Ok. So I’ve paraphrased Henry Miller. But its true isn’t it?
This week two things have come together. A session organised by Goodmoney on Community Organising (the link is a helpful resource on some digital tools) and our evaluation report on Gig Buddies. A project that enables people, with and without learning difficulties, to build a relationship based on a shared enjoyment of music.
Both initiatives use the power of shared interest as a positive driver for change. They identify communities of interest and then act as a catalyst or support to make stuff happen. Good stuff. They both move from what can we do to people, to what can we do together? It’s that approach that provides a new way of looking at things.
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the Stay Up Late campaign and Gig Buddies since its inception. It’s a testament to the power of communities of interest and, although we didn’t know it then, it uses Community Connecting to marry people’s skills, talents and aspirations to opportunities in their communities. The emphasis of connecting is less on supporting people to be ‘in the community’ or to do activities, and more about them building relationships based on reciprocity – shared interest. It works. Really well. So well in fact that, like all good ideas, it leapt to the other side of the world and Gig Buddies Sydney was set up in February.
If you want read the Gig Buddies evaluation report its here – do read it, think about the power of shared interest and then, maybe, reflect on the things you want to change in your community. Its more than possible – find people with a shared interest and you have the best chance of making it happen.
It’s a good point and one that lots of businesses are going to ask as super-fast broadband rolls out thanks to local councils and BDUK. Everyone wants better connectivity, or for some, connectivity full-stop. What if you are a small or medium-sized business? Will you watch more YouTube? Send faster email? Allow people to order on-line? When everyone has it, where is the competitive advantage? It just becomes a hygiene factor – it’ll be a competitive disadvantage if you don’t have it. Perhaps.
I’ve had lots of discussions this week about small businesses and the digital world. The first was about better connectivity and what it might mean for SMEs. The second was about how some SMEs, particularly in retail, can compete with Supermarkets. The third was why did I care?
So, what if you aren’t a digital business (whatever that means)? What if you don’t build websites or aren’t a social media agency. What if you haven’t got a huge warehouse, trading website, and complex tax arrangements covering most of the world? While connectivity will undoubtedly help your access to markets, effectively reducing that cost to zero, it wont necessarily mean more business. If everyone can get their shopping on-line, all of it, would I get one type of produce from elsewhere? I might – if its special enough. Would it be enough for me to attract more customers, diversify, or sustain what I already have? Would it help me regain something from the supermarkets?
Years ago I worked in retail. It was a friend’s shop who now has very sensibly moved to renting cycles in Cornwall. The thing I always remember was how we saw the same faces. Some week in week out. Others when they returned from working or studying away. Others because they’d been recommended the shop. We didn’t have the internet. We had a phone. We did however have great relationships with our customers. We were social. It was fun. Customers came back.
So how might his apply in a connected world? Lets say you are a butcher. Why do you want access to markets in Dubai? You sell sausages and cuts of meat. It’s just not economic. But what it might help you do is strengthen the relationship with your customers. Become more of a socialised business – not only off-line but on-line. Effectively build a community of interest, or place, around what you do and sell. You could get some brand champions – they could influence their friends to buy from you. You might find people don’t just want to buy your produce, but your expertise as well.
You could ask customers for recipes and, if enough ‘liked’ it, offer the cuts at a discount. You could incentivise that behaviour and have a more reliable link between supply and demand – negotiating better discounts with your suppliers. You could encourage your customers to share those incentives and offers. Most have no idea what happens in a butcher’s behind the counter where stuff gets chopped up. Some don’t know how to cook or cut certain types of meat – perhaps they’d value learning? What if you posted some short videos about how to prep some common cuts of meat? Would your customers then have more interest, connection, with what you do?
None of this is radical or new. But if you haven’t been involved in the social web then these things might not come to mind and for those local businesses struggling in the current economic climate it could make a difference to cash flow when that is what strangles retail.
Why do I care? Because.
- Social media boosts revenue for SMEs: MYOB research (computerworld.co.nz)
- BBC – Butcher harnesses power of social media
- Giving UK SMEs the digital tools they need (computerweekly.com)
You might be forgiven for thinking that although local political decisions hit us where we live, impact our lives on a daily basis, we really don’t care. Recent elections in the County I work in had an average turnout of 33%. In 2009 it was around 45%.
There is just apathy and uninterest.
Or is there?
