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David Wilcox

The Hub for London to support civil society now recruiting first chief executive #TheWayAhead

4 min read

The Hub for London, supporting civil society organisations, is now advertising for its first chief executive - with some insights into how the organisation may operate. The recruitment notice says:

The Hub for London is a new infrastructure support organisation for the region's civil society. This new organisation will offer a range of support for charities, social action groups and community organisations among others. The hub aims to offer three key functions: information (data and intelligence on civil society across London), networking (supporting civil society engagement and collaboration) as well as a voice and influence (increasing the influence and representation of civil society in policy and regional planning).

The CEO will occupy an exciting and high-profile role that builds on a wider programme of work in place across London called The Way Ahead. The role will have close ties with London Councils, the GLA, London Funders and others and it aims to champion the role of civil society as part of the vital infrastructure for the region. Providing the overall leadership and management for the Hub for London in line with the strategic plan and promoting the profile and interests of the hub and its impact on civil society will be central duties.

The £60,000 a year contract is for two years, with an appointment after interviews in April. The CEO will then be involved in recruitment of a Programme Manager, Networks Partner, Intelligence Coordinator and Operations Officer.

The Hub has £350,000 first-year funding from the City Bridge Trust, and will be run by Greater London Volunteering under revised charitable objectives.

Details about the Hub are included in a candidate information pack.

Plans for the Hub, developed by London Funders and partners under The Way Ahead programme, were criticised by some London networks as too top-down, with insufficient concern for supporting and strengthening grassroots community groups and networks.

The networks formed Our Way Ahead. OWA initially participated in the Hub advisory group, and systems change group, but have now withdrawn **.

The brief for the CEO appear to offer some flexibility on strategy. While the brief emphasises a central leadership role including "To proactively gather the voices and opinions from across the sector and feed this into regional and national policy", the information pack cites the recommendations by the Equalities sub group, and the need to ensure that:

  1. The hub will co-produce its work with stakeholders including actively supporting the involvement of excluded / discriminated communities and organisations ‘Nothing about us, without us’

  2. The hub commits to ensure all involvement and representation in its work reflects London's diverse communities including excluded / discriminated against communities

  3. The work of the hub is accessible and inclusive and enables excluded / discriminated against communities and organisations to actively take part effectively.

  4. The hub and its work is needs led, reflecting the priorities of diverse communities and championing the value that those communities bring to London.

The pack also says that early work on defining a communications narrative for the hub has highlighted the need for it to create a space where civil society is a promoted as a confident, ambitious and equal partner. This will be achieved by:

  • Actively learning and collaborating together
  • Advocating more strongly together
  • Designing for systems needed by civil society in the future
  • Being reflective and responsive to the needs of civil society
  • Meeting the complexity of what’s happening across London and articulating this collectively
  • Linking and supporting all levels of civil society

Thanks to Nikki Wilson for spotting the recruitment notice.

** I was an OWA representative on the advisory group until February 2018.

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

Join us to discuss how Londoners can connect and influence development of the city

2 min read

We have a few free places for our cafe conversation session on Thursday afternoon, July 20. Here's the flyer.

We'll be discussing "How can we connect Londoners so that they can have a greater influence over the future development of their city?"

I know it is going to be a great event because of the topic on the one hand, and on the other because it will be facilitated by David Gurteen.

It will be chance to learn how David uses an apparently simple framework for an event that enables some rich conversations. It will be a lesson in itself in how to help people connect - and I'm sure that the insights generated will give us fresh ideas about how to influence London's development.

More here about David's Cafes, which he has now run in 32 countries.

Among those attending will be key people from initiative to reframe support for London civil society, and from the recent community-led response .

I hope we'll develop some shared ways forward, drawing on the TWA conference and last week's OWA event.

The cafe will be from 1pm to 5pm July 21 at LVSC, c/o Voluntary Action Islington, Conference room, 200a Pentonville Road, N1 9JP.

