Thursday, 18 November 2010

How do you achieve optimum participant mix at an event?

I am writing having just arrived home from an event in Dudley which I helped to organise. Big Society: The Dudley Approach aimed to bring together leaders from the public sector, representatives from voluntary, community and faith sector networks, social media experts and local business people to begin discussing a local response to the Big Society agenda.

The 150 or so participants heard from thought-provoking speakers and then participated in their choices of 9 discussions around a range of themes. Twitter was in overdrive with over 400 tweets going out or coming in, from 50 contributors, both at the event and remote from it.

Rob Weaver from C3 Consulting, an event participant, noted in a tweet that “Two thirds of delegates from council and/or statutory/vol agencies.” He asked where are people and businesses? Dave Conroy from Capacity Builders tweeted in saying that it “would be interesting to know how and who invited”.

Here’s the response (it’s too long for a tweet).

The invitations were circulated a month prior to the event. A few weeks before that I attempted to find local business people. I started with the 300 plus followers of Hub Stourbridge. A trawl through the followers indicated to me that this was a good starting place. I asked Hub Stourbridge to send a tweet out to see if anyone was interested in being part of a discussion with others at an event in Dudley about Big Society. I had one response – from Rob Weaver. Rob was therefore added to the invitation list. I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t heard from others, and put this down to the often quoted myth that business folk don’t want to waste time in meetings talking about these sorts of things. I apologise! It seems a few of you are happy to spend time talking about things. (I’ve worked in the voluntary sector all my life, and don’t know many business people – hopefully that will change through this work!)

We did have more formal channels which we went through, such as invitations to the Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses. I’m not sure whether the invitation recipients actually did or thought they should pass on these invitations.

The response from the voluntary, community and faith sector was disappointing to me. My organisation (Dosti) is a network of networks, and we communicate through key contacts in networks. We invited each network to put forward a few people, to try to manage the numbers. However many, especially the more community-based networks didn’t show any interest. I’m not sure whether these folk would constitute some of Rob’s ‘people’. I don’t see it being a huge problem at this stage. Some of it is about us going to them, so next week I will be talking with 40 or 50 tenants and residents association members from across the borough about the Big Society. This invitation came from the chair of their federation, and will enable the involvement of more people than would be likely to attend an event like the one tonight.

A few of our networks hosted a Big Society event back in September, attended by over 40 people, so perhaps some people have got what they need for now in terms of information and discussion. I’m happy to give presentations about the Big Society to any of our networks, and/or run facilitated discussions on the topic. The goal is that the many different discussions going on over the next few weeks and months can be co-ordinated in some way and people bought together in different ways.

Also during the summer I ran a couple of ‘Big Society down the pub’ informal chats, which attracted a small number of people, including some volunteers. It would be fantastic if we could have more of these run by lots of people in a variety of places, perhaps feeding in to one place online. (I intend to blog about the couple we did – just struggling for time!)

We were quite clear from the outset that this event wasn’t going to have an open invitation to the public, which is not to say that we wouldn’t consider other sorts of events which we’d publicise in the press etc. and invite anyone to. We would like to encourage online discussion from anyone interested, and will develop ways to do this too. We can start through a group I’ve set up on the Big Society in the North site (the North being north of London)! Do join me there, it’s been lonely! I’m in ‘The Dudley Approach’
My learning points:

• People outside the public and voluntary sector are more interested in this than I thought.
• One tweet via Hub Stourbridge wasn’t enough to get attention.
• The discussion needs to be taken wider, by as many people as possible, as soon as possible.

My questions to you (please respond below):

• What should we have done to attract the attention of more businesses? And how?
• What can we all do to engage ‘people’ in the discussion?
• Should I develop a ‘Big Society Conversation Pack’ to help people start discussions?

Thanks to Rob and Dave for asking the questions.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

What kinds of citizen will the Big Society encourage?

