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Goodgym : Site Launched!

30 Jun

Yes, the rumours are true – just what you’ve all been waiting for – the Goodgym site is in beta and you can check it out for yourself right here!

New project manager Phillip has been pretty busy getting things off the ground in Tower Hamlets as have the rest of the team, so keep your eyes on the blog for more news as the project grows.

goodgym - do good and get fit

Climate Change : Local deliberation on a global issue

24 Jun

Last week I was in Edmonton, Canada discussing how to go about setting up a province-wide public deliberation on Climate Change. There are a number of significant challenges around taking forward a regional deliberation on climate change and this is particularly true in Alberta – a province with a thriving economy based on its rich natural resources.

In this post I want to look at just one of those challenges - a question which can be transferred to any regional or local deliberation on climate change:

How can a localised deliberation effectively address what is a shared and global issue?

Just before arriving  in Alberta I read a recently published US Government scientific report which outlines ten key findings on climate change. These findings are bold for a US focused climate change document, and with Obama at the helm, we can expect to see more where this came from;

Ten Key Findings from the recent US Global Change Research Programme report:

  1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
  2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and projected to grow.
  3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
  4. Climate change will stress water resources
  5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
  6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
  7. Risks to human health will increase.
  8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
  9. Thresholds have already been crossed and have lead to large – and in some cases, irreversible – changes.
  10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

However, these points are not country or region-specific, and we all know that even decisive action from the mighty USofA cannot address climate change on its own. Climate change is a shared and global concern, involving and affecting all nations and citizens, particularly those from key areas of growth and vulnerability such as India, China, Africa and Brazil.

In Canada, the Albertan economy has benefited enormously from the extraction of natural resources in the North of the province, making it one of the most dramatic Canadian economic success stories of recent years. However environmentalists and sustainability experts consider the oil extraction industry in general and the Athabascan oil sands in particular to be disastrous for the environment.

Yet does now seem as if there is now a real chance for meaningful dialogue and deliberation at this point in time more than any other. A number of influential factors have recently shifted, providing a clear opportunity for progress on climate issues in Alberta for the following reasons:

  • It is becoming clear that ‘business as usual’ extraction of resources cannot continue, partly in light of the current economic climate and partly due to increasing global pressure to curb emissions
  • The USA, Canada’s most influential neighbour  is taking a strong lead on environmental issues as reflected in proposed initiatives such as Cap-and-Trade
  • The scientific evidence base connecting human action to climate change is becoming more compelling, the messaging is more mainstream, and public concern seems to be on the increase in key countries including Canada.
  • Influentials are changing their attitudes; indeed one of the authors of the Albertan economic success story, ex-premier, Peter Lougheed, is now looking to re-write the ending by slowing down development and taking a more measured approach to extraction. Although this might not be the answer that green advocacy groups such as the Pembina Institute are looking for – it is perhaps indicative of a rising sea-change in attitudes towards the environment from both political and business leaders.

All the same, due to the significant economic interests that the energy industry brings to Alberta,  it will still be challenging to create a truly open and meaningful deliberative dialogue on environmental and energy issues in the province. What is more, if the shared and global nature of the  issue is not addressed adequately as part of any local deliberation there are a number of serious resultant risks in any such regional process:

1) Potential participants do not engage with the proposed citizen engagement process in the first place as they feel it cannot make a difference. The lack of acknowledgment of the global context of the climate project may leave individuals feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the issue.

2) Participants, once engaged, feel powerless to affect real change, and feel that their contributions are without significant meaning given the scale of the task in hand. Whatever initiatives or actions are proposed at a regional level at the end of an engagement process are seen to be just a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the true scale of the problem.

3)    Participants do not fully engage with and understand the wider context of the challenge of climate change and sustainability and end up making recommendations based solely on the regional experience (This is not to say that say, the Albertan context is not important and special, but it is not and should not be considered to be the full story.) No region can solve the problems alone.

