Kevin Field is a Bid Writer for a global tech company but, in his spare time, supports community groups with their digital social innovation initiatives in West Yorkshire. This as part of the Community Technology Activists Network. A background in youth work with a Local Authority and of developing new approaches to digital engagement and training in non-formal settings with a digital education charity.
The article describes Kevin’s early exploratory work with community groups in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire and the development of pilot GoosED Open Badges for increasing engagement with community participation opportunities.
For anyone unfamiliar with Open Badges, Mozilla’s openbadge.org gives a good overview. In the words of Mozilla: “Open Badges are visual tokens of achievement, affiliation, authorization, or other trust relationship sharable across the web.”
So on clicking the image to go to the GoosED Open Badge page, you may have noticed you actually landed on the Open Badge Wiki page. The reason? The Open Badge platform hosting GoosED closed in August 2019. Lesson one with Digital Social Innovation – always make a back-up somewhere as you never know when your pilot might come back to life or someone might ask you to write an article about it. On the upside, on the wiki page, you will see lots of different examples of Open Badges being used in different contexts, though not, interestingly in terms of community groups. So GoosED was something of a pioneer. On with the show…
What was GoosED about?
Firstly, where does the name GoosED come from? After consulting with a number of local community groups, it was decided that the flock of wild geese that either delights or terrifies people in the town would be a good mascot that everyone in the community of Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire would identify with. There is even a pub called ‘The Loose Goose’. The ‘ED’ was added to the end to denote education.
GoosED was an unfunded pilot initiative by a number community groups in Sowerby Bridge to develop collective tools to enable a community response to be formulated to help tackle loneliness and social isolation in the town. Sowerby Bridge is blessed with a great number of active community groups offering a wide range of participation opportunities ranging from river bank clean-ups to arts and crafts activities. From the UK National Lottery Community Fund’s ‘Bringing people together’ research we know that community participation makes a significant difference to people’s sense of wellbeing and belonging.
Where the community groups of Sowerby Bridge were struggling is how to work together to make their community participation opportunities more visible. This included enabling people in the town to explore not just a single opportunity but to explore the entire eco-system of participation that the town’s community groups could offer.
Why did you (or your partners) start this digital social innovation?
As a regular participant in community group activities people already knew about my work with Open Badges. I was asked by people from these groups to explore whether these digital tools might work in terms of making the town’s participation opportunities more visible.
I was lucky enough to spend a number of years using Open Badges with digitalme in non-formal learning settings working with a wide range of young people from young care leavers (supporting learning for independent living skills) through to young carers (supporting the development of digital skills for advocacy). The Open Badges had worked well in these pilots particularly when they were used in as stepping stones into exploring an eco-system of learning.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
The idea was already there to some extent, especially as I was able to demonstrate to the groups a project I had worked on with Voluntary Action Leeds around Open Badges for volunteering. It was then a case of co-designing something more applicable to the opportunities available in the town over a period of sessions with the community groups in the town. A lot of tea and biscuits were consumed but we also set up a social media group to be hold conversations with a wider group of people in the town to help check on and shape progress.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
The scale of the task. Whilst creating the badges themselves is fairly simple, administering them does require some training and explanation. We were hoping that we’d be able to encourage peer to peer learning to be able to make the idea scale organically and to include as many local groups as possible. This is where we made the biggest mistake, essentially trying to develop the programme without any form of funding by being overly optimistic about the level of support that would be required.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?).
This was fully intended to be a grassroots driven project based on community sensing that loneliness was an issue that people in the town were concerned with. As mentioned in the previous section ideally we’d wanted to avoid going for any form of funding to see whether the solution would scale through peer to peer/community group interaction and the shareable nature of the badges themselves.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
At this early stage we were very much piloting so we weren’t necessarily looking to attract a lot of public attention beyond the community groups and people in the town. We did, however do a lot of visiting of individual community groups to explain what we were trying to do and explaining the link between the badges and bringing community groups together around trying to combat loneliness and isolation. On reflection that message around inclusion and combatting loneliness was hampered by trying to explain the technology. We also struggled to get other community groups to act as Ambassadors to make it a small organic movement.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
Working together, we thought about all of the different types of participation opportunities that community groups were able to offer such as longer term volunteering through to one-off campaign events. We considered whether organisations should each have their own badges or whether it would be better to work together on pathways of badges. Importantly, we worked on what those pathways might look like before considering the tasks that the badges should be designed around.