I am currently involved in delivering an active citizenship learning programme for women. I participated in the course myself last year and am training to deliver it. The programme is based on the Take Part adult citizenship curriculum, and supports learners to explore their experiences of getting and being involved in community and public life. We begin the 12 days of learning with sessions on citizenship, rights and responsibilities and human rights.

Views on what ‘citizenship’ mean vary across the diverse group of women I am working with. I was interested to hear a participant express a feeling that it was a word we shouldn’t use because it was like being racist. Through discussion with others her feelings changed and she developed a new perspective on what citizenship means to others and to herself.

We use a great handout of a citizenship typology, drawn from work on citizenship education by Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne. It describes three ways that citizenship can be understood.

  • The personally responsible citizen, for whom citizenship education increases their awareness of their individual rights and responsibilities; the citizen as voter, and volunteer. The core assumptions of a personally responsible citizen are that to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must have good character, be honest, responsible and law abiding members of the community.
  • The participatory citizen, for whom citizenship education enhances their knowledge of participatory structures and rights; the citizen as an individual within a group(s), actively participating in existing structures, taking up opportunities for participation, including participation in the planning and delivery of services. The core assumptions of a participatory citizen are that to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must actively participate and take leadership positions within established systems and community structures.
  • The justice-oriented citizen, for whom citizenship education adds a high level of awareness of collective rights and a high level of collective political and social responsibility. This includes responsibilities to engage with issues of social justice and equality; the citizen and critical friend to those in power, participating within group(s), actively challenging unequal relations of power, promoting social solidarity and social justice, both locally and beyond, taking account of the global context. The core assumptions of a justice-oriented citizen are that to solve social problems and improve society, citizens must question, debate and change established systems and structures that reproduce patterns of injustice over time.
Some participants on our learning programme locate themselves as being more than one of these types in different parts of their life or at different times. However all of them feel they are or want to become critical citizens, tackling injustice and inequality.

As has been discussed by a panel considering the future of Community Development, The Big Society appears to be focusing on an increase of personally responsible citizens and participatory citizens. And the government are opening up new spaces for participatory citizens to take up opportunities for involvement in – by running schools, , taking over public services, getting more involved in the planning of services.

I agree with Anna Coote, who wrote in a New Economics Foundation publication that:

The Big Society idea is strong on empowerment but weak on equality. By equality, we mean everyone having an equal chance in life so that, regardless of background or circumstance, they can contribute to society, fulfil their potential and live a satisfying life. This matters for ethical and practical reasons. On ethical grounds, which are hardly controversial, no-one should be held back by circumstances beyond their control, or suffer unfair discrimination. On practical grounds, there is a growing body of evidence that more equal societies are better for everyone, not just the poor, with lower levels of crime and disorder, and better health and well-being. Societies with strong traditions of social solidarity and low levels of inequality are better able to cope with shared risks such as climate change. So equality matters a great deal and the implications for the “Big Society‟ are profound. It is weak on equality because it is weak on the structural links between economy and society. If the aim is to tackle poverty and inequality, as the Prime Minister maintains, then success depends on how economic as well as social resources are distributed between groups and communities, enabling them to do what, for whom and how.

Our Take Part Learning Programmein the Black Country is designed to develop critical, justice-oriented citizens. I firmly believe that our learners, and other passionate people like them will help to create a society that I want to be a part of.

My thanks to Jill Bedford and Sue Gorbing for the amazing work they have done to develop and deliver critical citizenship learning programmes and translate a vast array of theories to create an accessible and rich learning experience.

Monday, 27 September 2010

What are libraries for?

Last week I attended a Birmingham Salon debate enticingly titled ‘what are libraries for?’ There were around 70 attendees, filling the room at the Studio on Cannon Street. We heard first from Brian Gambles, Assistant Director, Culture, Birmingham City Council. He talked about the new Birmingham Library and that the challenge was not about designing a building, but designing a service. He feels that libraries are a public space for reading and for learning. The new Birmingham Library service has a focus on partnership and personalised services. It is up to us as library users to shape the service, it won’t be dictated.

