Social by Social

A community around using social tech for social impact

Starting discussions on Big Society Stores and Spaces

Today Prime Minister David Cameron gave the biggest boost yet to the Big Society programme, with announcements on the Big Society Bank and four areas getting special assistance to try out ideas around social action, service development, and community empowerment. Full text here. The ideas include:
  • Making budget decisions at street-level
  • Taking over local assets such as a community pub
  • Delivering broadband to local communities
  • Piloting the Government’s open-source planning reforms
  • Taking responsibility for generating energy locally
  • Deciding licensing rules locally
  • Building a volunteer programme so they can keep local museums open for longer. 
It seems a good time to open up discussion about Big Society here on Social by Social, because in coming weeks I think we'll hear lots more about how social technology can contribute to these and other agendas. In particular the Big Society Network - where I've been acting as part-time socialreporter - is promoting the idea of Your Square Mile as a mutually-owned online service to help new and existing local groups. More background at, and on this wiki.
I think we particularly need some online discussion because the Network is deliberately holding back in creating its own forum, and welcoming others who do so in their own spaces. 
There's now the independent Big Society in the North, discussion at Chain Reaction, and at RSA Fellowship. NCVO has a briefing and discussion area. Julian Dobson has some great posts, and Dave Briggs has an excellent round-up here
I think we have a fairly unusual group of people here with interests in neighbourhoods, digital engagement and social tech.
As Dave reports, my current interest is in the idea of a Social Apps Store, which I wrote about after a Network Open Night on July 6, attended by about 150 people.

Last night Steve Moore asked me to speak briefly about ideas for a Big Society Commons or Store, which I wrote about here, and here. I said we need space with different levels … information, conversation, exchange, products and services. Maybe it is a mall plus a market, some high tech, some low. It is absolutely not created by government, but by those with something to offer.

Then I started to wonder about the role of the skilled, creative, passionate people at the Open Night. Perhaps one analogy for part of the store is an Apps store, where you can download smart ways of doing things to your mobile phone. Some are free, some you pay for. The fee goes to the developer, with a percentage to the store owner.

It works because there is a framework for the way apps are developed – tight in the case of Apple, more flexible in open sources stores.

So perhaps some of the people at the Open Night were potential developers for the Social Apps Store. If the Network can help to create the store, it will provide a much bigger market for those with social action products and services to sell – or offer free.

The Apps Store offers one metaphor to help us think how we bring good stuff together, what’s in it for the different interests involved, what rules and frameworks we need to make sure things work together.

The idea of a Apps - or is it just App? store - got some attention on Twitter, and among the Network team. It has led to a couple of invitations to discussions in Government, so I have developed it in more detail over here on the wiki.

As I explain there, although I'm using a mobile phone app store as an analogy, the content should not be just tech. For example, I really like the offline Social Spaces that Tessy Britton and collaborators will be launching this autumn through the Travelling Pantry.

There's lots of possible threads for discussion on Big Society ... so this is just an open invitation to suggest some that you might wish to follow here.

I'm hoping I'll continue to do some work with the Network, so I can put some effort into providing support by updating on what's happening. Just to provide some balance, it would be great to have some other facilitator/reporters whether enthusiastic or sceptical.

Anyone up for that? Key issues? Questions?

Tags: bigsociety, bigsocietynetwork, socialspaces

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Hi there.

Am not clear whether you are thinking exclusively about a virtual 'store' but ever since you first mentioned this, have been thinking about how your apps idea might interface with real/everyday life.

I think that there needs to be a physical, not just digital real estate to this.

One idea is to think about what the app is a tool for supporting/realizing, think laterally about how this can be translated in to/docked with an offer for consumers/citizens that they can know, buy, engage or learn through physical premises, then take burnt out shop(s) in a city/empty premises in a mall/series of vacant places/spaces/units that pock-mark an area and create an estate of outlets that either service these needs directly and/or act as touch-points to download-ables.

