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David Wilcox

Why #thewayahead for London civil society needs better communications and engagement

5 min read

This Storify of tweets compiled by Superhighways, and a photo report, show the breadth of discussion at last week's event on the future of London's civil society **.

The event was organised by London Voluntary Service Council, Greater London Volunteering and London Funders to take forward their report The Way Ahead - Civil Society and the Heart of London.

Effective action could involve everyone from individual citizens to groups, charities, councils and business. The big challenge now is not just understanding and explaining the report, but offering ways for people to play a part.

As I wrote earlier, I'm working with LVSC on how Londoners can in future better connect with each other, engage in local activities and find support.

Drew Mackie and I will be looking at ways in which people and groups can develop their personal and community networks, using a range of methods including new technology.

We hope this will make a useful contribution to The Way Ahead - and so I was glad to join in the communications group at the event, led by Steve Wyler.

Communications

Here's notes I've transcribed from the photo report:

  • recognising different phases - e.g. currently a development and engagement phase
  • comms will matter throughout implementation
  • development phase likely to continue beyond March 2016 - urgent point about producing a succinct and tailored set of propositions that sets out The Way Ahead recommendations for different stakeholders (e.g. messages for business will be different from those for frontline groups)
  • communication needs to be more than broadcast, needs engagement and enabled contributions (some could be to thematic groups, but also need something beyond this - website but visuals not just text, plus online networking forum)
  • roadshow events, either on local areas or on thematic issues, to talk to people about what this would mean in practice chairs of theme groups and system change group need to model new forms of communication
  • need system of communications that work well for frontline volunteers, activists and others, not just digital and not just those already in the room

The group report on peer-to-peer learning was very relevant too:

  • leadership and learning important as it underpins everything in The Way Ahead
  • need to be proactive in developing our leadership programmes underway, but information not being shared between people and organisations
  • need sector-specific opportunities, but important to have cross-sector work to learn and grow (e.g. time banking between people and organisations)
  • need to recognise that competition can stand in the way of sharing ideas

The communications recommendations apply mainly to The Way Ahead programme, while peer-to-peer learning is about what happens next. In addition we had a useful discussion about the realities of day-to-day communications in community and voluntary organisations, and the need to offer a mix of methods from face-to-face through phone calls and print to online.

As well as external communications, there will first be the challenge of facilitating conversations between the five thematic groups now established:

  • Co-production
  • Data: collating, analysing and sharing data about the needs and strengths of Londoners
  • Triage and connecting: local, specialist and regional support organisations
  • Voice and campaigning: civil society needs to be fully engaged in decision-making on London- wide issues,
  • Consistent commissioning and funding for support

The main recommendation in the The Way Ahead is to promote and develop co-production, by which the review team mean:

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

All this suggests to me that The Way Ahead will only succeed if everyone concerned - from funders to councils, groups and organisations, and citizens - can talk to each other about what's involved in making their London a better place to live.

This involves creating some communication systems that embrace new and older methods, internally and externally.

I know that The Way Ahead team will be launching a new web site, and planning other forms of communication.

At the moment The Way Ahead reports are pretty heavy pdfs, so I think a simple explainer would be a useful start, covering for example:

  • What is civil society
  • How does it operate
  • What isn’t working - for citizens, organisations, funders
  • What changes are coming - whether through funding cuts or external forces
  • What are the key ideas in The Way Ahead
  • Who needs to be involved in co-production and other changes
  • What might be involved in making changes

... which would lead to "here's what part you might play".

At the end of the event facilitator George Gawlinski remarked that for change to happen The Way Ahead needed to be a movement.

If so, the challenge is not just how to promote the messages of The Way Ahead - but how to offer people ways to get involved, in terms that make sense to them. The event last week provided the energy and insights to do that.

