Category Archives: Guest Blogs

GovJam Birmingham – June 2016

Global GovJam Secret Theme 2016 from Global Service Jam on Vimeo.

Alastair Henbrey and Laura Slatcher are Senior Business Analysts with the Requirements Management team in Service Birmingham.  In June they attended GovJam, a global event held in 32 cities across 5 continents.

Inspired by the secret theme (see video above) we embarked on a 48-hour journey of creativity and insight.  Working from Impact Hub in Digbeth with people we had never met, we were split across two teams to collaborate on our interpretation of the theme – and relating this to local issues.  By the end of the two days we had gone from formulating our idea to pitching a prototype.

Our two team’s ideas were around trust and belonging.  The ideas were developed through the insight gathered from Birmingham’s citizens, visitors and businesses.  If the idea failed, we worked quickly to adapt it and then tested it again.

Led by Chris Sadler and Daniel Blyden of Spaghetti Jams, we also learnt theory around design thinking.  This supported our collaborative process in understanding the needs of our city and turning this, at pace, into something to meet that demand.

The collaboration wasn’t just locally bound; we had Skype calls with the jammers in Leeds and Brazil to find out what they were working on and pitch our ideas for feedback.

Laura’s reflections –

Laura’s team looked at belonging, and how might a person feel that they belong.  After a first trip out to speak to Birmingham’s people (and getting over the fear of stopping strangers in the street), we adapted this to belonging in the workplace.

We pulled together a prototype, a cardboard smartphone to show how an individual may want to access information and advice on the less formal and spoken about aspects of belonging in the workplace – ‘how things are done around here’.  A few iterations later, following valuable insight into how citizens and businesses would want to use the application, we had our final prototype ready to be taken forward with more formal user testing.

Critically, GovJam provides a space where it’s safe to fail and try again, and in fact this is part of the experience in really listening to the views and needs of the city.  I’ve come away with some new contacts, and tools and techniques to apply in my day job for understanding user needs.  But most importantly, I came away with a sense of achievement in developing an idea so quickly.  Collaborating and listening to the views of our city are so important in ensuring that services are delivered to meet the needs of citizens, and the hands-on approach of GovJam emphasises this and challenged my thinking and my assumptions.

Alastair’s reflections –

Alastair’s team looked at trust, and how it can be built and lost. An initial vox pop at the coach station and the HMV institute revealed (counter intuitively) that the quickest way to get trust was to lie!  We decided that this wasn’t the best basis for an idea, so refined our objective to looking at building trust between individuals and organisations.

Our initial prototype was a Lego based extravaganza of architecture, featuring bespoke collaborative and interactive spaces but with the drawback of being quite difficult to move.  Following feedback from fellow jammers and potential users, we moved to a ‘toolkit’ approach that retained the principles of using space but could be delivered in different scenarios and supported by individual and peer reflections. We ended up with the foundations of something potentially appealing and it would be interesting to see where it could go.

Having experience of the prototyping process already, I was most interested in the collaborative element of the jam, bringing together people from different backgrounds and knowledge under a common theme.  The approach of ‘doing not talking’ was also a refreshing way delivering something from idea to testing in a short space of time.

If you are interested in finding out more you can visit with snippets of the actual event via #GGJBrum

Thoughts from TEDx Brum

by Debbie Needle

I went to TEDx Brum this year because the Future Council programme team pitched for a stall and secured a small space to connect with other people attending the event.

For most of us this was a very new type of event, we didn’t know exactly what to expect or if anything would actually be produced from being part of this collaboration. But – wow! By the end of the day our senses were on overload and our minds were spinning.

It was a bit like ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ where contestants arrive with bags of unknown ingredients.  In this case my “bag” was overflowing with poems, stories, feelings, songs, science, art, pain, pleasure, laughter and power, filled up by all of us together, talking and tweeting and sharing our thoughts, ideas and actions.

After, when you have tipped out the contents of your bag, you don’t immediately see what you can make from such an overwhelming mixture but slowly as the days pass after the event, you start to create a menu of ideas from what everyone had provided.

You don’t arrive on the day with a problem to solve or a thing to make, you don’t leave with a solution, you simply continue in a changed state that is now inspired and innovative.

I continue to watch cookery programmes and one of my current favourites is Master Chef, where the contestants have an “invention test” so as I look forward to cooking with all sorts of new ingredients in a life beyond Birmingham City Council I hope that we will all be able to work together in the future council to make spaces to find inspiration in what other people do, meaning from the information we share and innovation through experimentation, after all it would be a great shame if we never chose something new from the menu when you know there are so many different things to try.

National Epilepsy Week – a man on a mission to raise awareness

Birmingham City Council finance officer Kasam Parkar is a man on a mission to raise awareness of a condition that affects thousands of people in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands. He explains why he is playing an active role in National Epilepsy Week.

You probably wouldn’t know it but there’s a chance you’ve passed someone today with epilepsy. Maybe you sat next someone with epilepsy on the bus or train, maybe a work colleague has epilepsy.

The fact is that epilepsy affects 54,000 people in the West Midlands – I’m one of them – and 87 people in the UK are diagnosed every day. That’s a total of 32,000 new cases each year.

So why is the condition so rarely talked about?

Epilepsy has, for decades, been identified as a large contributor to death and disability in every nation around the world. This serious and common disease is overlooked, underfunded, under diagnosed and under-treated. Sadly that has stopped individuals from talking about epilepsy, leading to a lack of public awareness.

That’s why National Epilepsy Week (May 16-21) offers the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about this most common neurological condition, characterised by unusual electrical activity in the brain, which is still very much misunderstood.

The main aim of the week is to raise awareness about epilepsy to dispel the myths, social stigmas and discrimination attached to the condition. People are considered to have less value to their community and are seen as only dependent on welfare. This view, together with a sense of vulnerability when it comes to seizures, places people with epilepsy at severe risk.

This year with the support of the Birmingham City Council I have decided to raise the awareness of Epilepsy within Birmingham.

  • I appeared on Noor TV to raise the awareness on Epilepsy within the Asian Community with the help of an Epilepsy Action Manager, Epilepsy Consultant and Epilepsy Nurse.
  • I contacted a Birmingham bus company, National Express West Midlands, who kindly agreed to donate poster space to national charity Epilepsy Action. The posters are part of Epilepsy Action’s Let’s Talk about Epilepsy campaign
  • I arranged with numerous organisations and companies, including all the Midlands football teams, to donate prizes to raise the awareness of Epilepsy with all the funds raised going to research.
  • I persuaded branches of Costa Coffee, Barclays Bank, and Sainsbury’s to put up posters, banners, and leaflets to raise the awareness of Epilepsy. Not only that, but during National Epilepsy Week the staff will also kindly raise money for the cause.
  • I have taken leave to raise the awareness by selling raffle tickets in all five CAB buildings across Birmingham. I will decorate the buildings and aim to spread the word about epilepsy to as many people as possible.
  • I have arranged an Epilepsy Awareness Training Day for all staff in the Council.
  • The week’s events culminate in a sponsored walk at Cannon Hill Park on Saturday 21 May which will be opened by the Lord Mayor. Further attractions are set to include bouncy castle, face painting and a variety of stalls.

I’m one of over 60 million people in the world that are affected by epilepsy. That’s more than twice the amount of people that suffer from cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease combined. But, despite the prevalence of epilepsy in our communities, it is a neurological disorder that continues to be widely misunderstood. I am committed to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by epilepsy, and ensuring that the requisite funding is available for the treatment and support services that people with epilepsy critically need.