Possible clues to imagining this:

- how branches of Argos work
- how those new-fangled shops that Amazon are supposed to be launching will work
- think about clustering around existing facilities that evidence social innovation and are 'apps' in their own right, albeit physical, e.g. our People's Supermarket co-op in London, Dougal's work down in Brixton, the physical offices of Participle's Southwark Circle
- think about occupying empty units near O2/Vodaphone/Apple stores in a shopping centre (sponsorship?) or spare space going next to a facility like a children's library in a Sure Start centre (i.e. access to immediate audiences)
- think about viable adaptive re-use and occupation of dead Government real estate
- think about viable adaptive re-use and occupation of valueless commercial properties that litter the nation

I guess what I am getting at is to think of this as a way in to building a new generation of online services but using offline facilities as touch-points.

I think it's also worth thinking hard to work thematically around the four things that matter in a world with no money: Food, Shelter, Transportation and Security.

But just imagine...if we could re-use dead premises/facilities, take inspiration from phenomena like commercial local food malls or the dispersed adaptive re-use of facilities that you see in some urban renewal programmes, we might not just grant people access to support in ways that are familiar - i.e. real - but also generate some early wins that break down the division between on and offline public spaces, contribute to a new local landscape of non-profit enterprise and also help unlock early, new value from the acres of land and property owned by the State that just lay dormant.

I've started to lobby DCLG and the Shareholder Executive on this, trying to get them to consider the easy early release of dead government assets for social uses and re-wiring things in a way that enable finance - assets like the acres of High Street shops and farms that local authorities own - but am at the end of a *very* long line of petitioners at the gate.

If you *are* thinking of physical assets, please push in your territories.
David B - I think the stuff store very much exists in the high street as it does on the web. That's why I thought maybe 'app' store was slightly limiting.

John's example of social media surgeries is a good one - a surgery is an 'app' - or a bit of 'stuff' in this sense. So is NALC's document on creating your own local council. But also, so is something cool that uses Twitter.

As I saw somewhere today, 93% of the world is not on Facebook - so we need something real as well as the virtual to make this work.
Dave - agreed. This is a Big Society Store (working title) offering a range of Good Stuff online. The Apps store is the marketplace metaphor.
Social media surgeries are a great example, and I love David Barrie's thinking about how we use a mix of commercial-collaborative thinking to evolve new goodies.
One idea that's bubbling is the Store as a social enterprise. Can we model in the way that the store develops the sort of sustainable, enterprising activities that we want to feature, and that need to be at the heart of Big Society?
There might be a small team at the centre, with opportunities for some core contributors to set out their anchor stalls (I need help with this ... I'm not a retailer:-)
The BSN team are following up some leads on this, and we should get some other people interested.
Who is feeling enterprising out there?

As volunteers and independantly my colleagues and myself, not all employed by the council, started one of the first social media surgeries in Yorkshire which is in Huddersfield. These surgeries have been very successful. We were inspired by the talk about the Birmingham surgeries at a localgovcamp just over a year ago.

We have already started to take the concept of social media surgeries into 2 neighbourhoods in the Kirklees area through our work with the Young Foundation. We are not calling them surgeries, or social media as these terms can be confusing, rather we are helping people to do the things they want with cheap or free tools which serve their purpose.

Rather than surgeries opening up development possibilities, I believe the opposite to be true. To my mind the first step is to find out what is needed in a particular area, before opening up surgeries, by asking people who live and work in that area. Some careful research and development is needed before the surgery approach can be useful to people. I believe that by approaching it this way interest will develop naturally as there will be a reason to participate, and there is more likelyhood of participants becoming the "surgeons" themselves, or simply helping their neighbours to develop new skills. This is real capacity building.

John Popham said:
Here's something on social media Surgeries as part of this discussion. With full acknowledgements to Nick Booth, progenitor, and inspiration.