** The Way Ahead report offers this definition:

“Civil society is where people take action to improve their own lives or the lives of others and act where government or the private sector don’t. Civil society is driven by the values of fairness and equality, and enables people to feel valued and to belong. It includes formal organisations such as voluntary and community organisations, informal groups of people who join together for a common purpose and individuals who take action to make their community a better place to live.”

David Wilcox

Exploring #thewayahead for London's civil society infrastructure in the digital age

2 min read

I'm starting a fascinating piece of work exploring how Londoners can in future better connect with each other, engage in local activities and find support.

Drew Mackie and I will be looking at ways in people and groups can develop their personal and community networks, using a range of methods including new technology.

We are working with the London Voluntary Service Council, who are partners in a far-reaching review with London Funders, called The Way Ahead. It is looking at the way community and voluntary organisations will operate in future - but as you can see from their report, the emphasis in on the citizen.

In a blog post David Warner, of London Funders, writes:

Unfortunately civil society organisations do not always recognize that focusing on communities’ strengths is an important step in enabling people to take control of their own lives. Organisations work to their own agendas and bring their own world-views. Often the priority seems to be more to sustain organisations than to enable communities.

A better model for doing good …

... means working with Londoners to assess need and taking that as the starting point for helping communities to build confidence and self-reliance. The Way Ahead consequently emphasis co-production - promoting cooperation and collaboration, and designing the future with citizens.

In our work we'll try and offer some insights into what civil society infrastructure mighty look like in the digital age. Today I'm at a conference to plan the next steps on The Way Ahead, and will be tweeting with the hashtag .

David Wilcox

The @agenoretirement Festival builds on #joinedupdigital connector plans: create local community coops where #agedoesnotmatter

4 min read

Ideas for connecting citizens and building local communities - developed in the Joined Up Digital initiative - moved forward significantly at The Age of No Retirement Festival yesterday.

A workshop of 10 specialists endorsed the original idea of supporting community connectors and networks with digital technology and other methods to build relationships, and added the idea of inviting all local users and providers of services and opportunities to become a local coop.

This draws on ideas originally proposed by Mervyn Eastman for an East End Sharing Passion project, and links with the idea of a national development coop reported here

The workshop group spent the morning exploring a a range of opportunities and barriers for using digital tech to benefit people of any age - even if they did not have access to technology or were not confident users. Then at lunchtime Paddy Hanrahan explained the concepts that he and the team, supported by the Centre for Ageing Better, developed in Joined Up Digital, and tested in our event in May.

Paddy sketched a very simple diagram (later improved) of how people with wants and needs could benefit from help from a connectors or conduit ... someone who might be a friend, family member, local activist, volunteer or professional.

While these connectors could draw on personal knowledge, they could be enormously more helpful if they - and anyone else - had access to a local knowledge store online, on notice boards and/or in print. Better still if this were available through a mobile app as well.

Some of these systems do exist - notably in Scotland where the LivingItUp portal has an enormous range of local and national resources. But few communities have access to multichannel knowledge and support systems.

Inspired by Paddy's sketch and explanation, we split into four groups and developed the concept in more detail, adding the idea of offering all users and contributors the opportunity to become members of a coop. This would ensure a sense of ownership, and ways of maintaining and updating the system.

Amazingly the four groups came up with a similar concept, and we were able to consolidate on to one sheet, which Paddy then presented back to all people attending the Festival.

The key concepts were:

  • Co-operative of people
  • Acting as friends and advisers
  • Servicing individuals with wants and needs
  • Supported by digital tech

Benefits for:

  • everyone
  • communities
  • Charities
  • Suppliers

Purpose of this prototype

  • Technology missing an accessible, friendly and inclusive interface
  • Leads to isolation/fragmented access (alienation)
  • When with the right interface we can find people, organisations and services

The knowledge store would of course be accessible online to anyone confident in using digital technology. The aim of the the connector concept, and other channels, is to ensure everyone in a community can benefit from better information opportunities, services and networks.

