Category: Big Society

Futureshift: A fabulous programme to encourage civic innovation in Birmingham and the Black Country:


I’m proud to be on the advisory board of Futureshift, which has evolved in a tiny part from some of the story gathering we did with the Community Lover’s Guide to Birmingham   It’s an “an invitation to design and build a new civic initiative” and  very potent and practical approach to support innovation on improving civic life Birmingham and the Black County.

We are seeing citizen-led ventures emerge and change the very systems of our economy: new ways of growing, distributing, sharing and learning about the food we eat; new ways of saving, producing, distributing, financing and owning the energy we use everyday; new ways of providing care, of sharing resources, new ways of running shops.

We call them ‘hybrid’ ventures because they frequently flourish by making unlikely combinations such as between care and fashion; energy and food; workspace and cinema.

These combinations work because they make sense locally, driven by the creativity, energy and drive of entrepreneurial citizens. These new ways of doing create collective and multiple value – economic as well as social; environmental as well as financial. They can create much-needed positive outcomes and better places across the region.

It is these kind of networks, shops, spaces and platforms we aim to originate, re-design, develop and support – both locally and at city and infrastructure level, to create tools which enable hybrid ventures to flourish.

Events if you want to get involved are listed here.   To understand how it will work start with the FAQ.  there will be 15 or more initiatives support with effort and money.

The Sprit of BCCDIY rides again – an open data platform in a day in Birmingham


I often talk to people about BCCDIY.

In 2009 a group of local developers and bloggers got together and built an alternative to Birmingham City Council’s website. They called it BCCDIY.

They wanted to demonstrate that information could be better organised and more easily accessed.  They did it in a day (with some preparation) (you can see a version here) .  The council’s new website had taken one of the countries largest consultancy firms four years and they had charged £2.8 million pounds.

A group of people working on BCC DIY
BCC DIY taking shape in 2009 – image Dan Davies

When I tell public servants and residents about the cost of the council website they gasp. They’re not surprised, but they are angry.  When I tell them about BCCDIY they also gasp – with a sort of mischievous happiness. They are delighted to see people taking things into their own hands and showing where bad decisions lead to wasted money and effort. A councillor involved in spending the £2.8 million pounds response to BCCDIY – when I explained it to them – was “we didn’t have the knowledge.”

Now you do, or you can (come and talk to any local developer – they’ll help you learn).

And now is not the time to repeat the mistake of just doing what the big consultancies tell local government is right.

The lesson of BCCDIY was not learnt when the Library of Birmingham website was built (by the same contractor) for £1.2 million pounds.  I don’t know how much it should have cost – but I’m confident I know local agencies who would have been delighted to deliver it at a sixth of the price and to maintain it for much less than the current annual cost.

So let’s not make a similar mistake a third time, when the council eventually creates a place to put and share Open Data .

On Saturday Simon Whitehouse and some others will be building an Open Data platform for the West Midlands – in a day. You can join in, if you like.   In effect he’ll be doing the equivalent of BCCDIY before a silly sum of money is spent by the public sector…

This is what Simon says about the plan for Saturday:

In Birmingham we are holding an event at Birmingham City University where we are going to set up a West Midlands “Open DataStore In A Day”. The idea is quite simple. Over the day we will set up a website that can hold open datasets and publish what we can find to it. You don’t have to be a technical whizz to take part. Enthusiasm and curiosity are enough to make it worth your while coming along.

We’ll spend the day finding and collecting the data that people are interested in and we’ll put it all together in one place online, in the West Midlands Open Datastore. Once we’ve done that, it makes it all a lot easier to do something useful with.

If somebody can’t find the data that they are interested in then we will help them to write a Freedom Of Information request to ask for it. When those are answered we will add them to the Open Datastore.

I’m really pleased that Data Unlocked, the co-operative venture that I’ve recently helped to co-found, are providing the website for people to work on during the day, and that we will continue supporting it afterwards. We’ve helped to organise the day along with Open Mercia and RnROrganisation.

In Emer Coleman’s recent post about the City as a Platform she says that she has seen quotes of up to £200,000 for Data Platforms. We think that we can do a lot with some free open source software and the goodwill of people volunteering their time and skills.

Emer Coleman goes on to add that any datastore should be deliverable well within a developer budget of £20k.  It seems that  Saturday might  get local authorities in the West mids off to a flying start.




