In the 1st Deep Dive into the Participatory City approach we look at the powerful role of creating a mainstream Neighbourhood Collaborative Brand and communications platform for building practical participation into the fabric of everyday life.
People have been asking for more in-depth insights into particular aspects of the Participatory City approach. As we come out of the pandemic and turn our attention to longer term planning for the future, we will need to think about how we can live and work together more closely. We have had the single biggest shared experience of human separation we have ever had, across the entire globe. We have seen the extraordinary negative impact of living apart, on our societies and economies, but also experienced it first-hand as individuals and families and households.
We are social animals, hard-wired to connect with one another, work together, be together. When we are apart, we decline, emotionally, mentally and physically. There are rafts of scientific research which supports this. Data shows us that loneliness has a higher mortality risk than smoking or obesity, we literally die sooner if we are not close to others. Covid’s toll on our mental health is surfacing across the country, and across the world.
And so if being apart is so negative, should we be building a new way of life — designed for being together instead?
If we design our social systems with the grain of human nature i.e. drawing on our intrinsic need and desire to be and work together, could we be looking at a Natural Social Solution to our many challenges.
Over the last three years we have been testing this idea across the borough of Barking and Dagenham in East London.
A collaborative brand is made by the people participating
Developing the idea of a Neighbourhood Collaborative Brand for the Every One Every Day initiative in Barking and Dagenham has been designed to ensure that all participation is co-owned and co-created by the fast-growing network of participants, and eventually everyone.
We believe that whatever the challenges a neighbourhood may be experiencing, people and their participating together is one the most important and most inspiring ways of addressing those issues.
Every One Every Day is about making it possible for every single person to find a space to contribute and benefit from participating with their neighbours.
The identity of Every One Every Day, and its associated strap line ‘Neighbourhoods made by everyone, for everyone” is the underlying platform identity through which all programme communications are promoted.
The aim of building practical participation into the everyday life of people living in a neighbourhood requires a very different approach to branding and communications than many social projects. It requires that the branding be much more mainstream and universal in order to appeal to a mass audience. By comparison, many community projects, environmental or social initiatives have traditionally favoured a look and feel which reflects a more targeted approach, based on the problem they are working on, or the type of volunteers they are looking for. But this approach to design is changing rapidly.
The communications need to stand out from anything people will have seen before. They need to compete with all the enticements of mainstream entertainments such as watching tv or commercial marketing. And unlike political campaigning which needs to mirror the electorate, it instead needs to provide a platform on which people from every walk of life, every belief system or culture can be attracted to, feel welcome and included. It needs to be aspirational, giving a glimpse of a social, connected, local way of life that is beautiful and uplifting.
Our aim has been to have a bright, clean, friendly and modern base identity — to be as visually ‘common denominator’ as possible. This importantly includes the Every One Every Day spaces.
People need to feel comfortable and able to add their unique ideas, personalities and culture — and through their participation continue to add more and more to the richness and beauty of what a truly collaborative neighbourhood (and it’s brand) might mean in its fullest sense.
By this description I would describe a Neighbourhood Collaborative Brand as ‘the sum total of all the people, ideas, activities and outcomes that create a place, excluding no one.’
The brand is the people and what they do and create together. The identity is only the recognised name and symbol, and this is also important, but nowhere near as important as what the brand becomes through the participation of thousands of diverse, creative and incredible local people.
The brand also becomes the feelings experienced through the mutual generation of friendships, creative enegeries, trust and optimism.
It’s a heady mixture that adds up to what people experience when they are participating, feeling invited, welcomed, accepted, valued, happy.
It was very friendly, there were bright colours, there were plants in the windows, and I thought ‘wow, nature,’ and lots of different race people together laughing, I thought ‘this is nice.’ Barking and Dagenham Resident
It’s about how they valued each and every person — it gives you that confidence that you’re being listened to, you’re being valued. Barking and Dagenham Resident
The shift is in the general view of the area. I didn’t like it before. I like it now. I see potential and I’m thinking of staying. The shop helps paint that picture and highlight all the positives that are happening. If there’s one space where there’s hardly any negative news, where people just talk about potential, where people think bigger, where people like facing those questions of potentiality and all that stuff. I feel like that’s what’s happening in the shop the most. So that’s the main shift. It manifests itself in happiness. Smiling more, actually saying ‘I feel more happy’. People actually expressing it in words. People looking forward to coming to the shop and being a part of the project and anticipating what’s next. I think those are the things that I see the most. Barking and Dagenham Resident
A neighbourhood collaborative brand has to be effective
Effective branding and communications are a ‘make or break’ element of the Participatory City approach. It is not a superficial outside wrapper to the project. It’s fundamental to the success of achieving the very high levels of participation that we believe are needed to build real outcomes for sustainable and regenerative neighbourhoods through peer-to-peer participation.