The connecting coop concept will join four others on the Age of No Retirement online system for further development.

Thanks to facilitator Tom Evans for guiding the group to such a creative prototype.

Previously:

David Wilcox

How about new #joinedupdigital as a knowledge network, open source framework, and coop for working together

4 min read

There's no sign that any organisation will take forward the Joined Up Digital initiative for technology and older people, despite six months investment of time and/or money in the first phase by the Centre for Ageing Better, New Philanthropy Capital and Age Action Alliance. Fortunately a new option is emerging.

As I reported here, the Big Lottery Fund turned down a £50,000 proof of concept proposal from NPC that also included plans to develop the emerging network of more than 40 contributors.

Following the decision, there's quite a few "let's not waste it" messages on the JUD online network, and continuing support there for the key concept in the bid of:

Exploring the role of "conduits" in helping older people use digital technology, or using tech themselves. These may be friends and family, or people in frequent touch with older people.

That focus on conduits and connectors was part of a bigger vision to explore and consolidate how digital technology can support individuals, groups and networks in local communities - building on experience of the past 20 years.

But unfortunately further development of a collaborative, networked approach, without immediate funding, doesn't appear to fit the plans of the partners, or other organisations involved. No criticism intended - it's just what happens in our bidding-dominated culture when resources are scarce.

So what we have is a lot of knowledge gathered during the first phase, a valuable range of contacts, goodwill, and a framework for action developed and tested at a highly-successful workshop in May. I know because I worked on the first phase, although I wasn't involved in the bid.

In addition the Centre for Ageing Better has drawn on the first phase of JUD to develop a proposal that goes to their Board next month:

Deepening our understanding of the capabilities and motivations of people in later life who are not currently benefiting from digital, and what would help them to overcome key barriers to sustained uptake.

... and is commited to ensuring that digital solutions are integrated with future work.

I think there more scope for joining up assets and people from the first phase, with others not yet involved, and hopeful connecting with the Centre's continuing work in the field.

So here's a fresh idea, sparked by discussion with a number of people, and in particular Mervyn Eastman whose Sharing Passions proposal for a cooperative network was the big hit of the May workshop. See previous post and full report of the event

Why not invite anyone interested in the core idea of Joined Up Digital - quoted above - to join a network, constituted as a coop. Those already involved in phase one might wish to donate the knowledge and ideas already assembled.

We would then meet and develop plans online for a mix of voluntary cooperative learning, and project proposals to a range of potential funders and sponsors. I personally think that would work best through a network of linked project teams, each responsible for their own pitches, rather than the higher-risk approach of one big proposal - which failed last time. Sharing Passions in East London would be an early pilot.

I hope we could develop an open source approach towards sharing ideas and working together, in the trusted context of a coop. That would start with any further development of the idea being public and open to anyone interested.

We would need mentors, and the initial support of one or more organisations in tune with this approach.

I wonder if it would appeal to Coop Digital, where Mike Bracken, the former head of the Government's Digital Service, is leading an amazing open transformation of the Cooperative Group digital services. Just read this initial blog post - and subsequent ones - to see the talent they have, and ponder what might be possible if a fraction of that were applied in a social setting.

There’s a good fit with principle seven of the Cooperative Group which states:

Concern for Community: Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members

… so I hope we might connect in some way.

Previously:

David Wilcox

Re-inventing a Positive Ageing forum in the Digital Age with @MervChangeAGEnt and @ageuklondon

1 min read

Here's a Storify of Twitter exchanges during and after the Positive Ageing in London event that I wrote about yesterday.

Thanks to the positive attitude of the chair Mervyn Eastman - always up for a challenge - it looks as if there's interest in exploring innovative ways for the forum to operate in the face of funding cuts.

David Wilcox

No funds - but a very Positive Ageing event thanks to @pailondon and @ageuklondon

3 min read

This morning I went to a consultation meeting on the future of the forum for older people, Positive Ageing in London. It was chaired by Mervyn Eastman, and organised by Age UK London.

