The Good Lab

Hello City Camp Birmingham! How can we do good better?

02 August 2016

By Lauren.

Hello City Camp Birmingham! How can we do good better?

Last month we hosted a dinner as part of City Camp Birmingham. City Camp is an open festival, bringing together pioneering ideas from across the world. Exploring the theme of city futures and ultimately the future of Birmingham, the open programme recognises that we all have a role to play in feeding into the city's dialogue and unleashing positive solutions. This year's event was a prototype for an annual festival of ideas.

We jumped at the chance to host a conversation about Good Lab and our mission in a city continually proving itself to be doing interesting work in new and different ways. We were joined by fifteen individuals from local illustrators, students, charity trustees to European entrepreneurs. Everyone had their own reason for being interested in the work of the Good Lab: 

"I just don't understand what charities do with the money they get"Bing

"What is the role of small charities in the work of the Good Lab?"Lizzie

We split into smaller groups to have more conversations around topics we identified as being important to everyone in the room. These were the topics covered and we left with a host of questions...


What does good trust feel like? Birmingham SOUP, inspired by the original Detriot SOUP, is a good example of how trust builds up over time. At each SOUP dinner, there are four presentations on projects ranging from art, urban agriculture, social justice, social entrepreneurs, education, technology and more. Each presenter has 4 minutes to share their idea. Audience members then vote on what project they think benefits the city/their neighbourhood the most. Whichever presenter gets the most votes wins all the money collected at the door! Accountability and transparency play vital roles in building trust. Many of us talked passionately about the desire to know quickly where money given to charities goes. Our team have been looking at new products like Insureth and who are using blockchain technology to change how we trust products and services. What does trust look like in a complex often a bureaucratic set of systems?

Giving and receiving

Data tells us that the majority of charity trustees are white middle-class men. What would a charity board that young people aspire to sit on look like? The language we use around giving and receiving is changing. What are the differences between giving, gifting, investing and contributing? People want to see behind the scenes. Imagine we could shadow a charity researcher for a month? How might we make it easier to give tiny amount each month? This is what products like Barclay Ring Card aiming to do.


We know that more than half of all donations to charity are from the over-60s. We know that young people are more likely to volunteer than older people. We talked about the emotional relationship we all had with fundraising, often guilty and shameful, and the need for a way for raising money that feels physically different. How might we gamify how we raise funds? There are some great examples out there like Cell Slider where ordinary people learn how to analyse real life cancer data, helping scientists move ever closer to a cure. So far more than 2 million images have been analysed. We can now link our physical activity to raising money via tools like Striday and Better Points but it's worth noting none of these things have achieved national scale.

Do Good

We want to be seen to be doing good therefore if we don't give to charities are we bad?

Building a new perception of what good is dependent on how we think humans work. It's really easy to see how we can do good with resources but how do we make it easy to see how we can do good with non-physical things like our relationships or our friends? How much can we change systems we've inherited versus papering over the cracks. For example, is homelessness something we fix through charities alone? A systems thinking approach would suggest not. What is the boundary between charities and political campaigning and how much they should cross that line?

This conversation raised more questions than it did answers. It's important for us to have conversations about the principles behind the Good Lab out with London so thank you for having us Birmingham and we look forward to continuing the conversation. 

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