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David Wilcox

A fresh look at #digitalinclusion and older people from @pailondon. Tech changes - but do the challenges remain the same?

4 min read

The multi-sided challenge of how to address digital inclusion among older people in London will receive a welcome refresh tomorrow through a conference organised by Positive Ageing in London.

It will provide a timely input to the new Smart London plan, which I wrote about here.

For me it will be a chance to revisit explorations into Living Well in the Digital Age, carried out a few years ago with Nominet Trust, Age Action Alliance and the Centre for Ageing Better. These are summarised here.

Back in 2015 we pulled together, from various sources, a set of provocations and challenges.

  1. There isn’t an opt-out from technology - but you can choose how much you participate. (Technology has changed the world dramatically, and it will continue to change. What’s important is enabling people to choose how they engage).
  2. Government is concerned that many older people are not online - but there are limits to what government can do. (People will engage with what’s interesting and useful to them, and use devices that most suit their needs).
  3. Everyone needs Internet access … but beyond that, no one size fits all. (Cost is a barrier, and then personalisation is important).
  4. Computer courses and basic skills training don’t meet the needs of many older people. (Tablets are much easier to use than computers for most purposes, and smart phones and smart TVs may also meet many people’s needs).
  5. Simpler interfaces are needed for computers and mobile devices - not just more functions. (Older people should be involved in design).
  6. Relatively few organisations in the ageing field are actively engaged in the online world or using collaborative tools. (Using social technology should help enable greater greater cooperation).
  7. Digital social innovations in services are not scaling. (There’s too much focus on the tech, and not enough on what it does, together with a lot of re-invention).
  8. There is a raft of research, but little knowledge-sharing of that and day-to-day practice. (A lot of research is hidden and not transferred to practice. A culture of competitive tendering reduces people’s inclination to cooperate and use what’s already available).
  9. The energy for change lies with apps, connectors and storytellers. (To which we can add, evolution of trusted technologies such as TVs. Bring the storytellers together).
  10. The digital divide is no longer a useful metaphor. Reality is more complex.

The technologies may have advanced in three years, but my hunch is that many of the challenges remain the same.

I expect to return to these themes in the new Community of Practice that we are planning for the next stage of Networked City, and hope to find some people at the conference who may be interested.

Update: There's some good content from the day in tweets ... sorry I haven't extracted them. I did however capture the opening slides from PAIL chair Chris Walsh here

My final take:

Excellent conferencence on and at @pailondon. Wide range of latest tech covered including chatbots … discussion revealed need to still cover basics of awareness, affordable, pervasive connection, support and co-design of multi-channel services.

David Wilcox

Give more recognition to community needs and Londoners' voices in #LondonPlan, @londonFunders urge @MayorofLondon

5 min read

The Mayor's draft London Plan should give more recognition to the need for community space, affordable housing for people in the community and voluntary sectors, and a stronger voice for Londoners in developing plans.

These are among recommendations from London funders and the new Hub for London, based on discussion at last week's event with the Greater London Authority, which I reported here.

In a letter to Sadiq Khan, Mayor London, James Banks, Director of London Funders, and Sharon Long, Hub lead at Greater London Volunteering, say:

"We start, as we believe you have done in the development of the plan, with a celebration of London. We are proud of our city, of its diversity, its communities, its resilience and its potential. We are keen that the London Plan builds from this – celebrating our assets, making our communities stronger, and championing the diversity of our communities. We hope our feedback is helpful in identifying where we feel the plan could be enhanced to help make this vision a reality, and have points below under the following five broad themes:

  • Recognising the importance of civil society to the fabric of our city;
  • Moving beyond GDP as a way of recognising value in London; Embedding principles of coproduction into the design and planning process;
  • Considering equalities and inclusion throughout the plan; and
  • Looking at the integration of services to promote whole-person support.

James and Sharon say that "the important role of civil society, through voluntary and community sector organisations and groups, needs a stronger focus throughout the plan".

Among the key points they then make are:

"At a basic level, this can be seen in the absence of sections that consider the way in which space is needed by communities – moving beyond requirements for developers to include community space, or for local authorities to make under-utilised space available (despite the pressures they are under financially, making some proposals around asset transfer to the sector economically unviable), but to putting communities at the heart through ensuring that there are spaces that meet their needs, that are designed with community involvement from the outset, and that this approach is embedded in the planning process. This would prevent the situation emerging where community space is created which is not fit for purpose.

"In addition, the question of affordability of housing and services, from the perspective of people who work in the not-for-profit sector, is also an issue affective the vibrancy and sustainability of the voluntary and community sector groups that our communities depend upon. We recognise the commitment to increase affordable housing, though would push for a clearer definition of affordable that takes accounts of the needs of our civil society sector alongside those of aligned sectors".

They advocate great cooperation and collaboration the development of plans:

"We would also recommend embedding the principle of coproduction in the planning process directed by the plan. Giving Londoners and communities a stronger voice in the development and implementation of the plan, and in the frameworks and policies that will shape our city, will ensure that development meets the needs of all. Mechanisms that celebrate coproduction, for example through positively prioritising proposals for development that are built upon coproduced designs with the community, would aid a more inclusive city. There are established frameworks for putting Londoners at the heart of decisions that affect their lives and spaces, for example through the reports produced by The Way Ahead programme which draw on the expertise of people across civil society, public and business communities.

