Events


I was at the excellent Digital Futures event  in Shropshire on Monday and spoke about Community Engagement – here is the presentation from the event if you are interested:

It was an excellent day and hats off to @ashroplad for his curation of the day.  Lots of great presentations but the standouts for me were Carrie Bishop talking about digital by design not default and minimal use of technology and Alison from Pesky People who with humour and determination hammered home the point that technology has no excuse not to be accessible.  I also enjoyed hearing @loulouk sharing some of the highs and lows of GDS’s work with social media – great to see a high profile group being prepared to share their less than brilliant experiences as well as the stuff that goes well.

I was talking about the way in which networked technologies cause ‘disintermediation’  – removing intermediaries from processes and relationships – and what this pressure might mean for Citizen / Government relationships which are often mediated by the Community Engagement process.  My experience is from the digital democracy world – but my point is that the offline process needs to respond the change being driven online.

We have been doing a lot of work on Community Engagement over the last year both on our own and with our partners Demsoc and OCSI (we don’t just talk networks – we work in them!).  The work has spanned the CRIF project in Cambridgeshire, the NESTA Funded We Live Here project in Brighton and at the moment as part of the advisory and research work we are doing with the APCC and APACE around the new Police and Crime Commissioner roles.  Having these new roles to think about really opens up the debate and has started to develop into some principles which we are applying to projects:

  • Digital by Default – not just taking digital as your main channel but by taking the behaviours that we find online and applying them to the offline relationship
  • Open by Default – Putting the emphasis on an open, shared and public evidence base that can be used and contributed to by all participants as well as a creating a process which allows new ideas and agenda items to come from Citizens as well as the process manager
  • Networked – Connecting and creating ‘networks of networks’ which can maintain themselves (because they already are) but contribute to a wider more representative discussion
  • Agile – reacting to new evidence and ideas in a controlled but responsive way

That first one is now back on the drawing board as I think that Carrie is right to talk about digital by design however I also want it to reflect the fact that its about being culturally not just technically digital – might try our digitally native instead – views please!

We are influenced by the Asset Based Community Development approach of people like Jim Diers and our starting point for any project is to go and find the people in the community who are already talking as they are the starting point for your network – we use our social media audit process to do this.  By running and open and agile process from the start, and by making good use of both digital channels and offline events, we have a developed a new approach to Community Engagement.  We also put a shared, robust and OPEN evidence base central to what we do.

Up to this point we have strong evidence and experience which shows that this a highly effective – and cost-effective way of approaching community engagement which leaves you with a reusable asset in terms of a platform and a network of ‘willing localists’.

We think that this can go further however and so within these principles we embed an objective to create more co-productive outcomes – the final stage of community engagement should be a co-productive and self-managing network of local participants.  Over time the investment in creating these networks should reduce the costs of community engagement but more importantly strengthen the ability of communities to help themselves.

Community Engagement should be about creating the right kind of relationship between Citizens and Government and as such it should integrate communication, consultation and the democratic process – which means that reimaging Community Engagement means reimaging the role of the representative within it.  If we are going to ask more of our communities, and I think the financial picture if nothing else means that we are, then it is vital that we renegotiate this relationship.

I have had a fascinating week – firstly at the LGA Annual Conference and then at an APCC event to brief Police and Crime Commissioner Candidates (other briefings included Sir Hugh Orde and the heads of both SOCA and the new NCA so it was an excellent day to be part of).  In both these environments I found myself asking whether or not my belief in the need for a high level of knowledge about the digital agenda is reasonable – my conclusion is that its essential if we want to evolve the relationship between citizen and state.

PCCs have the potential to provide a seismic shift in power at the local level however moving from one event to the other you could feel the pull back towards Local Government as we know it now – not surprising given that the new Police and Crime Panels and many of the candidates that I have met come from this background. However even where all participants in the process are minded to keep the model as close to the current status quo as possible there will be an erosion of current systems as a new balance is found not just between the PCC and the Force they are responsible for but also between the various agencies and partnerships who are part of the wider ‘and Crime’ element of this agenda. My view is that however one feels about the concept of Police and Crime Commissioners its undeniably the biggest democratic experiment we have seen for hundreds of years – so lets not waste it.

My session at the briefing on Friday focused on the democratic potential of this experiment and the need to design a democratic environment which is fit for purpose for the 21st Century. I believe that this does not mean recreating the current Police Authority in a new form and but it does mean embracing digital and networked technologies – if for no other reason than to stay in sync with the excellent work that Forces across the country are doing in this area. I’ve written more about what I mean by this here and my presentation from friday is here on prezi.

