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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.