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Running an Ideas Farm

What is it?
An Ideas Farm is a format for structuring a workshop with local people when you’re beginning with a ‘blank canvas’ in terms of issues and potential projects. It aims to bring a range of local people together – not just those who like attending traditional meetings. It also aims to build new connections between local people and groups, and to surface exciting new ideas that people in the community can work on. Above all, it’s about creating a situation where people feel more able to take action themselves, as a community, instead of just being asked for their opinion by a ‘powerful’ organisation like the council.

Key principles:

  • This is NOT a consultation event where people are invited to share their ideas in the hope that someone else goes away and takes action – people have to ‘grow their own’ ideas (hence the farming metaphor) by discussing them with others. It is about bringing people together to think about what THEY would like to explore doing collectively, as a community, to change something that matters to them.
  • There is no prior agenda – people in the room vote with their feet, joining in with the discussion that most interests them.
  • This is about focusing on what local people CAN do, not what they can’t. It shouldn’t just be an opportunity for people to complain. At this sort of event, there’s no one ‘in charge’ who is consulting or seeking feedback – so there’s no point in people using the time just to raise gripes. A key question to your neighbours in the room should be ‘so what can WE do?’

This format works well when your initial aim is to bring your neighbours together to start conversations about improving the area. There may be some issues or projects which you want to bring to people’s attention, or which are likely to be popular choices for discussion, but the point is that the workshop does not start out with a set topic – it all depends what people want to talk about on the day.