The long goodbye

My very good friend Sarah Shaw left IPPF today after serving for over 12 years.

She held a vari­ety of posts – we first met while she was busy, run­ning the lib­rary and look­ing after the photo col­lec­tion. As the in-house design­er at IPPF, the pho­to­graphy col­lec­tion of over 40,000 images was an enorm­ously import­ant resource – we needed them to help us com­mu­nic­ate the value of the Federation’s work in a subtle but power­ful way. While many in the organ­isa­tion did not value com­mu­nic­a­tions, Sarah had this bril­liant abil­ity to under­stand mul­tiple per­spect­ives and appre­ci­ated the value of pho­to­graphy more than most. She often was respons­ible for accom­pa­ny­ing pho­to­graph­ers on field trips and made a con­cer­ted effort to dis­tract each sub­ject in con­ver­sa­tion so that the pho­to­graph­er could move around unnoticed.

They always returned with a treas­ure trove of dazzling report­age-style images: real­ist­ic and nat­ur­al. The suc­cess of those trips was, at least in part, down to Sarah’s nat­ur­al tal­ents with oth­er people.

By the end of her time at IPPF, Sarah was spear­head­ing some really inter­est­ing advocacy work with the organisation’s loc­al affil­i­ates and she cham­pioned a new approach for increas­ing access. She’s due to start work­ing at Mar­ie Stopes in a month.

It was a real pleas­ure to be present at her leav­ing party to help her cel­eb­rate her many years at HQ. And meet­ing up with all my old col­leagues brought back some great memor­ies of work­ing there myself. I have so many fond memor­ies and made some lifelong friends there. 

The party was also a reaf­firm­a­tion for me per­son­ally that I did the right thing in leav­ing when I did. It’s been nearly two years since I depar­ted from “the moth­er­ship” and I have found it an enorm­ously chal­len­ging and dif­fi­cult exper­i­ence at times. But found­ing and build­ing up Folk Labs has taught me so much. I’ve nev­er really had enough time to look back. And the oppor­tun­it­ies present­ing them­selves to me (while less huge in their scale) are, in their own way, mountainous.

I’ve had so many exper­i­ences and oppor­tun­it­ies that I would nev­er have been offered at IPPF. And that’s not to say that I wasn’t offered plenty of oppor­tun­it­ies at Cent­ral Office. 

I miss the team I worked with enorm­ously and I regret not hav­ing more time to head down to Lon­don Bridge to keep in touch with them. 

Leav­ing an organ­isa­tion like that is very hard. It was espe­cially hard for me: I think I’m the sort of per­son who enjoys becom­ing part of a team and grow­ing with­in it. But, some­times, when you’ve climbed as high as you can with­in one organ­isa­tion, the only way to pro­gress is to “pro­mote your­self” extern­ally, and say­ing good­bye to that organ­isa­tion and say­ing hello to the next. 

What does real digital innovation look like in parks and public spaces?

I was for­tu­nate enough to attend Nesta’s “Digit­al Tech­no­logy in Parks & Open Spaces” event on the 30th July.

As always, Nesta fielded a genu­inely impress­ive lineup of speak­ers across all three of their ses­sions on how for­ward-think­ing loc­al author­it­ies and park man­agers are using tech­no­logy to increase pub­lic engage­ment, fun­draise and improve park management.

Over the course of the day, one speak­er – Aban­don Nor­mal Devices’ Seni­or Pro­du­cer, Ruth McCul­lough – stood out from the rest of the pan­el for me. She, above all the oth­er speak­ers, presen­ted a vis­ion of what it means to really engage the pub­lic in their own open spaces using digit­al technology.

The present­a­tion Ruth gave of the work AND have been doing over the past few years in pub­lic spaces had a sig­ni­fic­ant impact on my think­ing. It’s rare that one single speak­er at any event leaves me scrib­bling frantic­ally in my sketch­book. but her present­a­tion was so clear, it opened doors in my thinking.

AND’s approach to using cut­ting-edge tech­no­logy to engage with the pub­lic is clearly informed by an arts approach which places the pub­lic right in the centre  of the piece. I spent much of the rest of Thursday scrib­bling out ideas which flowed dir­ectly from what she had said.

What really opened up my think­ing was their use of all forms of “tech­no­logy” – not just web and mobile apps but a broad church of solu­tions includ­ing the Oculus Rift vir­tu­al real­ity kit, quad­ro­tor drones and even bespoke inter­act­ive pro­jec­tion sys­tems to engage the pub­lic with civic spaces and with one another.

This sort of ambi­tious use of tech­no­logy for pub­lic engage­ment helped to really lift my own think­ing about the work Folk Labs are get­ting involved with to encour­age great­er online and off­line civic engagement.

Could we deploy drones, 3d print­ing or inter­act­ive digit­al pro­jec­tion sys­tems to help cit­izens in Herne Hill to re-engage with their own civic spaces in a new and more excit­ing way? The idea of it is astounding.

Until I watched Ruth’s present­a­tion I hadn’t really thought at this level. Work­ing in loc­al com­munity tech­no­logy can stunt your ambi­tion if you’re not careful.

In future I feel as if I need to main­tain a more healthy level of ambi­tion or we run the risk of not bring­ing best prac­tices to the table.

I must also just men­tion Simon Poult­er from Met­al Cul­ture who also spoke pas­sion­ately about the import­ance of using the web appro­pri­ately to pro­tect the her­it­age of cul­tur­al assets cre­ated dur­ing loc­al com­munity pro­jects. His con­tri­bu­tion to the con­ver­sa­tion was incred­ibly thought­ful and sens­it­ive and I found his present­a­tion incred­ibly reward­ing and thought­ful. I could have listened to him for a lot longer.