Apart from the PCC content which I followed at the LGA Annual Conference I had a few other observations which I’d be interested to know if other people who were in Birmingham would share:

  • We needed more space / time for debate and discussion – perhaps its time to change the balance in the agenda towards a more interactive format for some sessions.
  • Clearly the next CSR is moving towards us and its going to be tough – however there seems still to be a lot of questions as to where the focus of this will fall and there is every chance that the impact on local government will be more insidious than a direct cut (though there will be those as well) with other aspects of the welfare budget being looked at.
  • Though people mention it there is not clear plan for work with Local Government on the economic growth agenda – this seems short sighted in the extreme
  • With respect to both of these agendas there is a growing commitment to the need for more radical redesign within Local Government – the Creative Councils Innovation session was packed for example – but I am not sure that people are yet clear on what this really means or are ready to take the risks that are inherent in this approach.
  • There is still an alarming lack of strategic IT knowledge at a senior level in Local Government

My final observation may be very much skewed by the fact that I was at both of these events in order to talk about ‘digital’ in one way or another and also by the fact that this an area I know a lot about. However, in trying to calibrate my expectations of Leaders, Chief Executives and now PCC candidates around the digital agenda I am looking for an awareness of the key issues, such as open data for example, but more importantly an awareness that digital is a driver of social and behavioural change and not just a passive tool for mechanisation of process. Its for this reasons that the role of IT, and digital as a channel, should be a major element of any strategy to address the big themes which were being talked about at conference – is goes beyond efficiencies and should be a transformational tool. Everyone I spoke to would agree with this statement – but I am not sure that there is enough sector wide access to the skills which are needed in order to translate this need into the strategic planning process.  In my session with the PCC candidates I said I didn’t think you should stand as a candidate if you couldn’t figure out how to use twitter – there was a quiet intake of breath in the room – but I would stand by this statement.

We need to ask more of our communities – there is a growing consensus about the need to change the relationship between citizen and state both in a positive way through the localism agenda and a more negative sense through the withdrawal of unaffordable services.  In asking more I believe we will need to make more central use of technology as more that just another channel – it needs to signal this change in the relationship and respond to the power that technology has offered participants in other realms.  We need government to allow itself to experience the transformative effects that the media has undergone as a result of the ability for anyone active online to directly publish their own content.

We ran one of the few technology focused sessions at the conference and we attracted a group that described itself as a significant minority of Members who want to know more about social media not just in terms of how to use it but in terms of the more philosophical aspects of identity and community which are central to the social impact of new technologies. This is an agenda that I would like to the see the LGA, the political parties as well as SOLACE take up more seriously in the future as we need our senior teams to take a central role in exploring and shaping what happens when we become ‘digital by default’ as a result of both financial pressures and social change.

I am going to try and make this short as it will be cross-posted to the Public-i blog and that means the talented Mr Brightwell will edit it down anyway….

I wanted to talk about the Open Spaces South West  and also a bit of a comment on Carl Haggerty’s post here.

I have am a huge fan of Open Spaces in their many forms. I am a regular at UK Govcamp and LocalGovCamp and also a co-producer of CityCamp Brighton. I have also part of some explorations about what these kind of open spaces approaches might mean for community engagement with CRIF and also We Live Here. I repeatedly see people being inspired, excited and engergised by events which enable the participants to take responsibility for their own experience and learn from this and from each other – and its fun – I always enjoy myself and I see other people do as well. Whoever said that important stuff had to be dull?

But I do think we need to see if we can make this kind of event work a bit harder and accomodate not just the new people who get so much from being exposed to a different way of working but also to create the space for longer standing ideas and projects to be worked on and extended. I also think we need to try and ensure that we expose more senior decision makers to this kind of event. The need for social innovation in the public sector is huge – and we have to start working together more effectively acrosss sectors and across organisations if we are going to start putting together some of the bigger projects that we will need to make signifincant change happen. So, Open Spaces South West will happen on a Friday because we think this should be part of your day job and not an added extra, we have some pre-programmed speakers to stimulate debate (as we do with CityCamp) and we are making active efforts to invite decision makers and non-usual suspects to this kind of event. We’ll keep you posted.

