Sharing Cities

The digital economy has helped the growth of the sharing economy.

The most obvious example is a services like AirBnB (where you can find people to rent out your spare room on a nightly basis). It’s not just the preserve of southern californians.  This is a search for Dudley – Saturday night.



But there are far more ways to think about how sharing can make our cities better places to be and this was the subject being discussed last night at an event in Birmingham.

Julian Agyeman was discussing his book  Sharing Cities: A case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities.

First some sketchy notes I made of the points he was making.

  • The sharing economy can help to build equality in cities.
  • Don’t do area projects, find opportunities for what he called urban acupuncture / pin pricks to relieve pain – He gave the example of the garden library in Medellin – the one time drug crime capital of Columbia.  Built on a hillside where the slums had developed – this encourages new ways of being and connects the city in new ways.
  • Sharing things helps us build relationships –  however we may do that within out own existing networks.  How do we create culturally inclusive spaces? Ones where people talk across what makes them different.
Other examples:

This is what he thinks a city should have on their to do list

  1. Map assets –
  2. Put sharabity in the tender/contracts
  3. Encourage Co production
  4. Measure sharing Walkscore -,sharescore
  5. Participatory budgets.
  6. Change taxation, planning and licensing
It got me thinking.  The social media surgeries are part of the sharing economy.  CoLab Dudley is entirely about nurturing it here.
But it also reminds me that the smartest cities are not oiled simply by faster broadband, mobile phone apps or better tech training.  They are made smarter  by the connections and the best connector is often a cup of tea.  So maybe the way to measure collaboration is to count the number of cups of tea drunk in a city.
(Nick Booth is the founder  of Podnosh – and the chap behind the social media surgery movement.)



#SmartDudley twitter campaign

I was delighted to finally meet Nathan Coyle recently. A Dudley resident with a passion for Dudley, it’s people and ways that we can use technology to make Dudley even better. Nathan has kicked off something really interesting called Dudley Smart Region Hub – because as well as being thoroughly lovely, he’s the kind of person who turns his ideas into actual things.

This week Nathan made and launched a beta version of a digital tool called Data Brew. The idea behind it is “to encourage community groups, social enterprise and citizens to come together to create social campaigns or projects using open data as a base to evidence it.” In other words a way to help people work together using data to help solve problems. Do have a look / play and let us know what you think of it.

I’ve also just spotted a lovely twitter campaign which Nathan has started called #SmartDudley. See the graphic below for details and get tweeting!

I’m hoping Nathan might guest blog here sometime soon about Dudley Smart Region Hub and Data Brew, in the meantime you can check out his Huffington Post blogs and hear from him at the upcoming BostinCamp (which will be on Tuesday 12 April, details to be shared shortly).

smart dudley

Introducing civic tech

To date this blog has focused pretty much on ways that people are using social media, and aimed to celebrate, promote and support that. It is an online place to signpost to face-to-face activities taking place in and around Dudley borough which offer support to people getting to grips with or tentatively trying out social media – activities such as Social Media Surgeries and BostinCamp. The strapline for this site until today has been “celebrating the ways that people are using social media to do great things and build community across Dudley borough”. Today I’ve added a second area focus: civic tech.

Civic tech, or civic technology, is

“technology (mainly information technology) that enables engagement or participation of the public for good development, enhancing citizen communications, improving government infrastructure, or generally making national and local governments more effective. It encompasses civic applications, platforms supporting government bodies and institutions and other software enabling those goals.” (source: wikipedia)

Interest in civic tech is developing in Dudley, particularly in relation to the development of the Community Council (I’ve started blogging about the Community Council on the Dudley CVS blog). There is a great new post on the Civicist blog about the role of praising and shaming in civic tech. It concludes:

“Until now, behavioral economics in public policy has been mainly about nudging citizens toward preferred choices. Yet it may be time to start also working in the opposite direction, nudging governments to be more responsive to citizens.”

I am of the understanding that senior officers in Dudley Council are keen to invite this nudging from citizens and communities. Indeed I’m starting to do some work on ways to help it to happen. So I’ve added a civic tech page to this blog to draw together useful resources and examples which we might want to learn from here in Dudley, such as work the Knight Foundation has done (see diagram below).

