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London Lab #7, Tuesday 29th November

LOPO’s annual recap and the unintentional Gold Hall of fame

It’s twenty to three on the day of our event, Tom and I have spent a decent amount of time preparing for this one, it’s the last lab of the year. We’re going to look back over what we’ve achieved as a community and celebrate all the great people and projects that make the world a little better every day. Tom makes a quick call to see if dogs are allowed in the pub. It’s a more important phone call than we realise(!) As far as we’re concerned, all stripes and all species are welcome 😉 – our strength is in our diversity. There’s a long pause… Tom starts to explain: ‘we’ve had a rolling booking at the pub since July, we’re from the League of Pragmatic Optimists, we hold a meetup in their room upstairs once a month and… we’re supposed to be holding an event there tonight!’ Turns out, the pub has changed hands and the entire building is undergoing a refurbishment. We don’t have a venue.

After the initial panic, pragmatism and serendipity step in, There’s another pub just up the road. They’ve had a cancellation earlier in the day and they’d love to accommodate us. Or LOWPO, as they mistakenly write on the reservation signs. The lab can still go ahead.

We’re now in a much grander venue than we imagined: the room has floor to ceiling gold wallpaper and the most enormous Christmas tree. It’s very festive and vaguely resembles the impressive Gold Hall in Stockholm’s City Hall, best known for hosting the Nobel Prize Winners ball. What a happy coincidence.

The scene for our Annual Recap is set… in the Gold Hall, of The Crown Tavern, number 43 Clerkenwell Green.

Annual recap – our principles

If you’re anything like us, you’ll need reminding of these regularly – some, on a daily basis. We’ve also developed a series of LOPO cards that we’ll be using at the labs to encourage interaction and principle-based questioning on the tables during our project pitches.

Here’s a quick summary:

Principle #1 – Have an unashamed optimism of ambition. Don’t be ashamed to be optimistic. In a culture awash with cynicism and apathy, we need optimism – more than ever – especially when it’s tied to a goal, based on action. It’s the pragmatism that affords an unashamed level of optimism and ambition.

Principle #2 – Involve yourself in projects that are bigger than you. Projects bring people together, they give us a shared goal and a common purpose. We look towards the Sustainable Development Goals, as something bigger than us, to provide a framework for the projects LOPO supports.

Principle #3 – Engineer serendipity. The juxtaposition of engineering-serendipity helps to explain the benefits of it – magic/logic, art/science. It’s like a magical account, you can’t know what it holds but there’s always something in there. It never fails for the people who commit to it.

Principle #4 – You are what you do, not what you intend to do. Be defined by the actions you take: give feedback, offer advice, volunteer your time, pitch a project. LOPO was founded as an antidote to the ‘talking shop’ to help us do good stuff because actions really do speak louder than words.

Principle #5 – Making mistakes is ok. The formal education system has trained this out of us; it’s perpetuated a fear of failure. People have become too afraid to try. ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new’ which is exactly why mistakes should be celebrated. We need to support each other in mistaking more, so we learn faster, collectively.

Principle #6 – Commit to evidence. Think about the change you want to see, how you involve people in it and then think about the helpful metrics and measures that can show whether you’re heading in the right direction. We need your help with this for LOPO. (More on that later.)

Principle #7 – Play the long game. This is closely tied to making mistakes. Change takes time, you’ll lose more in the beginning. Set realistic expectations and goals. Build a great support network. We’re in this together, for the long haul.

Principle #8 – Police your cynicism. Cynicism is ‘the ultimate enemy of getting things done and changing things for the better’. Scepticism, on the other hand, has a role to play in helping you consider what might go wrong, so you can formulate a plan to stop that from happening. Make sure spend just as much time considering all the desirable outcomes too! Who knew it would take 200,000 years to reach one billion people on the planet, and then – thanks to advances in modern medicine and technology – it would only take another 200 years to add 6.5 billion more. That has to be a good measure of the unintentional success of our species. On that basis, we don’t have time to be cynical.