Please let Matthew Scott matt@lvsc.org.uk know if you are coming or tweet me @davidwilcox

David Wilcox

Why #OurWayAhead will be #GoodforLDN civil society

5 min read

Today some 180 people passionate about the future of London communities are getting togther to share ideas about how to organise social action and support local groups in the face of funding cuts and major social challenges.

A few weeks ago London funding organisations and their partners held an official event on how to support civil society organisations, as part of The Way Ahead initiative.

Our Way Ahead Organisations

There were many excellent proposals, but some activists at that event argued that there wasn't sufficient recognition of the role of grass-roots organisations. In a short time a group of networks, supported by Matt Scott of the London Voluntary Service Council, organised their response - Our Way Ahead. We are meeting this afternoon at London Metropolitan University from 1pm with a started scheduled for 2pm.

There will be lots on Twitter, if you follow , and John Popham will be live streaming and doing interviews. I'll be helping with that, and also working with Drew Mackie to create a living map of London networks.

Matt Scott and researcher Matt Pugh have created a basic network map of key London organisations and networks in London civil society, and we'll invite people to add their organisations and connections.

Network map

Drew Mackie - who is working with me and Matt on the Networked City initiative - will then update and display the emerging map on the wall - all being well. I'll report later.

We'll also be tweeting with the tag , because at our planning meeting we agreed that we needed a London dimension to tweets. I suggested Good for London because I remembered that back at the start of our Networked City exploration I wrote:

Let’s talk about to make sense of civil society, a networked city and

Signups are going well for our event tomorrow about London as a networked and neighbourly city, creating a Living Lab to help reframe civil society, using tech to support social action.

It’s about all of those things, and I suspect each idea resonates with different interests. I think that’s a problem, and we need an idea and a tag everyone can understand. How about ?

Behind the rather abstract terms I’ve been using so far in these posts is the idea that we need to rethink how people and organisations doing good cooperate and collaborate in the networked age, where the Internet is changing so much about the way we lead our lives, and the relationships, interests and activities we can develop.

I was looking for a term, a tag, that embraces the broad idea of action for social good - whether by individuals, community groups, charities, public agencies or social businesses.

That is a key idea in the official The Way Ahead reports

We begin with three beliefs: first, that a thriving civil society is good for Londoners; second, that in order to achieve a strong and vibrant civil society, just like any other sector, civil society organisations need access to appropriate support, as well as a ‘voice’ within the debates about London; and third that London faces both challenges and opportunities which mean we need to rethink how that support and voice is best provided to civil society in London.

The Way Ahead proposes a system that puts London’s communities at the heart of the way we all work. It begins with co-producing an understanding of need and how to tackle it with our communities, through to better sharing of intelligence and data across all sectors, and making sure that civil society’s voice is heard in decision-making at a strategic level.

I think people in Our Way Ahead agree with that ... and I hope that might be a tag that can be used to bring together "official" ideas and ones developed today. There's lots you can do with Twitter to gather ideas, spark conversations and build networks if you agree a tag. I'm interested in how far we can get. If we need it, I'm happy to offer goodfor.london which I've registered.

I think the benefit that Our Way Ahead will bring to The Way Ahead is a street-level perspective on what life is like in London today, and what can be done by citizens and community groups to support and complement more official actions.

Summary of previous posts, and other references here

David Wilcox

How to move #TheWayAhead into the networked age by Connecting Londoners

7 min read

Yesterday I reported that City Hall is commissioning consultancy work on a strategy for London civil society that will complement and extend plans from London Funders and their partners for a resource hub and other systems.

The hub, and other proposals in TheWayAhead initiative, aim to provide support for borough-level and front-line organisations that provide advice and help for Londoners at a time when funding is being cut.

It's a comprehensive brief covering many of the issues - but I'm concerned it will contribute to the top-down design approach of The Way Ahead that has led to grassroots organisations starting to develop an alternative - Our Way Ahead.

Here's some theory about hubs, networks and open approaches, followed by a few practical ideas on opening up discussion and development. We need designs for the networked age, focussed on the needs and capabilities of Londoners.

