Hartlepool Action Lab 2017: How, why and who?

Picture of hands

After a good few months of planning behind the scenes, we are excited to get underway with the 2017 Hartlepool Action Lab on 19 and 20 October.

What is an Action Lab?

An Action Lab is a short term, goal orientated, data driven, user-focused change effort. In practical terms, this year’s Action Lab will be a two day event held in Hartlepool attended by 30 local people and local and national organisations.

Our colleagues Community Solutions will be in charge of facilitation. They have a track record of facilitating community members to take action on homelessness and other complex social challenges. As part of Built for Zero, Community Solutions coordinated an effort to re-house 100,000 homeless US Army veterans. Other projects include the Brownsville Partnership and North Hartford Partnership.

Picture of handsAction Labs are spaces for people to collaboratively develop solutions to complex problems. Complex problems are ever shifting in form, require a range of actors to solve and are understood through a constant flow of information.

For these reasons, an Action Lab change effort requires participants to be highly responsive to changes in the real world and driven by user feedback: we’ll be sticking to a vision and goals, being agile with the plan to achieve them.

This often isn’t our default way of working. Often, we set detailed plans and are encouraged to stick to them due to the terms on which resources were committed. Action Labs are different. They encourage participants to have a bias towards action to understand the best way to achieve social change through experimentation and ‘failing forwards’. Work is structured over 100 day cycles, to allow us to learn from what works and change what needs to be better.

Action Labs borrow practices, research and approaches from a book called Switch by Dan and Chip Heath. The book is essentially about how to change behaviour within organisations or local communities when you do not have ‘structural’ power.

The Heaths recommend three things to achieve change.

Switch thinking

Switch by Dan and Chip HeathFirst, we have to be crystal clear about what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it. “Improve your health”, for example, might not be a helpful goal. “Buy semi-skimmed milk instead of whole milk” (to cut fat intake), on the other hand, might be. The rational side of our brain needs a clear, solutions-focused steer, otherwise it can be paralysed by the range of possibilities. The Heaths write: “what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity”.

Second, change requires people to break out of habits and can bring uncertainty, which can be uncomfortable. To really drive things forward, we need an emotive case for action to break through inertia and bring partners on board. Rationality as presented in an Excel spreadsheet won’t do. The emotive case for action is partly about setting a nerve racking goal – 100,000 lives is a lot of people – but also about how the case for action is presented. Ask yourself. What has made you more inspired to act: talking to someone with direct, personal experience of a problem or reading about it third-hand in a newspaper or report? Behaviour change needs to appeal to our emotional side, a powerful agent of individual change.

Third, the Heaths talk about ‘clearing the path’. Simply put, in some cases there may be practical contributions to a problem. The book gives a simple example: people eat more popcorn when they have bigger buckets. To help people cut down sugar intake, the example suggests we use smaller packets.

The Action Lab will be a mix of the above tools and mind-sets, applied to our change effort to make Hartlepool people’s lives more affordable.

Our assets

The people participating in the Action Lab are our biggest asset. We’re really excited to work with a diverse range of participants from Hartlepool and beyond:

  • Fourteen community researchers, who had conversations with over 200 people about poverty and the cost of living in Hartlepool and produced this report
  • Anglican Water
  • Big Lottery Fund
  • Citizens Advice
  • Five Lamps
  • Hartlepool Borough Council
  • Hartlepool Financial Inclusion Partnership
  • Hartlepool and Stockton-On-Tees Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Hartlepool Trussel Trust Foodbank
  • Hartlepower
  • Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust
  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Northern Powergrid
  • Npower
  • One Unite
  • Tesco
  • Turn2Us
  • Virgin Money Foundation
  • West View Advice and Resource Centre
  • Wharton Trust

Get involved

We’re always keen to hear from people who share our vision of a Hartlepool without poverty. Get in touch with us by emailing hello@hartlepoolactionlab.org or phoning 07976 763756.

Follow the developments at the Action Lab this Thursday and Friday on Twitter: @HartActionLab

To engage with the outputs of this year’s Action Lab, we invite you to a public launch event in Hartlepool on 27 November. To reserve a free place, please follow this link and complete a short form.

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