4)    The benefits and lessons learned through an experimental  deliberative engagement project are not disseminated to benefit or inspire others. This process of communication and ‘reporting out’ could make a significant impact on the way in which climate change is addressed by citizens and decision makers across the globe, as examples of best practice are sought out increasingly by provincial leaders  unsure as to how to proceed on climate change.

How can we address these issues?

I believe that there are a number of factors to consider when planning a regional deliberation on a shared global issue such as climate change. Firstly there is a need to address the scale of the issue in a way which feels empowering, not overwhelming. Humanising climate change and encouraging connections is important to help ensure that potential participants do not feel that they are experiencing and solving the problem in geographic isolation. Connection can help to provide a sense of global perspective and of being part of a larger community.

Secondly, deliberation cannot be confined to linking concerns with discussion -  there needs to be a further connection between deliberation and action. In other words, participants should feel that they are not acting independently, but that their decisions and ideas should be coordinated or  linked in some way across regional boundaries in order to be more effective in addressing the issues.

Finally; learning from any regional deliberation is well-disseminated in order to inspire others to participate in planning their own regional or local deliberations.

Below, I have outlined just a few potential ideas to address the four risks listed above. Ideas below correspond to points above.

1) A global network of interested organisations should be grown around the project and clearly signposted so that participants and decision makers feel, and are, part of a larger more powerful international network of deliberation working to advance the issues in a productive way.

2) Participants could be enabled to connect at some point in the deliberations with citizens in other countries, whether directly over the web or asynchronously through video reports and forums. Twinning of global towns and cities based on a commitment to progress on environmental and economic issues could be facilitated to encourage global dialogue and understanding.

3)    Deliberations should necessarily have some global context and framing, and should not be concerned solely with regional issues. Information and materials provided should have an inspiring global dimension and not focus solely upon the region in which the deliberation is located.

4)    All processes should be designed with replication and transferability in mind. Materials should be produced under the creative commons license for distribution. Translation should be encouraged and made available where appropriate. Regional pilots such as the Alberta project should be seen as innovators, leading the way – but  should also acknowledge that they cannot ‘solve’ the problems alone.

In conclusion, climate change is a global problem requiring an understanding of some part of the complex systems behind the issue before a meaningful and empowering deliberation can take place. I believe that locally focused dialogue and action has a very important role to play in finding a solution, but that any meaningful deliberation relating to policy change must address the global context. Finding the balance between local-global is the key in terms of framing the issues, motivating participation, and for more informed and impactful policy input.

Goodgym Wins @ Social Innovation Camp

8 Dec

What is Social Innovation Camp?

Well, the sicamp website explains far better than I could here and here so in their own cut n’ pasted words, the idea is basically that:

The web has already had a huge impact on the way we live our lives: it has changed how we communicate, how we entertain ourselves, our friendships and the way we work. Now it is going to change how we access our health care, how we educate our children and how we provide for the most vulnerable in our communities….

Social Innovation Camp is an experiment in creating social innovations for the digital age.

It  is a competition to find the best ideas for web tools to create social change, a participant-driven event aimed at bringing together software developers and designers with those at the sharp end of social need: social innovators, entrepreneurs and those with direct experience of need themselves.

Got that?

So I spent the last weekend holed up in the basement of The Young Foundation working with a bunch of talented people with a whole range of different skills in order to build a prototype webtool, business model, social case and funding pitch for a project called The Good Gym. Which then won!

goodgym_logo2

The idea of GoodGym is to provide isolated or immobile older people with regular human contact and to provide motivation for people to run and get fit.   The Good Gym aims to make it easy for people to channel the energy used up as part of their exercise routine  toward a wider social good.  The project will set up a matching and vetting service for joggers/cyclists to integrate brief visits to isolated older people into their regular exercise routines.

Here’s the final presentation which should explain a bit more of the detail. Check out the other finalists here.(The sheer amount of work done on AccessCity is worth a look!)

So, just goes to show – lock people with different skills together in a room, feed them, give them a deadline and an incentive – result = a bunch of amazing online projects for social good!

