Last Friday and Saturday brought the first challenge hosted on our new fangled Simpl Challenges platform to life!
CityCamp Coventry – an unconference set to discover, discuss and develop ideas to make the city an even better place – helped launch Simpl Challenges into the challenge-sphere. Supported and hosted by Coventry City Council, the two-day event brought together people from across local organisations, universities, and the council to start to make things happen.
After a scene setting introduction from citycamp cat herder in chief Anthony Zacharzewski of the Democratic Society, the ever exuberant Chief Executive of Coventry City Council Martin Reeves made sure the assembled crowd were left in no doubt as to aspirations of him and his team for the event as a way of taking the best of the 43 ideas posted on Simpl Challenges and turning them into meaningful change in the city. When Martin and team decided to support Simpl Challenges as a way of finding the brightest and best of Coventry, they were taking a calculated risk. A risk that FutureGov could turn it around in time (it was a pencil drawing at the time but a reality 8 weeks later) but also that there would be enough enthusiasm and ideas in the city to make it all worthwhile. Well their gut instinct was right. The entrepreneurial roots of Coventry remain and the council, its partners (above all the fantastically supportive Coventry University), CityCamp and Simpl provided a platform for focusing those foundations on ideas for the future.
Following Martin, Anthony gave an introduction to the hows, whats and whys of CityCamps, in particular his baby CityCamp Brighton. Dominic followed this up with a talk on ‘The Power of Ideas’, in particular how online spaces like Simpl Challenges and offline events like FutureGov’s first CityCamp in UK in London in 2010 provide inspiration, space and support to people itching to be heard and find like minds to make their ideas a reality. Catherine Howe of Public-i followed this vein with a talk on the power of people to make change and transform democratic engagement.
Then we got local. Coventry City Council gave us the low down on the City with an amazing array of facts and stats, followed by organisations like the CAB and the Police illustrating the potential of digital in transforming ways of working and community engagement. Not only the sugar coated success stories, but also posing some really interesting challenges that they face in terms of demand, online debate and digital inclusion. After an introduction to how Wikipedia could help capture the narrative of the City, the day finished with people pitching ideas and starting to reflect on what they wanted to get making on day two.
On Saturday, people filed back into Council House bright and early, guzzling coffee and nibbling chocolate croissants to fuel up for the day ahead. When it came time to get started and hear the idea pitches for the day, an impressive 14 stepped forward to talk about how they want to improve Coventry. Once pitched, each idea and it’s owner were given a space to work, and everyone else was asked to join in on the ideas of most interest to them, although the Law of Two Feet (if you join a discussion or idea and decide it isn’t for you, use your own two feet to get up and join a different idea) provided enough flexibility for people to float and dabble in several conversations and ideas throughout the day.
When it came time to judge, we couldn’t pick just one. One of the most refreshing things about the idea pitches at CityCamp Coventry was the awareness of what resources they really needed to succeed. There was very little “We need money” and much more “We need advice on lesson plans,” “We need some development help,” “We just need a chat with someone in the council.” Some ideas were little more than that – a thought that would need a lot of resource and support – and some were more developed and only in need of a little extra push. Because of this, the Council and University decided they could offer a variety of support to a range of projects that crossed the spectrum of quick initial support with little upkeep, to medium/ long term support and service disruption in the city. Without further ado, the winning five ideas were:
Virtual Community Orchard - Mapping existing fruit trees and potential orchard locations in Coventry to develop a urban food landscape in the city and link that up with local residents and volunteers who pick the fruit and tend to the trees.
Ring Road Junction Finder - A simple site that helps people navigate the nightmare of a ring road in Coventry by finding the right exit to get to their desired location.
Coventry Greeters - Based on the Global Greeters network, a site that links up volunteers (particularly the 300 Coventry Olympic Ambassadors) with visitors to the city to show them around the hidden gems of Coventry.
Coventry Advice Buddy - An amalgamation of a couple ideas from the Citizens Advice Bureau, this idea includes developing an online reception desk to help direct people to relevant advice (both internally in CAB but also partnered with other advice organisations in the city) as well as a team of “Advice Buddy” volunteers who help guide the digitally excluded through the advice system.
Community Payback Visibility - An app that allows city residents to geotag grot spots for the Community Payback programme, and will allow people to track the progress of the sites they tag. They have already won funding from GeoVation, but are hoping that Coventry can be their pilot area.
What next – from ideas to action
Now that the event has finished, the next big step is to support the ideas that want to take the next step – from brainstorming weekend into real-world action. The top five ideas will each receive a tailored package of support from Coventry City Council and Coventry University, which will include things like one-on-one business mentoring, the chance to pitch their idea to a group of entrepreneur students for feedback and collaboration, access to relevant people within the council, even a pop-up market stall (if its relevant). Over the next few weeks, the CityCamp Coventry team will be meeting up to figure out exactly what resources each idea needs, and linking them up accordingly. The support doesn’t stop there though – every idea that pitched on the Saturday will receive some feedback on their pitch as well as some guidance on how they might want to progress.
The CityCamp Coventry event itself is only the beginning – keep your eyes on Coventry to see how these ideas grow and make real impact to the city and it’s residents!