How we involve people in decisions about shaping public services is one of the main barriers. People do care – but we live in a world that actively discourages engagement – that puts barriers in the way, forgets that people have views, even before we solicit them. There are two issues I’d like to explore here. Firstly, we (I’m a public servant) use language that might be technically and legally right but often doesn’t explain what is proposed so its easy to have a view. We don’t always communicate, engage, and consult in a way that lets people know what those personal stories are – what it actually means for people’s daily lives. Secondly, even when we do we often hold the arguments and discussion close to our own chests – rather than let others have them openly while we listen and contribute in their space.
If we really wanted interest and engagement or to communicate with people – then we’d do it differently wouldn’t we? We would use different language. When a large company wants to interest people in their product – to go to a shop or on the internet – what do they do? They don’t this…..
Notice of Retail Opportunity
Our South East Regional distribution centre has received notice that product 3432F (Recreational Running Shoe) will be available for retail purchase at specified locations from June 3rd 2013, providing sufficient stock ordering. Product 3432F has a mesh and synthetic nylon material shell with a polyurethane outer sole with a waffle tread for traction on tarmac surfaces. This product is available in men’s and women’s specific styles. A spokesperson said:
‘These are very good running shoes.’
Now are you interested?
Most organisations who want to reach their audience think about how best to do it. They work on where to find them, what words their audience is using, how to hook them to find out more or encourage them to act.
I can’t think of anything government does, locally or nationally, that doesn’t affect someones life. For example, last year I was looking at some work to improve traffic flow. We consulted on the technical drawings – what could and couldn’t be done – as we always have. The big gap though was why we were doing it – what it might mean for people stuck in busses, or trying to get to the hospital, or trying to get to college? There are personal stories behind traffic flow but the way we consult doesn’t often get those real stories out or support people in telling them. NESTA recently published a paper on futurology, and perhaps unsurprisingly they found stories play a key part in understanding what the future might be like. It’s these same stories that will help people understand what problems are trying to be solved and how it might affect them.
When dealing with deeply uncertain and emotional futures, stories say more than surveys.
Making these stories more transparent and available will help more people get involved and understand what proposals might mean for them. Stories, often personal, are a way in to helping people make decisions. It’s where in really effective community involvement people share their experiences, their aspirations, and get involved. Personally I’m less interested in technical drawings and more interested in whether Jane, a small business owner, thinks it might help her team get to work more easily and cheaply. That might help me decide. I want to see these debates in the open. I’m happy to send in my views – but I’m really interested in what others are saying and I want to know now – not when someone decides to summarise it. I might even want to discuss it the views and develop my own. While I understand the consulter will want to collate consultees views and let me know how representative mine are – I’d also like to understand the debate.
The challenge will be ensuring we use the language of those communities, those audiences – otherwise we’ll just be left with a host of creative ideas and no innovation. It wont necessarily mean apathy and disinterest, it will mean an increasing disconnect between government, at all levels, and us – the public.
Some ideas and innovations
As people become more digitally aware and connected the opportunity to widen participation, to merge online and offline networks will increase. Opportunities to share stories and therefore encourage participation will undoubtedly be there. A range of work is now coming to the fore that begins to shape these opportunities. I’d love to hear your examples – here are some I’m looking at now.
Wrangl is an example of how open argument might look.
- networkedcllr: First comments and feedback (networkedcouncillor.wordpress.com)
- As the Elections Approach, streetlife.com Asks: Do Residents Know, or Care to Know, Their Local Councillors? (prweb.com)
- Weaving Together Online/Offline Collaboration In A Network Context (beth.typepad.com)
There are a few things I’m working on at the moment. They are erm, interesting and challenging.
The value of the social networks I’m involved in is coming to the fore. The range of knowledge, expertise and experience is remarkable. But the real quality of those people is their willingness to share their knowledge – actively. But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve been looking for opportunities for people across my organisation to gain different skills and perspectives – and share their own but in a different context. It’s partly to build interest and motivation – but also so that those staff can improve what we do, and look outward more to benefit the communities and people we work with. So it’s not just about connecting virtually – it’s about just talking, shadowing opportunities, placements, mentoring – all stuff that takes time and investment. Those networks? The people in them? Still up for it. These are people across business, the public and voluntary sectors – who see sharing knowledge and experience as a mutual benefit.
I’ve a draft post I’ve been working on – I left it for a while and now I’m going to finish it – it looks at trying to shift organisational culture to a more networked one – where we have a better chance of connecting what we do, the people doing it and the communities we work alongside. Why? Lots of reasons and because isn’t it better to use all the skills and knowledge at hand? Isn’t that just a better place to work?
So if you are reading this and are helping – thanks it’s much appreciated – a lot more than I’ve probably let you know.