The first measure of effectiveness for Every On Every Day has been to ensure that participation is inclusive of age, culture, background etc. For this to happen the participation opportunities and programmes themselves need to be designed to overcome as many of the known barriers to participation as possible. The chart below shows some of our analysis about the practical and human factors which we have found serve as barriers to participation — which we attempt to ‘design out’. These include co-creating a vast and diverse number of participation opportunities so that people can find an entry point into participating that fits with the demands of their lives, their interests and skills. Further examples include ensuring that children are welcome at nearly every single session — enabling children to participate alongside their parents, and enabling parents to participate freely without worrying about childcare (and the costs that often comes with this) — through to taking care that no one experiences labelling and stigmatisation.
I never felt this sense of community engagement or the warmth, or the sharing of food and knowledge and recipes. I’ve seen kids that had never played with each other before had already taken ownership of what they were doing, and play with each other, and their parents were meeting each other and talking and it was just really nice — I’ve never felt it before. Barking and Dagenham Resident
My confidence to be honest was the major thing that I notice, my confidence and not being afraid to mix with people that don’t look like me, don’t cook like me, don’t speak the same language as me, don’t believe the same faith and breaking down those barriers and being able to communicate and get to know each other. I found that we didn’t even speak about our differences. The more we spoke, we kept meeting each other in the things that we were similar to. Barking and Dagenham Resident
The second measure of effectiveness for Every One Every Day is the amount of participation achieved, people actually leaving the comfort of their homes and venturing into shared spaces to do practical and productive activities with their neighbours, peer-to-peer and on an equal footing.
The third measure of effectiveness is people coming back to participate, time and time again, in order that the direct and immediate effects of these interactions add up over time, for themselves as individuals, for family and friends and for the neighbourhoods. Participation has to move from an extraordinary action, performed by small groups of heroic individuals, to a different, more sustainable way of life.
I think that welcoming atmosphere has been the most important thing. If there was any point that I didn’t feel that, that would have been a deciding factor as to whether I would have come back. I had such a ridiculously nice evening, the first time I came, that set the tone. Barking and Dagenham Resident
A Neighbourhood Collaborative Brand has to be co-created
The ability of the Every One Every Day participation to take root at the heart of neighbourhoods is dependent upon being able to communicate with residents in multiple, diverse and engaging ways.
Our starting point are talents, energies and ideas — these are the building blocks.
The programmes and communications are designed to surface, attract and knit together those talents and energies. The projects themselves are based around ‘common-denominator’ activities capable of appealing to any and all residents in any neighbourhood, so communications are designed on the same basis, mainstreaming neighbourhood participation and aiming to be invitational to all residents as opposed to targeted at some.
The neighbourhood collaborative brand and communications take responsibility of giving every project idea that a resident wants to test out with neighbours the very best chance of success.
The Every One Every Day shop fronts
Every One Every Day project and activity incubator shops are not retail environments. However, as highly visible and accessibly location spaces they are one of the primary communication vehicles for the initiative.
Like any shop, they are openly accessible to the general public, and located in places where people pass by during their daily lives. This means the barrier to entry into participation is kept extremely low, and behaviours associated with shops, such as looking into windows to see what is happening, popping your head round the door, coming into look around and leaving when you want to — these all add up to making people feel very comfortable about coming in for the first time.
They are designed to be visually engaging with large windows which serve to intrigue and attract passers by with the highly visible activities taking place within the shop. Our experience since using shop fronts as a key component of making this approach work has been that shops also let people watch and see participation taking place, often by walking past repeatedly when the shop is buzzing, before they actively participate. It takes very many people a lot of time and confidence to participate, however attractive or beneficial it seems.
The shops are designed to show what public infrastructure could be if it was shaped around people, rather than requiring people to shape themselves around it.
Every One Every Day newspapers
Newspapers are an indispensable part of the communications strategy. Their primary function is to share the details of Every One Every Day activities taking place in festivals and programmes with residents within a highly localised geographical area around the shops.
Newspapers have been door-dropped to all households within a 20 minute walk of the location of programme activities and over the first two years approximately 210,000 copies have been distributed to residents, local businesses and organisations, and other partners in Barking and Dagenham.
My first experiment with door-dropping newspapers was in West Norwood with the Open Works projects. The newspaper proved to be a complete game changer on a number of levels.
Before the newspapers we relied on flyers, posters, social media and existing networks. That may sound a lot but it really isn’t effective. These media limit the message and the story to a minimum, which is fine if you are selling something straightforward.
If on the other hand you aren’t selling anything, but are instead inviting everyone into a new way of thinking about their neighbourhood, and their role in it, you need more space to do that. The newspapers enable you to gently build a story through the showing the collection of people, projects and activities. You are able to surface and show the delightful talents and ideas of the real people who are hosting these activities — personalities and skills are revealed that mostly remain hidden from sight.
Our experience is that in most of the places we have worked the existing networks are not as extensive and far-reaching as people often assume. These networks also generally include people who are already connected and often involved in some kind of activity. Thus the networks are wonderful for kickstarting early collaboration, but they are not able to reach the much greater proportion of people who can benefit from and contribute to practical participation enormously.