Hubs and networks

I hope that a diagram may help explain concerns about the current approach. It is based on Paul Baran's classic 1964 depiction in the early days of the Internet and the difference between centralised, decentralised and distributed networks.

network diagram

These days the Internet is much more complex - but the key idea is that information flows within a mesh network, not just from central or even decentralised points. In 1964 the points of distribution were relatively few large computers. These days the points include people's smartphones, tablets and personal computers, together many other ways of connecting and communicating.

Here's how this relates to the hub.

hub and mesh

When I joined discussion about the hub at the recent conference on The Way Ahead, and showed a version of this diagram, I was assured that it wouldn't be centralised, but more of a cluster of networks.

Even so, as I wrote here, the problem with the idea of a hub is that it will concentrate resources in one central organisation that is likely to compete with more local initiatives like Councils for Voluntary Service. We may drift from the current decentralised approach to a more centralised one - when we should be going the other way.

There are several reasons for moving towards a more networked approach that builds on and supports the expertise and connections of Londoners and grassroots organisations. First, if you design top-down through consultancy, working groups and committees you may get it wrong. Secondly, resources are likely to be tight in future, so any centralised systems are vulnerable. Thirdly, people will increasingly get their information online - whether directly as individuals or via people providing connections and support.

And if you want to encourage people and organisation to share, cooperate and collaborate - the key idea of Pragmatic Co-production in The Way Ahead - then you have to invent the future with them, not for them.

Open sourcing - from Cathedral to Bazaar

That's why a group of us started exploring the idea of a Networked City and Connecting Londoners.

The difference between top-down and bottom-up design was neatly captured in an essay and book in the 1990s by Eric S. Raymond called The Cathedral and the Bazaar. In the Cathedral model you design from the top, with each change created by experts. In the Bazaar model you open up and share development. Raymond's book was about software design, but I think the metaphor is more widely useful.

These days the Open Source model - designing bottom-up within an operating system that can itself evolve collaboratively - is widely adopted outside software development. We are increasingly adopting Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing. My links above come from Wikipedia, one extraordinary demonstration of bottom-up development of content and sharing.

Put simply, The Way Ahead is still designing for the pre-Internet age with a business-as-usual model.

I'm not suggesting that smartphones are a substitute for good local face-to-face advice and support. Both are needed, and in both instances we should design bottom-up from personal usage and local expertise.

Ideas for a networked approach

But how to do that in practice, in the context of The Way Ahead and the City Hall strategy?

In this paper I suggest, with Drew Mackie, that we should build a network of people and projects, based on ideas developed from the Networked City exploration.

These are just some of the ideas we have developed. What's now needed is an open, bottom-up process to gather more, as for example the RSA are doing with their co-creation community crowdsourcing ideas on building a Citizens' Economy for tomorrow's world.

With others involved in Networked City I'm investigating how to build our own crowdsourcing platform, and will have suggestions on that shortly.

We also have plans for a knowledge cafe with David Gurteen to bring together people from The Way Ahead, Our Way Ahead, and anyone else interested. There's no substitute for a good face-to-face conversation.

Meanwhile, do check out the Our Way Ahead event on July 12 where we'll be discussing these ideas and much more.

Previously:

David Wilcox

City Hall is commissioning work to develop a London civil society strategy for #TheWayAhead. Spread the word.

6 min read

The Greater London Authority is commissioning £15,000 of consultancy to help staff develop support for civil society on the lines proposed in The Way Ahead report:

The request for proposals was tweeted by London Funders - who are leading development of the The Way Ahead - the day after their major conference, so the TORs weren't, as far as I know, formally discussed on the day, which seems a pity.

The Terms of reference for the scoping of a Civil Society Strategy for London are on the official web site, in summary, but I haven't seen coverage elsewhere. Submissions have to be in by July 12.

This is important work and more people deserve to know about it ... whether to pitch or comment on the approach. So please retweet. (And apologies to GLA if TORs has been widely circulated ... I just could find anything on Google).

Here's the document linked in the tweet, and here are the key elements.

