Big design challenge

Big Design Challenge

Helping people to address big challenges facing their communities.

Big Design Challenge

Helping people to address the big challenges facing their communities.

Cornwall’s issues are well documented. Local average earnings are well below the national average. 5% of all homes in Cornwall (25% in Isles of Scilly) are recorded as second homes – average house prices are 8.3 times higher than local average earnings. 45,000 households are believed to be living in fuel poverty. 4.5 tonnes of C02 are emitted into the atmosphere each year – almost twice that of Iceland. Many interconnected issues such as worklessness, unaffordable homes and hidden poverty have in some cases gone unsolved for generations.

Our vision for this project was to invite local citizens to tackle the issues that matter most to them, and to support them through the co-creation of solutions. We began this process by creating a platform for ideas sharing, collaboration and funding to help community groups turn their good ideas into real enterprises. Rather than mobilising people as consumers (of services), we sought to mobilise people as citizens. Same people, of course, but swayed by different motivations – a civic responsibility where doing the right thing is paramount to retaining, and improving, quality of life.

The Big Design Challenge launched with a countywide search for challenges. We used a mix of communications activities to create awareness and gather public opinion; including surprising early morning shoppers with 500 balloons in Truro and making impromptu videos with local comedian, and friend of Sea, Kernow King.

The power of the crowd-based behaviours on the internet encouraged us to develop a proprietary crowdsourcing platform. This platform allowed people from all over Cornwall to submit challenges and ideas to geographical locations or predefined themes such as health, homes or environment. The website enabled people to have a voice and show their support for other ideas.

Given that Cornwall is a rural county with an aging population (who are not necessarily online), we visited most major towns in Cornwall with unique street based installations. This campaign enabled people from all over Cornwall to participate and inspired many people to think about harnessing their resources for maximum common good. New friendships were formed as people from all over Cornwall came together to develop their ideas.

Six of the most supported challenges received support from design and business mentors to develop their ideas into social enterprises. The challenges addressed challenges such as sustainable towns, youth unemployment, community spaces, local food produce and unaffordable housing. We provided each challenge group with a design toolkit, development funding and access to workshops to help them develop a business case and pitch for further kick starter funds.

As an experiment into community participation and subsequent activism, the Big Design Challenge proved that there is no shortage of good ideas coming from people in communities.

The supported ideas were:

  • Shop by layby – Awarded £10,000 to deliver dedicated units in laybys around Cornwall where local farmers can sell their produce.
  • Market House St Austell – Awarded £5,000 to involve the whole community in creating a vibrant community space in an under-used building.
  • Powering Wadebridge – WREN (Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network) was awarded £5,000 to help the town of Wadebridge take small, realistic, sustainable steps to reduce their energy usage and generate their own energy.

Our collaborative design process relied on people organizing themselves, working well as a team and having a shared end goal. These factors were intensified in a community situation where people led busy lives and often found it difficult to give up their time for altruistic pursuits. We learnt that encouraging enterprise in communities requires patience; incentivisation and systemic changes to the way councils procure and support local services.
Nevertheless, the successful groups maintained a strong belief that what they were doing was making a difference and having an impact; and by breaking down the barriers to community action, we concluded that an appetite certainly exists within communities to help themselves and become more self-sufficient in the longer-term.
The Big Design Challenge shaped Cornwall Council’s successful bid to NESTA’s ‘Creative Councils’ programme. We are now creating the mechanisms and processes by which Cornwall Council can commission services from local communities and co-develop community-based social enterprises – a process whereby citizens are no longer regarded as the objects of change by local authorities but the drivers of it.
The Big Design Challenge crowdsourcing website was a finalist at the UK Public Sector Digital Awards and winner of Media and Innovation Award for Best Community Web Use, in 2011; and was the precursor to Shaped By Us.

Sea has continued to work with the Technology Strategy Board on a number of digital projects.