Something in the air

Reggae and dub pioneer, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Image: TechLT on Flickr

Thunderclap Newman memorably sang, ‘call out the instigators because there’s something in the air‘. I think they were saying that the summer of love would bring about an end to the old hierarchies and usher in new and progressive ways of doing things, possibly involving duffel coats and beads. But in a  tenuous (yet nonetheless real) sense I think this hippie anthem could be speaking about my life right now, as I sit on my sofa in good old Forest Hill.

For me, change is in the air and, as the MC5 would say, it’s like drowning in molasses.  Over the past month or so I’ve been gearing up for a shift in my working life. From here on in, I will be contributing to thinkpublic’s work on a project-by-project basis, alongside working on social innovation projects for different organisations.

In the midst of all this change I have also been giving some thought to the second part of Thunderclap’s lyric. Namely, ‘we’ve got to get together sooner or later because the revolution’s here’. Now, wiser heads than I might contend that it’s probably ill-advised to invest this much meaning in a pop song, but I am nonetheless determined to use this period of change in mind life to help us get together sooner or later.

And how do I plan to bring about said revolution? Given the parlous state of the global economy and the general uncertainty which we face day-to-day, I believe we will get together over 70s reggae and dub. Without going into too much beard-stroking analysis, I believe music from this period manages to combine sorrow, hope and fun with amazing sonic experimentation. And if my words aren’t doing anything for you, just check out this seminal track from King Tubby:

It’s still early days yet but I am convinced reggae music in general and dub in particular has a unique ability to bring people of different ages, races and backgrounds together. Over the coming weeks I’ll be exploring how I can develop this idea in my spare time. If nothing else, planning my dub revolution might be a refreshing tonic as I adjust to my new life as an associate.

Join my dub (club)

Do you share my belief in the power of reggae and dub? Would you be interested in exploring how this amazing music could be used to help people together and increase the wellbeing of our society? If so, drop me a line and let’s look to over(under)stand the issues.

Every revolution needs a soundtrack

Here are some choice tracks to let you know where I’m coming from:

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Dub Revolution

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – In These Times Dub

The Clash – Police & Thieves (a punk cover of a reggae classic, encapsulating the music’s power to bring people together)

The Longest Marathon in the World

Runners gearing up for the 27th Marathon Du Medoc

“Man does not live on social innovation alone.” With this in mind, I travelled with Sarah to the Medoc region of France last week for a short break last week with Sarah’s Mum and Dad.

The main focus of our trip was the 27th Marathon du Medoc on Sunday, which Sarah’s Dad was running for the eighth time. Originally, Sarah had planned to run the marathon too but unfortunately a lingering knee injury meant she joined me in the the spectators/hangers on camp.

Besides the marathon itself, perhaps the best part of the trip was getting to stay with two lovely French families, who Sarah’s Mum and Dad have been staying with, on and off, for the past eight years. It’s a cliche, but by spending time with the families I felt I got a better appreciation of what Medoc life is really like. And of course I just about coped with all the lovely home-cooked food and Medoc wines we were kindly served by our hosts.

Dominic Strauss-Kahn runs away from his recent troubles

The Marathon Du Medoc was a fantastic experience. Billed as ‘the longest marathon in the world’ because of the opportunities  to sample en route the food and drink of the Medoc region, runners start out in the town of Paulliac before going on a magical mystery tour of the surrounding chateauxs and vineyeards, including the world famous Chateaux Lafite Rothschild.

JC puts in a respectable, but not great, performance at Medoc

Attending the marathon, what  you most is a sense of fun. Fancy dress is compulsory. But unlike in the UK, where stag and hen parties seem to have given fancy dress a bad name, the runners at Medoc seemed to have embraced a genuinely eccentric spirit. Furthermore, how can you not admire  a serious running event where participants are actively encouraged to sample oysters, steak, wine and ice cream as they try to run 26 miles in 30+ degree heat?

Sarah’s Dad looking surprisingly fresh for someone who’s just run 26 miles

I’m pleased to say that Sarah’s Dad managed to complete the marathon, despite (or should that be thanks to?) having his fair share of Medoc produce. He clocked in at around 5 hours and 20 minutes. Not bad for a man of 63. And while I can’t say his achievement has inspired me to sign up for next year’s marathon, it has already encouraged me to get out running in Forest Hill once this week.

It would be cool to hear from anyone else who found themselves at the marathon this year.  What did you make of it all? Do you think a Marathon like Medoc could work in the UK or is this  strictly a French fancy?

Selected Works – my blogs from the past year

Source: davidking, Flickr

Following on from the personal triumph that was my first blog post yesterday I thought I would strike while the iron was hot (not to fall back on well-worn cliches) and write a blog which pulls together the policy and social innovations blogs I’ve written in the past year or so. Let’s go.

The first work-related blog I wrote was for The Guardian Local Government Network, which launched last autumn. I had originally approached The Guardian’s Society supplement with a view to contributing articles but when Jane Dudman told me The Guardian would shortly be launching a Local Government Network, I decided it might be a better idea to start off by writing a blog for the network.

You can read my first blog, which looks at what the Big Society has to offer Local Government, by clicking here.