Social Networks as part of the ladder out of poverty – a report from Joseph Rowntree Foundation


Published last week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and led by Angus McCabe of Birmingham University the key points are:

  • People’s social networks were shaped by factors including ethnicity, class and gender, but personal characteristics, such as confidence, were also important in developing useful connections. Family and friends were seen as the basis for most relationships but there were low levels of awareness about wider social networks and how they might be used for moving on from poverty.

  • People’s links beyond their own ethnic community were important, but the added dimension of racism could prevent access to ‘mainstream’ influential networks.

  • Social networks tended to be ‘like with like’, so while they were used to access employment, this was often into low-paid jobs which relied on informal recruitment processes.

  • Strong bonds with family and friends helped mitigate the effects of poverty. However, developing bridging and linking ties with networks that could move people on from poverty involved risks and scarce energy and resources.

  • Voluntary, community and faith based organisations were seen as important for facilitating access to cross-cultural networks.

  • There were examples of good practice in agencies encouraging people to consider how their social networks could help them move out of poverty. However, there was no consistency in practice between agencies.

thanks for mentioning the social media surgeries as part of an approach which can help spread skills

The report reccomends:

  • Mentoring could be powerful in promoting positive use of networks for gaining work, setting up businesses and progressing to better jobs. There would be value in piloting peer mentoring within the workplace and for those finding a return to work problematic.
  • Employer action is required to address the negative ‘grace and favour’ aspects of networks in recruitment and promotion. Organisations should routinely review the extent to which informal workplace networks discriminate in access to employment and progression in the workplace.
  • As online access increasingly becomes the default for service provision, the need to promote digital fluency becomes more urgent. Social media clinics, with an emphasis on network aware ness, could be developed and linked to digital champions in Job Centre Plus.
  • The networks of service users were recognised as under-used resources in identifying training and employment opportunities, but there was no systematic agency practice. Standardised ‘toolkits’ could be developed for employment support agencies. Toolkits should enable people to map their networks, help build strategies for extending and using networks, and provide signposting to agencies that can assist in developing ‘bridging’ capital.
  • ESOL classes are critical for people from migrant and refugee communities seeking employment. They provide important spaces for cross-cultural networking that can lead to helpful inter-ethnic friendships and increased confidence in language and literacy.
  • Voluntary, community and faith organisations offer vital advice and services, and inform signposting and networking within and between ethnic groups. These resources need to be protected and recognised. The principles of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 should be incorporated into public service commissioning procedures, with contractors required to demonstrate added social value through access to community networks.
  • High quality volunteering helps develop links beyond family and community: its importance needs to be recognised, as does the diversity of motivations for taking up unpaid work in the community.

Find out more here and here.

Teaming up with BBC volunteers for the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgeries

Karen Slater of the BBC helps  Prinith de Alwis Jayasinghe of Home from Hospital Care.
Karen Slater of the BBC helps Prinith de Alwis Jayasinghe of Home from Hospital Care. Image: Francis Clarke – click on the picture for his website.

We’ve been running the Social Media Surgery in Central Birmingham for the best part of 5 years.  Last night we took a leaf out of Manchester’s book and teamed up with the BBC.  Steven Flower and the BBC Outreach team having been working together in Salford to bring both volunteer bloggers and volunteers from the BBC together to help at the surgeries.  We did the same last night with BBC Birmingham.  19 people turned up – although we can always do with more people looking for help.

Karen Slater from the BBC worked with Prinith de Alwis Jayasinghe from Home from Hospital Care – a charity which helps pave the way for people to get home from hospital – cutting down on bed-blocking. Prinith said

“Karen taught me about audioboo and how we can record interviews with our clients. We also talked about how we could use blogging on our webpage.”

but the video gives a much better idea of what they got out of it:

Zualfqar Hussain of the Small Heath Community Forum received help to set up this facebook page

Small Heath Community Forum on facebook.
Small Heath Community Forum on facebook.


But this video shows exactly how he gets the point of the social media surgeries

What next?  I’ll talk to Paul Corcoran and others at the BBC about us maybe doing more of these together and get back with dates.

I think it’s good news for the surgeries because extra volunteers will help plus the pull of an organsiation like the BBC, good news for the BBC because it connects their staff with more of the brilliant people who help Birmignham tick and good news for the charities and community groups we want to support – because it helps them with social media support and new connections into the BBC.