We then heard from Andy Killeen, a local author and library user. He reminisced about his library use, evoking memories for me in his talk of the smells and sounds of libraries which you remember from when you were young. He spoke of a library as being luxurious indulgence, and reminded us that libraries make writers as well as readers.

The debate then started, with a key area of difference seeming to arise between those who feel that libraries are places to read and learn, whether via the medium of books or something else, and those who seemed to want libraries to be warehouses for storing books.

Kate Millin from Dudley Libraries made a great point about the values on which libraries services are run, and that libraries are a local, national and international network – through them you can access materials from anywhere in the world! I love the idea of libraries as networks.

I can’t help feeling that libraries should be valued much more than they are. I heard a park keeper, Fredy Temalema speak at a Chamberlain Forum event on open spaces. Fredy had asked park users ‘what is a park?’ He told us that the answers were: A park is a hospital. A park is a school. A park is a gym. A park is a church. I feel that libraries are all these things and more. Our experience in Dudley of piloting a Human Library highlighted how important a neutral space is, which enables sharing and learning, even between people who may not be the greatest readers. Along with parks, libraries are one of few non-commercial places where we can rub shoulders with people living very different lives to us. That feels important.

The other fascinating element to the libraries debate was that it was my first experience of being at an event with an official tweeter, and not only that but I somehow ended up sitting on a table at which the vast majority of delegates were tweeting throughout the event. One of them, Jo Alcock, kindly explained to me where I could find an archive of the tweets, and I was quite amazed to discover the conversations which had been taken place at the same time as the debate but unsaid verbally in the room. Some tweets helped people who couldn’t attend the debate to join in remotely, others were more of a conversation between people in the room who had their iphones out. I'm slightly worried about the obsession of some tweeters about people who weren't tweeting, there seems to be a rather militant edge and lack of recognition that some people don't know what twitter is, let alone have the technology to access it. Nonetheless I am absolutely intrigued about how tweeting or similar might create alternative participatory spaces, and wonder how, if used well, it can add constructively to more participatory events.

Watch out Dudley – I’ll be by trying out hastags, tweeters and twitterfalls at Dosti events soon!

You can read more blogs on the libraries event via West Midlands CILIP site.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Hubble Bubble... health and collaboration!

Last Wednesday I enjoyed a lovely cycle ride in the sunshine over to Mary Stevens Park in Stourbridge to see the new Healthy Hub building. The bike racks were next to some outdoor gym equipment which I understand has been installed in 5 parks in Dudley Borough - helping them to be 'Healthy Hubs', part of Dudley's Healthy Towns Initiative. There was a man exercising on the equipment and I was rather intrigued so I had a bit of a chat to him and discovered that he uses the outdoor gym for an hour a day, that lots of people come to the park early in the morning to use it, and that now it's the school holidays a lot of children and young people use it during the day.

I wanted to see the Healthy Hub because Dean Hill, who co-ordinates Healthy Towns work, had mentioned to me that there are meetings rooms available in the Healthy Hubs to hire free of charge. I also wondered whether the Hub Stourbridge, a new initiative, might have reason to link with the Healthy Hub. Shelley Jackson-Woodall, a volunteer representative for Hub Stourbridge had agreed to join me to see the Healthy Hub.

It seems that the two Hubs are very different in terms of the thinking behind them, however they both have something to offer people from Stourbridge and further afield. The Healthy Hub will be a great community resource, supporting all sorts of activities taking place in the park and will make available a lovely meeting room with kitchen facilities in a fantastic park setting.

Hub Stourbridge is more about nurturing a collaborative community of professionals and volunteers, enabling networking and a sort of cross-fertilisation of expertise in different fields through the provision of a shared workspace with hot-desking, meeting facilities, a cafe and creative areas. At present Hub Stourbridge is building up a network of ambassadors and potential users, and growing a group of people with the skills needed to take on the running of a building in the centre of Stourbridge. I’ve put my name down for a few hours a month hot-desking, as I really like the sound of the Hub Host who will be able to point me in the direction of people working in completely different sectors and fields to me but who might be able to offer advice on things I’m working on.