Summary of recommendations

Based on the comments above, some concrete recommendations would be:

  • Include a section highlighting the contribution, needs and requirements of the voluntary and community sector as a specific sector of London’s economy;
  • Ensure the role of civil society is recognised in all sections of the plan, not just as part of the “social infrastructure” of the city;
  • Bring in teams at City Hall working on the civil society narrative, to ensure that strategies align and there is consistency in how the GLA plans to celebrate civil society;
  • Clarify the meaning of “community space” and outline more clearly how communities and the voluntary and community sector need to be involved in designing this;
  • Include social value as a measure of good growth, not just economic measures of success;
  • Prioritise coproduction and community involvement through the planning process;
  • Consider closely the equalities impact of the policies in the plan, and ensure that the needs of all communities (current, developing and emerging) are met by the plan; and
  • Promote the integration of services from across sectors in meeting the needs of Londoners, moving beyond current policy priorities focused on the public sector delivery partners.

"We recognise throughout that this is a long-term plan with a strong vision for London, but that the context in which we all operate is shifting constantly. We hope that embedding approaches such as coproduction and a greater recognition of civil society from the outset will create more opportunities for innovation, positive change and responsive flexibility in the implementation of the plan over the coming years, and that this will lead to a London we will continue to be proud of."

London Funders is the membership body for London's funding community. The Hub for London is a new resource for civil society being developed by Greater London Volunteering.

David Wilcox

Lots of plans affecting London civil society - now we need someone to join them up for #TheWayAhead and @MayorofLondon

5 min read

Lively discussion and networking at today's meeting about London Plan social infrastructure left me with plenty of insights and one over-riding impression: no-one is looking in-the-round at the future of London's communities.

That's frustrating - but also an opportunity for convening different interests to realise the idea of co-production originally promoted in The Way Ahead plans for civil society.

We currently have a number of plans and initiatives relevant to civil society (links at the end):

  • The draft London plan, from the Greater London Authority: as thick as a couple of telephone directories, but mainly focussed on geographic and locational issues.
  • An emerging GLA civil society strategy: some good consultation by consultants last year, but likely to be more of an action plan than an overall strategy, we heard today.
  • The Way Ahead plans for a resource Hub for London: currently focussed on staff recruitment for an organisation born from Greater London Volunteering, with wider infrastructure plans awaiting staff.
  • Smart London: a more recent development, which has references to community and civil society but as yet little substance on that front.

At the same time we have lost the London Voluntary Service Council, now in liquidation after 107 years, and Greater London Volunteering is transitioning to become the Hub for London.

All this led to some discussion today about who will help articulate the needs of local communities faced with loss of facilities, and the future of voluntary bodies faced with spending cuts.

The original "Way Ahead" review by London Funders - who helped organise today's event - advocated a pragmatic co-production approach:

  • communities identifying for themselves, with support if needed, what their needs are
  • funders, the public sector and civil society’s understanding of need being based on what communities identify for themselves
  • communities being enabled to change their own lives for the better
  • communities shaping solutions and responses to opportunities
  • communities shaping services delivered by others, whether these be public sector or civil society services
  • communities advocating and campaigning on their own behalf, with support if needed

Somehow that community ethos has gone from current plans (subject, of course, to what happens when Hub staff are in place).

At the moment this loss of community focus means that the community and social heart is missing from the various plans - and there is nothing to join them up in the interests of Londoners.

That's an issue that led to the formation of Our Way Ahead, a network of local and pan-London networks promoting a more bottom-up and bottom-across approach, and the continuing work of Just Space as a voice for Londoners in planning strategies, [edit] and facilitating & amplifying each other's voices.

It's been the focus for Connecting Londoners and our Networked City exploration over the past year.

I guess this lack of joined up policy is what happens during times of organisational transition: unfortunately this is also a time of great social stress.

Although I've focussed here on the problem, there was also a lot of goodwill in the room at City Hall. People are frustrated - but also keen to collaborate on ways forward.

What's needed is a convenor without a vested interested in a particular perspective.

I wonder whether Big Lottery Fund has a role? Their strategic framework says:

  • We believe people should be in the lead in improving their lives and communities. Our approach will focus on the skills, assets and energy that people can draw upon and the potential in their ideas.

  • We feel that strong, vibrant communities can be built and renewed by the people living in them – making them ready for anything in the face of future opportunities and challenges.

I worked with colleagues on a People Power Change exploration for BLF a few years back. I think our current ideas for a Community of Practice for connecting communities are relevant, together with the ideas on co-production I drafted for The Way Ahead working group on the topic.

We suggest that institutional plans and structures only go so far: what's needed is a platform for change agents who use a mix of community building, technology, story telling and other methods to help connect people, networks and organise, and realise the assets in communities. Making pragmatic co-production real.

