Category: Miscellaneous

Thank you Steph

Steph Clarke just about to pick up an award in May 2013
Steph just about to pick up an award in May 2013

——

It was a common joke that Steph came to work for a rest.  She heard it often and it always made her smile.

Besides a full time job with us, Steph Clarke was busy.

She and her husband James started and ran the hugely significant hyperlocal blog WV11. Both volunteered to run their local community centre and she was a driving force on the board of the local charity Hands on Wednesfield.  Steph had just raised more than £5000 for new Christmas lights for her local high street – even though James thought she was pushing her luck on that one.

She seemed to almost effortlessly run a photography business on the side, helped with her local (and large ) photography club, made the Wolverhampton Social Media Surgery happen and supported a range of home school groups. Steph organised voluntary events for Big Lunch Extras, got stuck into making new things happen through Make Shift in Wolverhampton and sorted regular social nights for her and her friends.

In between she never flinched from standing up for injustice (as anyone on the very sharp end of her unflinchingness will tell you) or caring for someone who might not even know that they needed a kindness.

Above all though she was a wholeheartedly committed wife, mother, daughter, grand-daughter and sister.   Loyalty was at her core.

So did Steph come to work for a rest?

The truth is that she was too restless to be all that good at resting.  Her commitment to what we do at Podnosh was total.  Throughout the 5 years she worked here Steph was happiest when we were stupidly busy.  She loved learning new things, solving problems, seeing work through – sometimes with very gritted teeth.  She could not fail to connect her different worlds of work and volunteering and home to make them all work better. She helped and connected people almost casually and her stock pot of social capital was rich and full of flavour.

Our company values are: Think, Make Things Better and Give a ****.  She relished telling people that, especially the sweary bit. She blogged to her friends:

“What do I do? I think, I make a difference, I give a f**k! – and I’m really proud of that!”

She embodied these values and at times scolded me (respectfully, he’s “the boss’) if I wasn’t doing the same.  (She could smell hypocrisy at a 1000 yards and might need talking down from shouting it out every time she sniffed it).

Most days that we worked together ended the same.  She’d head off to do another days work in her life and I’d say ‘thank you’.  I wasn’t really thanking her for the work she’d done.  It was for her being generous enough to bring all of the intensity and decency of herself to work.

Last Thursday our working day ended differently.  So here I’d just like to say one final ‘thank you, Steph’ x.

 

 

 

(Steph Clarke died on Friday November 25th after falling ill the previous day)

 

Be Bold. Measuring Impact #NCPIgnites

Podnosh_Impact_Assessment

Yesterday I attended the New Philanthropy Capital Conference “Burning Issues and Being Bold” It was a day focusing on measuring and evaluating projects, demonstrating impact – it was right up our street. Unfortunately I was only able to attend for the morning.

However even though I was only there for half the day and I still woke this morning with my brain whirring from the conversations that took place, so much so I’m not sure I have yet processed it all, but as I sit here mulling it all over, sound bites from the speakers keep turning over in my head.

This is mush in my brain and so I’m starting to dump some of it here to try and make sense of what I am thinking.

Boldness in times of change

The first session was a panel discussion, called Boldness in times of change with Mike Adamson, Chief Exec of the British Red Cross, Anni Rowland Campbell Director of Inerscitcia and David Robinson OBE, Leading thinker in community , early action and social investment, and it was chaired by Iona Berry head of Charities at the NPC

  • Mike talked of being bold, and how being bold wasn’t just one large step, but a series of small steps – and that includes moving away from superficial evidence and towards more impactful reporting – that would give a collective voice to report “truth to power”.
  • Anni about the “unprecedented period of change” we find ourselves, and that we need to embrace technology, but remain human.
  • David Robinson said the Voluntary Sector has to plan for change and it has to think urgently, inventively and boldly and that they need to work to protect 2 key things:
    1. The needs of the Service Users.
    2. Embracing Experience – this means protecting the people with knowledge on the face of cuts.