The GLA wants to develop a strategy for London’s civil society, working with civil society partners to develop this, and, indicating our response to the recommendations contained in The Way Ahead report.

This report has been a landmark proposal from London’s civil society. We now need a more detailed analysis of some of the options within this and support to help us set out what we will do to support London’s civil society. We expect this support to include some work with internal GLA teams and some external stakeholder engagement to test our thinking as it develops.

A proposed vision and a structure

  • An overarching vision of the role the GLA has to play in the infrastructure of civil society in London, both as convenor and active participant
  • A proposal on the most appropriate structure(s) and methods to convene civil society leaders and groups to tackle the big issues facing London (e.g. via a ‘Mayor’s Challenge’ model), cutting across geographic/sectoral boundaries

Building on the recommendations made in the Way Ahead on;

  • Working with London Councils/Local Authorities and others to develop commissioning frameworks and promote and reward good practice which allows access to contract opportunities for civil society organisations.
  • Supporting and promoting innovation and models of best practice for civil society organisations, and for civil society ‘infrastructure’ and creating networks to enable knowledge sharing and best practice to emerge
  • Setting out the way in which the GLA can work with cross sector partners to gather data on the sector and share it in the most effective way possible, including mapping of the sector

Development of voice and regional support;

  • An exploration of the mechanisms that can be used to ensure that London grassroots organisations can have a say and be involved in policy production and having their voices heard
  • Working with partners to refine recommendations about the way that cross borough and local activity can be supported by sub-regional or regional bodies

There's more helpful detail in an appendix. Overall, it is a challenging brief which would be difficult to tackle unless you have been closely involved in The Way Ahead.

I'm glad that GLA are now engaging with civil society issues, and guess there may be some internal reasons for it taking so long to do so. However, I fear that this work may fall into the same trap as The Way Ahead - failing to match community rhetoric with an appropiate process.

The strongest recommendation in The Way Ahead is for Pragmatic Co-production

Co-production is where Londoners work with those in power, and each other, in a way in which all voices are heard equally in developing a shared understanding of need and in crafting solutions to make London a better place.

Adding:

The Review Team contends that pragmatic co-production should cover a continuum of activity that includes:

  • 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

The biggest criticism of The Way Ahead process has been that while the report emphasises a bottom-up approach, the process has been top-down. This has led community-based networks to organise their own event to develop Our Way Ahead on July 12, and activist Richard Lee to comment:

When we look at The Way Ahead Change documents, and the proposals for the hub, do they actually also include these community voices, these activists, those doing things voluntarily, those who are part of small community groups? They don't, and I’m not alone in thinking this.

There are other people in the room today who equally feel we cannot give consent to these documents as they stand.

The GLA TORs do contain quite a lot about engaging with community interests, and mention a range of methods. However, as someone who has done a fair bit of community engagement work, and become rather disillusioned with traditional consultancy approaches, I know that there is a big difference between what agencies and consultants consider effective engagement and what works on the street.

If the GLA and London Funders really want to build a strategy and structure to support civil society they should follow the recommendations of their report and co-produce it with Londoners, community groups and organisations.

Together with others who will contribute on July 12, I have plenty of ideas about how this might be done - in association with GLA staff, and consultants dealing with the complex issues of commissioning, for example. But we can't, within a couple of weeks, put together a team to deal with such a challenging undertaking, and I'm not sure I would want to try.

The TOR brief is comprehensive. Unfortunately is also excluding. More follows tomorrow on how to address that.

Previously:

David Wilcox

How #TheWayAhead for @LondonFunders is becoming #OurWayAhead for Londoners

3 min read

Last week's official event about The Way Ahead for London's civil society, organised by London Funders and their partners, was followed by a less formal workshop on Friday including representatives of key networks supporting Londoners.

Our Way Ahead flyer

The concensus echoed discussion at the official event about more community input, and the words of community activist Richard Lee that I reported:

When we look at The Way Ahead Change documents, and the proposals for the hub, do they actually also include these community voices, these activists, those doing things voluntarily, those who are part of small community groups? They don't, and I’m not alone in thinking this.