Currently Networked City, Connecting Londoners and Our Way Ahead are planning an event at the end of March to provide input to the Smart City initiative, with some mapping and comms work beforehand. Today's discussion make me wonder whether there's scope for a process and event to do something more substantial.

References

David Wilcox

Why Smart City London should be a #NetworkedCity: participatory, sharing, inclusive and accessible

10 min read

City Hall have launched a "listening exercise" to help the Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell and his Board fulfil the Mayor's aim to make London the world's leading Smart City.

Currently Bristol is judged to be in the lead with Manchester and Birmingham third and fourth.

The Huawei UK Smart Cities Index rankings were calculated by an in-depth analysis of ten criteria within the cities’ strategy and execution, covering areas such as their vision, digital innovation, implementation record, environmental impact and community reach.

There are examples in Theo Blackwell's blog post on Medium of "how data and smart initiatives can help citizens". I hope Smart City plans may also help our communities and social structure, about which more later.

Update: Now spotted that Smart London have also published on Medium:

The listening exercise blog post suggests we could get:

Improved public services — City budgeting focused on citizen outcomes, not departmental spending; Bringing health and social care data together for targeted care; live waste data to improve recycling rates and collection frequency; better/digitised public services lowering costs.

Public spaces — sharing of data on the local places citizens use can lead to better design of GP surgeries, schools, parks, shops, and access to sports, entertainment and culture venues during the day and at night.

More personal learning and skills — targeted learning based on personal data and a better understanding of needs and preferences, work patterns or caring responsibilities.

Participation — through civic crowdfunding for neighbourhood projects, participatory financing, community budgeting and better planning/regeneration representation on developments.

Transport reliability and options — Using tracking data from Wifi to guide new travel choices such as smart mobility, car and bicycle sharing and testing autonomous vehicles.

Energy — data on energy consumption from smart meters, if securely and privately shared, and processed alongside public data, could inform better policy making, investment and business decisions, as well as fuel the creation of more tailored and personalised services — increasing inclusion and meeting the specific aim of reducing fuel poverty.

Better public Wifi and connectivity —using public buildings and streets and parks; preparing for 5G technologies.

Personal and public health — such as using data to encourage walking and cycling and steer citizens away from air pollution hotspots; collecting health tracking data and health records with academia, boroughs, and drug manufacturers to tackle chronic diseases of Londoners such as diabetes and asthma

More reliable home and office services — in energy, broadband, water, security services; for example, sharing of energy data to allow for local energy trading/cheaper forms of local energy supply.

What's not too clear from the blog post is how City Hall sees Smart City contributing to its other priorities in the London plan - for example the Mayor's Vision for a Diverse and Inclusive City. I'll check in with the Smart City team to see if there is more in the plan.

That's important because these days tech isn't necessarily seen as wholly beneficial.

Last year NESTA ran an excellent event on digital innovation where CEO Geoff Mulgan explained why digital social innovation should be both bottom-up and top-down.

What we have learned - contrary to many expectations 30 or 40 years ago - is that most of the dynamic of digital and indeed the knowledge economy, through most societies, is that it widens disparity, it widens inequalities. It creates fantastic pockets and hubs of amazing activity in London or Barcelona or Berlin or Copenhagen but actually the distance in terms of life opportunity, income and so on tends to widen, so it is really important that we focus again and again on the social dimension and don’t just celebrate the digital.

At the NESTA event we heard about the Barcelona Digital City Plan. The plan covers:

A City in Common Technology for social change and public sector innovation

  • Develop a public, open and distributed citizen data infrastructure
  • Launch an open standards data collection platform
  • Implement strategies to involve citizens, businesses, communities, organizations, universities and research centers
  • Public administration digital transformation and innovation

Democratic City Technology for a participatory, collaborative and transparent city

  • Develop and standardize new models of participation in digital environment
  • Technological citizenship sovereignty and digital rights
  • Create a XXI century education and training for life and work
  • Bring emerging technologies closer to citizens to foster a modern, conscious, active and participatory society

Circular City Technology for a new, more sustainable and efficient urban model

  • Address with sustainability criteria, the most urgent urban problems
  • Reduce the digital gap between the different neighborhoods
  • Share and provide collective access to resources through democratic governance
  • Stimulate the culture of invention and technological innovation

Creative City Technology to promote invention, entrepreneurship and social innovation

  • Boost a more efficient, transparent and strategic use of public spending
  • Promote public administration innovation, within SMEs and Cooperatives
  • Stimulate the Barcelona network for digital social innovation
  • Foster a more pluralistic digital economy and make a new urban innovation model

Here's further inspiration from Barcelona - an interview in Shareable with Francesca Bria, the chief innovation officer: Building the Networked City From the Ground Up With Citizens

In 2015 NESTA published a report Rethinking Smart Cities from the ground up that argued for a people-centred approach to smart cities:

" To have a chance of helping cities address some of the tough problems they face, we argue that further investment and support are needed to generate evidence about which approaches to using collaborative technologies are most effective. Cities then need to share these lessons so that other cities can adopt and build on the most successful approaches. In the introduction of this report we set out five main recommendations on how cities can better achieve this.