I’m also keen to see what another development - The 3rd Place in Halesowen (which also has a Hub – for youth activities) might also have to offer in a similar vein.

Shelley and Dean seem keen to promote each other’s Hubs, and I can’t wait to have meetings in the park and meet people at Hub Stourbridge. As I left the park there were 5 women using the outdoor gym equipment - on the bikes and other stations, chatting and exercising. Stourbridge really does seem to be getting healthy and connected!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Values Modes, Community Influence and Big Society

I’ve just finished reading a research report published by London Civic Forum about some of the ways in which people define and experience ‘influence’ in their everyday lives within their local areas in London. The research uses Value Modes segmentation, which I’d never come across before, and which seems interesting to reflect on in relation to research and work that we have carried out in Dudley in relation to community influence.

The research report describes Values Modes as a way of dividing people in to three main segments (each sub-divides in to four, but we’ll stick to these for now):

• Inner directed - also known as ‘Pioneers’
• Outer directed - also know as ‘Prospectors’
• Sustenance driven - also known and ‘Settlers’

These are described further:

Pioneers … tend to be focused on self-actualisation – they want to acquire knowledge, learn about themselves and start initiatives. They are more global in their outlook, and driven by ideas and ethics. They tend to have large social networks and are happy to embrace change. Interestingly policymakers and senior people in organisations such as councils are more likely to be [Pioneers]. Apparently 40% of the UK population are pioneers.

Prospectors are more motivated by material things, status and being seen in the right places. Where [Pioneers] lead, they will often follow, but for different reasons. Prospectors comprise 30% of the UK population.

Settlers … tend to have smaller social networks based around family. For them, everything is local, and local can be defined as a very small geographic area, even down to a street. They are more uncomfortable with change, nostalgic about the past, and respectful of tradition. They also tend to be more pessimistic about the future. Settlers comprise 30% of the UK population.

More on Values Modes can be found on the Cultural Dynamics website

Now while I’m not sure how much I buy in to this model, Values Modes and the research in London did get me thinking about a few things.

The first is around ways that communities influence. Our research in Dudley in 2005 and subsequent work with the resulting Voice framework (see changes website) identified seven significant methods of influence:

• Whispering (in the ears of influential people)
• Shouting
• Negotiating (for which you need to be at the table in the first case)
• Taking action
• Being part of a bigger network
• Shaming
• Flirting (including marketing/selling an idea)

I think campaigning could also be helpfully added to the list.

So – does a person’s Value Mode affect which methods of influencing they might incline to? The research indicated to me that settlers seemed to have a lot to shout about, and may feel in that position of frustration which leads to shouting. By their description, pioneers seem likely to take action, network with others and ‘sell’ their ideas. The research report suggests that Settlers and Pioneers in particular are sceptical about the ability of individual to influence and so where appropriate will try to attract or join others with like minds. This bodes well for collective, community influence work – so how do we encourage the Prospectors to join a participatory democracy?

Reflecting on various online Big Society discussions and ideas I can't help feeling that those involved online would probably fall into the description given to Pioneers. And yet some of the people which the ideas growing under the Big Society banner target are likely to be Settlers. The research report suggests that Settlers are, statistically, more likely to be older and less likely to own a computer than people in the other two Values segments. Settler groups may consider the use of online content and a sign that 'people like us' are being excluded. The strength of emotion behind this feeling is conveyed in a quote from a focus group in the research report, from a man contributing to a discussion on gritting and waste collection, who stood and said in a raised voice 'and I phoned them up and do you know what they told me? They told me to look at the website!' While this helps to illustrate issues around mismatches in communication preferences between service providers and local people, should it also signal a warning to any of us getting too wrapped up in online debate and ideas generation in response to the Big Society?

