Category: Miscellaneous

Craftivism and Social Media Surgeries. Being there.

During the Making For Change project I mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to listen to Sarah Corbett give a talk on Craftivism. Sarah  is the founder of the Craftivist Collective, a social enterprise which uses the techniques of craftivism to engage people in social justice issues, so she was perfect for the #MakingForChange project.

The Craftivist Collective’s approach to activism is more low key, respectful and more targeted approach than that of traditional activism.

To give you an example when the group were protesting in favour of the living wage for staff at Marks and Spencer’s they didn’t rock up to the head office waving placards shouting and stamping their feet. Instead they were took a more subtle approach, holding craft sessions or “stitch ins” outside branches of M&S.

They encouraged people to turn up to their session wearing Marks & Spencer’s clothing and to then to sit peacefully and stitch nice messages on M&S handkerchiefs encouraging the adoption of the living wage, that would then be gifted to all members of Marks and Spencer board.

This low key, quiet protest worked to engage the community. Shoppers, instead of having to shuffle around loud placard waving, intimidating protesters stopped to ask questions, “Why were a group of seemingly well dressed people sitting on the High Street sewing?”. Their interest was piqued, they were intrigued and a conversation was started.

This was only one of the projects Sarah talked about, and they were as equally as interesting, but in all of them the message that Sarah kept coming back to was the importance of being there.

Being there.

By being there with other craftivists – wherever there may be – and engaging in crafts gave people the space, time and freedom to talk about the things that mattered to them in a gentle way. By being there at protests and behaving non threateningly but intriguingly, passersby were engaging and we able to spread the message of the issues that mattered to them.

And being there is a message the we sell both for and at Social Media Surgeries.

When people approach us wanting to set up a Social Media Surgery for their town or neighbourhood it’s one of the first pieces of advice we give. “Just be there”. Find a space, start small, have zero expectations, but be there. You may only have 1 or 2 people come for help, but if you weren’t there you couldn’t help.

And when people come to us for help and support at surgeries, be it at our paid training sessions with councils, housing associations or charities, or at volunteer run surgeries with volunteers, third sector orgs or the solo community activist the message is the same “be there”. Who is your audience? Where is your audience? Find them and be there. Share your stories news and ideas, both good and bad. Write for them, engage with them, but be there. Because if your not there telling your story to your audience, no one else will.

Crafts, Social Justice and Social Media #makingforchange

Craftivism Making for change

A couple of weeks ago we spent a whole week out of the office working with a group of 16 – 25 year olds  on the #MakingforChange project –  using Craftivism for social justice campaigns. The project was developed by Craftspace a Birmingham based organisation that creates “opportunities to see, make and be curious about exceptional contemporary craft.”

So what is Craftivism? Craftivism is a form of activism that is centered on practices of craft.

It is low level, often non confrontational activism that allows people to participate, slow down and discuss the issues at hand.

The making for change project introduced Craftivism as a way for the young people to talk about the things they cared about, and they had a week develop a campaign and a craft project that they could deliver to an audience. They worked hard to understand what social justice meant, what it means to campaign using craft, and to experiment using different craft techniques before their showcase on the Friday evening

The campaigns they ran included many topics from environmental concerns, with recycling and the declining bee numbers to loneliness and race issues, such as immigration and stop and search.

So where did Podnosh come in?

Well we’re obviously not artists or social justice campaigners in our day jobs, so we concentrated on what we knew best. Data and social media. For any campaign to be successful you need to have the facts and figures to back up your claims, and have a audience to share them with. So that’s what we worked on.

We introduced the idea of data, search and social media early on, before the group had even decided on what campaigns they would like to run, and then stayed around throughout the week to offer one on one support to help them with their specific projects .

In actual fact the one on one support was particularly useful because while we didn’t plan for it to be this way, as the groups and individuals were exploring issues and coming to us for help finding data we were able to help them refine their ideas and their message.

For instance one group Vishal , Rahul , Sanam  and Terell, came to us wanting to look at some very broad issues around stereotyping and racism, with a desire to do something that reflected their experiences, but they didn’t know what. They were thinking big, but didn’t know what they wanted to say. It was only by sitting and talking to them about issues they had faced and showing them some available data that they narrowed it down to stop and search – and the disproportionate amount of minority youths that get stopped – something they had first had experience of – and that refining of their message shaped their campaign.