  • Set up a civic innovation lab to drive innovation in collaborative technologies.
  • Use open data and open platforms to mobilise collective knowledge.
  • Take human behaviour as seriously as technology.
  • Invest in smart people, not just smart technology.
  • Spread the potential of collaborative technologies to all parts of society."

I'm hopefully that there's scope to introduce this sort of thinking, as Smart City plans develop.

We can offer some input from the Networked City exploration we've been engaged in for the past year: overview here on our wiki.

The briefing paper for our launch event offered a model of communities as social ecosystems, whose connectedness and health is affected for good or ill by technology.

It is a case made strongly more recently, by David Robinson, as I reported here. David argues that technology is increasing social isolation, and that we have to plan how to use it to positive effect.

David posted ten pieces about Connecting Well on Medium, and has agreed that I can repost them here on our wiki. In addition, David will be speaking at a free event on March 12 2018. How relationships change the world, and where to go with what we know. That's a must.

Over the past year Networked City and Connecting Londoners has focussed on plans for new infrastructure for London civil society, and in particular plans for a resource Hub for London.

Together with the Our Way Ahead network of networks we've made the case for a networked approach, not just a central resource, and for investing in people to achieve that.

The priority functions for the Hub are now agreed as data, networks and networking, and voice/influencing. The Smart City team have invited the advisory group to the Hub - of which I have been a member - to make an input to plans.

It may be that issues like social isolation, and living well in in digital age, fall outside plans for a Smarter City. If so, I think that makes it all the more important for Hub for London to collaborate to address these issues.

Addition: in my original post I neglected to mention excellent work at the RSA by senior researcher Brhmie Balaram, which I quoted here. In Cities 3.0 - from data-driven to people-powered Brhmie writes:

We envision that in Networked Cities, P2P technology would be embedded in systems akin to the technology of Smart Cities, but would enable a collaborative approach to problem-solving, as it has in Sharing Cities.

In Networked Cities, however, the goal citizens are working towards is broader than managing shared assets and resource; the ambition here would be to apply P2P technology to support inclusive growth. While cities have long been drivers of growth, in recent years they have also struggled with widening inequality, compelling cities to pursue a new agenda that rebalances social objectives and economic priorities. Under the banner of achieving inclusive growth, cities must find solutions to emerging problems of health, housing, the environment, ageing and other demographic change.

At the RSA, we’d argue that Networked Cities goes beyond simply rethinking the Smart City or Sharing City in terms of the tools or technologies that we use, or how we engage citizens, because we are also redefining the problems and challenges being tackled. The Networked City is about more than managing public space and population growth or enabling resource efficiency; rather it takes into account wider social challenges that cities are confronting in their pursuit of a more equal society.

Networked City and Hub for London

Smart Cities

David Wilcox

Our first year exploring how to make London a more Networked City with #ourwayahead

11 min read

It's now a year since we launched the Networked City exploration, so I've pulled the story together on our wiki. Main points below.

We've reached the point where, together with Our Way Ahead, we have a set of proposals for Extending the Hub drawn on the one hand from The Way Ahead "official" research into developing a Hub for London, and on the other from our exploration into how to add more networked thinking, digital tech and self organising.

I hope we are on the same page, following some differences of opinion with TWA during the year.

I've submitted our proposals to the Hub advisory group, of which I'm a member, hoping that they may provide the basis for a common approach.

We are still working on the main idea of a Community of Practice, which I reported earlier. We held an initial meeting with a few enthusiasts, and will meet again face-to-face or online when we see how discussions go with the Hub advisory group.

The proposals are all rather theoretical at present, and we need some ways to bring alive the human reality of what's needed to help us become a better connected city.

I'm drawing inspiration from an excellent set of 10 blog posts about Connecting Well, by David Robinson, one of the most respected figure in London community development. David and Will Horwitz developed a blog, and later edited a book called Changing London, before the last Mayoral election. David writes on Medium:

I am worried that social isolation is rapidly becoming a modern epidemic and, in that regard at least, I am not alone. Our work on Changing London showed that social connection, and the lack of it, was the top concern for our largest single group of Londoners. Higher than housing or health or crime although, as many pointed out, it is not unrelated to any of these other issues.

Our work was small scale but the facts are clear: about one in five people, of all ages, say they are lonely, at least one in ten are severely isolated. This isn’t only about old people alone for days on end, it is also about support for the new parent, a warm network for the job seeker, integration for the recent arrival and a caring community for us all.

Strong relationships keep us all mentally and physically healthy, they make us feel more confident and more capable. They keep our communities safe, help us to cope, enable us to flourish, and make us happy. Connecting well is not the same as being “well connected”. It is not about the size of our address book. It is about the quality of our relationships and, whilst we may now network and transact more than ever, meaningful time together has been, and is being, systematically displaced by fast and shallow connections. We are becoming more atomised and automated, more comfortable with technology but less close to one another.

David says:

We have hollowed out the heart of our business with call centres, our high streets with cash points and self-service checkouts, our neighbourhoods with design that strips out interaction and our public services with carers commissioned for seven minute visits, retendered every three months. Fake relationships are as ubiquitous in 2017, and just as insidious, as fake news.

