Empowering people, and seeing something differently by mapping abandoned spaces

derelict abandoned buildings in detroit urban decay community empowerment

Credit: Luca and Vita : derelict abandoned buildings in detroit urban decay community empowerment

Creative commons images of abandoned houses in USA: Luca and Vita

Vacant buildings are a growing problem in many areas that have been hit hard by the economic downturn. Not only do these empty spaces look forbidding and gloomy, their presence can actually attract crime and vandalism, and kick off a spiral of decline which drives down house values in the neighbourhood, and is hard to break out of. I came across a neat project that is running in Louisville, Kentucky which is aiming to use these vacant spaces a catalyst for change instead of allowing their empty presence to begin causing more problems.

They are doing this in a low-tech but effective way – primarily through community conversations out on ‘front porches’ and using this up to date local knowledge to make more accurate maps of vacant lots than local government does. I’m really interested in two aspects of this:

1) this idea that local people can create better quality data than local government >Question: Where else is this true and how can it apply in other contexts? (Think Kaizen service improvement/Nissan but at the street level in municipalites of all kinds)

2) making this information visible and visual has empowered people to see potential and opportunities where before they only saw problems. Question: >what other ‘visualisations’ can lead to positive empowerment and action?

The very interesting Kibera project which I’ve mentioned before went a step further than Kentucky with its mapping work, in that it actually worked with local people to do GPS tagging and make new local information visible and shareable using an online map. this in turn enabled people to find opportunities for improvement within that shareable, visual resource, much like the Kentucky project and others.

Clear and visually appealing maps combined with GPS and community conversations could offer much more value and opportunity to do the following things:

  1. generate new possibilities, where before people felt weighed down by problems
  2. build local resilience by strengthening social networks/ increasing social capital
  3. create high quality, transparent evidence for change campaigns
  4. help maintain local economic value systems (see @WillPerrin on this in Guardian , though I think it could go further than this.)

We are now at a time when a significant enough number of people could* be potential contributors and analysts of this information, developing new possibilities and insights where before we just saw problems.

Please send me more information on any work you’re doing that crosses over with this. I’m really interested to hear about variations in approach, and also whether you think an online interactive platform PLUS a  lower level of offline work would be even more effective than the intensive offline work alone.

 *Am I right? Perhaps true of some communities more than others, but are those the ones who would benefit most?

 (Thanks to @fastcompany for highlighting Louisville story. )


The Power of The Visible : Open up for Social change

Imagine this; a driver is stopped on a provincial road in India. They are asked to pay a ‘fine’ for some unspecified infringement of the road traffic laws. The men asking are dressed in police uniform and one seems to be carrying a weapon. They’d like the fine to be paid right now, in cash please. Much is left implied and unsaid as each party searches the other’s eyes for an understanding of the real nature of this transaction. The driver pays the ‘fine’ and is permitted to carry on travelling down the road. The driver is pissed off, but hey, this is normal – and its just the way things work round here – and what can one pissed off driver do about this stuff anyway?

Well, there is something that people can do now, they can speak out, and make these hidden transactions, the ‘bribe economy’ visible through initiatives like the India-based www.ipaidabribe.com . The site enables people affected by bribery to write about their experiences in public and to track the incidence of bribery in an open and transparent way, it aims “to tackle corruption by harnessing the collective energy of citizens.”

You can report on the nature, number, pattern, types, location, frequency and values of the bribes made, and the  reports add up to provide a snapshot of bribes occurring across any given city. They make formerly covert activities visible so that individuals who are sick of corrupt practice can build a stronger case for change, together, from the ground up.

And this idea of making things visible as a form of power and a force for legitimacy of experience can be brought to other contexts. One of the most powerful online tools out there is the interactive map. Geography and place bring things to life for people, and if you are not on the map then you’re not part of the ‘visible’ geography – you are part of a hidden world with little legitimacy as a home and a place to live. This is the case for many slum dwellings.

Take the example of Kibera in Kenya – Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on the map until November 2009, when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community.

Map Kibera has now grown into a complete interactive community information project with the additon of Voice of Kibera – a portal for citizen reporting and community advocacy which has the map at its heart.

The Map of Kibera “has steadily emerged as a powerful tool for not just locating place, but also for influencing the social, political & economic spheres in Kibera and beyond.”

What else that is hidden or covert can be made visible through social media to make a real-world change? If you’re intersted in reading more check out this blog from Giulio Quaggiotto who works on Knowledge Management at UNDP Europe and CIS. There is much more that can be done through using these online tools to make a real-world difference.

Groupon for public services or social good?

Groupon : An awesome name for an awesome idea…

First of all, it does what it says: It is a ‘coupon’ for groups. People join up to the groupon site and get sent special offers by email Eg. a half price holiday or spa visit. If a certain number of them ‘group-on’ to the offer by signing up in principle to pay for the product/service then the company will provide the product/service at a hugely discounted rate.

The Groupon concept has some great features which could be applied to a public service or social context. I thought I’d write a just a few up below for you to think about.  I was wondering if anyone had come across similar incentive schemes or group buying in the public/social sector that I should take a look at?

Peer referral

The idea that you need to get a group of people around the offer before it goes ahead means that peer referral is strongly incentivised. This enables the groupon concept to grow virally and reach deeply into friendship or interest networks.

If you applied this to public services you could reach people that public services can find it difficult to reach in order to promote take-up of training or healthcare offers.