“We are data heavy and insight light”

David also said something that stuck with me and followed me through the rest of the day;

We are data heavy and insight light” – We measure what the government and funding bodies want us to measure, but we should be reporting on where our value is and what we want to achieve.

This really struck a note as it is something we’ve been encouraging with the user of our Impact Assessment App. It’s not just numbers, it’s also the stories – the insight. Use your relationships with your clients to measure the impact of the work you do, trust the voice of your clients to tell your story – what are you achieving and use those voices and experiences to action change.

Learning from others

The next session was a keynote speech from Tom Loosemore, Director of Digital Service, Co-operative Group – ” Learning from others”

Tom had a lot to say it was really inspiring listening to him, but the take away points for me were:

  • Slow down, take a step back and have a think it’s a slow revolution. Don’t be passive, Get excited and make things happen – We have it within our power to restart the world again.
  • We have an obligation to build a better future, using the tools and capabilities of the (digital) revolution.
  • Don’t just strategise, Do, Build, Work, Observe & Iterate, Listen and Iterate, Observe and iterate again.
  • What are we learning? Understand the need of your service users. Work with them, don’t write a strategy for them.
  • Report on what matters.
  • Use digital to: Get better at what you do & deliver your purpose in different ways.

“Keep your Hippo on a leash, beware the snails and don’t be a boiling frog.”

Tom also used a couple of amusing, but simple descriptions to describe some of  the pit falls that the voluntary sector can come up against and what to be aware of. You can sum it up with “Keep your Hippo on a leash, beware the snails and don’t be a boiling frog.”

  • Hippo – Highest paid person’s opinion – avoid this! You can beat the hippo, if you have a strong voice. Often “paid workers” will try and impose their will on volunteers ad community orgs. This doesn’t have to be the case, speak up, be heard, keep the hippo on a leash.
  • Snails – are the people that hold you back, that fail to innovate, that are negative and don’t try to see the bigger picture. Beware the snails, know when they are likely to raise their heads.
  • Boiling Frog – the org/group that is stuck in a boiling pot getting left behind and slowly dying while not even realizing, the group stuck in their ways, failing to move with the times. Move forwards and embrace change. Take the people around you along for the ride. Don’t be the boiling frog.

A view from Whitehall

Following on from Tom was Lord Bob Kerslake – former head of the Civil Service, He gave a talk that touched on the government’s view of the Voluntary sector.

He said elected members often had a default embedded view of the community / voluntary sector, which differs dependent on their party, he said broadly speaking they are:

Tory: Left leaning & Inefficient
Lab: “Why are they doing our job”

However he also said the gov need us more than we need them – we need to stand up and be strong, government respect that, even if they don’t like it. We can use out collective voice to effect change/

Local government relationships are important to CVS, co production and radical change are needed And he recongnised that there needed to be “Show don’t tell” system to demonstrate innovation and impact.

Looking ahead in measurement and evaluation

After the break we went to the first (and my only) break out session – this was all about looking ahead in measurement. They opened the session be saying that this was for cutting edge practices.  That digital has changed both the pace and quantity of data being collected the we need think about how we are using this data.

But from there I will be honest, I lost the pace of the session very quickly. All the talk and slides looked more at quantitative data than qualitative outcomes, it was all KPI and number driven, The scale the speakers were talk about was beyond where we are currently working. Global enterprises with millions of pounds of funding that needed to collect vast amounts of data – and there was lots of talk of data.

Data collection and data analysis, data tools and extrapolation – mainly for outputs and I was lost, It appears that even on the “cutting edge” we were still looking at number crunching –  all I kept thinking was what about the stories and using people’s voice to evidence outcomes – that’s the impact.

Learning from the morning

Overall the morning got me thinking about how we understand impact measurement and broadly speaking how right I think our approaches are.

You can’t report Impact with numbers alone, you can’t really evidence the real difference you are making in people’s lives with graphs and charts, data means nothing without the background story, You need to make people feel, Or as Chip and Dan Heath would put it – you need to motivate the Elephant:

 

The over arching themes that I took from the day, and what I feel to be true from our own  work are:

Ongoing monitoring

Don’t just wait to the end of a project to demonstrate impact. Real time monitoring and feedback will allow you follow the progress of your work and the journey your clients are on.

