Eileen Conn

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This page is under construction. It shows some links to writings and videos on how Eileen Conn's social eco-systems dance model illuminates some aspects of the relationships between citizens and authorities and other institutions. This is a temporary collection to make them more easily accessible.


Eileen Conn biog

a personal biog (2011) is on page one of this discussion paper


Related awards

  • The Academy of Urbanism Awards - The Great Street: for Rye Lane, (one of two) runner=up

EC publications

Social eco-system dance model Eileen Conn.jpg

EC interviews & events

to be uploaded

  • 2011 Sep in Snipe: London news, polics and culture at PR Fete
  • 2012 Boat Mag interview
  • 2013 Things are changing all the time, book chapter in Codesigning Space: a primer Interview
  • 2015 Saviour of Copeland Park video
  • 2015 Contested Space. The Spatial Practices Programme at Central Saint Martins hosted Contested Space 2014-2015, a forum that explored the complexity of current approaches to the production of space in the city. Contested Space was a platform for open-ended talks, and critical debates intended to promote an exchange of ideas and questions exploring conceptual and disciplinary boundaries, and asking social and political questions.
  • 2016 Katie Waggett
  • 2017 PeckhamLevels bog
  • 2019 Evening Standad
  • 2019 Time Out
  • 2019 Peckham Peculiar Luke Williams
  • 2019 case study in 2 chapters in book on Spaital plannig on citizen action
  • 2020 NLQ New London Quarterly. David Taylor.
  • 2020 Copeland Park blog
  • 2020 The Planner
  • 2020 Southwark News
  • 2020 June Inside-out development in Grosvenor Estate essays on publication of Grosvenor Group Community Charter.
  • 2020 in book on Peckham Experiment Philip Cornforth to be published
  • 2021 April RIBA journal on Collective Community Action CCA
  • 2021 August Audio interview on responsible public land stewardship - Our Land: Southwark Stories

Community Engagement in the Social Eco-Systems Dance

new link to reference on Birmingham University website to be obtained Link to TSRC - https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/tsrc/research/below-the-radar/index.aspx LINK to TSRC research - https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/tsrc/research/below-the-radar/index.aspx

The Paper

The paper sets out the social eco-system dance model. It is published here The paper outlines the idea that the human world of authority and organisations is in perpetual interaction with the world of human life in community. The two are distinct and different relational systems within a shared social eco-system. Their organisational dynamics are dissimilar; they dance to very different tunes. This is largely unrecognised and invisible. The theory and model of 'the Social Eco-System Dance' offers a new lens to understand this, and some of the solutions to the negative effects it has. For further explanations of the model and how the dynamics it encapsulates, play out in practise, visit:

In London, the large size and scale of grassroots social action is reflected in the growth and evolution of organisational infrastructure which supports and strengthens the grassroots groups across the different geographical and hierarchical administrative levels in the London planning process. (Similar arrangements seem to be evolving in other regions of the UK.) The nature and dynamics of this infrastructure is, like the grassroots groups themselves, self-managed by active citizens, and with similar organisational nature and dynamics. The diagrams and short notes in this paper outline some of this evolving grassroots infrastructure as at October 2022.

References to paper

  • I have quoted your paper twice this year - once in an assignment about community and mission and once in a book review of 'Being Interrupted' by Al Barrett and Ruth Harley. I have never found anything that does a better job of linking the grassroots activity and system change. Lisa C 13 May 2021.

Other relevant references

A new conception of life essential to understanding sustainability has emerged in the last 30 years since the 1980s. Here are some introductory explanations.

References to the two systems model

These comments above are picking up the need for a new paradigm of collaborative working between the organised agencies and the community in all its forms. This relates to my diagram Space of Possibilities and the need for supportive culture change by small steps to enable that to happen:

Books & other publications

Social Media, Events & Interviews

  • Matthew Taylor blog Nov 2011 -

https://www.thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/matthew-taylor-blog/2011/11/calvinism-confirmation-bias-county-councils-and-the-big-society - this blog takes up my analogy of a community group as like a particle and has recognisable mass as matter, but often is not there and is like an energy wave.

Note: The Higgs boson and the energy wave: The search for the Higgs boson: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16116230

Eileen suggests that the way that informal community groups operate, with no paid staff, is fundamentally different from the more conventionally managed operations of funded voluntary organisations (and public services, of course). The groups work through horizontal person-to-person networks, while organisations operate vertically and hierarchically. Taking an analogy from physics, one is matter, one is more like energy waves. Thinking about joining bottom-up and top-down misses the complexity of the social ecosystem. If you accept Eileen’s analysis, it goes a long way towards explaining why Big Society – as expressed by Cabinet Office – doesn’t play out on the ground. It’s not just a matter of “something invented by the Tories” or too tied up with the cuts: it is just from another planet.

