Paper Paper Plain is created by Julia Suh and BlueChilli through Stockland Accelerator, which is looking for PropTech solutions to big problems. Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and/or sign up at www.paperplain.co to be the first to receive more information, including an invitation to our product showcase in Sydney on 1 May 2019.
The smallest unit of community resilience
My family moved from Seoul to Christchurch in the early 90s when the internet was a luxury and calling overseas was for emergencies only. As a treat, to temporarily transport ourselves to the linguistic and cultural safety and comfort of what we were used to, we would venture out to a Korean grocery store to rent Korean dramas which were taped and shipped to New Zealand after it was aired.
The first 5 years were the toughest. The isolation we experienced as new immigrants was a spinning, sticky, black monster that sucked up all our confidence and energy. We wanted to connect with New Zealanders of course, but more importantly, we needed practical help from the locals to settle in.
We didn’t know anyone. So we knocked on our neighbours’ doors.
I remember our very first neighbours quite clearly. They were a kind bi-racial couple with a boy in a townhouse and helped us with everything from sorting out schools and insurances to getting around (because we only had physical maps back then). My mum would often make extra glass noodles or sushi to share with them as a thank you. Seeing the diversity in that household made us feel safer at a time when visible minorities were subject to bullying and racially provoked verbal assaults in schools and streets.
25 years in now, we have connected with many of our neighbours on the street, but didn’t really appreciate the power of neighbourliness until the 2011 earthquake hit. With emergency services stretched thin and traders high in demand, my family and neighbours relied on each other. I saw firsthand how, the many years of micro-scale social interactions had built the foundation for community resilience and social trust. Building a strong community doesn’t have to take 25 years though, if we have the right tools that make it easy and fun to meet and collaborate. That’s where I believe technology kicks in.
But tech doesn’t build communities. Humans do.
I have tried many platforms that claim to ‘connect’ people, but they fall into either of these two categories:
- Spammy marketplaces where most interactions are quickly dominated by buying/selling, discounts, business advertisements. Suburb-based Facebook groups and other platforms fall into this category.
- Functional, service-oriented resident/tenant platforms that don’t foster community-led activities but rather focus on noticeboard type top-down communications from the management. Strata management or concierge platforms fall into this category.
Surely, we mustn’t let neighbourliness succumb to a mere exchange of unwanted goods or information sharing. There is so much more neighbours can and want to offer to their community and the places they share. Throughout Small Shift’s and other community building activities, I have studied the motivations and behaviours of people who contribute positively to their communities. What drives them is intrinsic -- generosity, compassion and empathy, coupled with their interest.
To develop Paper Plain, we have also been analysing new qualitative data collected from our experiments. It turns out, what drives neighbours to meet is their opportunity to be helpful and receive help. What drives community champions to organise a BYO dinner or mural painting with their neighbours, is a sense of achievement and belonging. The barriers they face include unstructured communication channels, lack of inspiration, lack of time and rules that are often dictatorial, discouraging and too hard to understand. They need a little nudge and support to get started. What tech can do is to make this connection and organisation process easy, fun and evolutionary.
If you work for a local Council, property developer, Community Housing Provider or other organisations with community engagement roles, you will agree that community engagement is HARD. It is hard to reach people, to stimulate their interest, to get sign-ups and for people to actually turn up! Never mind follow-up surveys.
Supporting people just enough so that they take the lead? That’s the secret sauce and we want more of that.
The hardest part of rolling out Small Shift’s DIO (do-it-ourselves) projects is shifting the communities’ expectation from receiving to doing, but it works if we can inspire people to take action, reminding them: We can’t wait for the Council or the maintenance team to do everything; We can’t expect the police to patrol the area 24/7; What are the things that WE can do as a community and take care of ourselves?
Here are the 5 steps we take to ensure the DIO projects create an impact in the communities’ minds, skills and in the places they create:
- Free to choose: Intrinsic motivation dictates what communities want to do and how the individuals want to contribute. (See World Happiness Report 2019 produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network)
- Achievable task: Challenge is great but if the task is to difficult for the individual to complete, it can negatively impact their confidence. (See the IKEA Effect by Harvard Business School)
- Collaborators: A tight group of people who are responsive and supportive help the project move forward when problems arise and sustain the momentum.
- See/feel the positive impact: People want to see how their effort was translated into making a difference in their and others’ lives.
- Be acknowledged: People don’t generally look for monetary rewards, but get a sense of achievement from others acknowledging their effort.
If you are involved in on-boarding new residents, the tone set on Day 1 lives on. Unfortunately, it is often dictatorial and top-down than collaborative and positive. How many notices have I seen by the lifts telling people what not to do – note: passive aggression and threats don’t contribute positively to community cohesion! As the first group of residents continue this place culture, and it is critical to set the tone right from the beginning. Yes, you are allowed to look after the garden. Yes, here is how you can host a community BBQ. Yes, here is how the developer can support you if you want to put in a book share.
Community building doesn’t have to be led by the Council or the property developer, and it shouldn’t. There will always be a need for grants and organised events, but we shouldn’t underestimate the power of small social interactions and organic activities like neighbourhood meals, placemaking activities or nanny share that is BYO and DIY.
A bit about our digital platform to start piloting next month -- on Paper Plain, residents are welcomed into their new community; learn what the rules are and how to influence them; share skills, information and tools; and host or participate in community activities.
Being development-specific and digital means that Paper Plain can measure what the community members have done organically in their specific properties and neighbourhoods into their 1st, 10th or 20th year of moving in – a unique, granular, live dataset that measures behaviours rather than perception/experience. It links wellbeing outputs to property design and community investment that can quickly inform multi-stage or future residential developments for course correction.
But we haven’t got it all right just yet. If Paper Plain sounds like a product you could use to jump-start community building in your development, I would love to hear from you. We are currently seeking collaborators, advisors and pilot partners who are passionate about community building.