This question of working across boundaries is something which I think is critical to creating change and to the way in which we start to develop new kinds of relationships between citizens and state. I think this blurring of boundaries is a defintive element of the network society. At Public-i we talk about this as open practice and as part of this we are ‘sharing’ Carl with Devon County Council. Now – anyone who knows Carl will know he’s brilliant and you would have to be an idiot not to want to work with him – plus there is a hhuge amount of shared learning from this kind of thing – so thats one reason for the arrangement from our point of view. However the wider point about the blurring of boundaries I think is really important as Carl expresses here:

“In a number of ways and this also makes me think that actually this whole opportunity should be more widely available to other public sector folk…what i mean from this is that I think people and organisations on both sides would benefit if those people who wished to seek new challenges and experiences were allowed to temporarily take development opportunities with a private sector organisations. You see and read all too often now that there is a massive brain drain happening within the sector and all the best people are leaving…yes some great people are leaving, but lets not forget and lets not underestimate the huge amount of latent talent that remains, waiting to be unlocked and let free…this is where events like open space south west come in for me, opening up new connections and opportunities for new people to be the leaders.”

Events like Open Spaces South West should help to break down boundaries and create spaces for people to lead. I was inspired by hearing Jim Diers speak last week (blogged about it here) and I was hugely struck by his incitment to build networks and relationships rather than structures – I really hope Open Spaces South West can instigate some new network and as Carl says provide opportunities for new people to be the leaders. On a slightly less lofty note – I really hope its fun.

The Fremont Troll – Community co-production at its finest.

I went to hear Jim Diers speak last week – it was brilliant – many thanks to Colin Miller and BHCC for arranging it. I am still trying to get hold of the slides and will share them when I do but I wanted to blog about the event while it was still fresh in my mind.

Jim Diers  was Director of the Office of Neighbourhoods in Seattle, created in 1988 as a response to citizen dissatisfaction in the City. He has had a number of other community development roles and now lectures at the University of Washington as well as at the Asset Based Community Development Institute at NorthWestern. He has also been invited to talk to the UK Government and was consulted by the UK Government as part of the People Powered Change programme – happily he has avoided the brand toxicity of big society association by having a hugely credible track record.

I was live tweeting the event and below are the comments I tweeted which had the greatest resonance with me and with the people using the #jimdiers tag that evening:

  • If you call me a taxpayer I will demand service – call me a citizen and I will act like one
  • Too many organisations- not enough networks or communities. Build relationships not structures
  • Give communities the data that describes them and make representativeness a condition of funding
  • The council needs to think of all of its comms as a way of building relationships. Don’t put engagement in a box on its own
  • People learn best from the people who have done the work – its effective and empowering
  • Local regeneration is about the community attracting the business they want not just waiting to see what turns up
  • If you describe the community in terms of needs not strengths then all the power is with government

The stories Jim told from Seattle were inspiring because they spoke of communities finding their own power and taking a central role in their own development. Jim described a co-productive environment where the City officials had moved out of the way and strongly saw their role as facilitators, connectors and enablers for the community. He also implied a huge level of commitment from the City and from politicians – in particular the Mayor.

In the Seattle projects the question of representativeness was passed to the community to answer and was made one of the conditions of funding. I asked how the team had gone about detoxifying politics for the communities to the extent that they were positive about this kind of democratic approach and in his answer he talked about the need for persistence as well as the need to demonstrate the commitment to democracy with actions not just words. Jason Kitkat (leader of BHCC) added to this by pointing out that there is a place for politics – I think the unspoken codicil to this is its probably not within community development work.

However it is a bold decision to step away and let the community act and there is an explicit need in this approach to give power away to the community.

Part of why this was possible in Seattle was because the situation in 1988 was dire with many neighbourhoods needing significant regeneration and much citizen dissatisfaction – which sounds familiar in the UK in 2012. The response from the City was to do bottom up planning “because we don’t have any money” – for them effective community engagement was not a luxury.

It was also possible in Seattle because they took an asset based view of community development – they looked at what communities could do not just what they – the state – felt they needed (Have a look at how Wiltshire have been exploring this approach thanks to Steve Milton  ). This asset based model has been developed by the Institute at NorthWestern and the website is worth a read to explore some of the other case studies as well.

There was a challenge within Jim’s ideas about the need to transform the ‘usual suspects’ as well as our politicians – the challenge being that transformation in the way in citizen/state relationship to achieve more democracy and more shared power will require us to change all aspects of that relationship – not just a top down attitude approach from politicians. Jim explicitly said he felt that much of the Community development function has lost its direction and that its contributing to the culture of dependency. This was challenged as being a difficult message to give to people who have been ‘banging their heads against a brick wall’ in their attempts to create more citizen-led initiatives but Jim pushed back with the need to transform all elements of the community development dynamic in order to really achieve co-productive results. He is challenging community development professionals to take a really hard look at whether they are needs or assets led and whether part of the transfer of power to communities is in this reframing and not just with changing the attitudes of the politicians.