Responsive working

By engaging in ongoing measurement and impact reporting it allows you to know if something is working and if it’s not, and allows to to make changes and respond to clients needs

Define and redefine outputs and outcomes

Know your mission and what your are aiming for, but don’t be afraid to redefine it as your work, and your clients experience shape what you do.

Don’t duplicate measurement

Be brave with this one, If a funder asks for something to be measured, find out if they really need it. What measurement are you already doing, get them to fit into your framework, don’t include another set of reporting unnecessarily.

I’m not a service user!

The final thing I didn’t learn yesterday, but I had reconfirmed. I hate the term “service user” over and over this term was used and I really detest it.  I’m not a service user, I’m more than just a number, and so is my community, we’re, people, clients, human beings, and if were really going to be talking impact we should be talking real people, not just statistics.

Growing the civic conversation online – a platform for healthier local democracy and healthier communities.

Austin Rodriguez and Lewis O-Rourke

Bit by bit we’ve been doing something strategic in Birmingham.   Every social media surgery that happens in the city helps in a number of ways:

  • Provides new skills to individual active citizens
  • Creates a place where people can meet each other
  • Helps community groups and the public sector use the web to talk to each other
  • Grows the civic conversation online.

This last one has been the strategic part.

I think that growing the civic conversation online is an important part of building new platforms in neighbourhoods. It helps traditional civic activity work better and new civic models emerge.

This is based on a simple assumption that if more civically minded people are using the web to talk to each other in a community it will be easier for politicians, public servants and other citizens to share ideas, information  and collaborate or campaign.  Of course people can and will use the web to talk about brangelina – but with the surgeries we target those already involved in or wishing to do something consciously civic.

We’ve taken this a step further in the last two or three years. A normal social media surgery is run by volunteers for volunteers – the free help is available to active citizens, local charities and community groups.

With funding from three of  the different quadrants of the Birmingham Community Safety Partnership  and some other initiatives  (thank you) we have run surgeries which involve public servants too. This means that they come to a surgery to get help on why and how to use social media. More than that though they learn alongside local community groups and active citizens. At times they are teaching each other – strengthening understanding and relationships.

We also used the effort to help spread live streaming of meetingscreate alternatives to traditional ward cttes and give public services tools to think about the stages of engaging online.

We sent out a survey to people who’ve used the social media surgeries in Birmingham. 35 people replied, about 10 per cent of those involved. They were a mixture of volunteers, third sector workers, public servants and at least one councillor.

The Survey

social media and public sector
does learning about social media influence how you think about your work

A third of people said what they had learned had influence how they think about their work ‘a lot’ – three quarters replied either 4 or 5 to that question.

One comment from a worker in a charity supporting charities said

“If I hadn’t started using social media  to build relationships I doubt I’d still be employed in my organisation, and I doubt my organisation would be doing some of the brilliant work it is doing. It’s enabled both me and my organisation to be pro-active in a rapidly changing and challenging context”

Do you use social media to build relationships in your work?
Do you use social media to build relationships in your work?
can you make (civic) things happen because you use social media ?
can you make (civic) things happen because you use social media ?

65% of people felt better able to make things happen because they are using social media. This is a core point. Growing the civic conversation is not just about more blither – it’s about more action.

Would it help your work if more community groups and active citizens were using the internet
Would it help your work if more community groups and active citizens were using the internet

Developing these skills in community groups and active citizens was also seen as a fresh opportunity by at least 77% of those who replied.  They know that the online civic conversation can help them get things done – so helping more people get involved ought to help that more.

have you seen the online conversation grow?
have you seen the online conversation grow?

More than 85 % felt they has seen the online civic conversation grow since getting involved with the social media surgery.  You would expect that to be the case for most people, simply being exposed to new people and new places where civic things get discussed would have that effect. But it is still encouraging to see that they have a wider civic conversation to take part in.

