping with over 1800 people in the last 14 months we have discovered that this activity, but some miracle, did exactly what we hoped it would.

  • Without exception everyone enjoys this game – people always laugh and joke their way through the game which takes about 10-15 minutes – we have even had frequent demonstrations of ‘sitting in the lotus’ position.
  • It is informal and people interact in light ways that help them get to know one another better.
  • Of the 100 activities a group of 4 or more will be able to do, or have a friend do, over 90% of the skills. The percentage between how much an individual group can do themselves varies on size of group, but generally speaking most skills can be done in the community.
  • It does make people feel capable – we have frequently had groups spontaneously applaud themselves at their collective cleverness.
  • It genuinely surprises them how much can be done around the table – and through this are also blown away considering how much skill is lying dormant in the community.”

Tessy adds  you can buy a set of cards on the Social Spaces Shop – “BUT before you do, please be aware that you will be able to request a free PDF of the Social Spaces Skills Game in the new year, which we are making available free for community’s use via a Creative Commons [Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs] licence”.

I think that this gives us one clue to the challenge of how to help people understand and build Big Society (or whatever you choose to call the good stuff people do in their community). Create an open sourced store of games and other methods. I’ve previously called that a social app store.

Another very promising approach is emerging over on the Our Society site, where Lorna Prescott is inviting people to join development of a guide to Our Society. Lorna has picked up on a rather theoretical framework I developed back in January, and wants to assemble practical ideas and test them through the reality of life in Dudley. If people in other communities join in, the guide/store could evolve quite fast. I’m sure if we applied Tessy’s game strategically, we would find that we have all of the ingredients (to shift the metaphor to that used in the Transition Network Companion).

I’m planning to shift more of my blogging towards understanding what local people and groups need to develop our/big/good society. Bottom up? Grassroots? Energy-led? People-powered? Oh  dear, I can see language is going to be a problem. What would you say?

Update

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Sociable events to build networks, join up ideas

I’m spending today at an excellent Developing Solutions Camp organised by Kent Connect on using technology for local communities, as you can see here. While developers worked up presentations of their prototypes, and got ready to pitch for prizes, I talked to Tom Phillips, who until recently worked in local government, about the work I’m doing with Big Lottery Fund (BIG) on People Powered Change.

Part of that work is to explore how BIG can be more than a funder, and help groups that they fund to they share ideas and experience. As part of the discussion, I offered a diagram suggesting a change from hierarchical structures to more of a peer-to-peer mesh: Moving from join us, join in, to join up yourselves.

The join-up part of the diagram shows a network that is usually seen as a connected set of people. But Tom made the point that the nodes could just as well be activities, including sociable events. That certain chimes in with my experience, where reporting events has been one of the best ways of doing the join-up  bit of social reporting. Here’s some earlier reflections.

However, to make the events useful for joining up outside the room, I think that the social reporter needs to do a bit more than just shoot video, blog or tweet. It is important to look for stories and ideas that might be specially relevant for people who are not there, and make sure they get both a link and an introduction. It means organising events that allow space for the sort of conversations that I had with Tom here – and also in this post about sociable organisations.

It means some “strategic opportunism”, as James Derounian calls it over here:

…….that is putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.
So 1 example = attending a conference, like yesterday’s on ‘localism’in Manchester….which puts you in the way of a load of other like-minded/interested people; can also of course be virtual…being ‘present’ on certain blogs, tweets, www etc…

That certainly happened to me at a recent event in Manchester, when I met community mobilisers Corrina and Andy and their iPhone app. Today I have been able to make the link between that conversation, and the developments in Kent, strengthening idea of a social app store. So to build networks, hold events that can connect both ideas and people.

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No 10 talk turns from Big Society to small is beautiful, says The Times

A link in the always-informative Conservative Home newsletter prompted me to spend £1 subscribing to The Times online. The link teaser was: “Increasingly, Mr Cameron’s advisers have started to argue that “small is beautiful” rather than talking about the Big Society.”

The argument in the article by Rachel Sylvester – behind the paywall – is that No 10 is increasingly concerned that “too big to fail” won’t work as a strategy – whether that’s banks, the EU, or indeed the Church of England in the face of a tented village. Apparently they are listening to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose 2007 book The Black Swan argued that history is made by random high-impact events rather than day-to-day routines. A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences.