I’ll keep readers updated with ways to get involved in the conversation and activities. I’d love to hear about your favourite examples of civic tech in action, and any experiences you have of developing or using it. Leave a comment here, or get in touch with me on twitter: @dosticen or email:

civic tech

From the Knight Foundation Civic Tech slide deck

Creative Citizens Fair in Brum

You may recall a previous post in which I shared some inspiring digital ideas from community projects which have been bought together in the Creative Citizens Variety Pack. Some of the team behind this work are hosting a Creative Citizens Fair on Saturday 27 June, 11am-4pm in Birmingham. It is free to come along, family friendly, and lunch and refreshments are provided. If you’d like to book places simply hop over to the Eventbrite booking page:

And a call out to creative citizens in Dudley borough, please get in touch with me if you’d like to showcase what you do at this event. You could give a short talk or bring things along to display and show people. The organisers have heard about amazing things happening in Dudley and are keen for creative citizens from Dudley to be part of this (which is why you’ll spot Dudley CVS’s logo on the flyer). If you have any questions or thoughts just email me ( or text or call me on 07501 722255. I hope to see some of you there.

creative citizens fair flyer

Online sites and apps to help lending and borrowing between neighbours

As part of some work I’m doing in Wrens Nest I’ve been doing a bit of research in to online sites which help neighbours to lend and borrow household items and tools. We’re setting up some Sharing Sheds which link to projects people have started, and we know we can fill shelves and sheds with all sorts of things people don’t use most of the time. We also know that people love getting together to do things like gardening, cooking and crafts, so it makes sense to pool what we’ve got and find ways to share things.

Image with text saying things we could share  - examples of pots & pans, tools, garden equipment, toys & games

If we decide to use an online site or app to help us, some key considerations for me are:

  • That it can be easily used from a mobile phone. So it would need to have apps available. This is because lots of people we’ve been working with tend to access the internet through their phone. There are a few who don’t have smartphones and so use a PC or laptop at home, so a website is still useful. But apps are needed to increase likelihood of take up by the majority.
  • The barriers to entry and use are as low as possible.
  • The site is a UK one, or used extensively in the UK (there are some great, well used sites in the USA but which aren’t being used here).

Drawing on existing knowledge of sites, and using Google to find more I’ve noted below what I found. I looked at:

  1. Ecomodo
  2. StreetBank
  3. Peerby
  4. Streetlife

If you have experience of using any of these, or know of others, please do add a comment or email me (

1. Ecomodo 

Launched in April 2010, Ecomodo is “an online service that enables people to lend and borrow each other’s everyday objects, skills and spaces with confidence. They can do this for free, for a fee or for charity. Ecomodo facilitates the transaction to make good returns for all.”

What I love about Ecomodo: you can create lending circles for a neighbourhood, or set it up to encourage people in a school or workplace to lend and borrow things. It is also set up to help lenders that choose to, to raise money for a good cause.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: there isn’t an app available, plus the sign up doesn’t integrate with Facebook or any other social media and is relatively lengthy. Also while you can opt in to insurance cover for an instance of lending (it’s not blanket), that gets translated in to a hire charge for the borrower.

Aspects I feel could exclude people from using Ecomodo are that

  • you have to say you are at leat 18 years old
  • you have to be a verified PayPal user

2. Streetbank

Streetbank was also launched in 201, by Sam Stephens in West London “as a way of getting his neighbours to share items such as a step ladders, power drills and hedge cutters; things that sit idle in people’s homes and gardens for the majority of the year. His vision was to help people to save money, cut down on waste and reduce their carbon footprints.”  By October 2013 skills and items worth more than £1 million had been listed on the site, which now has 60,000 members worldwide. (source: NESTA)

Things I love about Streetbank:

  • It also encourages neighbours to share their advice and skills, teaching languages, cooking and DIY.
  • You can say if you want to lend items or give them away.
  • You can easily see what’s been offered, and the site tells you how far away the person offering is from your own postcode.
  • You can also easily see requests in your neighbourhood and who your neighbours are using the site.
  • You can change your neighbourhood size in your settings.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: as with Ecomodo, there isn’t an app available, plus the sign up doesn’t integrate with Facebook or any other social media (though the sign up form is nice and short).

3. Peerby

Peerby was launched in May 2013 and is “the largest online sharing community in the Netherlands. With Peerby you can share and borrow items from your neighbors in a fun and easy way.” Because the site grew rapidly, an English version of the site was quickly launched. I signed up and had a play with the site and app. I got a nice email from Eva welcoming me. By which point I’d tried to verify my account with a phone number, but it was set up to only accept Dutch numbers. I emailed to ask if a roll out in the UK was likely and Eva replied to say that are encouraging Peerby use worldwide and will be fixing the bug in the app around phone numbers. In the meantime it doesn’t stop UK use of the app and sharing.

