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London’s Actionista: A Social Engagement Layer for Londoners and their civic Services

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14 October 2010

Big Society Profile

Big Society Profile

The RAAKonteurs put their heads together. CityCamp London inspired us to come up with a tech solution that would benefit London.

We had a number of ideas, but in the end we settled on an API, not just on a specific service. Enabling citizen developers to build digital tools and services for the public good requires that all the building blocks are in place first.

View more presentations from RAAK.

But the building blocks aren’t there. Below you will see what we mean.

On top of that, many digital civic tools are very dependent on data from the public sector. That is all good and well.

If you think about it, most of the data mash-ups – which don’t have a social element – have very little traction. The kind of tools that excite us are tools that don’t use data but create them – so called user generated content – and tools that are by its nature social. Like Ushahidi.

So we thought that a social and engagement layer was the missing link. A platform that allows services to encourage repeat and hopefully also collective action. An engine for Big Society if you will.

Why an engagement layer? We have built collaboration platforms before and know how hard it can be. Read our previous post – When a Poke becomes a Nudge – on why it is important. But suffice to say it’s a system design challenge to get people to give up their free time to do stuff. There are some intangible things you have to give back to them in return.

So what’s the idea?

The concept is simple.

We want to build a platform, mainly an API, into which the GLA or London Councils can register good social outcomes that they want to encourage.

On the other hand, specific Big Society service providers can then tap into this platform in order to encourage engagement with their services. The platform will allow Londoners to show how much they have contributed to social good and that they’re part of a community. It will show their ‘goodprint’ (as opposed to carbon footprint) so to speak.

Of course the devil – as always – is in the details. But let’s try and explain this further.


FixMyStreet is a success but could benefit from being more social

For example: Hackney Council wants to encourage the reporting of problems – like broken pipes – in their area. They register the reporting of local problems as a social good (an action) they want to encourage. This might be represented by a particular kind of Badge, for example The Reporter Badge. Then any service provider that facilitates this action can award the Badge to the person who made the report via a website or mobile app. The service provider could be both the Hackney Council’s website, or an independent service like FixMyStreet.

Another example: the GLA registers the use of public transport as a social good they want to encourage. Any user that completes 20 journeys via London public transport gets the ‘Transport 20 Badge’. London Transport taps into the API and when a user completes 20 journeys as measured via their Oyster Card, they are rewarded with the Badge.

Foursquare uses a Badge system to encourage check-ins

Foursquare uses a Badge system to encourage check-ins

Social goods can be registered by London authorities for doing things like:

  • voting;
  • volunteering;
  • cycling.

As well as being at places like:

  • Attending the Mayor of London’s Fireworks Show;
  • Visiting 5 of London’s Parks;
  • Living in a particular London Area like Brixton for more than 10 years.

Passports and Profiles

Each end user of the API gets a London Actionista Passport, which is also exposed as an API and can contain further useful data about them to be used by services (like gender, age, and area of residence, the Badges they have and the actions they did to get them).

While the API is key to the platform, the service also has a website element that acts like a Badge Bank for each participating Londoner. It acts as a profile for each user, which will be very useful for all the services to tap into.

But also for users. They can display the Badges they have earned (Boris Biker) and get widgets and embed codes which they can use to show off their Badges on platforms like Facebook or WordPress.

The services should enable linking to platforms like Facebook and Twitter whenever possible – even for authentication.

Boris Biker Badge in newsfeed

Boris Biker Badge in newsfeed

Will services buy into this?

We think so. Even the relatively successful FixMyStreet struggles to get users to follow up their reports, which are often made anonymously.

This platform will be a cross-local-government social layer into which new and existing services, social enterprises and mash-ups will be able to tap into, making social services and apps easier to do and cross-pollinating users.

Who is the idea aimed at?

At London local government, social enterprises and any developer that would like to develop and incentivise public action. Probably even commercial companies that have positive benefits for society, like gyms or Streetcar.

What extra help or expertise will RAAK need to help you make this idea a reality?

We need to have at least one big local government body like the GLA buying into the concept and to help flesh out the details of the functional specifications.

We already tried our luck with Nesta. No luck.

Come on guys. You know where to find us.

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  • Posted by Ann
    February 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    De Big Badge Society… Leuk idee! I want to see badges for being honest enough to leave a note if you hit someone else’s car! ;) Would citizens be able to award eachother badges?

  • Posted by Gerrie Smits
    February 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    That could be a nice addition actually. Thanks for commenting.

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