So Birmingham – you’ve already started a strategic investment in building a critical platform for civic change.   Persistence is paying off. Some more?  And what next? Which other new platforms are worth building?

If you’re not Birmingham, other places understand this and we can help you.  We introduced Dudley CVS to the why and wherefores and they have been running surgeries for years – indeed it was Lorna Prescott who told me that what were doing was platform building (sometimes it takes others to spot the obvious).

The benefits of story telling – or why you should spend your training budget on stories.

21-century-report-4-pg-report_pdf

 

I had planned to blog a little more about #Beingthestory – the wonderful event staged by Jude Habib last week.  I thought I would describe more of the astonishing stories I heard that day but instead I want to try and organise some thoughts.

Being told stories or telling stories often seems a little nebulous.

When faced with a choice of spending training budget people want to know what the “learning outcomes are”.  Likewise with comms spending, or even spending on organisation change, people will often want to know specifically what they will get for their money.  (Ironic in the latter case)

We have worked for years helping people tell their stories and helping them use story telling to achieve more. Obviously stories help them attract attention to what they do and build the case for their cause, but it goes further. So perhaps I should have a stab at outlining why it is worth spending organisational money on stories?

Stories are a work skill. We may need to win the argument that story telling is as valid a work skill as project managment – but it is. Perhaps if we have a training programme called “Princess and the Pea 2″ – we could charge thousands for it.   The work on 21st Century Public Servant includes storyteller as a quality to be identified and nurtured in public service.  It’s worth investing in how you do it and how well you do it.  Listening to others do it helps you develop that skill.

Stories encourage creativity.  At least Einstein thought they did – he is quoted as saying

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

It helps you to see things from another perspective. If you want to improve what you do story telling can help.  Perhaps the people you do it for can tell you what it means for them or what they experience.  Perhaps you telling a story will jog your thinking away from process and back to what that process means.   Listening to people tell stories from another world altogether helps freshen up our thinking.  I also think it helps us find new analogies for our own work. (Think the wonderful TedxBrum or TED in general)

It can help you get to the nub of things.  There were a lot of tears and smiles and laughter on Friday.  Emma Lawton told us (beautifully I may say) of her experience of being diagnosed with Parkinsons aged 29.  You’d think the nub of the story was just that, the shock of it and the battle with it. It was the opposite: how she shrugged it off, how she shifted gear in her life and moved on. How Parkinson’s had given her many of the best things in her world.  We knew what mattered most by the tears of pride that welled up in her fathers eyes (and mine) as he listened to her tell that part of the story. Listening to how you feel as you hear a story helps you get to what matters. Once you know what matters it’s easier to decide what is the best thing to do next.

If you’re going to change you need to stop and listen first.  So you may as well listen to stories – they’re a darn site more interesting than reports.  (That doesn’t mean you don’t need numbers or other forms of structured thinking – but do stories)

why story telling helps organisations

“Empathy creates radical disruption”.   This expression leaped of the stage at all of us when used by the astonishing team of Samiya and Naveed Parvez. They are using product design, medicine and 3D printing to create a service which means that disabled children can be measured for and receive their Orthotics (limb/muscle/torso supports)  in just one week. They start with listening to the people they want to help.  Everything they do flows from that. If conventions conflict with what makes sense, they ignore them, go round them, disregard them.

Stories help you appreciate you’re not alone.  When people tell stories they often mention the mundane or are brave enough to talk about the things that professional language tends to exclude – like doubts and insecurities. Recognising them in each other can help boost confidence. Punk Pop Poet Brigitte Aphrodite helped us see that on Friday.

 

These are just a few thoughts. I think they need to be more concrete. Please feel free to make them even clearer for the people who write the cheques.

Other posts on #beingthestory.

Gemma Pettman: “If you believe in a story keep on telling it.”

Madeleine Sugden “Empathy and the power of stories

Comms2point) “A mother whose son was stabbed to death just reminded of the power of storytelling

Claire Bridge  Storytelling: why I am all ears