Now to sustain the momentum…will keep you posted.

Us Now: Ebbsfleet and Ed Miliband

4 Dec

I went to see Us Now at the RSA last night… a documentary by Ivo Gormley and Banyak film that looks at web collaboration type stuff through some real stories about online/offline communities, and a few interviews. It got me thinking:

People right across the world are connecting in all kinds of ways on the web right now without any great institution or medium to support this in a traditional top-down sense. What is more, they are then getting things done – whether that’s about big online projects that use collective wisdom like Wikipedia or Linux, or whether its facilitating personal meetings and connections like mumsnet coffee mornings or couchsurfing.

This is useful, and interaction with a larger whole means something to individuals who take part. Big-little, global-local, public-personal. This is an important landscape feature of online collaboration.

Wikipedia is now my first point of reference when I want to know something, its part of my personal web toolkit, and through it I’m tapping into the  thoughts and knowledge of people from across the world who feel confident enough and who have time to contribute to building that vast resource for free. A wise collective.

The couchsurfer‘s story in UsNow illustrated a more personal side of connectedness – for the surfer, the experience served to put a friendly face onto a blank and unknown cityscape, a way of providing a connection through shared affirmation and a sense of trust induced in part through online reputational systems. Basically, a guy he’d never met cooked him dinner and let him sleep on the couch – and this was all OK.

We know this right? But then, the film takes us to the story of Ebbsfleet football club, and into the world of Ed Miliband and this is where it gets interesting. At Ebbsfleet we see the story of players being picked online by fans, photos are dropped into position online by various enthusiastic supporters. The manager, the expert, then has to pick the team that the fans choose for him. In the film – Ebbsfleet wins the match – they’re all going to Wembley – and fans speak of being part of that victory – ‘we’ did it, ‘we’re going to Wembley etc. But Ebbsfleet don’t do this anymore – they’ve gone back to being expert-controlled with the manager, the expert, taking the decisions for the good of the team and the fans.

Then we see an image of Ed Miliband’s head being gently dropped onto a ‘pick your cabinet’ webpage…hmmmm. Not a great way to construct a cabinet I think… This is followed by a wicked moment of confusion captured on the film that shows a much more human side of an MP – for once, the ‘answers’ aren’t all there… but of course, this was then followed up with an official statement of ‘solution’. I’d much rather it wasn’t.*

When those with traditional expertise don’t know what to do, when a public mandate for change is required, when decisions are at stake that can be based on the real, lived experience of people who know the area, service, attitudes best – those kind of situations are crying out for a more participatory approach. This is going to happen with or without government going along with it – but it would be so much better to have radical system change happen willingly and with optimism rather than reluctantly, through backlash and disenchantment, cynicism, loss of trust in decision makers etc.

Ed’s head in hands moment of bewilderment illustrates the institutional tensions and personal, inner conflict that go to work when we start transposing user generated participatory ideas onto existing, top down ‘representative’ (failing) democratic systems. Yes, there will be leading participatory disruptors that impact on the way government takes decisions, but the question is whether it would be better to transform and decentralise current systems of governance to enable a more equitable distribution of power. I reckon that more votes were made on disgruntled feelings, hairstyle and humour in the London mayoral elections than on policy issues. There’s potential to make a bad system worse…

In Us Now Paul Miller points that there is a misconception that decision makers and those with power make – that people are thick, therefore they shouldn’t be involved in making decision on important things. This problem of perception works at a number levels – decision makers don’t give enough credit to public wisdom and intelligence, the press consistently portray the public as being respondent, passive and powerless rather than active and influential, and people themselves do not feel able to influence decisions in their communities. These three have worked together to ensure that many citizens remain as passive consumers. Now, take the mass media image out of the picture, and instead put in place a new kind of reflection of a citizen - that seen through web 2.0 collaboration and connectedness – a far more attractive and empowering form of citizenship emerges, and its one that does not fit with current outmoded democratic systems.

