#CATJRF Playing a game to realise community assets – and collaboration

It can be really difficult to help people both think more enterprisingly about their community project, and also consider collaborating with groups who in the past may have been competitors for resources. Games may help develop some shared understanding, and also build relationships and trust.

Last year Drew Mackie and I ran a workshop game at the Community Matters annual conference on just this, based on the fictitious town of Slapham. The conference game was based on earlier ones, and the success of the event has led to further developments which could make Slapham into a virtual lab about community assets, collaboration and communication.

We are developing a couple of games around use of social media based on the Social by Social game. One will help community organisers consider how to blend new media into their community building. Another will help plan the use of social media in multicultural neighbourhoods.

We are also working with Community Matters staff on a more sophisticated version about business planning and community assets – drawing on their considerable expertise in the field, and creativity.

The narrow focus is on how an organisations or social enterprise can continue to develop services and activities in the face of cuts in grants. We have built on an earlier business planning game to create a set of props that include:

  • The fictitious scenario of a town, with its various groups and agencies
  • Profiles for different organisations, including their current activities, staff and legal structure
  • Ideas for business activities they take on to generate revenue
  • The implication in staffing and other resources of developing new activities
  • Cards indicating risks and opportunities that may crop up along the way

The game could be further developed so that it is played “for real’ by substituting data from actual organisations, and using a spreadsheet linked to more detailed business planning. Drew and I did that in the early days of creating development trusts, to help community groups see what might be involved in developing a mixed bag of social and revenue-generating projects.

The wider and in many ways more interesting scope lies in using the game – as we did at the conference – to prompt groups to think how they can work collaboratively with others in the town to share accommodation and other resources. This is highly relevant at a time when Big Lottery Fund and others are promoting asset based community development: here’s how ABCD is working in Thornton Heath for example.

Meanwhile, I mentioned the game to Gavin Barker, who had blogged enthusiastically about the conference version, and who I knew does a lot on mapping community assets.

Gavin has now added his own ideas in a blog post here on how geographical mapping could be added to the game … or rather to a further development of the game, since the current version has a tight brief.

As we were sharing blog drafts and emails around this, I spotted the first newsletter from Spacehive, which is an online platform that enables local groups to pitch their projects for funding. This can certainly be one of the business development ideas to include as options for organisations in the game … but could perhaps play a bigger part in promoting collaborations.

Drew reckons that we need some social network mapping in there too, since collaboration depends very much on the building of trust and relationships. Seeing who knows who, and who holds what resources, is an important starting point. It’s something he has done a lot – as you can see from this project library.

The RSA is using social network analysis to identify local Changemakers in Peterborough.

The original conference session developed because Community Matters kindly asked if I would keynote at the conference … to which I said I would much rather run a workshop. In the event Drew did most of the work, and while some of the props were a big rough, the session was a big success because the pieces of card and maps were good enough to spark some conversations … and release the knowledge assets held by those participating. Much more useful than any presentation that I might offer.

In the past we have found that using games as part of a project or programme development process is a great way to create a conversation space where people who may not have met or worked together can explore new ideas, make new connections, and get a sense of who they might get on with … or not.

Over the next few weeks Drew and I will be pulling together different versions of our game, and the scenario, to form the basis of the virtual lab … and looking for collaborators for further development.

As Drew often says, the best way to develop a game is to create a first version, play it, revise it, and simplify.

I think that’s going to be the best way to evolve the lab as well … so if you are interested in finding out more, and/or joining in a session,  do drop a comment or get in touch here.

By virtual, we don’t mean online, at least this time around. So if someone would like to offer a venue, and maybe some refreshment, we would be delighted to come to you. I’m in London, Drew is in Edinburgh, but in between is fine too.

An earlier version of this post appeared on my blog.