We have been here before. The agrarian and industrial revolutions disrupted social patterns and called for new ways of behaving. Social change followed but it took a while. Now we are again in that catch up phase. If the technological upheaval that has so changed and devalued relationships is the third revolution, then this is 3.2.

We can’t rewind the clock but nor should we accept a devaluation in the currency of relationships as the price of advancement.

He adds:

Banning or avoiding the technology or denying the overwhelming benefits of progress is futile and foolish. Instead we have to learn how to benefit from it in ways which don’t diminish our humanity but sustain and enrich it. We have to do things differently.

I think that could be a good starting point for our next phase of exploration. More in a later post. Meanwhile our Extending the Hub proposals are open for comment on a Google doc.


Networked City exploration

The Networked City exploration was started by David Wilcox and Drew Mackie on behalf of the London Voluntary Service Council (LVSC), and is now being led by Matt Scott with David and Drew and a group formed following a launch event on January 10 2017.

The Way Ahead

The Way Ahead initiative, led by London Funders, LVSC and Greater London Volunteering, produced a report in April 2016 on how to reframe support for London civil society. This report proposed:

a vision and system that puts London’s communities at the heart of the way we all work. From co-producing an understanding of need and how to tackle it with our communities, through to better sharing of intelligence and data, and making sure that civil society’s voice is heard in decision-making at a strategic level, there are recommendations for us all.

The TWA initiative then set up working groups, and held a conference to develop ideas in more detail. However, they faced criticism about lack of communication and little community involvement, and community groups and networks unhappy with TWA formed Our Way Ahead to press for changes.

The main recommendation in The Way Ahead report was for a London resource hub, and in November 2017 the City Bridge Trust announced first year funding of £350,000.

David Wilcox has been a member of TWA Task and Finish groups on Data Sharing, Triage and Connect, and Co-production - for which he wrote a report. He is member of the Hub advisory group.

Connecting Londoners

Connecting Londoners was formed from people in the Networked City exploration who wanted to put into practice ideas about mapping assets and networks, building networks and developing networked communications. We took the name from a report by consultant Steve Wyler, commissioned by LVSC, that made proposals for the Hub recommended in The Way Ahead report. We created a blog, and collaborated with Our Way Ahead on events.

Our Way Ahead

Our Way Ahead was formed by London networks and community groups as a response to The Way Ahead reports and development. The statement of purpose says:

Decisions have been taken in the name of communities without their involvement, poverty pervades ever deeper, inequality is rising, and lives have been lost as services fail those most vulnerable. Our vision is to ensure that grassroots communities have a meaningfully powerful agency in the response to issues that affect their lives. It is those at the level of grassroots communities, the direct burden takers, who are best placed to lead the push for change, and the OWA Planning Group seek to work in solidarity with them through the facilitation of critical dialogue and storytelling, mapping of community activity and the support of collaboration on campaigns among groups within like communities of interest.

Adding:

We want to build accessible digital community platforms, research and map grassroots community activity, to facilitate collaboration, strengthen local platforms and spaces for action and build the voice of those at the grassroots level.

Our Way Ahead and Connecting Londoners have run a series of events together, and Christine Goodall is a member of the Hub for London advisory group.

Hub for London

The main proposal in The Way Ahead report was for a new resource hub.

A London Hub, working with specialist support, should develop standardized resources where possible, which can be customized and delivered locally. The London Hub could be made up of a network of organisations or be a formally constituted body.

LVSC commissioned a report on the Hub from Steve Wyler, and an advisory group was established in November 2017 to develop details. Steve Wyler's report said:

The Hub “should act as a convenor and enabler, rather than direct deliverer, in effect delivering change through networks and platforms, rather than through traditional organisational and membership delivery methods".

In November 2017 the City Bridge Trust announced first year funding of £350,000 for the Hub, which will be run by Greater London Volunteering. LVSC has now closed - so the Hub will be the only major pan-London organisation. LVSC previous represented some 120,000 groups and organisations.

Connecting Londoners and Our Way Ahead have made the case to the Hub advisory group for extending the work of the Hub - with associated projects - to include development of local and pan-London networks. We based proposals for extending the Hub on Steve Wyler's report, and other working group reports, as well as our own work. In November 2017 we ran a "Hub game" simulation event at London Metropolitan University to play through the recommendations in the Wyler report. Following the event we proposed a Community of Practice to support extending the Hub.

Greater London Authority civil society strategy

The GLA is developing its own civil society strategy. OWA and Connecting Londoners have reported on developments and contributed to events.

Contacts

  • David Wilcox david@socialreporter.com @davidwilcox
  • Drew Mackie drew@drewmackie.co.uk @admaque
  • Matt Scott ourwayahead@gmail.com @ourwayahead

David Wilcox

Updating ideas on Hub for London: might @nesta_uk and @theRSAorg help develop a new London Collaborative?

7 min read

Here's an update on the development of the civil society Hub for London, and some fresh ideas triggered by a visit to the RSA to hear Geoff Mulgan, NESTA chief executive, talk about his new book Big Mind.

