Social Innovation insights at Central St Martins

I was invited by Dr Jamie Brassett, Innovation Management MA Course Director at Central St Martins to join a panel all about Social Innovation.  I was joined on the panel by Professor Lorraine Gamman and Kate Oakley PhD.  At this point, I also want to add my LLB letters to my name!  It was the inaugural “Insights Exchange” on issues of Social Innovation/Enterprise & Public sector and the new concept was to mix up the academic with the non academic practitioners.  It was attended by 1st and 2nd year Innovation Management MA students and some other interesting and interested people!

The insights I talked about and suggestions I made are based on my experience directing the Space Makers Brixton Market project Nov ’09 – Nov ’10.

1. Stakeholders – When working on a community project, like Brixton Village, the stakeholder has a broader definition that just those you would expect. They also become apparent as you progress through the project.  I was pleased when I opened this question out to the Innovation Management students that they included shoppers, present and future, to be stakeholders too.  Many of us have a public place we feel to be “our” place – it may for example be somewhere that has family meaning for us.  So true of Brixton Market. You will also find local self-organised groups that are also working on community-focussed projects that become apparent as time progresses.  Realise also that your continual communication with your (loosely termed) stakeholders actually needs to work for those that are digital and those that are not.

Physical paper Poster

2. Identify the Benefits and Beneficiaries – Again, this will evolve as you go through the project.  List out all the benefits that different groups could get from the project.  This is important in helping to communicate to people why they might want to be involved; to turn around those that may be resisting change and will set a clear vision for all those that get involved with the overall project.

3. Open Source – Embrace the diversity that throwing the gates open can bring.  I do not remember turning away any pop up activities other than for health and safety reasons or those that were in direct competition with projects in units, such as food stalls. Another example is the open meetings that we held every Tuesday night in the local pub (Dougald’s brain-child response to the sheer amount of people that were contacting us to be involved), so that anyone who wanted to get involved with activities in the market could come along. There were many collaborations formed and events curated through this.  It also brings in additional resource; people were happy to dip and out and the overall project benefited hugely from extra pairs of hands to make the space really unusual and inclusive.

4. Basic Structures – Hand in hand with the open source idea are basic structures that allow for creativity and innovation to flourish.  Yes, you need some basic rules but we were careful to keep these minimal – give people enough so that they are comfortable to experiment in the space. No idea is a bad idea and we do not know failure!  This way, the project could again, evolve, learn what worked and what could be improved upon.  An example of a basic structure was this Performance Zone that was put in place on the forecourt to encourage passing performers.

Basic Structures - Encouraging open and safe participation

5. Documentation – All community projects have loads they can teach to help other projects.  I encourage people to be open about what works, what doesn’t work and to make that publicly available throughout the live project, rather than waiting to the end. With a constant and fast moving project, you probably will already be working on improvements when you receive the feedback and it is good to show your awareness.  Take lots of photographs – great for photography student projects, and we were lucky enough to have the wonderful Andy Broomfield helping us out.  Document your processes, again, so they can be re-used by others.

6. Develop a thick skin! There will always be people that do not like change.  Some of those will work with you once you have understood their angle and they understand how in fact the project can also work to help their cause. Others never will.

For those that know the Digital Youth Project mission, you will know my view that that these projects create fantastic learning experiences for young people and I always encourage getting young people involved – the benefits they bring to a project can be huge.  You can read more about youth involvement in the Brixton Market project here.

The discussion that followed was most interesting – I picked up all sorts of new terminology and there were some heated discussions. Here was the buzz that I got; understanding the different types of social innovation; wicked social problems; how social innovation is now a label that many existing institutions are adoptin; the impact of political context on social innovation projects; how to ensure ongoing sustainability; how to measure success; accountability; how social values are exchanged, fraternalism and SO MUCH MORE!  I want to do that course!

Here is sound-bite from Jamie and one of the students:

Credits:

Katrina Damianou – who was instrumental in the Brixton project as part of her work placement from Central last year.

Andy Broomfield for fabulous photos

Please feel free to get in touch if you would like some Product Doctor advice for social innovation, community building and youth real life learning experience projects.

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