What I love about Peerby:

  • There are handy categories of things you can borrow including games, gardening, home improvement, baking and cooking and party! These fit with the sorts of sharing we want to catalyse in Wrens Nest.
  • You are encouraged to add a little bit about why you want to borrow an item – apparently requests with stories receive more offers.
  • There’s a nice visual of where people are in your neighbourhood.
  • You can sign up with Facebook.
  • The app is lovely.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: from what I can tell it seems to be request-driven. So it wouldn’t help us to list what we have in Sharing Sheds.

4. Streetlife

Streetlife is “a free and simple website for neighbours to connect and share news, views, recommendations and resources.”

Things I love about Streetlife: It’s easy to sign up, and you can login with Facebook. While there is an area called ‘give, lend and borrow’, there are also areas for clubs and groups, local conversations, lost and found, classifieds and local politics. There is an app which is really easy to use.

Reasons it’s not what I’m looking for in this instance: I work with the amazing people of Wrens Nest, but I don’t live there. So I can’t help to administer an online side to Sharing Sheds through Streetlife. (I am however a Streetlife member for my own neighbourhood in Sandwell.)


In summary, I don’t seem to have found exactly what we need, so we’ll probably start with good old paper and pens, and perhaps some Google Sheets. I’d love to hear from anyone who has thoughts or experiences to share around these sorts of sharing sites.

Using social media in Community Forums

Apologies for the lack of posts at the end of last year, I don’t know where the time went!

Our social media surgeries in November and December bought together people doing brilliant things in their communities and organisations, and helped them increase confidence and skills in using social media to help them. The next social media surgery coming up is on Thursday 20 February, from 6pm at Cafe Grande in Dudley – click here to register.

BostinCamp on 5 November was a great success, the 100 tweets shared during the evening are archived here. Something we heard about during the evening was Tim Sunter’s experience of using social media at a Brierley Hill Community Forum meeting organised by Dudley Council.

local saying "community forums, a new way to have your say"

logo from Dudley Council website

The 10 regular community forums held across Dudley borough are designed to “give people direct access to councillors and Dudley Council through regular drop in public meetings” (from Dudley MBC website). During consultation about the community forums when they were first proposed there were hopes from active citizens that social media would be integral to the process (see this report from a participatory workshop at which people voiced this aspiration). However as the forums were rolled out this time last year, use of social media wasn’t being actively encouraged or facilitated.

I was therefore really pleased to see that Tim Sunter (@Brierley _Hill) was live tweeting from a community forum meeting last July. I was also intrigued that in doing so Tim had prompted a discussion during the meeting about using social media. You can see the conversation in Tim’s Storify archive (go down to the sub-title use of twitter in future meetings). I just love that the simple act of sharing a contribution made by someone using twitter and not present at the meeting impressed and changed the views of people at the meeting who had thought that using twitter at the meetings would exclude those who didn’t use it.

photo of people at BostinCamp

BostinCamp in November 2013

Tim shared this story with us at BostinCamp, and also another really interesting continuation of the story. Knowing that a number of people who are interested in what is going on in Brierley Hill don’t use twitter, Tim emailed his curated Storify archive to everyone on the mailing list for the Brierley Hill Community Forum. 21 individuals replied to Tim’s email, including 2 local councillors, with responses being very positive, aside from the 5 people who couldn’t access Storify through council computers.

Tim generously prepared a wonderfully mind map of all the responses which you can see here. Below are a couple of responses he flagged up to share with us:

“I think it is really good way to open the meeting up to a bigger audience. would be really good if the council did it safe you doing it for them and people can give live feed back to issues.”

“I think that life has made attending meetings like this difficult, but this allows people to be in the room if they care and not just if they can make the meeting. Certainly a huge leap in transparency. Thanks for sharing.”

And here’s a great response from a local councillor demonstrating openness to sharing and to figuring out which social media tools to use (which can be rather confusing) :

This is really good – how do you link into it – do you have to be on twitter or could I go in through one of my Facebook pages?”

The next BostinCamp will take place on Tuesday 5 February from 5.30pm – more details and online registration here. Do come along and join us, it’s great to drink coffee, eat cake and talk about social media.

BostinCamp is back!

Photo of Laura Broster and Joy Clarke at BostinCamp in August

Laura Broster and Joy Clarke at BostinCamp in August

If you are interested in social media, local government and voluntary activity why not join us for our second event?