The book is sub-titled "how collective intelligence can change the world" and there's a section on combining human and computer-based data and intelligence to help cities think better. We need some of that in London. More later on how and why.

Last month I reported on the game that we ran at London Metropolitan University to simulate how new arrangements might work to support citizens, community groups, charities - and anyone else aiming to do some social good.

The briefing document for the event explains how, after 107 years, London has lost the organisation supporting civil society groups, and how London Funders and others are planning a replacement resource Hub. At the same time City Hall is developing its own civil society strategy.

Over the past year a group of us have been pressing for more thinking about how to build networks to complement the Hub, and the use of digital technology to support these. Our Networked City exploration is documented here.

While acting as friendly critics, we've also put forward a lot of constructive suggestions, and I was glad to be invited on to the advisory group. The group has met a couple of times, and agreed that the main functions for the Hub should be data, networks, and voice and influence.

The group secretariat have now collated all the recommendations about the Hub, and I've been able to align these with ideas developed by Connecting Londoners and Our Way Ahead. Google doc open for comments here. It feels as if we are on the same page in our analysis.

Briefly, we are suggesting that the task is not just to design a new organisation, but also ways to build and support civil society networks at all levels, and across all sectors. That's entirely in line with the report on the Hub produced by consultant Steve Wyler.

I order to start development I suggested in a previous post that we should begin not with tools and structures, but with a group of enthusiasts and specialists who might become a Community of Practice.

We should start to demonstrate network mapping, network communications, outline a guide to networks, and experiment with different forms of organising through simulations.

This would inform decisions on staffing for the Hub, and how it would operate. Geoff Mulgan explained that sort of process much better in his talk, saying we may start on a route with one way of thinking, discover barriers, rethink our categories and models, and then rethink how to think. He calls this the three loops of collective intelligence.

At the moment much of the thinking about the Hub is in the first loop, focussed on an organisational model. We need to find a way to get to the third loop of network and systems thinking before embedding an old model in a Hub charitable company. I trailed some ideas on that last June.

In one section of the book Geoff writes about applying ideas of collective intelligence to cities, and reports on work he did in shaping development of the London Collaborative that brought together three tiers of government and other interests. It ended with a change of Mayor. Boris Johnson didn't get it.

With that notion in mind, and a brief but encouraging conversation with Geoff at the book signing, I bumped into a couple of highly knowledgable RSA Fellows in the bar: David Wood, and David Gurteen.

David Wood is chair of London Futurists, and their YouTube channel demonstrates the breadth of thinking about the future we should be apply to London.

Developing a future scenario was one recommendation from Steve Wyler that hasn't been taken up, and should be.

David Gurteen is a knowledge management specialist who can do all the tech stuff - but focusses on human conversations as the main way that we can cooperate and learn. He ran a conversation cafe for us last year. More here on David's cafes.

At the RSA I also met by chance Cassie Robinson, from doteveryone. Cassie's blog posts on Medium, like this one on Platforms as networks of assets, have aided my thinking about networks and platforms for London.

Next week I'll be connecting via Zoom video conference with Harold Jarche, who ran a terrific workshop for us last year on the theory and practice of networks, social learning and leadership.

Taking these chance encounters together with Geoff's talk - and the insights added by our host RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor - made me think that a Community of Practice is not perhaps what's needed. More of a mini-London Collaborative, or modest Think and Do tank, drawing on a range of inputs.

We should definitely invite Beth Kanter, an old and valued acquaintance who wrote yesterday in The Guardian about Digital technology as a force for social good. We exchanged tweets and Beth liked my earlier blog post.

So where next, after a day of such a excellent connections and ideas?

I wonder whether it would be possible to interest Geoff and/or Matthew in collective intelligence and network thinking for London's future.

I'm an RSA Fellow - as are five other people involved in Connecting Londoners and Our Way Ahead. I've referenced RSA work extensively on this blog, and also that of NESTA. They are currently running a Connected Communities Fund.

So far most of our work over the past year has been self-funded. We need resources - but also ways to connect our work on the practical challenges facing London communities with the work of think tanks like RSA and NESTA.

Talking about this to David Gurteen, he remarked that often innovation in systems comes from the edge. Unfortunately it can be lonely out there. I hope we can now gather some more friends.

David Wilcox

Why we need a Community of Practice for networking London civil society

4 min read

We are developing a Community of Practice for anyone interested in how to build networks to support London communities, following our workshop game at London Metropolitan University a few weeks ago. Background here on the event, and why action is needed. Details of our first meeting at the end of this post.

During an hour and a half workshop session on November 16, designed with Drew Mackie and Matt Scott, we heard about current plans for support systems focussed on a Hub for London; adopted roles from concerned citizen to network leader and council officer; reviewed challenges and ideas from a consultant’s report; developed further ideas, and then chose methods and actions to carry them out.

We had terrific support from community work students at London Met, who also took part in the workshop.

We negotiated how we could support each other with funding, endorsement, and sharing. And we decided who could deliver on the ideas.