Targeting niche markets

You could use groupon to match user groups with very specific needs with tailored/bespoke offers made up of both financial and NON financial benefits. For example, those living with long term conditions in a particular geographic area might form a group to network AND buy support services at discounted rates. Those with rare conditions who feel isolated can be matched with others to purchase discounted specialist treatments that they need AND to provide peer support.

Pipeline for ‘new social services’ 

Services like Cool2Care http://www.cool2care.co.uk/ which provide specialist carers to families with disabled children could stand to gain through being able to better understand and plan for demand for the service by creating a pipeline of demand when people sign up to take on their offer. Personal budgets could be spent on this type of care OR cautious investors could be attracted to make investment once the provider has been able to demonstrate a strong market for their service.

Just a few ideas to explore…be interested to hear your thoughts.

Apps4Good : Mobile apps for social good

I heard about the work that CDI Europe (Centre for Digital Inclusion), have been doing with their AppsforGood project and was v.excited to go along to the launch event a couple of months ago.

It was great to see groups of young people being supported to create their own mobile apps to create a range of useful and hopefully sustainable services, and at the same time gaining skills and confidence to talk about technology and entrepeneurship.

My personal favourite was ‘stop and search’ an app for young people to use and give feedback on stop and search actions carried out by the police.

Check all of the ideas out for yourself.

Read about it in the Times Online.

5 tips to run better public participation /consultation events

I’ve been invited to turn out voluntarily for a few participatory events in my time to represent the views of the ‘Average Citizen’, whether it be for the local council, the NHS or various campaigns or charities. I have also worked on the other side of these events throughout my career.

Here’s some simple advice, there’s plenty more where this comes from, but five tips should give you a decent start:

1) Be clear about your offer and how my participation will make a difference: What am I going to get out of taking part? I do very many things out of the goodness of my heart, but getting involved in anything that feels like ‘arbitrary consultation’ is not one of them; especially if the subject is bin collection times. What is the purpose of this consultation, and how am I going to play a role in helping you change things for the better. Convince me that my participation will make a difference. Make me feel valued.

2) Refreshments : I’m serious. The right food and drink can provide you and your participants with the strength to get through the most worthy discussion of the local parking meter system. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does have to be fresh, have a good vegetarian/halal/kosher option as needed. This means a great deal to those who give up their time to take part, and gives people a chance to chat and relax with each other – enabling you to get better results.

3) A friendly and accessible venue : I am very unlikely to come to your draughty town hall function room in the middle of nowhere from 7:30-9pm on a weekday evening. Be creative, if possible, and even more importantly be on the ground floor, and in a place near public transport. Leisure centres, libraries, schools all provide neutral community venues.

4) Respect my time as you would in a professional meeting: If this is an evening event, I’m probably coming straight from work, I may have childcare arrangements to consider; or I may not. But either way, ALWAYS use a great facilitator to run your event. You don’t have to pay out for a pro, you can train your staff in facilitation and learn better ways of managing consultation together if budgets are tight. This can make a world of difference, stopping discussions becoming dominated by the more vociferous elements that we all know and love.

5) Tell me what happened: After its over, tell me what happened as a result of  my participation. If you’re feeling really fly, you might even ask how the experience was for me, and what could be improved next time.

In short, make sure that your consultation is a pleasure to participate in, and not a pain in the *%@

Iran Election : London Protest : Social Media

Iran Vote Campaign Waterloo Bridge London

I just met this group of young Iranians and supporters on Waterloo Bridge. They’re campaigning on the recent Iranian voting scandal and will be protesting in London outside the Iranian embassy this Saturday as part of the http://www.whereismyvote.org/ global day of action on July 25th from 1-4pm.

“The Global Day of Action is not affiliated with any partisan political agenda and is aimed at securing the internationally recognized rights of the Iranian people”

Interesting to see local groups getting active and handing out flyers in such a positive and friendly way, I think it really works well. I’d say that I’m far more likely to go along to something if asked in person rather than tweeted at, emailed or facebook-messaged. Social media is great, but sometimes having a chat is what’s really the motivator.

As it is, I’m off on holiday from tomorrow so can’t be there, so went to the website to find out more about what I could do online instead. Joining a Facebook group is not as good as turning up by any means, but its a way of showing support and keeping in touch with the cause, and other opportunities to act in real life. 

Aha! So that might be what social media is for….?

—- Newsflash! —-In ‘Other Inspiring Iranians I’ve met on Waterloo Bridge’, see my Ahmad Foroughi post from the time of the Obama Election – an awesome photo, and a sweet piece of social history!

#rebootbritain : social by social and interactive charter

I went to the NESTA Reboot Britain conference on Monday afternoon. My top two ideas to watch were:

1) Social by Social : New book/website looking in a practical way at how social media offers opportunities for social change. Check out the link. Sponsored by NESTA and written by David Wilcox, Andy Gibson, Amy Sample Ward and Nigel Courtney and Clive Holtham of Cass Business School.

2) Interactive Charter : Tim Davies and Paul Evans were joined by Tom Watson MP and Jeremy Gould to launch a charter for developing and improving how social media is used in a government context. Again, they can explain it far better than me over at the website linked to above!

The point is that both of these ideas have something in common that is very important to me, namely – a way of looking beyond what happens online into practical ‘real world’ application and culture change. If social media is going to make a real difference to the way we operate our social and governance systems, then we need more practical projects like these to lead the way forward. Let’s move from rhetoric and discussion into more piloting and learning.