Lambeth’s Connected Communities initiative kicked off with a lively workshop at the Lambeth Impact Hub under the Lambeth Town Hall on 24 September 2014. Folk Labs were there representing both ourselves as well as the Herne Hill Forum and the Lambeth Forum Network.

Billed as a “session for sharing ideas, prototypes and plans for creating a truly networked community”, the council posed the following questions:

  • How do Lambeth’s community groups connect to other groups in their local area?
  • How do they find out who is out here who might be able to help?
  • How do groups network with those people, share ideas or resources?
  • How do they campaign for things they need?
  • How do they ensure their voice is heard?

Turnout at the workshop was high with around 30 attendees representing local government, community groups as well as supporters from the business and social enterprise sector like Folk Labs. This article is our take on the evening’s success, in response to Lambeth’s very helpful report.

Sue Sheehan led introductions, explaining that Lambeth’s existing contact management system (GIFTS) is probably on its way out. They’re not sure what it should be replaced with. But, taking a leaf out of the RSA’s book, they’ve decided to explore how to better connect the community with software and potentially open up the GIFTS database to the community itself.

The next speaker was Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, Councillor Jane Edbrooke from Oval. She spoke of the general context for why Lambeth’s Cooperative Council have initiated Connected Communities now. According to Jane, Oval – one of the areas with the highest residents turnover in the borough – still manages to host at least 54 known, active community groups with many committed members. She spoke of the perennial challenge from having to phone the local connectors – key residents who hold important contacts in their heads such as major kingpin, ex-councillor Joan Twelves.

Want to purchase www.joantwelves.net anyone?

But Jane also highlighted the importance of real, face-to-face communication: a running theme for the evening.

Lambeth’s current Head of Digital and Design, Kate Vogelsang then gave a quick overview of their web project and mentioned that she’d love to have one central list of community groups on the Lambeth Council website. They’re apparently undertaking the asset mapping part of this project already and she went on to explain that they’re using Pinterest as part of their Do the Right Thing project. While Pinterest isn’t a structured database, using such an easily accessible platform is probably making it incredibly easy for ordinary members of the public to add their projects.

Liz Whitson-Cloud was up next and briefly introduced one of Folk Labs’ other projects – the data visualisation marketplace, Community Data. She did a great job of introducing the project and explaining what it does. She proposed we could export the GIFTS dataset and visualise it using Community Data – a nice idea. We’d love to see the GIFTS data made available as a starting point for the rest of the Connected Communities project.

Project Dirt

Project Dirt’s Nick Gardner gave a crisply professional presentation of his platform, making a great pitch with some impressive stats. Apparently, Lambeth is their most thriving borough. Key points included:

  • They have 2,000+ active projects, over half of which are in London (164 are in Lambeth)
  • They have 10,000+ active users (330 members in Lambeth, 149 of whom are in Brixton)
  • Two out of three Project Dirt projects successfully find new volunteers through the platform
  • They do collect quite a lot of data about their users and he mentioned that they’re happy to make this freely available to the council

Herne Hill Forum

Yours truly was up to speak next, representing the work we’ve been doing for the Herne Hill Forum. I hope what I had to say came across well. We’ll be writing much more about our Connected Communities vision for Lambeth and adding my presentation to our project page very soon (in case you couldn’t see it on the night).

Lambeth Carers Hub, Young Lambeth Coop, YoungLambeth.org and Kids Connect

After I’d eventually stopped talking, Lambeth Carers Hub explained how they’re planning to transform into a true marketplace where Lambeth residents can actually broker care on their platform. She also mentioned how they want to start offering more than just traditional care services by also starting to reach out to help reduce social isolation for people living with disability.

Echoing Kate’s earlier point, their rep said they’d appreciate a single directory for council and community services – a sort of “TripAdvisor for services” – which I thought was a fascinating idea.

Young Lambeth, Young Lambeth Coop and Kids Connect all delivered impressive presentations, explaining their scale and strong position in the community. Young Lambeth Coop are currently building their own CRM system to help them segment their diverse constituency groups to help them communicate more effectively. Each of these groups have many stakeholders who are clearly engaged with their communities and who might also benefit from being connected. We think it will be fascinating to explore how each of these groups might benefit from being connected up with the wider network of community groups and citizens.

Mapify and FireSouls

Alex from Mapify made some interesting points, especially around their impact measurement tools and we think this might form an important piece of the Connected Communities puzzle. It would be interesting to see where their future strategy lies and whether they might open up their data as well as allow data to flow into their system.

The team from FireSouls delivered a powerful presentation. Formed by three ex council-staff, their goal is to support new Lambeth entrepreneurs in need of funding. They seem incredibly ambitious and technically impressive. We are intrigued to see what they might bring to this initiative.

Local community groups

After presentations were over, I had the pleasure of speaking with several representatives from  Lambeth’s other local forums, Waterloo Community Coalition (WaCoCo) and Kennington, Oval, Vauxhall Forum (KOVF).

We discussed how hard it is to optimise local community sites for search engines like Google and we tried entering some typical search terms to try to find their organisations. Challenges with SEO for small, local groups and charities are a recurring complaint we hear a lot.

Following up on Councillor Edbrooke’s comments about the importance of offline communications, we went on to discuss printed materials: newsletters, posters and leaflets. We agreed these are an especially useful way to communicate with older residents and people with poor access to digital tech or who have low confidence with it.

Apparently it’s harder than ever to keep up-to-date with local community news and events if you’re not online. We came up with some interesting ideas around building a system to enable local community site managers to distribute their site content in print-friendly format (optimised for visually-impaired people). These could then be printed and put on notice boards by local shopkeepers, church wardens and retirement home managers – something we have discussed in the past.

Summary

After all this, we felt Lambeth’s workshop was a really productive and positive event. It looks like this is going to be an intriguing initiative from Lambeth. Their team seemed satisfied with the evening’s progress and so were we.

I just wish I’d had more time to chat with everyone who went although, for those I did manage to talk to, there seemed to be general agreement with our suggestion to “Connect up everything that already exists” which I thought was great news.

We’re really excited to see what will happen next.


Further reading

Read Sue Sheehan’s summary report of the evening’s proceedings.

Her photos of the user story brainstorming flipcharts are on the Connected Communities Twitter account (which you should definitely follow too – that’s where a lot of the conversation around this initiative is going to happen).

We adapted those brainstorm flipcharts into a snazzy Trello Board. Please get in touch if you’d like access to add your own suggestions for how you or your group might benefit from Connected Communities.