Neighbourhood forums are one of the methods for local participative democracy promoted by UK central and local government - but what do they mean in practice? We found out by inviting people to invent a place, create a forum, and tell its lifestory - all within an hour.
As Kevin Harris has mentioned on his Neighbourhoods blog, we both ran a little storytelling game this week on the theme of how to set up a local forum. It went really well, proving to me anyway that an hour's conversation among a few interested people can provide as many insights as a manual that probably won't be read much anyway.
The occasion was a Quest Trust networking event, and the reason for the particular game was that UK central and local government is pushing hard their local:vision policies for more effective citizen engagement in neighbourhoods.
One mechanism for this will be establishing neighbourhood forums to discuss local issues and action.
Sometimes challenging the brief provided by a client pays off for all concerned - and so it proved yesterday when Drew Mackie and I were invited back to Pendle for a conference on community cohesion.
The event featuring work we had done aiming to help different communities - white, Asian, rural, urban, young, old - understand each other better following riots in north west England a few years ago.
The brief put out to tender by Pendle council last year was fairly conventional - carry out a study of local attitudes that could be used as a baseline to see how far new programmes to promote cohesion increased neighbourliness and trust.
We've never been ones for clipboards on the doorstep, and prefer doing projects that lead to action and not just another report on the shelf... so we suggested something entirely different. As I've written before, we proposed that we run workshops at which residents invented fictional characters and told their life stories, so we could analyse the issues that surfaced. To our surprise, we got the job - and pressed ahead with a storytelling kit developed by Drew that we could use and also hand on to local groups to use. It's the sort of thing that could fall flat, lead to pieces in the paper about wasting money on tale-spinning focus groups, or at best a polite thank you for the report but no follow-through.
Chinese social entrepreneurs now have the benefit of some innovative (and fun) planning tools to help improve urban and rural neighbourhoods, thanks to my friend at ruralnet|uk, Jane Berry. I think Jane picked up some ideas too.
A couple of weeks back Jane called to say she was off to Beijing, and please could she have some games to take. No surprise, since she has been a collaborator with Drew Mackie and I over the past few years in developing workshop techniques to help people work out how to set up everything from online community networks to technology centres and one-stop rural service hubs.
Fortunately our development partners NIACE rushed over a couple of boxes of The Regeneration Game, and you can see the hand-over here. Jane says it was rather more than a formality, and local people at the Shining Stone Community Centre quickly put together their own version of the game which, as her official press release says, led to "heated discussions" into the evening. Some things are the same the world over.
The trip for three UK social entrepreneurs was organised by GLI - Global Links Initiative - and was supported by the British Consulate-General, Shanghai.
Report at Designing for Civil Society on how we developed and played a governance game, with instructions. There's also a report on a session at the same conference to develop communities of practice - fast.
I recently put together proposals for a potential client on how to set up a network for practitioners working in the field of community participation, and as part of that outlined a possible network planning game.
We have developed a new set of cards for the community networking game, to play with participants at a community technology conference in Brighton, UK.