BostinCamp will take place Tuesday 5 November between 5.30 and 7.30pm at the Secret Coffee Club, Pearson Street, Brierley Hill (just off the High Street). Arrive any time from 5pm. There is free parking and wifi at the venue. Register here if you fancy coming along.

BostinCamp is an informal, out of the office chance to learn things, meet people, listen and contribute and make our corner of the world just a little bit of a better place. There is coffee, cake and good conversation, plus the invitation to go for a curry afterwards if you are really enjoying it!

We’ve got three great sessions planned (no death by powerpoint, simply sharing and discussions).

Citizen tweeting: Tim Sunter (@Brierly_Hill) will share his experiences of tweeting live from Community Forums and other events, and the reactions of people around him and online. He also manages a hyperlocal site, Brierley Hill Blog, so perhaps we’ll hear about that too.

From novice to navigator: Eileen Fieldling from Dudley Volunteer Centre (@DudleyVols) will share her boundless enthusiasm for social media one year in to her journey. Expect some stats, some great ideas and probably mentions of our many amazing volunteers in Dudley borough.

Social media, local government and citizen participation: Hear what it’s like for a politician using social media. From his twitter profile perhaps we can expect Cllr Pete Lowe (@CllrPete) to talk about family, politics and football. Hopefully he’ll share what works for him and other councillors who are actively using social media to connect with people.

We’ll be using the Twitter hashtag #bostincamp for the event. 29 people came to our first camp (read about it here). Register here to join us.

Bostin Beginnings

twitter bird logo with speech bubble saying '#tweet on the street @dudleyccg"

from Dudley CCG’s Facebook page

BostinCamp got off to a fantastic start on Wednesday. 29 people from all sorts of organisations with all sorts of roles and interests spent a couple of hours after work discussing and learning about social media use by a charity, by the NHS and by local government.

You can see the line-up from the launch event here, all the tweets and photos from the evening are all archived on Storify here.

In a nutshell, we talked about:

  • Cake (of course!)
  • The link between design (e.g. of promotional posters) and social media as a means of sharing them
  • The importance of saying thank you to people who support what you do
  • Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group‘s blend of listening to local people’s views on healthcare (Feet on the Street) and sharing them through video voxpops and twitter (#tweetonthestreet)
  • Whether GPs should tweet about health issues
  • Why we should trust frontline staff to use social media, and the fact that people trust frontline staff more than CEOs and government officials nowadays (Dan Slee shared a link to this fascinating article which draws on the Edelman Trust Barometer on the brilliant comms2point0 site.
  • Dudley Council being one of 3 local authorities in England involved in a research bid which will

     map and analyse the use of social media by the involved local authorities in order to learn about how this impacts or could impact on the engagement of citizens, including young people.

  • Curry (all good camps lead to a good curry)


There were quite a few useful links shared, and #bostincamp reached far beyond Dudley thanks to those tweeting from the event. All the links and discussions are in the Storify archive.

Thanks to the Secret Coffee Club for hosting BostinCamp, and Marc and Callum for serving us delicious drinks. And thanks to everyone who came along or joined in on twitter – you made the evening truly bostin!

BostinCamp: the launch!

photo of hot chocolate with #bostincamp written in chocolate sauce on the froth

photo credit: Joy Clarke (@joysuzannexo)

It’s here!

Hot on the heels of a successful Brewcamp excursion to Dudley we bring you BostinCamp – the launch event!

BostinCamp  mixes cake, tea, coffee, and ideas about social media, public services and voluntary organisations. It’s a chance to learn things, meet people, listen and contribute and make our corner of the world just a little bit of a better place. Anyone can come. It’s free to book, you can do that here.

Our first ever event starts at 5.30pm on Wed 7 August 2013 and runs until 7.00pm

You can grab a coffee from around 5pm and there’s free wifi. There is free parking at the venue. The things we’ll be hearing and talking about:

We’ve got three fantastic women lined up to share some quite different experiences (I did ask a bloke to contribute, but he’s having a lovely long holiday so you’ll have to wait for the next event for that fantastic story).

  • Joy Clarke will share with us what she has been doing to develop online communications for a local charity (@i4cs)
  • Laura Broster will discuss with us ways that she is developing social media use in the NHS for @DudleyCCG
  • Jo Orchard-Webb will share exciting news of a research proposal which Dudley MBC and Dudley CVS are involved in around social media, local government and citizen participation.

Fancy joining us? You can register here – it’s free to come along, drinks and cakes are yummy and reasonably priced. If the conversation is too good to stop we can go on for curry. Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues. We’re using #bostincamp on twitter.