Building Networks for Social Change

Building Networks For Social Change

A little while ago I attended a sustainable business talk at University Centre Shrewsbury entitled ‘The Only Way Is Open’. The talk was given by Alice Elliot, Head of Sustainability at the University of Chester and co-lead of the Good for Nothing Chester Chapter. We’d shared a few emails before the event, so it was great to get the opportunity to finally meet Alice on the night and say hello. I’d followed Good for Nothing on twitter for a while, but I had no idea how large the network was. The more we talked about Good for Nothing and the iLab it became clear that the two have very similar aims. In fact because I’ve followed Good for Nothing for a while, there’s probably a good chance that the iLab was partly inspired by their work; after all ‘there is no such thing as a new idea’.

I felt really inspired by Good for Nothing and decided to learn more about the international community which brings like-minded people together to collaborate on a range of projects, using social events/gigs to bring people together, build networks and start movements, and hack events to exploit those networks in order to design solutions which boost the growth of local small businesses and community projects. This notion of purposeful collaboration resonates with me. We’re trying to use the iLab to do just that. The recent Global Service Jam which we hosted in Shrewsbury was based on the same principles, and even shared a common goal – Doing, not talking!

Good for Nothing works by bringing together diverse groups of people to collaborate and work together in new, faster, more enjoyable and better ways; supporting ideas and people that are leading the way to what a flourishing 21st century might look like. They recognise that too often big thinking doesn’t lead to big doing and advocate for people to roll up their sleeves, have a go, get involved, participate and try stuff. I really admire the spirit of Good for Nothing and share their belief in providing a space for groups of people to come up with ideas, test them out and find ways to help them scale. When innovation is happening at the grass-roots why wouldn’t we want to support our community pioneers? It’s certainly something we’re also passionate about at the iLab.

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Alice to let me know that Good for Nothing Chester were having a social gathering on 31st March, so in the spirit of growing networks, sharing stories, making new connections, and learning from others I decided to sign up and go along. I’m really glad that I did.

Last night’s social kicked off at 6pm and was hosted at Commonhall St Social – a great venue, with lovely beer (made all the sweeter by a 10% GFN discount) and great food. We were joined by two speakers who shared their thoughts by ‘Thinking Aloud’. The two lightening talks were grouped around the theme “Robots and Rides”, and focused on technology and improving lives in Chester. Inspirational musings were provided by Gareth James of Intilery (Robots) and Matt Jones (Rides), and updates were provided by the team behind the launch of a pilot co-working space run by #IndustryChester in collaboration with #OneChair, and #MakeChester – a shared brand and tool for creating cultural change in Chester.

First up was Gareth James, CEO and founder of Intilery – Customer Engagement Management. Gareth’s talk on artificial intelligence provided a lot of food for thought and some great inspiration. We’re moving at a huge pace. We’ve come a long way since data was first being shared by communities on clay disks back in 3000 BC. During the 20th Century we saw machines being developed which made the notion of artificial intelligence a possibility. As we move further into the 21st  Century we will see machines starting to learn in new ways which will make artificial intelligence a true reality. Gareth’s talk was both humorous and informative. It’s worth looking it up on the twitter feed.

The second talk was given by Matt Jones from the University of Chester. Matt’s talk on rethinking transport for vibrant, liveable streets in Chester took us on a journey from our proud bike manufacturing/riding heyday in the early 20th Century, through to the 1950’s and 1960’s where UK cities were being ripped apart and designed around the car, through to the beginning of the 21st Century where cities are starting to rethink their planning policies to breath life back into the city centres and make them fit for the next 100 years of communal use. Matt’s talk reminded us that before the car we once had the integrated transport systems that many cities once again covert today, and by providing insight into how cities like Amsterdam are tackling the same issues, left us all with food for thought.

Both talks ended with an ‘Ask’ to leave us all with something to ponder:

  • Gareth’s Ask: If you didn’t have to work for a living, what would you do with your time?
  • Matt’s Ask: Walk, cycle, use public transport. If any of these don’t feel like the easiest, most convenient travel option for you, ask the Government for major investment in active travel.

I’m a firm believer in driving innovation through collaboration. Innovating isn’t about building up walls and creating silo’s, it’s about breaking them down, being open, and finding the right people to be inspired by, learn from, and work alongside. Growing networks can only support innovation, and in times of unprecedented change we need to challenge the old ways of working and use our networks to create a driving force for new, better ways of getting things done. It’s clear that Alice, Holly and Andy have worked really hard over the last few years to create a strong social change movement in Chester, and it’s great to see that the Chester members are starting to make a real impact in their local community. At the iLab we’ve got a little way to go, but as I reflect on last night’s social and the great work happening in Chester, I’m more convinced than ever that spending time building networks and events like Social Design Drinks and Service Jam Shrewsbury is not only worth while, but essential. We’ll be starting to plan our next Social Design Drinks event in the next couple of weeks, and I think introducing lightening talks might be a good idea, and will help us expand upon our #LabBlab in order to take it to the next level – rather than reading about what people are up to we should invite them to come and talk about it. Watch this space!

Originally written for the iLab blog in April 2016.


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