The news was not good: almost all funding has been cut by the Government, and staff support will be limited.

But the discussion was wide-ranging and creative, helped by Mervyn's "let's be positive" approach, and well-organised group discussion. Mervyn had invited me along to talk about things digital, not least because in January 2014 Drew Mackie and I ran a game at a PAIL event to launch a comprehensive digital inclusion report with Age UK London.

As you'll see from the report here we asked people then to invent some fictitious characters, and come up with ideas on how they could use their personal tech, apps and the Internet to develop their interests and make new connections.

We later developed that approach with the Joined up Digital project, funded by the Centre for Ageing Better, and ran a much more complex town-based game in May this year.

As I reported here, the future of the JUD initiative is in doubt, because of a failed funding bid. However the PAIL event gave me confidence that we could take forward - perhaps in different ways - some the ideas developed over the past year.

Firstly, when I asked how many of the 50 or so people present had smartphones or tablets - and found them essential - almost everyone put their hand up. We all agreed they would be even more important in future. That means more help for those who aren't connected or confident, and exploration in more detail of the benefits to older people.

Secondly, people at our table were keenly interested in how personal tech and network communications could enable a forum like PAIL to rethink operations ... making the most of the skills of members and reducing central costs.

We need new civil society models for the digital age ... and on the evidence of today I think older people involved in ageing organisations may up for it.

In addition, I found interest in a London version of the JUD game, and people who might explore together in more depth how digital tech, radio, together with face-to-face sociability can help people connect and share their passions ... which is Mervyn's personal enthusiasm. His was the one contribution at the May event that won applause all round.

I think we could also find support from the Digital Inclusion group of Age Action Alliance, where a group of us are exploring how to share stories of older people using digital tech, make better use of the knowledge developed in the field, and use that to develop new projects.

David Wilcox

Looks as if @Ageing_Better #joinedupdigital may be dead after failed @BigLotteryFund bid

3 min read

The JoinedUpDigitalProject, initially supported by the Centre for Ageing Better, has now heard from the Big Lottery Fund that its next stage bid has been unsuccessful.

As I reported here one of the main project partners, New Philanthropy Capital, led a £50,000 Proof of Concept bid to the Big Lottery Fund Accelerating Ideas panel in early September.

The three elements of the plan were:

1 Exploring the role of "conduits" in helping older people use digital technology, or using tech themselves. These may be friends and family, or people in frequent touch with older people. Led by NPC.

2 Deepening our understanding of the capabilities and motivations of people in later life who are not currently benefiting from digital, and what would help them to overcome key barriers to sustained uptake. Led by the Centre.

3 Re-imagining user journey for those in later life, to improve interaction with the Department for Work and Pensions and other organisations. Led by EthosVO.

The proposal added that the aim is to develop the network/ecosystem as a shared infrastructure that is owned and run by those who use it.

Tris Lumley, on behalf of NPC, shared the bad news with contributors to the JUD network Slack team. Paddy Hanrahan, who led the work when at the Centre, has now left.

I worked on the first phase of JUD with Drew Mackie, and as I wrote here, we concluded in May with a game event that played through how organisations, people and key connectors can use digital technology to address life challenges and opportunities, and collaborate to do that.

I wasn't involved in the bid, and don't know a great deal more about the details.

My understanding now is that 2. above will still be taken forward by the Centre subject to Board approval.

At this stage NPC is saying someone else will need to pick up the JUD baton, and it doesn't sound as if the Centre wants to use JUD as a brand for its work. There is no further funding from the Centre for the network.

So unless someone else who has been involved takes over it looks if JUD as a cooperative initiative and network is dead.

I've shared a draft of this post on the 70-strong Slack team for Joined Up Digital to check for addition information and whether anyone else will be taking a lead. I'll update if so.

