A guest post by Chuck Whitehead, Transition Town Tooting: TTT, CARAS (Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers – a charity based in Tooting) and The Grange have just finished a month of seeking public votes in the Aviva Community Fund for Gardens of Refuge, a partnership project with refugees and asylum seekers plus the local community in south London (see the project description here). Some of you may have received our (repeated) mails or tweets, and voted for us – thank you!
4000 projects across the UK shared the Aviva process, split into many categories. Our own category was Health, Disability & Wellbeing, and the funding target £5000-£10000.
What happened and what did the experience feel like?
We trusted each other. CARAS and TTT have just completed an 18 month project (Rooting in Tooting) and we trust and respect each other. That was a great foundation for both developing this project and starting this weird month of chasing votes.
We had a shared vision without too much clutter. Our project description on the Aviva site inspired us without too much detail, so we had a second firm foundation which we believed in.
We’d never done this before as a team….and we’d never all met each other (and we never did meet in the voting month). Four of us focused on getting votes…what was our job? Just to push the ‘please vote’ message out & try and keep that going over the month? Without being simplistic, that was our task. En route ee developed the nuances of how to do the messages. We started with a plan for callouts but not with an overall month’s flow.
We had many images of the process: is it a marathon or a sprint? Is the tortoise or the hare more successful? Is this like those scenes from wartime films when uniformed women push models of planes around on a map of England? Or more like a horse race, with tactics, kidology and side bets? When votes started climbing, each of us probably thought – oh that was because I have just done x or y. But we were all doing that…so we did not know.
Voting was anonymous, that was a new experience for us because we like contact. When multiplied across hundreds of people that felt different from the kind of relationships we are used to in our projects. Feedback to help motivate us was seeing the vote total increase, and to get messages back in conversation, on twitter, in emails. Unlike say in a crowdfunding relationship we did not know who was supporting us or which of our efforts really had an impact. We could not thank voters individually.
Making progress….and so are the other projects! Who did we feel we were competing with for funds? We knew several other projects in process, but not in our category. We saw our votes increase…and because the ‘top four’ in each funding group go through to the finals, we kept an eye on the vote totals of other projects in our category. They might be a cancer charity, or a big school – none of us ‘directly comparable’. We had to click in and out of over 200 projects to get an idea of vote totals in our category…and that was always a moving picture.
We needed to trust each other in our little team that we weren’t duplicating efforts or alternatively completely missing likely voters. We shared what we’d been doing and planned to do; we were sharing ideas & encouraging each other.
We used all the media, platforms and relationships we could: emails to individuals, networks, groups, lists; facebook posts on personal, group and CARAS & TTT sites; twitter from numerous accounts and to many other individual and group users; flyers at events; web posts on our own sites, local networks, personal and public web groups; talks, stands and face to face conversations. We felt we should simply go for it and not be reticent.
There were surprises. We had never spotted that there’s a Transition Town site on Linked In. Checking contact details for other Transition groups in London, we found there are many we’d never followed on twitter or facebook -sorry! We never found if other Transition groups were in the Aviva scheme…
Local or distant support? Seeking local votes seemed a different process from remote and network votes. A local voter may know of several ‘Aviva’ projects in the borough to share her ten votes across. A distant voter may be already committed to a project in their community….or discover one when we contacted them. Would foreign votes be disqualified, as we saw near the end in the Aviva small print?
on achieving the project funding now, and that takes a different kind of energy.
Racing for the finish line in the last week. On the last Wednesday we were at 3400 votes, and by the end at Friday midday we were at 6200. Wow! Partly the increase came from specific appeals to new groups, and partly from appeals based on urgency…that home straight seemed to be a motivator. It was a wild two days for us all as we rode that final wave (there’s another image…).
Affirmation. At 12:00 on Friday 18th we knew our total of 6389 votes and that over 600 individuals believed the Gardens of Refuge project was inspiring and valuable. That felt great. Later that evening one of us went through all the 200+ projects in our group and shared that we seemed to be ranked 3rd. On Tuesday 22nd Aviva confirmed that we’re ‘Finalists’, with more conventional next steps.
A first-time experience. We did not know what the month would be like – would we do it again? We have learned a lot about social media. The energy, teamworking and shared experience of this as a first time immersion are very valuable. We have made new friends and re-connected with others either in depth or just in quick messages. Achieving a high voting total became the goal. We have to pick up and focus on achieving the project funding now, and that takes a different kind of energy.