In some ways, I think Social Media Surgeries are a pure manifestation of the Big Society concept. The original idea from Nick Booth was truly inspirational, and I have been fortunate, through the Digital 20/20 programme, funded by Yorkshire Forward, to be able to take it on and roll it out in nearly all the main cities and towns in Yorkshire now. We have managed to persuade people, from a variety of backgrounds, with social media knowledge, to pass on their skills and knowledge to people who will make good use of it in local communities and support organisations. The main reward they get, is a sense of well-being at having done a good deed, and, time and again, the “Surgeons” have told me how good it makes them feel. The Surgeries we have established in Yorkshire have effectively become support mechanisms and networking opportunities for the Surgeons, as much as they have been of assistance to the “Patients”. And, not only do we get the “Surgeons” for free, we always manage to get the venues, and often refreshments too, for free.

I think we can make Social Media Surgeries centrepieces of the Big Society approach. They are, in themselves, demonstrators of the Big Society, as well as being sources of knowledge, skills, expertise and inspiration for the individuals and organisations who will develop Big Society initiatives. Social Media will be vital in connecting people together, providing them with opportunities to collaborate, and amplifying the results of their collaborations. It will allow them to do more with less, gain access to sources of advice and support for doing things differently, and telling the stories of their successes. In this context, I don’t think it is too fanciful to say that the establishment of a social media surgery in an area can be a catalyst for a new forms of community development. I would certainly like to look for resources to kick start social media surgeries in the four Big Society pilot areas. I know Nick has been doing some of this stuff working with Neighbourhood Managers in Birmingham, and I amy talking to a local authority in Yorkshire about an approach which takes Social Media Surgeries into neighbourhoods and uses them to connect people together.

I hope this is useful – I suppose what I am saying is that – in Social Media Surgeries, we could see a manifestation of the exhortation to “be the change you want to see”.

Sorry about that last bit, it was quite late when I wrote it!
"...we need something real as well as the virtual..." preferably yes, but the feel of the thing (both real and virtual) seems crucial. It concerns me if the feel of the discussion so far seems to contain a mindset which is at risk of seeing citizens as a subset of consumers rather than the other way round. If any citizens who see it like me are to feel confident about engaging with any of this, then it seems to me that it needs to be open (and ideally welcoming) to citizens first and foremost as co-producers (which does not exclude acting as a consumer, but tends toward a mindset that sees people as active and responsible rather than passive).

There's a good description: "Co-production includes: planning, design, commissioning, financing, managing, delivery, monitoring and evaluation (stick ‘co-’ in from (in front?) of all those)... " as reported by Dave Briggs from Tony Bovaird, Professor of Public Management and Policy, INLOGOV, University of Birmingham, Enchancing Local Democracy conference, organised by South East Employers, July 2010

On what basis can any of us have any confidence that comments such as here will have any influence that is meaningful, traceable and so transparent? If we can't in practice influence the design stage then co-production it ain't, or am I missing something?
Marilyn - thanks so much for insights on how to blend the opportunities offered by new social tech with the older lessons of community development: start where people are ... their needs, enthusiasms. In addition, I'm really interested in what new dimension tech brings - as well as tools. I've a hunch it can be neutral ground encouraging sharing of skills and ideas, and socialising. How does it play out in Yorkshire?
Phil - I agree. If Big Society at its best is about co-design and co-production, that's also the way to evolve the store. I'm taking the lead on store development for Big Society Network, and that's why I opened up this discussion. ... and I (and the rest of the BSN team) are really excited by the support already generated.
So - what you see here and here is where we have got to so far. We would really value further thoughts on how to develop a store fast, cheaply, sustainably and collaboratively with both potential users and contributors. (Difficult to have them all, I suspect). As you highlight, process and the values behind it are crucial.
Although "store" has a consumer/commercial ring, it can be a co-op too, in the spirit of Big Society Network, which will be a mutual. I think we agree on the principles - now we need help on how to do it!
Hi all, David, thanks for your positive reply. (I love the ambition of this whole thing.) Have put some miscellaneous comment and questions on a wiki discussion page.
I'd like to add something into this, which may have been covered in other ways. When we were trying to do the first generation of broadband, we came up with the idea of a GuildHall (virtual eg online). Whilst it did include a Library (books, white papers etc) and a Toolshed, which would seem to fit in with the store idea, it also included experts - journeymen and Masters.