Stop and Search Data

On the other hand another individual, Siandana came to use with a fully established idea – she wanted to to run a campaign about waste, but focusing on how litter can kill wildlife and had already developed a craft project around recycling plastic bottles into bird feeders.

Recycled bird feeder

She just wanted help on finding facts and figures to help prove her point and hopefully spread her idea further. We looked at what numbers would help her and we settled on data about the amount of time it takes different types of rubbish to break down, which she displayed on her table and hung off her feeders as discussion starters for whenpeople we busy making.



We also helped her consider using hashtags to share her reuse or recycle for wildlife message if she was to continue with her campaign, and she decided that #GoodRubbish would be a nice play on words – she actively encouraged people through the showcase evening to tweet pictures of their makes using the tag,


These are just 2 examples from the week, in all there were 6 different campaigns we supported, and all of them just as interesting.

Sarah ran a campaign to Save the Bees, Mahnaz on integration in communities and what it means to be British. Heather looked at the stigma around mental health and Jaswant  explored issues around isolation and loneliness.

We supported all of them in one way or another and it’s been really pleasing that since the project has finished both Mahnaz and Sarah have been in touch for some extra support as they are both interested in taking their campaigns further – and continuing making for change.



Bad manners, blockchains, open data, government as a platform and and Birmingham pigs in muck.

Pigs in muck

Image cc leeturner.

Is the real barrier to open data good manners?

There’s honest open truth in the blog post Over Politeness is the fatal flaw in the open data movement.

Anything Tom Steinberg writes on Open data needs to be taken seriously. It was he who was one of the key people behind the power of information task force report which got government starting to understand why it’s important to free up information.    Never a natural insider, now he writes:

So, how do I feel about it all now, eight and a half years on from the Open Data Principles? Not good. I’ve watched the government of the country I live in sell off our national addressing database, a breathtakingly moronic move that more than undoes the sum and total of good works done in the same time period. And I’ve watched that same government tacitly endorse attempts to kneecap our Freedom of Information law, whilst simultaneously grinning and waving a flag labeled ‘most transparent government in the world.’

I’ve not seen any meaningful attempt to systematically overhaul procurement rules to ensure that new government computer systems produce decent open data by default. This omission is especially important since building open data feeds into new government computer systems remains the only way that most government data will ever get released cheaply, quickly, and in appropriate formats. Factories and power stations only pump out less rubbish when the law says they must, and the same is true of government computer systems. International progress on that front so far? Somewhere between dismal and undetectable.


Transparency laws are like babies: There’s no way to get a real one without someone somewhere having to go through a very unpleasant experience that they’d really do almost anything to avoid. And as a consequence, meaningful transparency laws don’t get implemented except in situations where legislators fear something even worse than the effects of more transparency.

If you don’t believe me, consider the following examples.

In Britain, we did not gain the right to see our Member of Parliament’s expenses untilHeather Brooke forced out a scandal so enormous that four MPs were actually sent to jail. Just in the last two weeks we appear (in a vaguely codified way) to have won the right to see our leaders’ tax returns—but only after a week in which the press savaged the Prime Minister daily over his connections to off-shore finances co-ordinated by his father. The pain required to produce this concession could literally be seen on David Cameron’s face as he was forced to face the issue.

I agree.  I’ve sat on the Local Public Data Panel at the Department of Communities and Local Government. Rarely did I feel I was being much use, often felt stifled by process and internal political demands. This stifling of what people on the panel wanted to achieve was usually tolerated because we were over respecting  convention and frankly being polite (or weary).

Government can and does co-opt,  in part to control change and bog things down.  I do though only partly agree that being combative is the whole answer. Government also needs to invest in sharing information. We’ve benefited from that investment.  It needs to be a combination of a will to change from within government and impatience for change outside.  But then I’m probably still being polite.

Bitcoin for Volunteers and blockchain for government.

Bitcoin is the digital currency that is being fussed over at the moment as  Australian Craig Wright says he invented it.   It’s important because it is a way of creating currency that doesn’t require a bank.  It allows us to trust each other with who owns which money –  because we can all share the same cash book – or ledger.

HullCoin allows people in Hull to create a new currency with the time they put into volunteering. It is similar to the =Bristol Pound or Timesharing in some senses.  What’s interesting, in part, is that it uses a blockchain.  The technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchain is, rightly, also on the minds of government.  Why?  If this technology helps us trust each other with money, it can also help us trust each other with much more besides: who has voted, who owns which house, who is entitled to which services and who is qualified to deliver them.

