Category: Third Sector

Fresh start for the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery – new volunteers from BBC Birmingham

Central Birmingham was the first social media surgery set up to support local community and voluntary orgs –  nearly 5 ears ago on October 15th 2008.

We’ve used various venues, from BVSC who generously helped with that first surgery through to the fine Fazeley Studios and for since April 2010 the wonderful Studio Venues.   So thank you to all those who have given us free space and dealt with our relaxed, rather laissez faire approach to helping the smaller bits of the local third sector with free social media help.

This month we have a new venue and some new helpers:  BBC Birmingham.  For a couple of years now one of the surgeries in Manchester has eclipsed what we are doing here (not that it’s a competition) . Steven Flower has been collaborating with the arm of the BBC that gets it’s staff involved in volunteering.  Whereas a busy Central Birmingham Surgery might see 20 people in an evening he  (and Kate Fox) are  involving  sometimes twice that.

BBC at the Mailboc in Birmingham - window with a reflection of a crane
BBC at the Mailbox in Birmingham – image courtesy of feltip1982 on flickr

So what does this mean:

  • If you are from a local community or voluntary org sign up here  for our first surgery at the Mailbox on 17th September 2013. You might be getting help from a local blogger – you might be getting help from a local BBC staffer – either way it will be relaxed and useful.  Do not worry if you are new to all this – we are gentle!
  • If you know someone who might like a surgery please share this link with them
  • If you are regular surgeon then it’s a new venue.
  • If you would like to help manage this surgery then please contact me through @podnosh.
  • If you’ve helped us in the past – thank you.

So onwards and where-everwards.

ps:  Since we started in 2008 this surgery alone has seen 309 different people through it’s doors on 43 different evenings.  They’ve used what they have learnt to create or work on a minimum of 73 different websites (I know it many more – but we have recorded the 73).   It’s one of 147 that have sprung up in some shape or form across the UK and the rest of the world since then.   Last week we tipped the 4000 mark in term of organisations and people involved.




Why don’t we trust networks to do things at scale? #ukgovcamp13 #lsis13

A picture of a traditional set opf scales with german writing
Image thanks to vividbreeze on flickr

I’ve had a bonkers busy few weeks – meeting and talking to a wide range of people and it’s helped me start thinking through a problem with networks:  they tend not to be trusted to reliably deliver solutions at any sort of scale.

Let me share how and why I’ve started looking at this (and I’m sure I’m not the first).

Catherine Howe  (her govcamp piece here) and myself were both in a session at the fabulous ukgovcamp last Saturday.  It was the end of the day and  I think (I came in late)  it was on what makes cross sector collaboration work and  convened by  Jag Goraya with a big dose of help from Saul Cozens.

A problem of scale?


The bit of the discussion that helped me went along the lines of.   “The answer to a lot of public sector problems do sit in developing healthy networks and developing and encouraging the cultures which help networks thrive.  Do that and  people tend to do what makes sense, rather than what is prescribed.”  I was trying to understand why achieving this is so difficult and suggested that it was a problem with scale, something along the lines of…

  1. Large budgets and large problems tend to lead to large things being created and commissioned.
  2. These have a direction of their own and – on the whole – need to be seen to succeed.
  3. Networked activity is different – it is often lots of small activity with little or modest innovation – that doesn’t appear to be capable of delivering at scale.
  4. So large organsiation charged with sorting large problems are loathe to trust to a networked approach.

In truth I think networks can deliver at scale.  A city is such a thing, the families that make up a community likewise. The benefit for using networked approaches for sorting big problems is we don’t need to invest everything in one large solution then persuade ourselves it has worked.

Dollops and cock up


Instead we need to learn how to recognise the pattern of networked progress:  plenty  of success, a good dollop  of treading water and a decent slice of cock-up, indifference, waste and failure.

I think way forward collectivity this will improve on social problems more steadily and in a way that people can more easily get involved with than a large scale service offer tends to do.  It’s also relates to why I’ve had problems with unrealistic expectations – that setting expectation too high leads to harming social movement – zero expectations encourage success – high expectations make even achievements look like failures.

That was the gist of where ukgovcamp  had got me to.  It was built on other things recently:

  • Listening to a conversation the week before at a conference I spoke at for the Hampshire Association of Local Council’s digital conference  (again with Catherine Howe) amongst a group of councillors from some of the larger
  • At the LSIS Governance conference in Manchester late last week I started talking to a Clerk to a Further Ed college that had been asked to improve educational attainment in a particular neighbourhood.  They wanted a steady approach that built community links, strengthened social capital and relationships and built aspiration in the community. The funders wanted rapid change – so what they are likely to buy  is intense extra activity with the students about to take their GCSE’s – one is the big and brittle – v the modest but maybe meaningful.

Capturing the subtle incremental change that comes through networks is partly why we have been working with Gateway Family services and Birmingham Settlement and Nominet Trust to develop an impact assessment app which measures and organises the modest – as well as the sometimes downright remarkable –  shift that happens in people and places.  But turning this into something that politicians and policy makers will trust to deliver is an interesting problem.

Any solutions?


Other govcamp posts:

Rowena Farr

Dave Buckster

David Bicknell

John Glover

Jonathan Flowers

Julia Chandler

Ben Procter

Ann Kempster

Dave God Briggs

Jason Cobb


Community Lover’s Guide to Birmingham – The Launch

Tonight we’re at ChangeKitchen  for the launch (as opposed to the non launch) a of the Community Lovers Guide to Birmingham –   It’s an opportunity for us to get some of the contributors together and thank them for volunteering their time and their words towards the book., have a few nibbles and some drinks.

You can buy a copy of the book here –  for those who don’t want an object chapters will soon be online.

Nick started the proceedings thanking everyone and introducing Tessy Britton , as really she is the inspiration for the Community Lovers Guide series after she put together Hand Made.

Also here tonight receiving  their copies of the book are Tom Baker from Loaf in Stirchley, Karen Strunks of the 4amProject which started in Birmingham, and Birgit Kehler of ChangeKitchen.

Other contributors who unfortunately couldn’t be here with us are:

Books are available to order now from Blurb, and every chapter will soon be available to read online. 





The non launch of the Community Lovers Guide to Birmingham (get it today)

The Community Lovers Guide to Birmingham – a simple  book of stories of the ways volunteers, community and social enterprise are changing relationships in the city.   We finally have the book ready for release.

It fits in with the work we did with the Grassroots Channel – capturing the stories of active citizens. In many ways (inspired by another book called Hand Made)  these are stories about militant optimism:  about people doing things because they care, sometimes against the odds and often with little formal support.

People like the Friends of Cotteridge park, a group who saved their local park from decommissioning and went on to make it bigger, better and who tell us that “having fun is what makes it work”.  “The feeling you get when you are part of a group who’ve achieved something you thought was impossible is a lovely feeling…the long term result is a better community and nicer place to live.”

People like, Birgit Kehler of Change Kitchen, Eleanor Hoad & Nigel Baker of Urban Harvest, Tom Baker of Loaf and more who all share their stories with us in this collaboration.

Most of the work pulling these stories together was done by our Steph Jennings and in the New Year we’ll be getting a few people together to launch it officially.  It will also be available online as a series of chapters soon. If you fancy a good honest book to hold  for yourself or your loved ones for Christmas it is already available to order from Blurb today.  If you order before 13th December using the “SANTA2012” code you can get 20% off.

Also thank you to everyone who contributed towards the book. They were,  in no particular order;