You know it ain’t easy…

Local by Social: North East

what the kids want

We’ve just finished up another Local by Social, this time for the North East. We were hosted by Sunderland council at Southwick Community Primary School. We had an amazing range of speakers. We had some really cool ideas developed by parents of kids at the school beforehand – and the event really moved some of these ideas and others along.

Proceedings with slides and pics and so forth will be posted tomorrow at the Local by Social site, so I won’t steal the blogging thunder of the fabulous Lauren Ivory.

Instead I wanted to share a couple of quick reflections about what we’ve learned so far.

NESTA’s Carla Ross was presenting on the ReBoot Britain programme. This is a programme looking at how digital can be the catalyst for innovation in often surprising ways. The 2 year programme kicked off in Summer of 2009 and the projects are well underway. While we were waiting for the taxi, Carla and I chatted about how hard it is to sum up the lessons from a project you’re in the middle of – or like Local by Social – near the end of but haven’t finished. You get in a cloud of project, the things that need to be done, the people you need to engage. (Carla did a fantastic job, so I’m not sure what she was worried about.) But I knew just what she was talking about.

But I was prompted to try by a rumour that there would be a Local by Social in a city that we haven’t talked to. It may be nothing. It may be aspirational. It may be that they’re keen to run this as a format on their own. Which would be great. So if they’re planning on that – there are some lessons already from Local by Social. These won’t be all of them – and these are more organisational than subject related. But it’s a start.

1. There is a place for the hybrid format. LbyS is more like a conference than an unconference. The whole thing is heavily directed. At the same time, there’s a lot of space to bring in ideas, from citizens, from social innovators and from the public sector. And together we’ll work on those ideas – either with a 2nd day hack day or in focused workshops in the afternoon. It’s far more purposeful than the average conference.

2. It’s hard to get to the purpose. Many of the ideas start with the end product, in Bristol it was apps. In Sunderland it was mainly web developments or use of social media. So we needed to sometimes go back and unpick just what problem we were trying to solve. We needed more focus on the point of pain. In Coventry, I think we did well with that. We started with a list of problems faced by the residents of Wood End. Two pages of problems. But that was the right place to start.

Start with the user problem, even if that user is you.

3. There’s absolutely no doubt that bringing together a mass of talent from across the public and voluntary sector as well developer and innovation talent is the way to go. Sometimes we don’t get to mix up these crowds enough at traditional conferences. But we must. And not just in the digital realm.

4. Political representation is great, but we need the top brass, too. We’ve had great representation from councillors at these events. But we needed more senior managers taking ownership of this. Councillors decide and champion, but senior managers give the permission to make it happen or remove the blockers. And I don’t mean a head of service, great though they are – their scope is limited. This is stuff for the whole council and beyond.

5. We need to get better at follow-up. This is my fault, mainly – but an important lesson for any similar events. How will you keep in touch with your project team afterwards? Ian Drysdale has the brilliantly simple solution of asking for everyone’s email before they even start working and setting up a Google Group. At the end of any working session – you need to agree the way ahead. Pop that into an email and share it with the Google group. You’re making a contract with your team mates.

6. It’s fun!! I think all the Local by Social events have been great fun. Keep it mixed up. Surprise people with your speakers. Make it buzzy. It keeps people engaged, helps them think laterally and it means people are more likely to take something great back to the place that they work.


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