How community groups can use existing assets to develop local projects

May 2012 ….Extract from Guardian Voluntary sector blog about the Neighbourhood Challenge – a programme I lead at Nesta.
The Neighbourhood Challenge programme has invested in 17 communities with ambitions to test out innovative ways of involving new people in locally led action.

 Many people who work within communities are used to doing a needs assessment to begin a new relationship or project; however, many of the groups in the Neighbourhood Challenge programme over the past year have turned this concept on its head and began by mapping the strengths and ‘assets’ that already exist in the local area. Groups actively searched for and connected up a variety of existing local assets whether that was unused buildings or equipment to new ideas, or people with the skills, talents or time to support locally led change.

This approach isn’t about ignoring needs, it is about finding strengths first. Most communities have considerable unrecognised assets that can be used and built upon, given flexible, supportive investment…./Read more at:


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 :/

Where did I go? : Neighbourhood Challenge

So, this blog has been on pause for a little while – but I havent! I’ve been working in my role at NESTA with 17 community organisations who have been showing us how to do some really inspiring work to get new people involved and active in their local area; making the most of local assets of all kinds. Check out this animation we made to showcase the ideas behind the programme. You can also read more about it at:

Neighbourhood Challenge from Nesta UK on Vimeo.


I’ve also been talking about NESTA work alongside two projects I’m involved in in my spare time – Otesha UK and GoodGym – check that out here: (Have patience whilst I get the clicker to work!)

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 . 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 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.

Why I’m going on a Digital Detox

I’m writing this to you from my WordPress app for Android on my much loved HTC desire. I’m also on the bus in to work. Last night I fell asleep hugging my laptop. I need help.

credit : vancouverfilmschool

Last year, just before Christmas break, I did a little tally up of the amount of time I spent on-line or screen-struck. The results were frightening! I was racking up around 60hrs/week screentime!

After wrapping the travelling carnival of presents and locating my tickets home for the holidays, I turned to my phones and computers, their sweet little blue LED lights blinking away at me like the eyes of so many endearing children.

Gritting my  teeth, I pulled their plugs, resolving to go on an extreme digital diet over Christmas. I didn’t go cold turkey(ha!), but I did drastically downsize my relationship with my beloved digitools.

Now back in the city, I am once again glued to the screen and instantly feeling less zen-like.

What to do?

Going on a fairly radical digidiet helped to get some perspective on the way I use web and mobile; when it adds something to my life, and when it takes away.

However, just knowing that didn’t stop me embracing the gadgets in full on my return to work because, well, I like them, and they are very useful!

In short, cutting it out completely just isn’t doable or desirable.

There was only one thing to do… make them work for me and not the other way round. A digital new years resolution…. a digital Detox!

My guiding principles

  • No mobile or laptop in bedroom
  • Locate all charging points in an ‘office’ space when at home
  • Don’t check email Twitter or Facebook unless you intend to spend time responding
  • If you don’t have to read or plan on screen, do it on paper or whiteboard
  • Don’t use phone and computer at the same time (especially for unrelated things!)
  • Close your email account alerts so you don’t get interrupted
  • Why sit down when on the computer… stand up more when browsing!
  • Save up small messages til you have dead time to use up, then take care of q a few
  • Don’t turn on the computer as soon as you arrive at home or work

That’s an insight into some of my dreadful habits, and a starter for me to kick off a more digitally healthy new year.

Check out this useful quiz and article from wikihow!

If you have any tips, let me know!