Finding Community-led Design Projects

November 29th, 2012 by Gail Ramster in Community-led Design | no comments

At the end of September 2012 we held a workshop to find out what types of media are used by  community-led design projects.

I’ve written before about how we will research the ways in which community projects harness assets (time, skills, spaces..) in their own networks to achieve new things, so I thought I’d write about how I – eventually – found participants to invite to our own workshop through similar network effects.

We outlined a plan for the workshop two months in advance. We designed the morning to suit 20 people, with activities that would meet our objectives whilst also allowing participants to network, share experiences and get ideas from each other. To make it more special, we would hold it in the Senior Common Room, with coffee, pastries, and a tour of an exhibition afterwards. As people were giving up their time, the event needed to be mutually beneficial. We made a nice invite to explain.

The next challenge was finding community-led design projects to invite!

Nesta, our research partner, had a network of 17 projects that were involved in really interesting community-led activities, and who had participated in their Neighbourhood Challenge. There were very few that were London-based, but I contacted the two most appropriate and crossed my fingers.

Who next?

I’d read via a Twitter link about the National Lottery-funded project Big Local, which had awarded 100 communities £1 million each for community-led projects. To me this seemed like a scaled-up version of the Neighbourhood Challenge. I contacted the Big Local via their website to ask if the invite was something that they would share.

I then had a very worrying week where no one replied at all.

What should I try now?

I tried our own networks. I had a meeting with an ex-employee of our research centre who now worked at Design for London, part of the Greater London Authority. Him and his colleague suggested widening our scope to neighbourhood forums. Neighbourhood forums are created by local people in order to develop neighbourhood plans, which are part of the new localism agenda. The Design for London guys also named some specific projects, and some organisations who work with community-led projects: Groundwork London and Meanwhile Space. I emailed both.

I also extended my ‘cold-calling‘ approach by emailing Lambeth Council. I’d read lots via Twitter about how Lambeth had declared themselves a ‘Co-operative Council’ so I thought that they might have their own networks of community-led projects who might be interested in our workshop.

Then – happy day – my first reply! The Big Local Trust had found my email in their spam folder!

They thought the workshop sounded very appropriate and shared it with their representatives via their forum and Twitter. One of the Neighbourhood Challenge projects, The Mill in Walthamstow, also replied though couldn’t yet commit. It had now been over a month and still I had no participants, but at least the word was spreading!

Meanwhile, the second Nesta Neighbourhood Challenge group replied to say they’d gone into administration.

Luckily, I still hadn’t followed all leads. I had not yet looked into neighbourhood forums, so I read through the Department of Communities and Local Government’s ‘Frontrunner‘ projects. These are a group of neighbourhood forums awarded £20000 each to develop neighbourhood plans. I searched the internet for contact details for those in London. The Design for London guys had also mentioned Camden Council‘s ambitions to have neighbourhood plans throughout their borough, so I emailed them too.

Finally my luck changed! Camden Council had shared the invite with their network and a lady from Kentish Town Neighbourhood Forum replied wishing to come.

My first attendee!

Slowly, all of the emails that I had sent out began to pay off.

A Big Local project representative got in touch, having seen it on their forum. Groundwork London had sent the invite out to several groups, and sent me a list of half a dozen who had expressed an interest. Meanwhile Space replied asking to attend themselves. Lambeth Council invited me to a meeting, which lead to them sharing the invite with a couple of their networks. Last but not least, a couple more neighbourhood forums replied.

We now had a great range of projects. The only extra invites that I sent were to a couple of Neighbourhood Challenge projects outside of London, and a Big Local project in my own neighbourhood, as I really wanted them to come, and I knew I’d be able to contact a local resident on the committee through a local online forum. Local knowledge really helps!

Through our partners, our ex-colleagues, and things I’d read on Twitter and a local forum, we’d found our participants. The very last person to join heard about it simply through word-of-mouth!

RCA media workshop

22 people signed up, although over the 2 months I must have sent 35 to 40 speculative emails, either to specific projects or to organisations with networks. I would estimate that about a quarter of these emails I didn’t receive a reply to at all.

Illness and work meant a few last minute drop-outs, so we had 17 on the day from 13 projects. The ‘media use in community-led design projects‘ workshop participants were as follows:

RCA media workshop

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