Building authentic, human connections

Up next is Jed Lazar to pitch his project called CONNECTR. Inspired by the 36 questions to fall in love first published in the New York Times, that went viral. Jed wants to develop an App that appeals to people in a similar vein – helping them build more authentic connections in a variety of settings with your partner; on a date; with a friend; with someone you’ve just met; or even, with a family member. We give it a go. All the LOPOers in the room are paired up with someone they’ve never spoken to before and each person takes it in turns to answer the following questions:

1.       What’s one stupid thing that you did when you were younger?

2.       Who is someone you admire, and what do you admire about them?

3.       When is a time you felt connected to nature?

Jed wants honest feedback. Would you use the App? Should it be a dating App or for general use? What features make you want to use it? What could be added for the App to deliver more authentic connections? Here are some of the key lessons CONNECTR got out of it:

·        What if the app could match you with another player somewhere else in the world to have these interesting conversations over instant messenger?

·        Better ways to ask critical questions about how people use Apps and if this App will truly meet a human need.

·        A graphic designer who may want to help on this project.

Jed was really grateful, there was: ‘so much good stuff!’ he said ‘that crowd really provided.’ If you have any further thoughts, contact Jed at: Jed will be running another CONNECTR workshop in January, more details on that to follow.

On to…

The LOPO Gold Hall of fame

2016 has been a busy year for LOPO in London. We’ve hosted seven labs, supporting 15 projects that touch on 10 out of the 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is what you’ve been a part of:

Crowdfunding ecological farming? Omar wanted to use his background in finance to raise money for ecological farms. LOPO gave him the confidence he needed to ‘go for it’ and work full-time on the project. After a couple of months, it turned out the crowdfunding platform wasn’t financially viable. He has ‘no regrets’.

With a 44-year lease on an Island, the founders of the Obonjan Island Project and its visitors, are in a unique position to make the most of the island’s natural beauty, while protecting and restoring its ecology. Tom, LOPO’s co-Founder, helped get the project off the ground and develop its ethos, along with the talks programme for its first summer festival. He wanted to share the concept with LOPOers and get our input into one particular aspect of the Island life to do with ocean literacy. Although the project didn’t work out as Tom expected it to, he said: ‘it was a valuable learning experience’.

We pitched the new LOPO Lab format to kick start the London LOPO community. We wanted you to tell us if you’d like to be a part of the community? What you could offer? And whether you’d come along to future events? It turned out the answer was yes! We also found a new co-worker along the way, Rob – you’ll hear more from him later.

The Honest Loaf is a social enterprise set up by Graham Penn, a fifth-generation baker with a huge heart, who’s passionate about baking bread with local ingredients and local people in disused premises. He wanted feedback on how-to take the business model to the next level, Graham and his business partner Maxine are now developing a training programme that will share the Honest Loaf model with anyone who wants to set up their own one!

Annette Mees’ pioneering project called the Almanac of the Future looks to map the future over the next 50 years involving 15 and 65 year olds. Annette was looking for new like-minded people to join the project. ‘I’m now developing the project with Abby who I met at the last LOPO. She is amazing.’  Post-Brexit, Annette and the team have run five special intergenerational workshops across England with teenagers and over-60s, to co-create much-needed positive visions of the future for our country – culminating in a Future Assembly held at Somerset House.

Herstory uses feminist art and participatory practices to engage people of all genders and all ages in women’s history. When Alice, its creator, came to LOPO she wanted support with how to make Herstory bigger. Since then, Alice has run Herstory takeovers in collaboration with The Photographers Gallery, the Tate and at the Southbank Centre. She’s been in conversation with Jenni Murray from Radio 4’s Women’s Hour and involved with the relaunch of the Feminist Times contributing a regular Herstory column on SHEROs.

Luminitsa is an online, outdoor community centre, designed as safety net, offering ways to connect and improve our physical, mental and environmental health. Conceived by Charlie George, who’s suffered problems with her own health, she wanted suggestions and support with how to make the services on offer accessible to as many people as possible. Based on the feedback she received, Charlie is considering changing the name to ‘Nourish club’. Pitching at LOPO gave Charlie confidence in her project and made it ‘ok to take small steps and be honest’.

Tunza Gorilla is a sustainable fashion brand with a mission to protect critically endangered gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, every purchase does something good: a Tunza t-shirt for £10.99 plants a tree to protect the gorillas home or a polo shirt for £17.99 helps train a future ranger. When Richard Milburn, the founder, came to LOPO, Tunza was about to launch a new line of t-shirts, he wanted to know: what would make you buy a Tunza t-shirt over H&M or Uniqlo? Richard got direct market research to help inform a new marketing strategy, he’s now putting into action.