It is clear that there is a place for two broad based kinds of expertise in this participatory future and for Ebbsfleet as much as Parliament. One form of which taps into public wisdom, one which uses the skills of learned specialist individuals. We need to work out how the two interconnect – where the system needs to change, (pretty much everywhere, especially in terms of repersentative politics), where power ought to lie, and what people everywhere will do for themselves next.

Now, I’m not sure how that’ll all pan out – so might go and ask someone else what they think…

 *see comment below

**Update: Check out what someone else thought at confusedofcalcutta where JP Rangaswami, who chaired the event writes it up.

Getting Candid Answers on the Environment

2 Oct

I just got back from an intense week of work in Edmonton, Alberta, assisting the design and faciliation of a deliberative process on the environment. I’ll be writing in more detail on here next week about this unique experience which included a diverse range of people interested in using deliberative methods as a way of addressing future issues on climate change in Alberta.

For now – I don’t want you all to feel like you’ve been forgotten about… (I wouldn’t forget you!) so here’s something related for your browsing pleasure: Candid Answers 2008.

Candid Answers is a US- based ‘voter guide for the environment’ which aims to showcase candidates’ answers to five key environmental questions side by side in a clear format. I think the concept is great but for two things:

1) It is not run by a neutral body – but by the NRDC - an environmental campaigning organisation

2) There is nowhere near enough impartial information available through the site to help people understand the issues more deeply.

Other than that I love the concept and the simplicity… it would be greatly strengthened by addressing the two issues above.

Check it out for yourself!

Society, Designers, Environment, Us

8 Sep

I’m just back from the Royal Designers for Industry Summer school. Over the course of the event we were asked to think about and express a response to ‘society, designers, the environment, and us.’ A lively discussion ensued… :)

I’ve had a night’s sleep now during which the ideas discussed have settled, and distilled into the following:

—-

Too often we talk about the problems that society faces – to the extent where these cumulative and highly complex problems feel completely overwhelming. This is not very productive, it makes us feel powerless; the way I see it in terms of the four words in question is that:

  1. There is an opportunity.
  2. The way we live is changing very rapidly.
  3. There is a need for us to better understand where these rapid changes may have a negative impact on society and our environment, and where such changes may be positive.
  4. Design itself is an optimistic act.
  5. Designers seek to understand, to improve, to reach forward and create something new or better; something that is fit for purpose both in form and in function.
  6. Design thinking is a powerful tool for change and communication.
  7. There is an opportunity for designers to radically transform the way we live in response to the changes that society faces, and to change the kind of future we will all experience together.

So, what does this mean for me?

There is an opportunity here, but designers cannot make the most of it on their own. We do not yet fully understand how those involved in policy making on societal and environmental issues can best use design thinking, and to collaborate with designers and with the public in order  to better adapt to changes that are taking place, or to make something completely new.

This work has begun in certain areas, notably with organisations like thinkpublic and others who are working in the service design arena. But how do we develop this, and what opportunities exist outside service design as a first point of common ground between designer, citizen and policy maker?

We should explore this further, and those working in different sectors should make steps towards understanding one another’s position more fully, and in turn to better understand the public.

This will require a more lateral-thinking approach to policy problems, and a pushing out of our individual bubbles of ‘profession’ or ‘policy area’ that can prevent understanding across different sectors and personal perspectives.

This is a beginning, and we need to work together in order to make the best choices possible within our society. Design won’t simply ‘solve problems’ on its own, but it can improve things.

Reading List: Morgan Inquiry, MORI:Impact of Empowerment, Carnegie UK

15 Aug

This is what I’ve been reading over the last day or so with some brief info and initial thoughts on each:

1) Morgan Inquiry

Report looking at barriers to volunteering for young people aged 18-24.

