Smart urban intermediaries came together in Birmingham in May 2019 for their final ‘local lab’ workshop. The event was a chance for participants to reconnect with one another and share their thoughts and experiences.
The workshop began with participants sharing recent experiences at home and abroad including those that had excited or challenged them. The participants shared inspiring stories such as organising a community cycle ride to challenge negative perceptions of women in their neighbourhood and working with the Prince’s Trust and police to help keep knives off the streets. Smart urban intermediaries showed a real determination to overcome the challenges, barriers and setbacks their communities face by doing things differently and taking action.
For the rest of the morning, the participants responded to the current thinking from the academic team. A world cafeé method was used, with large scale drawings of six diagrams, so that participants could comment using post-it notes to record their own thoughts and other key points. This was followed by a shorter session for exploring some of the previously prioritized co-enquiry issues, namely to tackling inequality, building relationships and linking community perspectives to wider institutions.
After the lunch break, the participants had an opportunity to discuss the findings and individual learning and to draw out a number of potential messages for policy and practice. The participants highlighted a need for better support and recognition for people working in and with communities. In particular, more encouragement for young people and others to develop the skills and characteristics of ‘smart urban intermediaries’ so they can deepen and sustain the impact of this work across the whole city. Peer and experiential learning are preferable to formal training, perhaps through more networking between SUIs themselves locally and transnationally.
The importance of investing in ‘connectors’ and relationships was emphasised for getting things done , not only within communities but also between communities and public authorities. This could be achieved if there was a greater commitment to ‘localism’ and genuine forms of co-operation, based on partnership and mutual respect, underpinned by more participatory forms of democracy. Participants highlighted a real need to gain more practical access to the contacts and resources so that they could develop real and sustained change at a local level.
The day closed with a renewed determination amongst participants to continue connecting with one another and sharing best practices. The research methods used over the past two years had given them a very worthwhile experience. They had gained a great deal from having the time to think about what they do, why they do it and how they can be more effective. The project team will continue to work with SUIs during the final stages of the project to refine the lessons for policy and practice. These will be disseminated through academic papers and a policy briefing that will be launched at a local event towards the end of the year.