There are other people in the room today who equally feel we cannot give consent to these documents as they stand.

So on Friday people decided that as well as pressing for changes in plans to develop a London resource hub, and the support systems for front line organisations, they would develop their own ideas, initially at an event on July 12.

London networks

An OPEN event to build voice, agency and grassroots infrastructure at a time of crisis and division.

Aiming to network and contribute to a wider movement that is democratic, sustainable and genuinely supportive of each other.

Includes storytelling, open space, testimonies and presentations from community organisations.

Time to reflect and plan action:

Brexit, Austerity, Grenfell...so many more

Let’s share our experiences, agree common purpose and plan for collective action.

At The Way Ahead event project officer Geraldine Blake said:

I liked Richard's point that we change the tone of of the Change Plans to make sense of them to frontline community organisations and activists. That’s absolutely something we'll feed in.

I'm very very keen to be part of the event in a few weeks and feed that in to The Way Ahead Change Plan. What we want is the strongest possible plan that means something to all the people that need to be involved in actually making it happen.

So there's a real chance of bringing together work on The Way Ahead from the past year with further ideas developed on July 12, and afterwards. I'll follow up with some ideas on how we might do that.

Recent blog posts:

Reference

David Wilcox

Voices from the Tower may change tone of #TheWayAhead for civil society, as well as much else

6 min read

Yesterday's event about The Way Ahead for London civil society offered more detail about the formal plans for a resource hub, and other support systems for community groups, organisations and charities.

However, the emotional tone was set by reflections at the start and finish on the Grenfell Tower disaster.

At the start Geraldine Blake, project officer for The Way Ahead, expressed our deep sympathy for the individuals, families and communities affected, and admiration for the extraordinary effort of volunteers.

I think we all immediately brought to mind both the horror of the burned out tower, and the news images of volunteers rapidly organising to provide support when, it seemed, official bodies were unable to respond.

Photo Eastern Eye

Photo Eastern Eye

Wasn't that the best of "civil society"?

Two overlapping themes emerging from conversations. Yes, on the one hand the efforts of individuals and small groups generally outweigh those of organisations and charities in London, even if they usually have a lower profile.

On the other hand the community centres, sports halls, other facilities and services used by volunteers are an essential part of the civil society infrastructure now under threat from funding cuts. That’s the dual challenge being addressed in The Way Ahead: maintaining what people called the plumbing and connective tissue as well as inspiring and supporting the individuals and groups. But is the balance right?

One of the recurring criticisms of The Way Ahead process, as I wrote here, has been poor communication and engagement with Londoners and small groups.

At the end of the event, Richard Lee, cordinator of the campaigning network Justspace again referred to Grenfell Tower, and I asked him to reprise his remarks for me.

As you can hear in the interview, Richard argues that the tone, and maybe the substance of The Way Ahead documents, should be changed. (Links to documents in this post). He says that the part of civil society that really came forward in the wake of the disaster were activists, small community groups, and people who wanted to take part purely as volunteers.

People felt humbled looking at this and seeing how this part of civil society really took charge in providing for the needs of the people there.

When we look at The Way Ahead Change documents, and the proposals for the hub, do they actually also include these community voices, these activists, those doing things voluntarily, those who are part of small community groups? They don't, and I’m not alone in thinking this.

There are other people in the room today who equally feel we cannot give consent to these documents as they stand.

Richard refers to an event on July 12, organised by Matt Scott, with Richard, me and others, when there will be an opportunity to contribute fresh ideas. He calls for space in The Way Ahead process to both reflect on the implications of the disaster, and incorporate these ideas.

An open event for people active in their community to network and build alliances for collective action

As part of this event we will explore how community groups and Londoners can influence ‘The Way Ahead’ agenda and proposed London Hub.

I then talked to Geraldine Blake, project officer for The Way Ahead, who explained the substantial consultation processes that informed development of the documents, adding:

I liked Richard's point that we change the tone of of the Change Plans to make sense of them to frontline community organisations and activists. That’s absolutely something we'll feed in.

