Designing for a one night stand or for the relationship?

We’re hosting a space where people will be able to take part in, develop & grow activities to help people live more sustainably…and tackle the climate crisis. As we’re in a climate emergency, we gave ourselves a fortnight to set it up and six weeks to test out, a way that we’re moving from building services to building movements. I’ll talk about that more in a future post, but for this blog I want to focus on how we support people to develop those activities.

While we want this space to enable everyone to feel welcome and able to contribute, we also want to support people who want to design & test activities that can tackle the climate crisis in their neighbourhoods.

In thinking about the type of ways we might support people to do this, I’ve been reflecting on the different programmes that help people develop innovative projects, and I try and be as much a participant in those other people have developed as I am in those that I’ve led.

What I’ve identified is that there is such a diversity of approaches that it might be helpful to show them across different spectrums, rather than thinking that one method is the magic bullet. Finally, I’ve also tried to experience and get involved in different ways of being creative, both in working in public services and in designing festivals.

1. From one off hacks to designing for the distance

I remember when everyone who wanted to be innovative came up with events that promised to solve all our problems in a day. Often borrowing metaphors from either the digital world — like hack days, the running world — designathons — or the hiking world — like local gov camps or gov jams. One of those people was…me! I loved innovation theatre, and organised a Visual Camp that helped people visualise issues better, Transformed by You and Made in Lambeth where people developed ideas and paper prototyped them.

These are excellent for creating momentum around an issue, concentrating the energy of people to make stuff happen and to show what could be developed further. Where they don’t work so well is when they promise that what’s developed on the day will solve the world. Where they work is either they provide a space to mobilise a community of people around an issue or where they’re part of a wider programme of co-design. One off events that have blown me away include Fuck Up Nights, City Camp and Global Gov Jam.

If you’re going to run one-off events that mobilise people around an issue in a creative way that provides visible & tangible outputs to start a movement, why no look at other disciplines, like urban games, flashmobs or a community crowdfunding supper?

Activities that are part of wider programmes provide a more comprehensive offer for people to develop activities that aren’t just about making ideas happen, but making sense of an issue, building a community around it, developing, testing and growing ideas to tackle the issues that matter to that group of people.

These programmes focus more on the sustainability of the ideas and the relationships built to embed change, and use a blended approach to learning. The focus there is on curating the journey to build a movement of people who can mobilise for change. Programmes like these that have blown me away include Schools for Systems Change, Hub Launchpad and U Lab by ULAB. I’ve adapted methods from different places to develop similar programmes like U Lab Lambeth, Transformed by You, Loneliness Lab and now Think, Do & Make, which will be an incubator for people developing projects in the Think & Do Camden space.

If you’re going to run programmes that build the capabilities for change that mobilise people around an issue in a creative way that provides visible & tangible outputs to start a movement, why no look at other disciplines, like art residencies, group therapy or yoga retreats?

2. From growing ideas to building teams

Within these programmes, there are those which help people develop their own ideas and scale them and others which help bring people together to develop collaborative ideas. Often the former will have pre-existing teams join the programme to develop their idea, like @bgv Wayra or Fair by Design.

The latter will usually will be aimed at people who have either very early stage ideas or none, but who want to develop projects with others to tackle an issue, like Civic Foundry, Challenge Prizes and Alt Camden. People will learn different skills whether they’re developing a new project or growing an existing one. If it’s the former, they’ll learn how to make sense of the issue, define it, develop ideas around the issues prioritised, test them, evaluate and refine. If they want to scale their project, they’ll be learning how to develop a business model around it, what and how to scale and how to grow their team & user base.

Some programmes, like Design Council Design for the Public Sector, NESTA’s Upstream Collaborative or Bloomberg Cities Bloomberg Cities Programme will blend a mixture of the two. All of these programmes will have a blended approach to learning, with a mixture of workshops, coaching, fieldwork, online development and…home work as I found out!

If you’re going to run programmes that focus on standalone ideas, why not look at other disciplines, like 100 design projects, coding clubs, creative writing or poetry jams?

If you’re going to run programmes that focus on people developing collaborative outputs together, why no look at other disciplines, like community gardening, collaborative self builds or co-designing a festival.

3. From space-based to blended

Programmes often invite people to their head quarters, to different spaces or if they’re locally based at the same location or digital like OpenIDEO and a mix of the two. Most are facilitated, some are self-facilitated where people find each other online and often self organise. I’ve found this is more difficult to sustain momentum when you’re self organising, but the benefit is that you can design your own sessions? At Think & Do Camden, we’re going to start with a space but continue to blend the learning.

As I’ve mentioned before blending the learning can help be experimental and systemic at the same time and develop communities of practice around the ideas you’re developing.

4. From output-first to relationships-first

The majority of the approaches I’ve mentioned have had as their ultimate focus the development of projects that have a tangible impact on people’s lives at the end of the event or programme. As a result, they often follow structured methodologies, be it the double diamond, business model canvas or lean. The building of relationships is an enabler to that, to help people build a team around the idea, learn from each other who are on a similar journey and provide constructive feedback.

The people developing the programme will think about the infrastructure that’s needed to support these people grow their idea or project — whether that’s routes to investment, training to learn, space & environments to test, people to mentor or coach or programmes like the RSA Economic Security Impact Accelerator that can help them take their idea to the next stage.

There are other types of programmes which focus more on developing a community around the issue — on field or movement building. The tangible and visible outputs of the programme are more to get people to put into practice new ways of working together, but they know that there isn’t on method or solution that can tackle an issue outright. The focus is more on the impact that community has on a system or a field. For these you need to start with your values & principles, celebrate & reflect and test, empower & stretch people. These programmes help us challenge what we know about the world, what our future roles might be, how we work in a way which is open and how we shape the place around us.

System Changers by @lankellychase & @pointpeople, Ignite & Place Makers by Collaborate CIC, Year Here and @enrolyourself are more in that category. As I mentioned in a previous post “Transformation isn’t just about transforming services, it’s about transforming ourselves, it’s a new way of thinking, it’s a new mindset.

If you’re going to run programmes that focus on outputs first, why not look at other disciplines, like self builds,

If you’re going to run programmes that focus on relationships first, why not look at other disciplines, like relationship counselling, co-operatives or teal organisations?

I wrote about the indicators of success I set myself for my first year at Camden: understanding of context, readiness for change, ability to influence, commitment to vision, capability to deliver and energy to sustain momentum. What if you turned these into a programme to build a new team?

What if we could develop a programme that opened up our imagination “to think outside of the usual options & models that exist in policymakers’ toolkits, that don’t start from a rational attempt to try and predict the future, but spice up scenarios to remind us of the messy anarchic way that events and trends emerge, that rather than build on structures & process that we take for granted, they imagine new infrastructure that is influenced from trends that are surfacing”?



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Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese