To help us understand the impact of Breathing Spaces in St Denys we engaged Naomi Jones as our Learning Partner. She worked with us over the year to help develop our Theory of Change (see below) and provide an evaluation of the project. Her learning report is available here. A short executive summary is available here. We’re really pleased that the overall response to the project has been very positive and we’re keen to see how we can increase our impact in the future.
Having the continual support and encouragement of Sarah & Belinda at Nesta and working with Naomi has been invaluable. The key learning points from the report are as follows:
- The project made good inroads into generating collective community action and influencing policy. However, both these things take more time than was available to the project. For Breathing Spaces to really have an impact it would need to continue and build on its existing momentum.
- The project’s considered and inclusive approach alongside the range of options it offered for residents to engage with it as a project and get involved in community action were seen as fundamental to its success. If the project does continue or scale in any way, it will be important to retain and build on these approaches.
- Breathing Spaces had a fruitful three-pronged approach to influencing policy which included direct project team-level conversations with policy makers, generating higher levels of community action, and creating opportunities for residents to connect with key stakeholders. All three elements are important and should be continued if the project seeks more funding.
- The project had positive unintended consequences including building new connections between and opportunities for the two Southampton universities. These should be acknowledged in any future iterations of the project either as part of the project’s theory of change or when designing future activities for the project to deliver.
- Communication was felt to be a relative weak point of the project and if the project continues it should explore opportunities for communicating its existence, key messages and sensor data more widely and in a range of formats.
- The successful collaboration with the universities worked well for this iteration of the project as it was small and early stage. Any future iterations may want to explore options for formalising this relationship and for bringing higher levels of technological expertise into the core project team.
As part of our work with Nesta we have also developed a Theory of Change for the Breathing Spaces project. The aim is to capture the activities, outcomes and aspirations for the project, not only to help with evaluating its impact but also as a visual way of describing what we’d like to achieve.
This has been an iterative process, starting with a workshop at Nesta back when we had only been shortlisted for the grant; and it’s been refined through working with the lovely Naomi, our Learning Partner, and the wonderful Sarah & Belinda from Nesta. It has involved a large number of post it notes and hours with PowerPoint, but most importantly, a long time spent thinking about how we can create change and what kind of city we would like to live in.
It could do with an artistic reworking, but for the moment we’re just keen to find out whether it makes sense to people who haven’t been involved in the process. Do you think collaboration and co-production can create a healthy, sustainable city powered by its communities?