in City Hall, food waste, Innovation, Plan ZHeroes, policy, Political Innovation, Politics, Side Kick Studios, social innovation, The Amazings

Meeting People is Easy: The World of Innovation beyond SE23

The Plan ZHeroes team at City Hall, 15th Feb 2012

February is traditionally the time of year when New Year’s Resolutions, if they haven’t done so already, fall by the wayside. With this thought in mind, and inspired by the great work my friend Craig Ennis is still doing on his New Year’s Resolution (Cinema Scraggadiso), over the past couple of weeks I’ve made a concerted to keep my commitment to get out more and connect with at least some of the mind-boggling number of events that are always taking place in London.

Being Amazing

To make things easier on myself, I started off by getting along to events that were in my comfort zone. To that end,  On the evening of 1st February I braved the cold chill and got myself along to Side Kick Studios in Old Street for an informal meeting of The Amazings‘ Street Team.

I’ve previously blogged about The Amazings before so I won’t say too much more. In a nutshell, The Amazings is a  great (amazing?) social enterprise that helps people who are about to retire or have retired create (and sell) amazing experiences with the skills, knowledge and passion they’ve picked up throughout their life. Last year I had a lot of fun helping out by serving on market stalls, introducing people to the service and selling tickets for the experiences on offer. I’m very pleased to say the The Amazings is doing really well and, after successfully securing funding from NESTA, has big plans to expand its reach across London. I for one am particularly looking forward to helping bring The Amazings to Forest Hill. The Amazings is always looking for new street team members, If this is something you’d like to be involved with, do get in touch by clicking here.

Policy Innovation in a reassuringly traditional setting

Adam Street: Reassuringly Traditional

 My confidence buoyed by a successful social outing, in no time at all I found myself signed up to an after work event on the 9th February. The event had the racy title ‘co-design and policymaking‘ and was organised by an organisation called Political Innovation. Given my love of all things political, policy and social innovation how could I say no?

At first glance, the contrast between The Amazings and the Political Innovation event couldn’t have been more stark. Whereas The Amazings hosted us at their tastefully scruffy design studio in trendy East London (see picture of Side Kick’s kitchen for evidence), the Political Innovation event was held in the type of venue which had its heyday when Macmillan was still Prime Minister: Adam Street Private Members Club, situated just off The Strand.

Side Kick’s kitchen: sweet

Thankfully, first impressions were deceiving and I found the evening largely unstuffy, with some excellent presentations and off the cuff presentations from people looking at ways of opening up traditional policymaking in order to increase trust in the political system and deliver improved outcomes. The only real downside of the evening was that I felt that sometimes there was an unhelpful ‘us and them’ attitude expressed, with people involved in innovation projects taking the moral high ground and criticising others for being ‘political’ as though this were intrinsically a dirty word.

As someone who has worked ‘on the inside’ of policymaking I understand how challenging politics can be and, at their best, how hard elected politicians work. If we are serious about wanting to reform the political system as a minimum there needs to be mutual respect for both sides. And proponents of opening up policy making (myself included) need to recognise that while all of us, either as individuals or collectively as ‘the people’, can provide our views, ultimately deciding which priorities to pursue at any given time will always be an inherently ‘political’ judgement, regardless of who makes it.

There were many excellent contributions made at last week’s event. I recommend you visit the Political Innovation website to find out more and to book your place at the next event. I would like to give a special mention to Paul Evans for setting up Political Innovation and arranging the event and to Steph Gray (@lesteph) for his excellent overview of the various tools available to help increase involvement in policymaking.

You can read a blog post from Political Innovation on the evening here.

Swapping Forest Hill for City Hall

The view from inside City Hall at the Plan ZHeroes Launch

Last but by no means least I’d like to end this post by telling you about my latest social venture (geddit?), which last night took me to the political heart of London, City Hall, for the Plan ZHeroes launch event.

Plan ZHeroes is a civil society group based in London with a mission to reduce food waste to zero. In the long term it plans to do this by lobbying for action to reduce waste at every level of the ‘food pyramid’, from farm to plate. More immediately, however, it is focusing its efforts on connecting the people who cannot feed themselves and their families properly with the millions of tonnes of food that is wasted every year.

To achieve their goal Plan ZHeroes has created an interactive map which allows food charities and other community organisations to easily connect with businesses such as cafes with spare food that would otherwise go to waste. The idea of a food waste map is such a simple one and is a great example of how digital technology can support social action. Now the challenge is to get people using the map.

Plan ZHeroes’ interactive map in action

Although Plan ZHeroes’ launch event was held at City Hall and featured contributions from prominent commentators such as Rosie Boycott the organisers successfully managed to combine serious intent with a sense of fun. Most memorably, they had hired student actors to role play an apocalyptic food crisis scenarios in a near-future London, which led on to some group working to come up with ideas to solve the crisis by promoting the interactive map. It may sound lame but because everyone involved approached it in the right spirit, it turned out to be a fun, creative way of getting people thinking about how we  can make the map a success.

Plan ZHeroes is asking for help to spread the word about food waste and the interactive map.and pledge to introduce the map to 10 organisations you know. This could mean telling your local supermarket about the map or perhaps a church or community group you attend. To find out more about you can do to help, click here.

What has being sociable taught me?

Looking back at the three events, I feel there are opportunities for each group to learn from one another and to improve. Future events by The Amazings and Political Innovation would benefit from the interaction of the Plan ZHeroes. Political Innovation could learn from the relaxed atmosphere of the Amazings. Political Innovation benefited from the quality and diversity of its attendees and is all organisations putting on events should look to emulate their approach.

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