A square mile is not a very big pond to fish in, and up here in Eden, a square mile has only about 3.3 people in it! What is often missing in a community is expertise on specific subjects, or more importantly, access to the required expertise.

If we build on LETS type programmes, and the many variations on that now, people with the necessary expertise could offer their knowledge in return for non-fiscal returns. Like a timebank.

Many community projects just need an oomph from the community, but sometimes, there really is the lack of knowledge about how to proceed, shortcuts that could save time and money, lessons learned from elsewhere etc. So, can you flog people in this store too?!
Hi Lindsey - maybe we take Your Square Mile and the store as loose metaphors for neighbourhood, and somewhere to get good stuff and connect with helpful people. Then the issue is what we do centrally to help, what has to be crafted locally - and who does that. Paul Watson here
touches on discussions on Twitter about local alliance building as crucial.
I like Guildhall. Could we have a part-wholesale part-retail store serving the local guilds/alliances? And those alliances being the components of a bigger network - with specialist networks too?
I know there's similar thinking in local government around a knowledge hub, with a willingness to join up. More tomorrow when I get back to my desktop.
Any more insights on how to build from the bottom up would be really useful.
Via twitter I saw a website that got me thinking about offers and wants in a wide sense. It may be just me (the rest of you may have twigged this right away, and of course it may be that offers need to be in at least a healthy balance to wants) but has the discussion (here) so far tended to be mostly about the offers side? (Using tech / online stuff to articulate better) Offers and wants, of course not new - central to such as Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), (presumably) timebanks, etc. Using tech / online stuff to articulate better wants, of course not new - eg fixmystreet, wibbi (wouldn't it be better if) stuff, use of local data sets - idea of matching up tech (mainly offers?) and non tech (mainly wants?) (personally looks to me like some way to go to making this kind of stuff properly user friendly) etc. Identifying what local communities want also seems central to community led planning, and 'wants' encompassing far more than (bureaucrat-defined) 'need' - eg Community owned renewable power easy for determinedly climate skeptic bureaucrat to block - to include also aspirations. So does this begin to stretch the analogy a bit eg not just an apps (or stuff) store, but something like an apps (or stuff) exchange, or store and exchange? So suppose what I'm asking is if wants not integrated enough into this whole thing, will it do the whole Big (and better?) Society thing effectively enough? Seems to link also into ideas re co-production eg involves co-commissioning, etc. via stuff like participatory budgeting.

The site that got me thinking seemed to be mainly about money. If BS stuff is to successfully counter cynicism and negative press around cuts, isn't there a neeed to be bolder about articulating the value of non-monetised stuff? (Of course not an either or, or course money matters, but bolder about the value of the other?) Eg if there are governmental difficulties to what might seem emminently sensible ideas like Community Allowance there's a need to challenge these.
If you look at it more as a market place rather than a store then all things can be encompassed. The marketplace at the centre of the community - however large or small that community is, could bring together the idea of particular skills sharing stalls as well as any applications and noticeboards for wants/wishes. Even a real-estate stall and stalls for other stuff. Also in the marketplace any good news can be broadcast with everything being localised as far as can be possible. It builds on the World Wide Web as it was conceived, but always with communities at the centre. The challenge would be to keep the local things local byut to also link in to more national things as it is needed.
Thanks Phil, Marilyn - I do agree we should be aiming for an innovation exchange, a market place, and a mix of free and paid for. There's some of that in the original paper and you have made it much clearer. Thanks.
As a start, we'll probable focus on featuring/inviting some examples of initiatives, projects, and people to show what we are talking about. Transition Network have a site doing that.
Here's a couple of different social apps, just to show it isn't all tech:
- a get around the bureaucracy app from the National Association for Neighbourhood Management: simple waver to allow volunteers to do jobs on public land
- pitching parties from Alice Casey: pay £10 for drinks and cupcakes, decide which charity you will support when they pitch

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