The Every One Every Day newspapers go directly to people’s homes, and with 30–44 pages of exciting participation projects and opportunities they are able to build a positive and optimistic narrative about residents who are already working together and shaping the everyday experience of living in these neighbourhoods. This in itself is very inspiring, it completely changes perceptions and it creates a very bright and compelling picture that encourages people to participate for the first time.
The story of co-creating the Spring 2020 Every One Every Day newspaper
The newspapers are also an extraordinary story of of co-creation with residents that I wanted to share with you in more detail.
By the end of 2019 we had 5 different editions of the newspaper being published — each about 48 pages. Roughly around 50% of each of the editions were common events and pages, opportunities that would appeal across the borough. The other 50% of each edition were local opportunities — projects and activities within a 20 minutes radius of the 5 shop locations.
For the Spring 2020 newspaper (published on the 20 Feb 2020) we decided for the first time to publish one newspaper and to include every single session that was happening across the whole borough — so that everyone could see the full range of opportunities available to them to participate.
By Spring 2020 the number of projects and activities had grown exponentially. For the 8 week Spring Programme there were a total of 351 different sessions and events planned.
For your delight can I draw your attention below to the Family Cook section and the session hosted by Jenele and Jayden —
Hello we are a brother and sister duo, Jenelle (3 years old) and Jayden (12 years old). We both love cooking and making delicious food.
Come and learn how to make easy mini pizza quiches with veggies and cheese along with some yummy oreo milkshake!
The process of co-designing and co-creating the newspaper is exhilarating and stressful. At this scale it also feels like some kind magic must be involved. The sheer volume of people, conversations, sessions, words, text that need to come together, and to a very specific deadline, can at moments feel a little overwhelming.
Below is a process diagram for the Spring 2020 newspaper.
Describing the process
On the left is where the human magic happens. At roughly 5–8 conversations with the residents hosting each session you would estimate about 1,500–2,500 conversations between around 500 residents hosting sessions and the 15 Project/Programme Designers on the Every One Every Day team. These conversations and relationships begin way before the more detailed ones about hosting, and start from the first time the resident enters the shop or participates in an activity for the first time. These conversations are completely person focused, a discovery process aimed at understanding a person’s interests, ideas, skills, confidence and dreams. What do you want to learn, who would you like to meet, what would like to host, how can your neighbours help you develop your ideas and how can our team help you test some of those ideas with others?
My best memory is the arm that is open for me just to come in, bring your ideas, show us what you want to do, and we will support you. This is what I heard, and even now I’m still hearing it. Show us your ideas, and we can support you, we can help you, wherever we can, and I love that — it makes you feel comfortable, accepted. Barking and Dagneham Resident
It felt like a community of people talking and I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until I walked in and then I was greeted by a member of shop team. They were in their planning stages I guess of what they were going to do. I told them about myself and my gifts and they put me in their plan. Barking and Dagenham Resident
These conversations need to produce text and find images for each session — working to give every session the best possible chance of attracting participants. Anyone reading this and who has arranged something and no one turn up, I certainly have, will know what that feels like. We do everything possible to share that sense of risk with residents, working with them shoulder to shoulder to build their confidence to host something with their neighbours. And because our approach is human centred, hosting is about creating opportunities for people to grow their confidence and skills, rather than viewing people as a resource.
They are like ‘of course you can do it! — give it a go!’ and I think the transparency of ‘we’re just testing — it might not work this time, but we’ll do it again’. I think that for me that’s been a real game-changer because I used to try things, they didn’t work, I’d stop. It just shifted something, where I started to think ‘well if it didn’t go well…if it didn’t quite work, what didn’t work about it?’ So it was also about becoming more reflective… ‘well that’s how they do it so there must be something to this, if they’re just testing and tweaking maybe I can test and tweak.’ Barking and Dagenham Resident
This huge number of people, conversations and ideas need to be captured, organised, designed and communicated and we now have a raft of collaboration systems that make this possible. We didn’t have these systems in the early days of the project, and the huge number of people wanting to be involved in the second programme took us by surprise. It was completely crazy, we had to develop the systems fast!
We use google docs to create a tracker to convert the conversations and ideas into projects and sessions, with dates and times and locations in an overall designed programme of activity. We use shared copy documents, that change colour as they get draft and finalised. Some residents love to get involved in writing copy and finding images, others prefer us to get on with it on their behalf. Anyway, for Spring 2020 newspaper there were just over 38,000 words drafted plus 318 images and brought together by about 500 people over a 6 week period. That’s one hell of a collaboration effort!
Bringing it all together
Although the flow chart above looks like the design is done at the end, the design process starts right at the beginning with laying out the spreads — and these get developed and changed continuously as the programmes emerges and become firmer. The end design phase also includeds a lot of proofing and checking before the paper goes to print.
Sadly the majority of the Spring Programme was postponed due to Covid — but it will be coming back soon!
To find out more please see Tools to Act report.