I also wonder whether our use of discussion around subjective feelings of degree of influence when we use the Voice framework should take in to account Value Modes. Apparently over four-fifths of Prospectors in the London research definitely agree or tend to agree that can influence. This was a huge proportion compared to the other two groups.

Those of us involved in developing Voice have a theory that as a community group or network develops more capacity to influence, the subjective degree of influence which members of the group feel will converge to around the same point. But will it if their starting points are different, for example as described by the Values Modes? Will Prospectors tend to feel quite differently to Pioneers or Settlers in a group who feel that the degree of influence the group has is low?

The research report was trying to provide a qualitative side to national indicator 4 (‘do you agree or disagree that you can influence decisions affecting your local area’?). The research draws out some useful perceptions of influence, and as we have found there were lots of different views given in relation to what influence means.

The research found a general agreement that acting collectively, for instance through community groups, was likely to be more influential than individuals acting alone. This helps to provide buy-in to the use of our Voice framework, which is about steps that groups can take to increase their capacity to influence, and indicators against which they can measure their capacity to influence.

I was also fascinated by the findings of the research in terms of lessons for public service providers who want to engage with local people. There seems to be an almost complete mismatch between what the public sector seeks to engage people in and what people seek to influence. So here I find evidence of why the Echo framework that we are starting to use is so important, as it encourages public sector agencies and partnership to move towards supporting communities to influence and changing the way how they do things.

I hope to discuss these ideas further with Voice and Echo facilitators attending our national networking event in September. Equally I welcome comments from anyone less familiar with Voice or Echo!

Thanks to Leighton Pendry at Dudley MBC for sending through the London Civic Forum research report. It was posted on a Local Government Improvement and Development Communities of Practice site and I can’t find it online.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Navigating support - why so complex?

At the Halesowen Asian Elders lunch event yesterday I spoke to women involved in setting up Anisa - a network for women in Lye who want to work with others to tackle islamophobia. I was asked what support Dosti coud give, perhaps with business planning or community cohesion funding. In relation to those activities I signposted to Dudley CVS and public sector partners respectively. I'm still a little stuck as to what support Dosti could, or should offer. The group already have links to the Interfaith network and Centre for Equality and Diversity - so what is missing from the mix of support for such work? We would welcome members of the group to any of our training and networking sessions, and will ensure they are invited to them. But I still feel as though something is missing. Should we be better co-ordinated in terms of what support is provided, and also have a way to work with such groups so that they determine what support they need/want and when? Are commuications between infrastructure and other support organisations lacking, or is there some kind of support missing? Hmmm.... something to ponder on further.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Getting Involved and Taking Part

This Wednesday I heard amazing and inspirational stories from women whose lives changed as a result of thier participation in active citizenship learning programmes which have been running in the area since 1998. 'Getting Involved and Taking Part' was a networking event hosted by the Black Country Take Part Pathfinder, and involved women and men from at least 8 different courses (I lost count!). It was fantastic, and moving, to hear again from Nusrat, who I had heard speak at the Pathfinder launch event last year. I also enjoyed hearing people I know, Saffi, Sue and Geeta, sharing their journeys. We also heard from Amita, who was visiting from Zimbabwe and is running women's leadership courses there. Amita was a participant in an active citizenship course in Wolverhampton many years ago.

Having participated in a Women Take Part course through the pathfinder I related to much of what the women told us. We also looked at women's journeys in relation to involvement in public life. Four stages are suggested: not being there, getting there, being there and staying there. Everyone in the room seemed to relate to the various stages and we discussed the barriers which make involvement in public life difficult for people, due to gender, 'dis'ability, ethnicity, education, class and so on. Information on women's journeys can be found at

The session was inspiring thanks to the stories people shared, yet disheartening when one begins to consider all the barriers that have to be overcome before all those amazing but oppressed people out there in our communities can become an active part of public life.