I'm very very keen to be part of the event in a few weeks and feed that in to The Way Ahead Change Plan. What we want is the strongest possible plan that means something to all the people that need to be involved in actually making it happen.

Geraldine said that this is a moment when the value of civil society has become very clear, and we need to capitalise on it for longer-term benefit. It is also important to recognise the value of locally-rooted organisations in joining things up.

In my next interview, Matt Scott suggests we must go deeper on engagement and create spaces where people can set out their own stories, and build much stronger networks and coalitions. He said that today was made up of quite formal presentations and complex table discussions. The event on June 12 will provide conversation space during an afternoon and evening, and hopefully start to mobilise a different part of civil society. Most community groups are small, and would not walk through the door of a formal event.

The Way Ahead is a fantastic opportunity to get the sector where it should be in London, because we have a desperately low profile - and I'm keen too do a different kind of event with different kind of conversations

Previously:

David Wilcox

Another hope for #TheWayAhead at today's event - a communication programme to inform and engage Londoners

6 min read

I'm glad that yesterday's post about the need for a more networky approach to The Way Ahead plans for a London resource hub gained some tweets and comments - see below the post. Thanks all.

I'm now off to the conference, and hoping that one of the issues to be addressed will be communications and engagement. I find relatively few people know about The Way Ahead, and that formal reports are, ahem, less than engaging. However, there may have been lots of activity I don't know about, and new plans for comms. I'll report back, and also continue to check out The Way Ahead website.

Here's what I posted in December 2016 after the last event

This Storify of tweets compiled by Superhighways, and a photo report, show the breadth of discussion at last week's event on the future of London's civil society **.

The event was organised by London Voluntary Service Council, Greater London Volunteering and London Funders to take forward their report The Way Ahead - Civil Society and the Heart of London.

Effective action could involve everyone from individual citizens to groups, charities, councils and business. The big challenge now is not just understanding and explaining the report, but offering ways for people to play a part.

As I wrote earlier, I'm working with LVSC on how Londoners can in future better connect with each other, engage in local activities and find support.

Drew Mackie and I will be looking at ways in which people and groups can develop their personal and community networks, using a range of methods including new technology.

We hope this will make a useful contribution to The Way Ahead - and so I was glad to join in the communications group at the event, led by Steve Wyler.

Communications

Here's notes I've transcribed from the photo report:

  • recognising different phases - e.g. currently a development and engagement phase
  • comms will matter throughout implementation
  • development phase likely to continue beyond March 2016 - urgent point about producing a succinct and tailored set of propositions that sets out The Way Ahead recommendations for different stakeholders (e.g. messages for business will be different from those for frontline groups)
  • communication needs to be more than broadcast, needs engagement and enabled contributions (some could be to thematic groups, but also need something beyond this - website but visuals not just text, plus online networking forum)
  • roadshow events, either on local areas http://www.connectinglondoners.blog/2017/heres-hoping-thewayahead-plans-for-a-london-resource-hub-be... thematic issues, to talk to people about what this would mean in practice chairs of theme groups and system change group need to model new forms of communication
  • need system of communications that work well for frontline volunteers, activists and others, not just digital and not just those already in the room

The group report on peer-to-peer learning was very relevant too:

  • leadership and learning important as it underpins everything in The Way Ahead
  • need to be proactive in developing our leadership programmes underway, but information not being shared between people and organisations
  • need sector-specific opportunities, but important to have cross-sector work to learn and grow (e.g. time banking between people and organisations)
  • need to recognise that competition can stand in the way of sharing ideas

The communications recommendations apply mainly to The Way Ahead programme, while peer-to-peer learning is about what happens next. In addition we had a useful discussion about the realities of day-to-day communications in community and voluntary organisations, and the need to offer a mix of methods from face-to-face through phone calls and print to online.

