Weeknotes 2021
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Weeknotes 2021

Weeknotes 2021-week 29

This week I’ve been looking for freedom

What is freedom? This is the question asked by philosophers through the ages — Arendt, Rousseau, Marx. I wonder what they would have made of the so-called Freedom Day on Monday:

People of Britain unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains…and potentially your freedom when you get pinged by the NHS app. And potentially your life if you catch covid. But it will definitely be worth it so that we can all get back to queuing up at bars, and feel the sweet, bitter jab of someone’s elbow to our ribs.

And on that note, here’s what I’ve been doing with my freedom this week.

It was heartening to see Earth’s richest man blasting off to the edge of space this week, as for 10 minutes the world was slightly more equal. But it was a useful reminder that the future is still up for grabs, and those currently shaping the narrative don’t necessarily have everyone else’s interests front and centre of their minds.

This was a central theme at a workshop I attended this week about community tech —how can communities imagine a future they can see themselves in with regards to tech and data? Working with the team at Careful Industries, we are exploring what we can do to support the growth and development of community tech, which is produced by and for communities. The research to date shows there are a range of facilitators of this movement — from dedicated, long-term funding to raising standards to providing access to the right skills and peer support, but the next step for us is prioritising where we can influence most and best, and pulling the right levers for change. We’ve big plans for disrupting the status quo in this area, and will be publishing the first report explaining more later in the summer.

As the sun rose on a newly liberated Britain, the people rose to form orderly queues at bars across the country. And if that was you, I hope you were able to patronise one of the estimated 120 community-owned pubs that now exist in England. Supporting community-owned pubs is one of the best examples of Power to Change’s impact to date. Whereas previously it had taken 30 years for the UK to reach 60 pubs in community ownership, within five years of delivering our More than a Pub programme, the number has doubled. You can read more about the impact of this work in the final evaluation report and learning paper, both published this week.

The shadow of covid also loomed over another internal workshop this week, where we reviewed what we have learnt from delivering our ‘Renewal’ initiative, the optimistically titled programme of activities we launched back in October after Boris promised us this would all be over by the Christmas he later cancelled. The workshop, facilitated by Reos partners, primarily focused on process learning, as there was a lot we delivered via Renewal that was new to us and will inform how we work going forward. Key practices we piloted that we plan to take forward include:

  • Making a relational approach to engaging with community business our core delivery approach
  • Continuing to provide a positive experience for community business, drawing on what we’ve learnt from deploying more user-centered design, continuous improvement and iteration, and pre-application support
  • Continuing with a data-led approach to meet our aims around equity (and continuing to improve it)
  • Expanding our offer of unrestricted grants

There is a positive commitment at all levels of the organisation to make these changes happen, as they are essential for facilitating the change we aim to bring about.

Speaking of which, we also held another small workshop generating ideas for how to best share and disseminate our new organisational Theory of Change with internal and external stakeholders. A theory of change is:

a description of why a particular way of working will be effective, showing how change happens in the short, medium and long term to achieve the intended impact. It can be represented in a visual diagram, as a narrative, or both.

The process of creating a theory of change is often as useful as the final product, as it helps tease out unspoken assumptions and identifies potential gaps and development areas for organisational strategy. The final product is a useful way of ensuring everyone has a common reference point for describing our work and ambitions, as well as providing a framework for performance and impact measurements.

But what we’ve also realised is that we need different ways of articulating this model of change, as not everyone is au fait with complex diagrams. So we’ve been looking to the work of others for inspiration, and so I thought I’d share some in case others are also in need of similar inspiration:

  • National Lottery Community Fund — Civil Society Approach: a long-form and descriptive overview of the change they are trying to support with some allusion to how they hope to do it
  • RSA — Animate series: this format is now well established and associated with them, but this animation in particular does well to present a complex theory more simply.
  • RSA — Living Change Approach: a simply presented overview of their approach to stimulating social change, including links to pages with more detail on how they do it plus examples and case studies to bring it to life
  • UnLtd — theory of change: another simply presented theory of change, explaining why they do what they do, how, and the change they expect to see as a result.

We’re going to be producing something similar to one of these, and publish during August, so watch this space!

While this week was absolutely scorchio, did you know that most sunscreen is actually bad for marine life? I didn’t either until earlier this week, when I attended the last instalment of a course on the climate and nature emergency. Most of our staff attended as we seek to put our commitment to tackling these challenges into more concrete action, and besides already investing millions into community-owned renewables, we’re now offering free places on a five-week course for community business leaders to help them do the same— please spread the word.

So as we go into the weekend to celebrate our rediscovered freedoms, remember the words of perhaps the greatest scholar on liberty ever — David Hasselhoff:

I’ve been looking for freedom
I’ve been looking so long
I’ve been looking for freedom
Still the search goes on

Simply das beste!



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Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller


Social researcher and writer. Putting theory into practice, to make the world a better place.