When I left my career of 20 years in the NHS and local government just over a year ago, one of the things I wanted to explore was the power to create meaningful, practical, useful things – real solutions for all the real world problems that I had seen in both those organisations over the years.
When I was invited to join the RSA as a Fellow and soon after given the opportunity to speak at the #PowerToCreate conference in Nottingham earlier this month, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I was eager to speak to and hear from others who also wanted to make things happen.
And I wasn’t disappointed. #PowerToCreate was a full house of people who wanted to share ideas and put our power together to create a better world.
Speaking at the event, I was able to talk about my approach to one of the three key challenges that the RSA is focusing on – Public Services Reform; I have designed and built a simple SMS-based application called Textocracy to make it simpler and easier for residents and service users to have their say in resource allocation, service design and delivery, and the democratic process.
I began by researching the key barriers people face in making comments using the current consultation and survey methods. Things such as needing to be computer literate, or having a good degree of English literacy, using a smartphone with data allocation and an internet connection, or overcoming mobility or childcare issues to turn up to an intimidating event at an awkward time of day often kept people from contributing their ideas, suggestions, compliments or complaints to a range of services.
I was able to put Textocracy into practice throughout the day. Simply having access to a unique phone number for the event gave all participants, regardless of whether they had a smartphone or access to the wi-fi, a chance to anonymously text their thoughts on anything they wanted to – the conference, speakers, topics of discussion that were raised – and they made good use of the opportunity. We had comments about the organisation of the day, compliments to the speakers, thought-provoking additions to the discussion topics, and suggestions for improvements for the next event. I displayed all the comments at the end of the event, and the organisers were thrilled at the instant feedback they saw. Textocracy went on to win one of three Regional Fellows’ Awards on the day, as voted by the #PowerToCreate participants.
One of the themes that came out of the day’s discussions was how we can all get better at turning talk into action, and how we overcome the barriers within institutions that can make it so difficult. Of course there are no easy answers to this, but having such a wide range of people in the room from a myriad of backgrounds brought us closer to understanding the key issues.
Another important topic that was raised was about the circular economy. We agreed that our current culture of consumerism and our throwaway society was not sustainable, and that the reuse and recycling of all the resources that we use is urgent and essential. As well as talking about the practical implications, there was an underpinning of philosophical foundations on which these issues rest. Decisions we might take for action are informed by our different and shared ideologies. But we all seemed committed to creating initiatives that had a social impact.
This is the main reason I was proud to join Dotforge Impact Accelerator with Textocracy earlier this year. Dotforge is a startup accelerator that supports socially motivated entrepreneurs to create impactful tech companies that improve society. I knew this ideological context was right for me and for Textocracy. Since coming onto the Dotforge Impact programme and engaging the RSA and local Fellows with Textocracy, I am truly beginning to see the potential it has to help me reach my goal of seeing that all citizens have access to this simple tool to have their voices heard by the public sector institutions that use taxpayers’ money to serve them. Textocracy can bring real substance to organisations’ (sometimes token) efforts to consult with their constituents.
Joining Dotforge has connected me to a lot of like-minded individuals, including the RSA, which has opened up another constellation of people and Fellows who want to apply skill and ability and passion to solving real world problems and making the world a better place.