David Wilcox

Doubly inspired by #RSAengage - great #FRSA projects and @thersaorg cooperative ecology

4 min read

I was doubly inspired yesterday to re-engage with the RSA through an evening of drinks, chat and lightning project presentations from Fellows.

RSAengage

The seven projects were inspiring enough in themselves, ranging from a Global Thought Map to a festival of sense-stimulating events, and tech solutions to help refugees. Details here of RSA Engage London.

Taken together with the RSA’s broader vision for social action - explained in this excellent animation - they gave me some ideas about how, through the RSA, to explore spreading ideas and supporting action through a mix of events and social media. This will make more sense if you first spare a moment to view the animation - What is the RSA?

RSA = Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, founded 1754. Fellows broadly = members. More here

I’ve been a Fellow, on and off, since 2007 when the new chief executive, Matthew Taylor, first set out a vision for engaging both staff and Fellows in a programme of research, publications, events, networking, and projects large and small.

A group of Fellows set up OpenRSA to complement the staff-led initiatives, as you can see from our blog 2007-09. There were then a few bumps over the years, and some early enthusiasts dropped out, including me for a time. I felt it wasn’t too clear whether Fellows, through their fees, were there to support the projects and research run by staff, and/or whether RSA should be doing more to support the Fellows, like a membership body.

At yesterday’s event Fellows I spoke to seemed pretty happy with the current mix … with a few looking at more ways to get involved. Of course the networking juice = free drinks helped.

The project presentations offered one route, with opportunities in cash and kind. RSA offers grants and help for Fellows wishing to start their own projects, and there is an interesting crowdfunding initiative called Crowdpatch that combines funding, volunteering and local networking.

The RSA website is is rich in research and reports, blog posts about projects, and has a find a Fellow facility. What isn’t there is the original vision of an online platform enabling Fellows to connect across interests and projects.

That sort of all-in-one online community probably isn’t feasible these days, when people have so many options through Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. But I do wonder if more could be done to help Fellows fulfil the vision in the animation: acting as global advocates, accessing RSA resources, developing ideas for action, and collaborating.

At the moment the blog posts don’t attract many comments, and while there is a fair amount of tweeting around events this doesn’t seem to consolidate into conversation. A database of Fellows is fine … but you also need to see who is saying and doing what. That involves encouraging people to share what they are interested in, and what they are doing, beyond a static profile.

So - might there be any interest within RSA staff and Fellowship in some network building, doing more to connect people, ideas and projects? If so, I think the key would be to identify and support the equivalent of community connectors and agents of change that I wrote about here.

A few years ago there was a network of RSA digital champions, as this page shows, but I couldn’t find anything more recent. I did hear yesterday from one staff member about support for storytelling by Fellows, which sounded really interesting. I would like to know more.

Either way, I think the RSA continues to be a fantastic testbed for developing the cooperative and collabotative social ecologies we need in local communities, nationally and internationally. I’ll find out more about what’s happening and report back.

Meanwhile thanks to Mark Hall, the London regional manager, and Hannah Pater, Senior Development Manager, for organising and hosting such an engaging evening.

David Wilcox

Thanks for RTs about #joinedupdigital bid. Here's who's interested so far - including @nuzzel

2 min read

Re-tweets about my previous piece on the next phase of the Joined Up Digital project are all referenced here under the main body of the post - thanks everyone.

That feature is one thing I like about the Withknown platform I'm using, together with the way you can write a headline in the form of a status update, and auto post it to Twitter and other services. It's part of the POSSE philosophy of Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Everywhere.

What's also needed is a way to aggregate top stories being published in your network without having to scan lots of tweets. The Nuzzel app does that by turning the links most shared by your friends, and friends of friends, into a newsletter. You can also create your own more personalised newsletter. More here on the way that works, and Nuzzel's aim of creating a network of newsletters.

Today Nuzzel spotted the relatively high number of re-tweets, and popped the post up to the top of my automatically generated newsletter.