We then captured our reports of the project ideas on video - and discussed what we had learned from the session.

The purpose of the event was to explore what sort of projects, networks and communications will be needed following the voluntary liquidation of the London Council for Voluntary Service. Our game was based on a report for LVSC about the replacement Hub for London, now being developed under the governance of Greater London Volunteering.

The LVSC report said that the Hub …

should act as a convenor and enabler, rather than direct deliverer, in effect delivering change through networks and platforms, rather than through traditional organisational and membership delivery methods.

Our workshop game provide a lot of insights in what will be needed, which we can add to the results of our year-long exploration into making London a more networked city.

At the end of the event we decided that the way forward was to focus on the people who could make this happen - community connectors, network mappers and builders, specialists in creative events, online communications and self-organising.

Rather think about how to build platforms, let's bring together the builders in a Community of Practice to learn and experiment together.

The event was a joint initiative between Connecting Londoners, Our Way Ahead and London Met. Christine Goodall and I represent OWA on the advisory group for the Hub, so we developed more detailed proposals for the CoP and presented those this week.

The advisory group decided to adopt three priorities for further development: Data, Voice - and Networks. We’ll be discussing details in the New Year.

Meanwhile we are inviting anyone interested in the Community of Practice to a first meeting at Outlandish in Finsbury Park at 6.30 on Wednesday December 13. If you like to come, please get in touch with Matt Scott - ourwayahead@gmail.com - so we have an idea of numbers, or follow up with me if you can't make it but are interested - david@socialreporter.com. We'll soon have an online community.

As well as creating a learning community, we hope to help each other make the case to funders for support for network building.

Thanks to my son Dan for turning the wiki pages written in Markdown into a Workshop report pdf using Pandoc and Latex. Something else for me to learn …

David Wilcox

New Hub for London gets £350,000 to support civil society - hopefully including grassroots groups

5 min read

The resource hub for London civil society now has £350,000 funding for its first year of operation, confirmed in a press release from the City Bridge Trust. The hub will be run by Greater London Volunteering.

As I’ve written extensively here, there are differing views on how the hub will, or should operate, and on November 16 I’m with others helping run a free open event to develop ideas that we hope will complement and enhance plans so far announced. Summary of the background here.

Last week I attended the first advisory group for the Hub, on behalf of Our Way Ahead and Connecting Londoners. I expressed concerns that the hub may be centralised and top-down, rather than adopt the networked, bottom-up-and-across, whole-system approach recommended in the main design report by Steve Wyler. That said of the hub:

It should act as a convenor and enabler, rather than direct deliverer, in effect delivering change through networks and platforms, rather than through traditional organisational and membership delivery methods.

That approach is also reflected in the objectives of Our Way Ahead:

We want to build accessible digital community platforms, research and map grassroots community activity, to facilitate collaboration, strengthen local platforms and spaces for action and build the voice of those at the grassroots level.

The Our Way Ahead network of networks are particularly concerned that grassroots community groups and networks will miss out in favour of well-staffed voluntary organisations and charities.

The 107-year-old London Voluntary Service Council, which was the only pan-London organisation representing some 120,000 community and voluntary organisations, was a partner in developing the hub proposals with GLV and London funders. However LVSC is now in voluntary liquidation.

Third Sector rather confusingly reported news of the hub as City Bridge Trust sets up voluntary sector support body for London. While City Bridge Trust has provided the funding, the work of setting up is being carried out by GLV. There is a shadow Board, and drafts of memorandum and articles and charitable objects, so far unpublished.

There is only one-year funding, so the Hub company will have to continue to fundraise and/or develop ways to earn income.

There will only be a small staff of chief executive, programmes manager, networks and development coordinator, intelligence coordinator, plus organisational support.

Here’s the main part of the press release:

New London hub announced to strengthen the capital’s civil society

A new charity support body, Hub for London, is soon to launch to strengthen the capital’s voluntary sector.

The City of London Corporation’s charitable funder and London’s largest independent grant giver, City Bridge Trust, has awarded £350,000 towards the new organisation which will bring together and provide support to the capital’s voluntary sector.

Hub for London will strengthen the charity sector in the capital by providing access to business, organisational, technical and enterprise support to civil society organisations, as well as online resources.

City Bridge Trust’s funding will secure the first year of operation for Hub for London which will be run by Greater London Volunteering.

Hub for London will allow charities to access and share data and information, training schemes and good practice. By building cross-sector links and partnerships, the Hub will mean voluntary and community organisations have a ‘voice’ within the on-going debate about London, its governance and the issues it faces. As well as helping London’s voluntary sector to access organisational support, the Hub will help organisations to work together and provide a platform for a number of voluntary sector networks, such as the London Safer Futures Network.

Membership will be open to any individual or organisation based in London.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the text, but there is a lot of emphasis on charities, while the vast majority of the groups in London civil society are not charities, don’t have staff and yet can certainly do with support.

The advisory group didn’t have sight of the press release before its meeting on the same day, so we ended up discussing various issues, including a possible name, which appear decided in the press release.

The guidance from GLV is that details are still to be worked out, and that statements so far indicate that while some functions will be central, a lot of work will be devolved to other organisations and networks.