Olio is a free mobile App for anyone with leftover food, designed to kick start the food sharing revolution. You take a picture of your leftovers and upload it to the App to share your leftovers with someone in your neighbourhood. Think ‘Freecycle meets Tinder’! They’ve had 80,000 downloads, and 125,000 food items have been shared so far. Their biggest challenge is supply: how does Olio bring mainstream users on board and make it second nature for people to post items? After surveying thousands of users, Olio decided to remove all pricing, everyone agreed: the most important thing is scale not profitability.

Oliver Comberti founded the Before I Die Network in response to her own experience of being young, unemployed and disillusioned with the (lack of) support available, she’s building a supportive community to: ‘help people figure out what they want to do with their lives, and how to get here’. Olivia got: ‘Lots of wonderfully kind words, and a mass of post-it offers! Several offers of support for re-building our website, some useful links on impact measurement. I found the evening crazy-inspiring’ Olivia said.

Rob Fenton came to LOPO to pitch the Buena Vista Start Up Club, a project he’s setting up for digital nomads in the Dominican Republic. He wants to attract expert developers and digital specialists, who want to be location independent. In return for a co-working space with a view, digital nomads will be asked to share their skills with the local community to give something back and help reduce poverty on the Island. Rob asked for help with getting the community off the ground, he made a valuable connection to someone with crowding-funding expertise and met a videographer. The first group of digital nomads go out in this month.

Tom, from LOPO, pitched again to share the rare model of his Cooperative Housing Trust. It’s an innovative housing model not many people have experience of. Having undergone a huge amount of change in the past year, the new group of Trustees sought input from LOPO on how can they can best further, and fulfill, the original mission of the Trust in a way that supports affordable living in London. ‘The process brought us together as a house and instilled trust in a way that has been lacking for years’ Tom said.

The Urban Community Experiment is about demonstrating that community living can be achieved and sustained in our cities, and accessible to people from every walk of life. The project is built around an intentional community that needs: a commitment of time and energy, a common focus, and inner work. A pilot community is planned on a 132ft oil barge. @urbancommexp asked for feedback on their vision and use of language. Since the pitch, they’ve set up a new meetup, at the Islington Impact Hub, on how-to design intentional communities.

CONNECTR – As above (: Jed said what LOPO provides is invaluable: ‘you’re giving people hope for a better future, and empowerment to be a part of creating it. I can’t think of two more important gifts to give the world!’

What a collection! The people behind these projects are doing amazing things, they deserve a huge amount of recognition and appreciation for everything they do. We’re so happy to have been involved in each and every one of these projects – and massively proud and grateful for what the community has contributed to, in big ways and small.

Some of the projects may have come to an end but that’s ok, it’s not about the end result – it’s about the time, energy, enthusiasm, support, commitment and perseverance it takes to be part of something worth doing. It’s the doing bit that really counts. In fact, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the projects that don’t work out, just as much as the ones that do because it’s often where we learn the most. To help enact this, from next year, we’re thinking of creating a ‘Museum of Mistakes’ or project ‘Graveyard’ or ‘Scrapheap’ so we can keep up with the valuable lessons we learn from our collective mistakes and continue evolving, faster, together.

We need your feedback

Help us get better at what we do! For the new year, complete our LOPO next-level survey. We’re committing to evidence before we take our next, brave steps. Help us shape where we go next. Your view really does matter: it could be the difference between us running more LOPO events, going global, or going more local! Please complete the survey before the end of January. With heartfelt thanks, in advance.

Grass roots with digital shoots

To close LOPO for 2016, Rob, the newest member of the LOPO team, read his letter to the future. Since joining us in summer, Rob has helped build design-thinking into our processes and created the LOPO cards. LOPO has been like a an in-person extension to the digital engagement platform he was already exploring:

‘My vision is to use the power of participation to make global challenges more achievable, and more meaningful, in people’s daily lives. I think there’s some truth in the anonymous quote, ‘To be incrementally better, compete. To be exponentially better, cooperate.’

Read the letter in full here. As Rob says: ‘Sometimes, we focus so much on climbing the mountain, that we forget to even turn around and look at the view.’

This look back over LOPO 2016 has been amazing, inspiring, energising – and thoroughly deserving of the unintentional Gold Hall. There’s much to celebrate as we continue climbing.

Thank you for coming with us. We couldn’t do it without you.

Onwards and upwards…