Spotlight Interviews – David Livermore

David LivermoreDavid Livermore works on our Citizens work stream. He is the Assistant Chief Executive at Community Action: MK – a local organisation supporting communities across MK, identifying challenges and success stories experienced by individuals and community groups and developing collaborative responses to realise their ambitions.

Where do you work?
I’m working on the ‘Citizens’ area of the project, which focuses on citizen innovation in MK. I work for an organisation called Community Action: Milton Keynes. We’ve been in Milton Keynes for around thirty years and our role is to support all of the amazing work that goes on in our communities. There are lots of individuals and community groups doing fantastic work, making important contributions in the community to make it a better place to live, work and play. Our role is to ensure that that work is able to flourish.

What area of MK:Smart do you work on?
I work on citizen innovation, and we’ve been going since January. We are aiming to encourage, enthuse and motivate people to develop ideas to address the challenges we face regarding different areas of the city’s infrastructure (Water, Energy and Transport) and then provide support to turn those into successful projects. The first three months were centred around getting things up and running, but more recently, we have started to roll out our workshop programme and hit the ground running.

What have been your project highlights so far?
We’ve been able to run four workshops so far, which have exceeded our expectations. We’ve had 99 people attend those four different workshops. Most importantly, what they’ve produced is 94 innovative ideas and 76 different challenges that they face as individuals or as a community. The focus of these workshops is to draw out ideas that can then be developed into projects – potential solutions for the challenges we face as a community. What’s really exciting is that people haven’t simply posed ideas or challenges but they have already started to identify practicable solutions – there have already been 21 of these different project ideas, which have emerged from the workshops.

Have you had any favourite project ideas so far?
Absolutely. Of all the different ideas, there was one in the most recent workshop, which was around sustainable water solutions. We heard about an idea for ways to provide households with water butts and how to use them properly, to reduce water use, which is great, but then ideas developed  and expanded upon that. For example, how we could support people in making their own water butts and what that project might look like? What materials might you use for that? Follow up ideas called ‘Neighbourhood Wash’ and ‘Friends On Tap’ built on this further when residents who are interested in and have specific knowledge can support other residents in relation to water saving methods, such as how you get the best out of things like water butts. If we apply this alongside smart metering enabling individual and community challenges. A genuine momentum could be created from within neighbourhoods encouraging communities to talk with each other to stimulate change starting from a very local level.

What really I love about these ideas is that they’re about bringing those residents together, using it as a bit of a catalyst to stimulate conversation across different residents. There’s also an element of working together and learning.  There are lots of skills in communities. If we can use more of that within the project ideas which are emerging over the next couple of years then what we’ll have is greater than the sum of its parts, as projects build upon each other and gather their own momentum with skills and resources remaining in communities.

Who do you work alongside on the project?
I work with Gerd, who is Professor of Computing over at The Open University. He’s the one who sets out what we need to do in terms of the programme objectives. Gerd provides an ‘objective reasoning’ behind all our wild and wonderful ideas. While we have been working within Milton Keynes and the with the Milton Keynes’ community for quite some time on different things, Gerd’s able to provide not only a level of international research, knowledge and background understanding, but a practical objectivity. In this way he can help us to decipher some of the challenges that we’re facing.

We work with other partners within the project such as Graymatter, who are a locally-based innovative digital marketing company. We’ve worked together before, and what’s fantastic is that they are not only experts in their area of work but have a great way of working with others – we  questions such as: How can I put a message in front of different people, using different approaches that reflect the different ways that people like to digest information? And, we can combine that with our networks in Milton Keynes. We have built up a network of 1,100 community groups, 2,500 different volunteers and we have specialist engagement practitioners for ten different communities in Milton Keynes. Joining our existing engagement network with Graymatter’s digital innovations and approaches to getting specific information in front of people has worked incredibly well in the past.

At our last couple of workshops on water and energy we worked with HR Wallingford, Anglian Water and the National Energy Foundation. The key throughout all of this is making sure that there is sound expertise, within the different workshops, whilst also making sure that there are organisations that work in those fields that can remain in contact with the individuals and the project teams that form together. Ultimately that’s how we can facilitate sustainable projects.

Our last workshop was held alongside the Transport Systems Catapult. The great thing about working them is that they have some fantastic ideas and resources and are based here in Milton Keynes. They are identifying innovative solutions to look at the future of transport systems. For us, to link citizens across Milton Keynes, to the Transport Catapult at this early stage is really exciting. MK citizens will be bringing forward the challenges they face as individuals, as a community, as a city, and these will generally not be too dissimilar from what other cities face. What’s really interesting is we can bring those people together, so that they can share those challenges and come up with ideas to address them alongside people who can not only help them to make a difference in Milton Keynes, but also then use those ideas on a much broader scale. So the impact of what we do here in Milton Keynes is felt much wider, which is a really empowering message for people coming to those workshops.

What’s coming up over the next few months in the ‘Citizens’ area of MK:Smart?
Over the next six months we have two main elements within our workshop programme. One is to draw out ideas, and then that’s followed up by supporting those individuals develop those ideas into practicable, implementable projects so things can get off the ground. Projects start with good ideas, so we’re trying to draw out as many good ideas that can be developed into projects as possible over the next few months.

We are expanding on the range of workshops that we’re doing. It’s great that we’ve had nearly a hundred people attend the first four workshops and we’ll continue to host monthly workshops.  By the end of the year, our intention is to have our first project-based workshop, to bring some of those ideas together and the people who created them into a room alongside specific expertise from those fields and get the teams to map out what their project might look like.

What we will also be doing in the autumn, is the launch of the citizen collaboration platform, which is a web based platform being developed by Graymatter. What this provides us with is something where you are able to continue the discussion on your idea and your project outside of the workshops. Able to engage much more people in that discussion. We will then reach out to the wider citizens of Milton Keynes to say: This is the idea I’ve got – What do you think and How can you help me to bring it to life? We can engage people in specific projects and identify individuals with relevant skills sets and experience to support key projects. We can identify groups who have experienced those kinds of challenges before, organisations who work on similar projects as well as key business planning support to enable the best chance of success for these project ideas.

Do you have any predictions about Smart City developments in the future?
My hope is that, through MK:Smart we see city-wide and nation-wide solutions emerge and collaborative ways of addressing the challenges we face. But I think that some of the most practicable solutions, and ones which will have the most amount of traction will be locally-based, neighbourhood solutions. Ones which communities have defined for themselves, realise for themselves and receive benefit for themselves. They will have the most resonance amongst communities.  It’s not entirely about the immediate, big, city-scale, regional infrastructure, it’s bringing it right back down to local level responses, practical examples, generating momentum to drive and sustain a shift in behaviour change which can be sustained across our city.