While the group will only meet monthly, I was pleased that GLV agreed to set up an online forum for us, probably using Loomio.

I hope that there will also be a public communication system that reflects the commitment that membership of the new organisation will be open to any organisation or individual based in London. Steve Wyler went so far as to suggest the hub might become a coop.

If the hub is to be broadly-based and accountable to Londoners, then Londoners should be well-informed on its development and have a chance to make some input.

David Wilcox

Join us in a free workshop to explore @OurWayAhead for London communities

4 min read

Over the next few months decisions will be made affecting the support systems for Londoners in local communities and across the capital. On November 16 Drew Mackie and I are helping run a workshop at London Metropolitan University to play through some of the options. Here’s why.

It is an important time for London civil society. As I’ve covered in previous posts, the decisions will affect funding, communications, training and other services for some 120,000 community groups, networks and charities.

The umbrella organisation for these groups and organisations, London Council for Voluntary Services, has closed after 107 years, and we are in the final stages of a review of alternatives supported by London funders and called The Way Ahead. The Greater London Authority is also undertaking a review. Summary of the background here.

The favoured solution is a London Hub, incorporated as a charitable company based on Greater London Volunteering. As I wrote here, some London networks and grass roots organisations believe the solution is too top-down, and have set up Our Way Ahead as a network of networks.

We want to build accessible digital community platforms, research and map grassroots community activity, to facilitate collaboration, strengthen local platforms and spaces for action and build the voice of those at the grassroots level. The OWA Planning Group work collectively in solidarity with local campaigns to build a grassroots movement for social justice in London and the immediate hinterland of communities affected by the state of affairs London.

Together with Christine Goodall of the HEAR Equality and Human Rights Network I’ve been invited to join the working party advising on Hub development, on behalf of Our Way Ahead and Connecting Londoners. I’ll report further after a meeting next week.

Representation on the working group provides a welcome opportunity to put forward ideas on how the Hub can avoid being a top-down solution, and can help build networks and support the ethos of co-production and bottom-up action featured in the original TWA report, and subsequent recommendation from consultant Steve Wyler.

However, the issues are complex, and we believe they should be worked through at different levels in a creative session.

Here’s registration for the workshop, organised in conjunction with Our Way Ahead and London Metropolitan University:

We invite you to co-design ways we can share knowledge and support each other to achieve a socially just and sustainable London for the future.

We’ll bring together starter ideas from several sources: our exploration into Connecting Londoners, expertise from the Our Way Ahead network of networks, and the results of consultation by the Greater London Council on their civil society strategy.

We’ll build on proposals for a London Hub that resulted from The Way Ahead initiative, supported by London funders. Currently the plan is to fund and carry plans forward through one charitable company.

We believe that action and support should be owned and developed at all levels: from citizens and community groups, through borough-level agencies, to London-wide networks.

Achieving this requires a well-supported collaborative process, as recommended in the official reports. So far that hasn’t happened, so we are going to simulate what’s needed with a workshop game that prototypes a bigger exercise.

We’ll play through how to connect Londoners using maps of assets and connections, a blend of digital and other communications, new ways of organising, and stories about what works, and what doesn’t.

The results of the session - and our other work - will inform funding proposals and plans for further collaborative work. We hope you’ll join us in that as well

At present this is a self-funded effort, so we can’t do as much research and preparation as we would like. However, we hope it will be a demonstration to London funders and others of an approach that could be developed and extended before the Hub organisation is finally set up.

David Wilcox

How we can apply @thersaorg vision of Convening and Change from @RSAMatthew to London’s civil society

3 min read

The main theme of the address from CEO Matthew Taylor at last night's RSA AGM was Convening and Change - which further encourages me to think that the project a group of us pitched last week could contribute to the Society’s mission … and the RSA to ours.

In summary, I suggested at an RSA Ideas event that we could bring together some of the 8000 London RSA Fellows who are committed to social change, with community groups and networks developing bottom-up support systems to complement official centralised resources.

We are convening a co-design event in November, and developing online conversations and support. Here’s our work in progress document on the event structure, developed with Drew Mackie and Matt Scott.

I think our approach fits well with another theme highlighted by Anthony Painter, Director of the Action and Research Centre - think like a system, act like an entrepreneur - as well as past RSA work on Connected Communities.

What could be more systemic than co-designing civil society support systems? And we have certainly been entrepreneurial in developing a vision of London as a Networked City with modest resources.

Anthony was promoting the model of Cities of Learning - “an experimental place-based mobilisation of formal, non-formal and informal learning assets and resources”. That’s a good fit too. I think it will appeal to London Metropolitan University, who are hosting the event, and where I joined Matt last week to talk at the community work course he teaches.

The RSA has various systems for supporting Fellow-led projects, and I’ll follow up my initial enquiries about what might be on offer with a suggestion that we discuss how we can align with the ideas presented last night, as well as those of the community networks we are working with. I think there is potentially a good fit.

The full set of slides that I shot last night is here. I'm checking whether there is an official set, video, and scripts.

Previously