Buoyed by seeing my name in pixels, I set about writing my next blog for the network. But like bands struggling with their ‘difficult second album’ I, too, struggled to come to terms with my new-found fame.* True, unlike The Stone Roses I had not been sidetracked by chemical temptations. Nonetheless, there were  moments when I felt genuinely unsure where the next 400 words of inspiration would come from.

Fortunately for me, early in the new year Lambeth Council published The Co-operative Council – Sharing Power: A new settlement between citizens and the state and, thanks to having until recently worked for Lambeth, I was asked to comment on whether the council’s vision for the future could survive the unprecedented reductions in public spending.

You can read my blog on The Co-operative Council by clicking here.

In the spring of this year my blogging temporarily took a back seat as I got to grips with my new role as Communications & Policy Lead for the social design agency thinkpublic. Instead, I had to content myself with developing solutions to complex social challenges and writing formal service design and social research reports. But luckily in June I had the chance to write again for the network, this time on the findings of our work at thinkpublic with families with mutliple and complex needs.

You can read my blog on finding better ways of supporting families with complex need by clicking here.

Having gotten into blogging once again, I was inspired to write about my experiences at the Google-FutureGov Interactivism Hack event, which I attended along with my thinkpublic colleague @joesmithdesign. The event, which took place over two days on Brick Lane, brought together the best student developers, Googlers, designers and other social innovators worked in crack teams to hack a better web that overcomes the barriers that stand in the way of older people accessing the web.

You can read about my time at Interactivism, including details of my team’s prize-winning Spotted  mobile app to promote real world accessibility for people, by clicking here.

That’s it for now. I’m hoping to get back into blogging for the network and other sites in the weeks and months ahead. If you know of any good opportunities to comment on policy and social innovation matters, feel free to drop me a line.

* Fame for me consisted of a handful of friends and family saying well done AFTER I had sent them a direct link to my post. Not to be confused with David Bowie’s Fame.

Becoming Intensely Relaxed

There’s certainly been plenty to think about this past year.
I thought I’d kick start my new blog by setting out where things are at with me currently and what I hope to get from blogging.
If asked to choose one word that describes my life it would probably be changeable. Perhaps the biggest change has been moving from a fairly traditional/well-defined policy career in local government last year for a far more fluid and personally satisfying role promoting social innovation at the social design agency thinkpublic.
Beyond work, there have also been some major changes in my personal life. Last autumn my girlfriend and I moved in together and this June we moved about half a mile up the road to a new flat in Forest Hill.
The process of making changes to my career was not entirely trouble-free. After leaving a fairly senior role at Lambeth Council I thought my knowledge of public policy and strategy, not to mention my unfailing affability, would stand me in good stead when it came to finding a new job. Sadly, the Coalition Government in general and Eric Pickles in particular had other ideas; I was seeking gainful employment within the public sector at precisely the time when unprecedented public spending reductions meant most of the traffic was going in the other direction.
Looking back, my fortunes began to change when I re-connected by chance with Carrie Bishop, who I had first met back on the NGDP training scheme. By now Carrie was working for the social innovation consultancy FutureGov and, by all accounts, finding it a lot more enjoyable than working directly for local government. Carrie introduced me to Twitter. Carrie also invited me to attend the City Camp London FutureGov were organising.
                                                                                                                 
Attending City Camp London gave me the push I needed to make moves in a number of ways. It gave me the confidence to continue writing blogs on a freelance basis for The Guardian Local Government Network. It also connected me to a whole bunch of new and inspiring people working loosely in the field of social innovation. Through meeting these people I re-discovered my passion for making a positive contribution to society which had first led me into local government. On a more practical level, it also led to some much-appreciated work, first freelancing as conference facilitator at an LGIDevent, then the offer of three month’s work as a project manager at FutureGov.
It was whilst working for FutureGov that I first became aware of thinkpublic and its approach of using design and other creative techniques to develop solutions to complex social challenges. With my renewed confidence, I successfully applied to become of the company’s first ever role of Communications & Policy Lead and took up the position full time in March.
I have gained so much from thinkpublic. I’ve been fortunate to work with incredibly passionate and talented people. Through them, I’ve come to understand how much design thinking can contribute to solutions to complex social issues. I’ve had the chance to lead multi-disciplinary teams looking at everything from the future of online public services to the Big Society. I’ve also learned a lot more about the business side of things, from costing proposals to pitching for new work. And through it all I’ve very much enjoyed being part of thinkpublic’s much admired/coveted staff lunches, which have consistently offered up a huge variety of tasty food.
Now, after six months at thinkpublic, things are changing once more.  Due to the general economic climates and changes to the public sector thinkpublic is re-thinking its business model and re-structuring. As a consequence of this, from the middle of this month I will be working for thinkpublic on an associate basis. Naturally, this brings with it a degree of uncertainty. But at the same time it also offers me the chance to get involved in a wider range projects for different organisations and pursue issues that I am passionate about.
Looking ahead, I am hoping to use this blog to capture the changes I am experiencing in my career and reflect on them I also plan to use the blog to comment on the public policy and social innovation work I become involved with in the weeks and months ahead. Besides using the blog for work purposes, I will hopefully also find the time to write about stuff that’s going on in my life outside of work, such as music, photography and film.
Thanks for sticking with me for my first blog. I promise to work on the whole brevity thing and maybe even bring in a little humour to future posts. 
Francis