The result was a trim pilot set of three GoosED badges that any local organisation in the pathway that had been trained could offer, a rough framework of pathways and the outline of a potential badge eco-system so a person taking a badge would hopefully stay more engaged by being able to identify other opportunities.
This framework covered themes from ‘Environmental’ through to ‘Arts and Crafts’. Here is what the initial pathway starter badges to pilot looked like. These were very simple introductory badges for recognising participation in craft, town fundraising and art activities with a view to building on these over time.
As the platform has now been decommissioned, I am having to re-construct from memory. The badges themselves were very simple in terms of tasks:
- Show us/tell us about how you participated
- Tell us how your participation made you feel? (monitoring impact on wellbeing)
- What might you like to participate in next? (signposting)
- Tell someone about your badge (engaging others)
- What opportunities do you think the community could offer but doesn’t? (identifying other potential participation opportunities)
At this stage we were not designing directly with badge earners, we were intending to use these pilot badges for iterating to give users a better sense of what Open Badges were by having examples.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DYI fundraising?
We didn’t and, as reflected earlier, this was probably the largest mistake made. Whilst the badges themselves look very simple from the picture above, the community organising work to get to this stage was significant this even before testing and iterating with Badge earners themselves. DIY fundraising for digital for social is a tricky one as it’s harder to explain than direct community impact work. For me, this would need to be a funded project to be successful – potentially looking at ‘tech for good’ type grants though I would warmly welcome people’s thoughts on this.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
Sadly GoosED never really got close to scaling and I would completely change the approach for anyone else thinking this could be something that might work in their community to improve its potential for scaling.
I would look to identify groups that already have close working relationships rather than trying to bring disparate groups together so there is a natural scaling path and focus efforts here to get this part right for piloting. I would also look to simplify all of the messaging used. Reading through my own article it introduces a lot of unfamiliar language at a community level, for example ‘eco-system’, ‘pathways’, ‘frameworks’, as well introducing a new technology and to top it off talking about ‘isolation’ and ‘inclusion’.
How do you change the whole system?
So ultimately how was GoosED trying to change the system? It was intended to give community groups agency to tackle loneliness and exclusion rather than reliance on Government/Council initiatives. It was aiming to encourage improvements in digital literacy in Civil Society through an applied project that was of community concern and also intended to help to address the digital divide. The Open Badges themselves have a mission to democratise accreditation and recognition by enabling other organisations outside of Further Education and Higher Education as well as potentially acting as a vehicle for peer to peer recognition.
I think there is power in the community-enabling idea that GoosED was attempting to pilot but the execution would need much greater thought. The interest levels in Open Badges in relation to community and place still very much exists and, as you’ll remember from the Open Badges wiki page, it is very much an unexplored area so there is an opportunity for someone to lead the way outside of formal education contexts.
What advice can you give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
Keep it really small to start off with and learn as much as you can from it. GoosED looks small but in reality it was a lot of effort to get even to that stage. Sometimes things just don’t work despite your passion and being able to see how it could work can be very frustrating. Just make sure you share your learning and your efforts won’t be in vain. People reading this might spot something in the ideas for their community groups and a really successful digital social innovation might result.
Kevin splits his time between corporate innovation projects as Northern Power Mouse and in support of a network of VCSE’s in West Yorkshire through the Community Technology Activists Network to develop digital social innovation pilots. Kevin’s background is diverse having been a Senior Youth Worker and an educational workshop writer amongst others. Kevin has managed UK National Funded projects focusing on digital engagement/inclusion and projects through the Erasmus + programme. In the dim and distant past, a student and holds a BA in Politics and Sociology and MSc in Information Management. Kevin has a keen interest in technology for civic participation, citizen observatories, distance learning and is a singer in an acoustic punk band. Kevin is registered through CTAN as an Online Network Centre as part of the Good Things Foundation network and is looking forward to getting more involved in direct delivery of digital literacy programmes in the future.
Badge and logo images with thanks to Kevin Roberts at My Next Chapter for his graphic design support for GoosED.
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