I have to say that I share his belief that all of the actors involved in the community development relationship need to change. In some ways this is a companion thought to the piece which I wrote on the absence of politicians in the digital space recently in that I expressed a similar feeling of appreciation for the enormous contribution but frustration for the failure to engage with a changing agenda. The challenge to change can’t just to laid at the door of politicians – the rest of us need to adapt as well and we need to do it in step with wider social changes.

Diers’ emphasis was on action, on doing and empowering. In many ways he was seeing community building as a by-product of community action and this is intriguing. Many of us would agree that this is the case and it certainly echoes the positive by-product approach that we have taken with We Live Here  but this principle of benefit by obliquity  is very difficult to argue for in a business case constrained development environment. However focusing our metrics on the measurable is a very sensible thing to do – for example looking at network reach and depth rather than social capital as a way of measuring community cohesion.

So – I have said before that evangelists are really irritating and I know that I can be counted as such on both counts and you can probably tell I found the session huge energising and inspiring. However. The caveat for me was the absence of a role for digital engagement to play a part in this work. This is probably not surprising as many of the case studies were from over the last across the last 20 years and probably predate the exponential take up of social technologies from the last 5 years. But when asked Jim was fairly dismissive of social media  – and I think this is a missed opportunity not just because of some of the efficiencies and relevance that new technologies but bring but also the positive social pressure that citizens already participating in the network society can bring. We see this in the CityCamp Brighton and this asset based approach is exactly how we have been approaching We Live Here.

The social network research that we use to instigate the We Live Here sites is an attempt to, cost-effectively, find the community assets who already have some of the digital skills which I think will be essential to community development in the future.

Why? Because as Jim Diers said it’s not just getting communities to take over services – its about enabling them to redesign those services to fit their lives. You will need digital skills to reinvent services in the future and you will need networked behaviours to do this within the network society.

But the thing I really noted from the session was a reminder of the importance of starting the engagement process with the community – not with your own organisational needs – and taking the time to build the relationships and shape the response around them. This is such a difficult thing to do when the pressure for change is immense and the natural response when in a hurry to to revert to a controlling approach. I think this is another way in which digitally led approaches can help with the amplification and viral nature of online network building speeding up this process – as long as we can then go on to take these networks offline and into the community.

I think there is something really significant in a combination of this kind of approach to community development with the rigour and scale that you can achieve with successful digital projects and the cultural change that a more digitally native approach can bring. Part of the point of the action research programme I want to set up around the We Live Here work is to look at how digital techniques can complement this kind of asset based community development approach and I will also now bring in some of the CityCamp Brighton experiences and see if I can gather evidence from this network as well.

I am fascinated by the cultural collisions that are brought about by really good community development work and really good use of digital as more than just a communication tool. I am impatient for these cultural collisions to start changing our political landscape and hope to do my part in bringing some of these collisions about. I am most excited however by the huge potential that I think is in our communities if we can figure out a way of unlocking and seeing first the assets and not the needs of communities.

As I said when I signed off on twitter after the event:

Inspired. Now off to find assets, remove structure to build relationships and democracy

 

PS  for those of you who like this kind of thing – SNA map of the tweets from the event:

 

Total reach of nearly 40,000 with a contribution from the Netherlands – it is indeed a small world….

  1. If you pitch 4 sessions you will have a lot to write up
  2. We have moved on from last year – more stuff is mainstream and big ideas are being taken seriously.  However we now need to focus on building a proper evidence base to stop ourselves running away with ideas that we have not yet proved
  3. At some point soon GovCamp will need to reconcile its relationship with ‘the suits’ and accept that it is difficult to get stuff into the mainstream without it being diluted.
  4. We really need to agree on the new context so we can help our projects support each other
  5. If we are in a network society then we need to start using the power of that network – and not just talk about it at GovCamp
  6. Agile projects need agile management – not Prince2
  7. Lists are much faster than text – thanks Dan
  8. Dave and Steph do an incredible job with the organising – thank you both
  9. Lloyd Davis is an excellent facilitator and I got a huge amount from his Human Scale conversation
  10. Carrie Bishop is the best and most positive disrupter I know – I love the way she thinks
  11. One aspect of a smaller state is less concern for edge cases – I am not sure how I feel about this
  12. Its great to have the wisdom of @tomsprints at our disposal
  13. I am really glad that @pubstrat is running a huge project – its reassuring
  14. Every time I think I know enough people I meet a new ones who are fantastic
  15. When is the centre  going to realise that Government doesn’t mean Whitehall?
  16. I liked the 2 day format – but I think we should try running some sessions explicitly aimed at new people
  17. I talk too much
  18. Information is going to drive the new economy – we need to treat it like a valuable raw material not a finished product
  19. Its a huge shame that only one politician appeared in two days – hats off to @cllriansherwood for being the one who bothered
  20. Its not about digital – its about social change

