By Elisabetta Mocca and Oliver Escobar
Our first Lab was held at the Pearce Institute in Govan (Glasgow), an important community space in this neighbourhood. The session brought together eight smart urban intermediaries (SUIs) –people who are making a difference locally– and five cooperation partners, who are helping to connect local learning to national networks (see list of contributors in the acknowledgements below). Participants showed a high level of engagement during the day and actively contributed to all the sessions. The Lab sought to share our research questions, find themes of shared interest for co-enquiry, discuss preparations for the next Lab and develop group connections and purpose.
Much of the dialogue focussed on the role of SUIs in Govan and their practices to achieve change, as well as on the governance arrangements, resources and urban context that may lead to ‘smart’ development underpinned by a focus on people, place and social justice. The Lab entailed two group activities as well as plenary dialogue, and here we want to briefly outline some of the key outputs.
The first session was a participatory mapping exercise to explore ideas and develop themes in response to the question:
“What does it mean to make a difference in your community?”
This collaborative session revealed that, despite their diverse fields of activity, there is a lot of common ground amongst SUIs. In particular, it highlighted how their work and/or volunteering are underpinned by a combination of ethical principles and pragmatic skills. The discussion emphasised that a key purpose of action by urban intermediaries is to support individuals and communities to achieve their potential by forging connections and enabling participation to achieve social change.
The second session tapped into participants’ experiences and expertise to explore how SUIs go about making a difference in their community and what factors enable or hinder their action. Participants worked in rotating groups and built on each other’s ideas in response to three guiding questions:
- How do you go about making a difference in your community?
- What helps/enables you to make a difference in your community?
- What hinders you or gets in the way when you’re trying to make a difference in your community?
The exercise elicited conversations about beliefs and principles, the creation of purposeful connections and the focus on supporting individuals and (re)building community. There was particular emphasis on the importance of being ‘forward-looking’, for instance ‘taking risk’ and experimenting, as well as on the need of careful organisation and planning –which highlights a delicate balancing act between innovation and pragmatism. The list of enabling factors included well-known issues such as the availability of resources (financial and otherwise) and the actual engagement of communities of place, practice and interest. Moreover, the availability of spaces and time as well as the presence of adequate policies supporting SUIs’ actions were indicated as facilitative drivers.
Participants noted a range of factors that can hinder their work, including the challenge of sustainability (once again, resources, financial and otherwise), a dearth of activists (especially men) and more broadly a lack of a cultural environment that nurtures community engagement. Some identified barriers related to the institutional context (locally and nationally), which can limit the opportunities for advancing and experimenting with community-building processes.
In particular, the disconnection between institutions and local communities was exemplified by the design of services that fail to reflect local needs and aspirations. Finally, the broader social context, troubled by racism, inequality, deprivation and an unconscious acceptance of individual ‘powerlessness’, were noted as hindering SUIs’ ability to advance social innovation and change.
The final session was devoted to collect suggestions about topics to be further examined throughout the project. Here, participants proposed to zoom in on various levels: the personal and professional qualities of SUIs (e.g. values, motivations, traits, skills), the characteristics of the community in which they operate (e.g. social issues, level of activism, motivation vs. disafection) and the broader institutional context (e.g. type of urban governance that supports SUIs, access to resources). Another key area of interest was about how to foster sucession by mobilising and supporting new generations of SUIs.
The closing session outlined the next stage of the project (including research using ‘shadowing’ and ‘photo-voice’) in preparation for the second Govan Lab in June, where we will be:
- Delving deeper into the participants experiences and projects (using photo-voice to share stories of practice and everyday work in communities) and
- Developing a shared agenda for the first Transnational Lab, which will gather researchers and practitioners from Denmark, Netherlands, England and Scotland in Govan on 12-14 September 2018.
Exciting times ahead!
We want to thank all members of the Govan Lab for their contribution and commitment to the project:
Martin Avila (Kinning Park Complex)
Pat Cassidy (Govan Workspaces)
Moya Crowley (Plantation Production)
Fiona MacTaggart (Govan Housing Association)
Jim McMillan (Sunny Govan Radio)
Yvonne Reilly (Glasgow City Council, Community planning)
Owen Fenn (Govan Community Project)
Anne Philbrow (Urban Roots)
David Allan (Scottish Community Development Centre)
Andrew Morgan (Inspiring Scotland)
Fiona Dickson (Glasgow City Council, Community Planning)
Derek Rankin (SURF)
Kaela Scott (Involve)
Details about the project can be found throughout the website. A fuller ‘research memo’ of the 1st session described in this blog post is available to Govan Lab members upon request.