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. )

Parkrun : Running in Parks together

Ever wanted a bit of motivation to increase the frequency of your so-called “regular” (actually annual) jog? I need all the help I can get, believe me….

In fact, my entire exercise routine is more imagined than actual; for example, this morning I have been ‘doing yoga’ which has so far consisted of rolling out my yoga mat on the living room floor and looking at it in a vigorous fashion over the edge of my teacup.

Exercising ‘to keep fit’ just isnt my motivating factor – going to the gym just doesnt do it for me. After much study and failed effort to motivate myself, I realised the following factors work for me:

1) Arranging activities with people (so I feel obliged to show up)

2) Having some mild form of competition (so I feel obliged to actually ‘do well’)

3) Very very easy to do, and nearby (so I dont make some excuse to myself and cop-out)

Park run should then be perfect- its about local people getting together with sponsors to organise weekly timed runs together. It is run by volunteers as a social enterprise and organised through an online system where you can download your own barcode and then enter a timed 5k run near you.  The barcode logs your time, and then you get an email letting you know how you did afterwards… and all for free.If there isnt already a run near you, you can work with parkrun to set one up!

Nice, simple use of online tools and offline goodwill of enthusiast networks…!

Now, I just have to get there by 9am on a Saturday :/

Mad 2012 : 7 billion people : (The worlds most inspiring photo)

Speaking to young innovators and social entrepeneurs in Hong Kong at MaD 2012 conference. A fantastic experience to meet young people with ideas and projects to change the world for the better – one step at a time! PS. Carl Sagan is awesome.

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.

What can we learn from Murray’s Friendship Graph?

  • Murray: Now, we’ve known each other for quite some time in the professional realm. I’d like to push things forward in the Friendship realm.
  • Conchords: What’s the Friendship realm?
  • Murray: Well, you’ve heard of a realm – yeah?
  • Conchords: Er, yes.
  • Murray: Well, this is like a friendship one; a group of people basically getting together, calling each other friends…Look at this.
  • Conchords: What’s this?
  • Murray: A friendship graph; look along here on the x axis – that represents time passing, on the y axis here, that represents the different levels of friends. Okay? We’re starting up here with friends, down to workmates, colleagues, strangers (which is pretty  much everyone I’ve noticed) …and then enemies.

 We’re pretty comfortable navigating our social relationships by classifying them more or less in the same way as Murray rather bluntly describes. Up until 5 or so years ago   it has been very easy for people to segment their ‘realms’ and to vary their behaviour according to whether we’re in the company of ‘friends, workmates, colleagues, strangers or … enemies’.

However, now social media usage has become so widespread, with 26million Facebook users in the UK , many of us are increasingly faced with the quesiton of how best to communicate consistently and with integrity across ‘the friendship graph’ and how best to draw together a fragmented online and offline identity across a wide variety of social networking platforms, including the office, the pub and your living room sofa. 

 The thing is that many people seem to be a bit confused about how to get the most out of the new networks available without compromising traditional ones.  The key to making social media work for you lies entirely in your own hands, through taking pro-active control of the online networks that you use and the way you use them:

 If you get it right, then people will be able to engage with you online in one persona that pretty much reflects the real, offline you in all your rounded and lustrous glory. If you get it wrong, as many of us do, then it could well be a case of coming over as someone with a split personality, or maybe just giving us all TMI. People don’t want to be dragged up the friendship graph by force of your ‘fab nites oot!!!’ Facebook album! As you can see from the Conchords’ efforts, you might end up jettisoning your ‘workmates’ into the ‘strangers’ realm before you know it.

 

Goodgym: A smarter social service

You might remember me mentioning the marvellous Goodgym a while back when the project won the Social Innovation Camp weekend ideas pitching session. Yes, this is the project I almost fell into a canal for.

The concept is very simple –  it matches two differing needs in order to provide a different kind of social service.

The idea of GoodGym is to provide isolated or immobile older people with regular human contact and to provide motivation for younger, mobile 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. 

I was very pleased to see that Ivo and the team were featured on BBC London News spreading the word about the project. Check out Goodgym on the telly! Excellent to see things going from strength thanks to lots of wonderful project leaders and volunteers’ time.

The project is currently piloting live throughout Tower Hamlets right now and looking for people to get involved there, as well as inviting expressions of interest from further afield.