As well as external communications, there will first be the challenge of facilitating conversations between the five thematic groups now established:

  • Co-production
  • Data: collating, analysing and sharing data about the needs and strengths of Londoners
  • Triage and connecting: local, specialist and regional support organisations
  • Voice and campaigning: civil society needs to be fully engaged in decision-making on London- wide issues,
  • Consistent commissioning and funding for support

The main recommendation in the The Way Ahead is to promote and develop co-production, by which the review team mean:

Co-production is where Londoners work with those in power, and each other, in a way in which all voices are heard equally in developing a shared understanding of need and in crafting solutions to make London a better place.

All this suggests to me that The Way Ahead will only succeed if everyone concerned - from funders to councils, groups and organisations, and citizens - can talk to each other about what's involved in making their London a better place to live.

This involves creating some communication systems that embrace new and older methods, internally and externally.

I know that The Way Ahead team will be launching a new web site, and planning other forms of communication.

At the moment The Way Ahead reports are pretty heavy pdfs, so I think a simple explainer would be a useful start, covering for example:

  • What is civil society
  • How does it operate
  • What isn’t working - for citizens, organisations, funders
  • What changes are coming - whether through funding cuts or external forces
  • What are the key ideas in The Way Ahead
  • Who needs to be involved in co-production and other changes
  • What might be involved in making changes

... which would lead to "here's what part you might play".

At the end of the event facilitator George Gawlinski remarked that for change to happen The Way Ahead needed to be a movement.

If so, the challenge is not just how to promote the messages of The Way Ahead - but how to offer people ways to get involved, in terms that make sense to them. The event last week provided the energy and insights to do that.

** The Way Ahead report offers this definition:

“Civil society is where people take action to improve their own lives or the lives of others and act where government or the private sector don’t. Civil society is driven by the values of fairness and equality, and enables people to feel valued and to belong. It includes formal organisations such as voluntary and community organisations, informal groups of people who join together for a common purpose and individuals who take action to make their community a better place to live.”

David Wilcox

Here's hoping #TheWayAhead plans for a London resource hub become more networky

3 min read

Further ideas for a resource hub to support London civil society have been circulated to those attending tomorrow's major conference on The Way Ahead. As I explain below, I think it is one of the most challenging issues in the programme.

Previously The Way Ahead published the recommendations of five working groups, as I reported here. The Way Ahead web site also has reports on the hub from consultants advising London Voluntary Service Council, and local Councils for Voluntary Services. The latest ideas aren't on the site, but since they are widely circulated I've taken the slight liberty of uploading them. Here's all the links

The Way Ahead is in part a response to cuts in funding which mean that many support services at local and London level are under threat. One of the key issues is how far support can be centralised in a hub, and how far it should be decentralised in CVSs and other organisations.

I've contributed to some of the working groups, as well as working with LVSC on the idea of Networked City, which aims to bring more network thinking and tech into The Way Ahead.

A month ago I drafted some ideas on how to rethink the notion of a hub as a network - or lots of linked networks. I didn't publish them at the time, but now seems a good opportunity to throw them into the pot.

Here's a radical option for a London civil society Hub - build a network of people and projects

I've included this provocation:

The risk is that the Hub will be designed on a business-as-usual model that reflects a political compromise between the existing organisations struggling to maintain their existence in the face of funding cuts. There will be a new organisation, or consortium, with representatives from existing ones that will develop its own mailing lists, newsletters, web site, events, training courses, publications.

This centralised or consortium hub will get some start up funding - but it will probably have to generate more by fund raising and developing services in competition with existing organisations. People won’t share their knowledge because they are in competition.

So far the latest hub proposals are not much more than a shell charitable company effectively merging LVSC and Greater London Volunteering, so there's plenty of opportunity to take a networked and decentralised approach. There's some mention of that in the proposals, and I'll be listening out tomorrow for more.

Either way I'm certain we'll get some radical, bottom-up ideas at a event on July 12.

An open event for people active in their community to network and build alliances for collective action

As part of this event we will explore how community groups and Londoners can influence ‘The Way Ahead’ agenda and proposed London Hub.