We had a really great We Live Here project meeting earlier this week and so this post started as an action research one – however it got a bit out of hand as ever its also influenced by a couple of other things I have been up to this week hence this post turning up instead! If you find that a bit dull then you can just jump here to the WLH stuff.

I was at the launch of the SEEMP Localism and Accountablity Network yesterday and had the unenviable post-lunch slot which I used to talk about how the network society could be used to reframe engagement as well the need for Councils to step out of the way and allow some relationship collision to happen and trust in the ability of people to bring about good outcomes. I went a bit free range but the slides below are at least a basic guide to what I said:

There were some good speakers – Andrew Bowles, Leader from Swale, talked about the Kent approach to Localism and William Benson (CEX of Tunbridge Wells) talked about some of their engagement work, including hack days, ward walks and a full on assult on Morrisons – brilliant! There was also an excellent speaker from the LGA who took us on a canter through the Localism Bill – in summary not as local as we thought so take the general power and competance and run as far and fast from Westminster as you can.

We also heard from Imogen from the Westgate Hall Community Trust – a community interest company. They have a fascinating founding story that I am hoping to talk to Imogen about in more detail and blog about separately.

I went out for dinner with a very dear friend of mine last night who lives in Australia – which was lovely. There is nothing special as time spent with someone you can talk to about anything and everything. We ended up laughing like maniacs about the fact that she has no idea about what I do – despite having read this blog and following me on twitter. I think we can safely assume that she is not alone. However, later when we were chatting with her parents I started to explain (they really are very polite and did ask) and it turns out her Dad is involved with the ‘Hoathly Hub‘ – a hyperlocal site for their village. Talking about that, and how it relates to local decision making made the whole thing come clear.

Why am I boring you with this? Good question.

Often, when we talk about community or democratic engagement I think we over-complicate things. A lot. I am obviously more guilty of this than most but I think we mystyfy the process of community engagement and turn it into something or a ritual. Sometimes ritual and process is important – protocol afterall is a mechanism for stopping people killing each other – but it can also be used to try and control a situation. I am now acutely aware that part of my motivation for creating a formal agenda is a desire to control what we are going to talk about – just doing a list of stuff to be covered feels very different.  The people who do this stuff within their community just get on and do it so it is no surprise that they are perplexed when faced with practitioners and professionals trying to formalise something that to them is a natural extension of their social life.

One of the points I made at the SEEMP event which got some willing and unwilling nods was the fact that we often use community engagement as a buffer between the citizen and government that covers what can be inadequate democratic representation – a cosy jumper that reassures us but stops us having to have unpleasant but sometimes necessary confrontation.  We preserve relationships but we don’t always make progress.

Are we helping anyone by doing this? I feel very confident that a lot of members could if asked step up and work more effectively and I know the public could. Perhaps if we want to demonstrate leadership in social change we need to start by trusting people.

Interesting day today spent at a conference in Kent for Elected Members. We spent the day talking about, as the title says, making localism a reality. My slides from my session are below:

As ever my focus was on giving members a reason to go online rather than trying to teach them how to use the tools – once you have achieved the first then the second is fairly straightforward I think.

Couple of things struck me from the conversation that I wanted to note. Firstly, there is a huge amount of energy invested in the current structures and one of the main reasons for getting better community involvement is to provide the new impetus that is needed in order to start dismantling some of these structures. Secondly, if we want localism in a network society to work then we need to stop trying to bend it to find out current democratic processes and structures – we need to observe community where it emerges and then figure out how to make the decision making process democratic. This demands greater agility, responsiveness and a fundamental restructure of our democratic process. Democracy is precocious – precious enough to make it worth reforming rather than letting it become irrelevant.

Thanks to all that listened today – and an extra thanks for not thinking I was going mad with the Star Trek TNG reference – Engage!!!

« Previous PageNext Page »