Nuzzel newsletter

One of the challenges for the next phase of Joined Up Digital is to develop a network for people interested in the key idea of supporting "conduits" - people and organisations who act as connectors of information and support for older people and those in the ageing field.

One conventional option is to create a central platform, and some 70 people are on a Slack team developed for the first phase of the project. As the project opens up to a wider range of interests decentralised approaches like Withknown and Nuzzel may be useful complements.

These enable people to become curators and conduits ... and I think it will be useful for people in the JUD network to try out these connecting tools as well as discuss them.

David Wilcox

Promising bid from #joinedupdigital to @BigLotteryFund + @Ageing_Better for conduits to info and support

4 min read

The JoinedUpDigital project, supported by the Centre for Ageing Better, is now planning three strands of work to help older people connect with each other, their communities, and public services.

Although technology plays a key role, the focus will be on the needs and interests of individuals, not the tools.

There's also an ambitious vision for joining up the many ageing organisations and interests in the field to collaborate in a digital-ageing network.

I worked on the first phase of JUD, and as I wrote here, we concluded in May with a game event that played through how organisations, people and key connectors can use digital technology to address life challenges and opportunities, and collaborate to do that.

The background framework for the event, developed with Drew Mackie, was the idea of personal, community and organisational ecosystems - and that's now reflected in the project proposals and network plan. Paddy Hanrahan, who led the first phase of the project, has circulated on update to participants.

One of the main project partners, New Philanthropy Capital, is leading a £50,000 Proof of Concept bid to the Big Lottery Fund Accelerating Ideas panel in early September.

The three elements of the plan are:

1 Exploring the role of "conduits" in helping older people use digital technology, or using tech themselves. These may be friends and family, or people in frequent touch with older people. Led by NPC.

2 Deepening our understanding of the capabilities and motivations of people in later life who are not currently benefiting from digital, and what would help them to overcome key barriers to sustained uptake. Led by the Centre.

3 Re-imagining user journey for those in later life, to improve interaction with the Department for Work and Pensions and other organisations. Led by EthosVO.

The aim is to develop the network/ecosystem as a shared infrastructure that is owned and run by those who use it.

Paddy has now left the Centre, but will continue to be involved, with Tris Lumley from NPC, Robert Pye from Ethos VO, and Nigel Lewis of Age Action Alliance. They say that they will create a larger network development group.

I'm personally delighted that the project has come so far. Last year Shirley Ayres and I challenged the Centre for its lack of any mention of technology in consultation documents. This led to a meeting with Paddy and interim chief executive Greg Wilkinson, and a set of ideas about engaging with the potential of technology.

I think that Paddy has done an amazing job internally and externally in developing Joined Up Digital, with support from the current CEO Dr Anna Dixon, and the other partners.

The plans developed with NPC take everything up a notch, and could also benefit from the NPC Digital Transformation programmes.

However, as well as the big players, I hope that there is also provision in the programme for input from freelances like Drew, who developed network thinking and designed the event game, and John Popham, whose video reports provided direct reporting of how older people actually use digital technology.

In addition, Shirley Ayres is developing a new set of Click Guides that will bring together much that is already happening the field.

Paul Webster and Miles Maier have a wealth of expertise from their Connecting Care project and other work with LASA.

These and others involved in our exploration of Living Well in the Digital Age over the past four years, and a possible digital age learning network will, in my opinion, be crucial to the success or otherwise of the Joined Up Digital network - if it is to bring real benefits to older people and those close to them.

It is generally the freelances, small organisations, and (relatively few) enthusiasts in larger organisations who share their experience and ideas ... not so much the senior managers who may symbolically sign up to networks.

As the SEEFA symposium revealed last year, there isn't a general culture of sharing in the field.

I think that the three strands in the JUD project plan are exciting initiatives ... and certainly reflect discussions over the past four years about what's needed in the field, as well as the JUD first phase.