In his speech last week, Digital transformation in government and blockchain technology,  the Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock, said:

To make real progress, we have to be much smarter.

That’s why we started building what we call ‘government as a platform’. That little catchphrase sums up a huge amount of work building many different things – not just actual technical platforms, but also standards, design and service patterns, data registers, and the skills and capability of the people who deliver digital services, and indeed the whole business of government.

All those things – the platforms, the standards, the legacy technology, the service design – come together as an ecosystem of interconnected components that departmental teams can use to assemble their services.

They will only do that, though, if they actually trust those components in the first place. So delivering transformation is just as much about fostering a new culture of trust across government.

The old culture depended on departmental silos, and services designed and delivered within them. Instead we’ve got to work across those silos. And that depends on trust.

This brings us to the benefits of the blockchain.

Blockchains – distributed ledgers, shared ledgers – are digital tools for building trust in data.

Rather than a single central authority demanding trust and declaring: “I say this data is correct,” you have the distributed consensus of everyone in the chain, saying in unison: “we agree that this data is correct.”

They bring with them built-in integrity and immutability. You can only write new data, nothing is ever removed or deleted.

It does sometimes get touted as a wonder solution. In time institutions that we rely on to manage trusted processes – planning departments, banks, local authorities – will be changed by technology like this. The most important first start for government though is to recognise that many of it’s structures are a barrier to better ways of working, to focus instead on what needs to be done to solve a problem.

That is what Mark Rogers – Chief executive at Birmingham City council – has been thinking about in what he calls a

Pig in Muck moment…

His blog post Tapping into Brum’s talent and innovation expresses his  pure pleasure of spending time with a group of people passionate about finding new routes to solve problems:

Hosted by that hotbed of forward thinking grooviness, the ImpactHub, a small number of fellow travellers sat down for a couple of hours to make my brain hurt on the subject of an ‘open innovation system’.

Pretentious? Hopefully not.

Under discussion was actually something very straight-forward; how we might further encourage and accelerate a progressive, welcoming and applied approach to convening interested parties from civil and civic society to tackle the city’s wicked – and not-so-wicked – issues.

Those of you who have been following my ramblings for the last couple of years will know that I am (very) interested in working out, among a number of things, how the council can itself become more innovative, whilst also being more enabling of others across the city to do the same.

It’s important that people like Mark take the time to have their head hurt.  It’s much more productive than the sort of polite government meetings that stifle change in areas such as open data.

Trailblazers: Stans Cafe, Birmingham City Council and Young People

Stans Cafe ( globally successful Birmingham theatre company) has been working with a 120 young people for last few weeks to help the City Council connect in new ways.

Groups from different schools have been walking their neighbourhoods and walking the wider city.  Some of their reflections are captured in a set of animations (find them all here) ….


Today they came from their neighbourhoods into the world of the council house, council chambers and council procedures.

Watching them talk about a range of issues raised a few things for me.

  • People are experts on the places they live in.  Respect them for that.  Talk to them about that.
  • Putting people in places that are new can be tricky – asking them to have a view on what the city centre should be like if they don’t use it may be intimidating.
  • But above is only partly true.  I learned years ago watching Dutch, Belgian and German, UK community groups share stories that giving people space to talk about their world creates hooks for them, gives them away into each others worlds.  “What you’re saying sounds a bit like how we… ”  “I’ve never thought of it that way”  “You should meet…” are the sort of sentences that demonstrate understanding.
  • Politicians need to listen to a lot of people, but they don’t have to heed us all.  It is their job to make up their mind.  Communicating that I’ve listened to you but won’t do what you’ve asked is important.
  • If you are 15 the number of people employed to do intangible things is puzzling.  Why have another meeting about litter when those people could pick it up?
  • No one likes cold uninviting empty parks – they want them busy warm and welcoming.  That alone should be the kernel around which parks thrive – and that’s not the same as providing parks as a service.
  • Shyness is often a product of uncertainty. What are you looking for from me?  Can I do that? One way to overcome that is by being interested in them, not asking them to be interested in your or your organisation.
  • It is really important for public services to keep trying new ways to talk to people.  It’s also just as important to be  involved in that conversation, not delegate it.