The inquiry found that:

  • volunteering needs to be more flexible- possibly supporting an 8hours/year volunteering allownace with employers
  • there needs to be greater clarity in terms of jobseekers’allowance that volunteering is a valid route to employment
  • there needs to be better and more centralised information on opportunities available for volunteering
  • there needs to be formal recognition of volunteering

Seems to me that the most easily fixed would be the information issue – V are doing good work in this area already, why not support them further to continue and develop this work. Also, could link this promotion to an awreness campaign amongst job centres around clarifying status of volunteer work for jobseekers’allowance claimants.

Also, seems to be something missing around motivations to volunteer in the first place- though I realise this wasn’t exactly in the scope – it is v.significant.

2) Searching for the Impact of Empowerment

Ipsos MORI report using survey data from the New Deal for Communities National Evaluation to look at how involvement in NDC activities, and feelings of ability to influence link to feelings of community, trust and quality of life.

It does well in trying to unpick some of the tricky discussions around subjective and objective empowerment (ie. feeling like you can change stuff for the better, and opportunities to engage with decision making.) It backed up the more small scale qualitative research looking at the impact of empowerment in that there are relationships between involvement in local activities/feelings of abilty to influence – and positivity around general satisfaction with life/community/local area/wellbeing.

BUT – as with all the best reports – more research is required ;)

ie.

  • Who wants to be empowered and what does that mean in practice?
  • What are we trying to acheive through empowerment?
  • What is the best way to measure the good done through empowerment?

3) Carnegie UK Annual Review

Does what it says – a review of Carnegie UK’s activities and outline of future plans.

Building on the work of the futures work Carnegie recently did around civil society – the review highlights some really interesting areas of work across all its programmes.

Random quotes that stood out for me:

“our aim here(in futures work) is to assist citizens working at local, national and international levels to prepare for change and to combine their strengths to try and determine that change.”

“The challenge of sustainability and the threat of climate change is a common theme in public discourse, yet the implications are largely uncertain and potentially devastating. Perhaps this threat presents an opportunity to strengthen civil society and re-engage people in formal politics?”

“What collective action can rural residents take to build resilient communities? We understand the ‘resilient rural community’ to be one which accepts that any status quo is unable to last for long and that the community needs to be constantly learning new ways of self-sufficeiency, collaboration and living errangements. Every dimension of life is up for challenge and creative response”.

Right – am off to read a novel now….

Social Innovation Summer School : Vocab Test

6 Aug

I went to the SIX Summer School organised by the Young Foundation in partnership with Mondragon (mik) last week. It was a gathering of people with a fantastically varied set of experiences and skills who descended on sunny San Sebastian from all over the place – but all of whom had one thing in common - an involvement in social innovation. (Whether they really knew it or not!)

What exactly social innovation IS seemed to be less clear to me as the days went by… and in a way seemed less important than the fact that ‘something’ is happening in the way society arranges itself. (Plus there was a rigorous social programme which meant that many things seemed less clear as the days went by…)

However, Charlie Leadbeter had a good go at summing things up at school’s close - saying that it’s all about doing things ‘with’ people, rather than ‘to’ or ‘for’ them.

Whether that’s a good summary of ‘social innovation’, I am truly unqualified to say! ;)

However I do think that its a good vocabulary for talking about much of the change we’re now seeing in terms of government, power structures and commerce – and of course, quite clearly, on the web.

We often stop ourselves from seeing through to the core of a system by building up vocabularies and terminologies which are quite restrictive and precise to define that system or driver. Of course there’s a valid purpose for this drive to tightly define our meaning – but sometimes we say ‘participative process’, when we just mean ‘with people’.

Anyway – it was three days very well spent – lots of room for thinking, new ideas, and most importantly meeting people from all over the world who are active in this field of social innovation - doing an astonishing variety of different things.

Here are just a few examples for you. There were many other very interesting projects too which I will be linking to in later posts :

Aussie-based young people’s org: Act Now

Brazil-based Sitawi : providing capital for social enterprises

MindLab – innovation in public administration- based in Denmark

Kennisland/Knowledgeland – Dutch thinktank that runs digital pioneers programme

The Hope Institute in S.Korea – making citizens’ small ideas for change make bigger impact

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