When I think about how we develop the Local Government Innovation Network, I think about what I can learn from the communities I’m a member of, starting by a day in my life.
I’m part of my street’s community, where we help each other in different ways, whether that’s looking out for each other’s cats, doing a street cleanup, closing the street so kids can play, swapping second-hand furniture or clothes, organising a choir and even hosting backyard cinema. We do that because we live side by side and because we trust each other, but also because the design of the street creates that sense of proximity. People have different roles, some who are very good at connecting newcomers to the street’s activities, others who organise activities and most who participate regularly in the conversation. Beyond my street, I’m a resident of West Norwood, where I feel part of a community through being involved in West Norwood Feast, but maybe wouldn’t feel that if it doesn’t exist. I’m a resident of Lambeth. I used to work for Lambeth Council, even running a programme to get people and organisations to work more cooperatively, but I feel it’s definitely the neighbourhood that is my community more so than the borough. I’m a member of the community of London and I do viscerally feel a Londoner, not just because of the diversity and multiculturalism of the city, but because it’s a place where identity is constantly shifting and being recreated. I’m a member of two national communities, the UK and France, through having both of those nationalities, and feel both English and French, but more European than either of those, but let’s not talk about Brexit!
While I walk to work in the morning, I often get the tube or train to get home. Are my fellow commuters a community of sorts? Like my street, we’re all side by side (we couldn’t be any closer!), but there’s hardly anyone I recognise day in day out and the train doesn’t create any opportunities for connection — everyone is focused on their phone or paper. When I worked at Demos, I carried out research about how we could create new forms of deliberative democracy through sparking conversation on the tube. It’s fair to say that the citizens assemblies I’m involved with are both more representative and more enjoyable! However, temporary ad-hoc communities can work! I’ve organised various “camps” from Visual Camp, Creative Campaigns Camp, Transformed by You or Outcomes Fest and participated in even more like Social Innovation Camp or City Camp, and these create communities around a common cause and a sense of urgency & passion to collaborate with other people to make & test stuff to specific issues.
When I get into work, I’m part of several communities. My team, my management team and various boards & initiatives I’m part of. These are communities which I’ve chosen to be a member of, because of their values and where everyone has a defined role. In my team, I’ve tried to create a sense of community, by getting people to showcase their skills by organising different activities, whether that’s exploring the different levers of change, styles of action, emotional threats & benefits or visits to inspirational spaces or organisations. The methods they use and the way they facilitate are all ways for each person to demonstrate their own distinctive personality…and leadership style.
What’s most exciting is when I help shape new collaborations which create their own communities, often connecting existing ones together, whether that’s the Loneliness Lab, between people collaborating to develop a masterplan, people from the local community, those tackling loneliness and others creating new forms of art in public spaces, or whether it’s Think & Do Camden, between people who’ve got skills in helping people live more sustainability, groups who are tackling the climate crisis, local groups for specific communities and people from outside Camden who come to provide external challenge (whether it’s citizen scientists, complexity thinkers or carers). In these examples, people form a community because of a common cause, but then shape & evolve it through the way they collaborate, and through that, people take on new roles, whether it’s the organiser, the connector, the storyteller, the maker or the critical friend.
Outside of work, I’m involved in other communities, including one that shares similar characteristics to the ones I talked about above, that was Transeuropa Festival and European Alternatives where we’ve shaped and pivoted the way we organise as a community across Europe to imagine, enact and demand new ways of collaborating across borders in creative ways.
The communities I’m not part of, yet, but am inspired by in their way of doing and being, include One Team Gov, from how its galvanised people to come together, take micro actions to improve government, enable different people to play a variety of roles that empower them and be able to scale in different ways — to other regions or countries and specific issues — like One Green Gov.
What communities are you part of?
How do you participate in those communities?
What has changed in those communities since Covid 19?