Stuff happens, you can’t see it coming, so it may be better to have more small projects, systems, organisations. The second edition of The Black Swan has ten principles for a robust society – of which “what is fragile should break early, while it’s still small” is top of the list, says Rachel. read more »

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Transition gives us the best of ingredients for networking

I’ve just posted this over on socialreporters.net, where John Popham and I are helping the Big Lottery Fund explore the future of their People Powered Change initiative as a networked space for local projects and national partners to share experience and learn from each other.

Among networks that help local projects share experience, with support but not dominance from the centre, the Transition Networkstands out as one that blends the best of event facilitation, online systems, and how-to advice. I think it’s a model that People Powered Change should look at for inspiration.

Today the network announces really innovative developments on several fronts, with an inspiring Transition Companion book about creating local Transition projects, a directory of the ingredients and tools to do that, and a set of cards that help people play through the methods.

The role of the network is “to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities as they self-organise around the transition model, creating initiatives that rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions”.

At their recent conference, which I reported here, Transition founder Rob Hopkins gave a preview workshop and explained how the companion is based on pattern language. Here’s an interview from the conference with Charlotte Du Cann, who is also leading a social reporting project in the network.

The previous Transition Handbook (pdf here) took people through a 12-step process of setting up a local project – and I find groups love that sort of apparently simple approach, until they find that it isn’t a simple sequence. The process of building a group, developing ideas, learning new skills, working with the local council, starting on projects has to be crafted to the local situation.

Back in the 1970s Christopher Alexander worked with a group of other architects to develop the book A Pattern Language as a way of expressing the relationship between spaces, buildings, and their components. So – if you want this sort of house, it may need that sort of setting, and this set of rooms, which may require that sort of furniture. It’s all about what works with what.  Christopher and Rob met up, as Rob reports here.

Rob has used the inspiration of pattern language to recast the handbook as a companion, using ingredients and tools as an easier-to-understand version of patterns, with lots of examples of the creative activities local groups engage in during their development. Local groups create the recipes appropriate for them.

My friend Ed Mitchell, who manages the online side of the network, has worked with his web team to turn the ingredients and tools into a directory around the five main stages of development: Starting out; Deepening; Connecting; Building and Daring to dream. Within each there are ingredients (for example, Measurement, Visioning, Building Partnerships, Celebrating, Storytelling), with links showing where other ingredients may be relevant, and what tools are appropriate (for example, Energy Resilience Assessment, Finance, Volunteers).

Each ingredient has summaries of the Challenge it aims to meet, a Description, and Solution … rather like the original pattern language … together with longer content.

Translation the Transition companion to an online environment a really impressive achievement. Ed and I have discussed the potential of pattern language in the past, and I’m using some of that thinking in game development with Drew Mackie … however, Ed has now made it a reality online.

Transition has also given us a download of the set of cards, beautifully designed by Marina Vons-Gupta. The book, the web, and the cards are are an integrated set of resources that – as far as I know – are unmatched for this sort of purpose. Anyone know of anything similar?

I have the book, can browse the site, and will now download the cards, and report further. I just wanted to get something up here quickly, as context for the interview I’m doing shortly about People Powered Change developments.

For those of a technical disposition, the Transition site is built in Drupal … and I’m delighted to see that Ed and the team have some additional funding from the Nominet Trust to create a Projects Sharing Engine. Ed writes:

“We now have an 18 month project to start to bend some virtual boundaries and build some bridges between Transition Initiative websites, enabling their visitors to read and add to the projects directory all from the comfort of their own local websites”.

The Transition Network approach is to encourage local groups to develop in their own way – using some centrally-created ingredients and tools – and then use the Transition framework to share their experience. The website aggregates the local content, rather than simply broadcasting centrally.

The Transition approach is different from that adopted by the BIG Village SOS project, for example, which has a centralised system. There’s no right or wrong – it depends on the context, and what you are trying to achieve.

I think Transition can go for a decentralised system because there is a strong set of Transition principles and ingredients that will inform local development, and the content that flows from local groups. They are committed to sharing.

The many projects funded by BIG, who may share experience through People Powered Change, do not at the moment have anything in common but the BIG funding. Most of them probably don’t have any web presence … so it isn’t possible to get a feed from them.

I think what will be needed at the start, if BIG want to move forward, is a combination of the sort of social reporting project that Transition is piloting, combined with the local online training and support provided by Talk About Local. But that’s just a couple of the ingredients, and over the next month or two we’ll be looking for more.