  • David Wilcox blog May 2012 - http://socialreporters.net/2012/05/15/respecting-the-importance-of-emerging-community-enablers/ "Eileen suggests we should consider the distinction in physics between matter and energy waves – where organisations with staff are the matter, and informal groups are more like energy. Drawing on complexity theory, Eileen suggests thinking about a “social eco-system dance” in which some relationships are primarily vertical hierarchical, and others horizontal peer-to-peer. That may be more useful than bottom-up and top-down."
  • Lorna Prescott blog 12 March 2012 - Seeking Praxis A space for reflection on theory and practice

http://lornaprescott.blogspot.com/2012/03/must-you-be-so-linear.html?showComment=1331773742180#c2291683992308251880 http://tinyurl.com/6ww3gpx
- this blog shows how the linear way of thinking in the vertical heirarchical system of working in the voluntary sector gets in the way of seeing the different way of being in the horizontal peer system. "The Third Sector Research Council recently published a fantastic paper by Eileen Conn which helps me to understand why I’m struggling to communicate my idea. In Community engagement in the social eco- system dance Eileen describes two systems, as below..."

  • David Wilcox video interview of Sean Brady from Formby First, acting as a network weaver.


comment by Lorna Prescott: "She and I have been delivering training together using your Guide, and I had thought we had a shared understanding of what we were saying. Apparently not! I found myself trying to describe the sorts of participation which takes place completely outside the spaces, agendas, and support of public and voluntary sector agencies (in other words outside Eileen Conn’s vertical hierarchical system as described in http://www.tsrc.ac.uk/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=K8%2BrbdUTghQ%3D&tabid=827). And arguing that the ladder of participation has no relevance outside those spaces. That an individual might have initiated an activity, collaborated with others, made change etc. but would be nowhere on the ladder because the activity was in a different sphere (or system, as Eileen Conn helpfully differentiates)."

  • Mark Gamsu blog December 7, 2015 Healthwatch & the two systems: What do people think about local Healthwatch and why?


  • Mark Gamsu in email November 2015: I am just writing to thank you for your beautiful paper (I have come to it late!) I love the elegant description of the relationship between public sector organisations and citizens. The models you describe feels genuinely empowering - because they provide a platform for practical action - whether it is as citizens trying to strengthen our voice and influence or as organisations trying to engage better.
RTPI President in discussion in Peckham Vision studio
  • Ian Tant retiring President of RTPI (Royal Town Panning Institute) in his valedictory address said: "We are 50 years on from the landmark Skeffington Report of 1969 which sought to draw out lessons from the planning failures of that decade and set a route map for better involvement of communities in planning. It’s chastening to learn that as a profession we still have a long way to go in improving our processes and in planning with and for communities. When I say “learn”, I’m not just referring to the excellent Nathaniel Lichfield Lecture in November in which Professor Gavin Parker of the University of Reading set such a challenge to the profession. I’m also referring to a number of direct discussions I’ve been privileged to hold in the course of the year. The first was in Peckham where, thanks to RTPI London, I was introduced to Eileen Conn of Peckham Vision. A retired civil servant, Eileen has a carefully considered view of where planning goes wrong and what we could do to improve. At the core, her argument is that we approach communities in a structured manner from our councils and organisations with our appointed leaders and roles. And we expect communities to follow suit. But communities are not structured bodies – they are a wide range of people and families and businesses and groups who come together for widely differing reasons and in each area form an organic cluster of communities, not a single community... To plan well for an area, planners need to take the time to sit down with and understand the various community groups and their objectives and desires... Eileen’s arguments resonated on the other side of the world, at the Planning Institute of Australia Congress in Gold Coast... " January 2020 - extracts from speech by RTPI President Ian Tant President of the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute). See full speech here.
  • September 2019 Extract from page 25 in the 2019 Annual Report of Centre for London* : 'Our Developing Trust conference was a highly participatory event which encouraged honest, open discussion. It attracted over 235 delegates and 25 speakers, including Jules Pipe, Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Eileen Conn, Founder and Co-ordinator, Peckham Vision, Cllr Ravi Govindia, Leader, London Borough of Wandsworth, and Toby Lloyd, Special Adviser, Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street. (*Centre for London is ‘London’s think tank. Our mission is to develop new solutions to London’s critical challenges and advocate for a fair and prosperous global city. We are a politically independent charity. We help national and London policymakers think beyond the next election and plan for the future.)'

EC submissions

House of Commons Inquiry into the Big Society Apr 2011
my submission - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubadm/writev/smaller/bs110.htm
all submissions: http://tinyurl.com/EC-Commons-review-Big-Society my submission on pp 270-273,
Commons Inquiry report: Dec 2011 –http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmpubadm/902/90202.htm
Commons press release: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-select-committee/news/publication-of-big-society-report/
Press comment:<br> http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/dec/14/big-society-mps-parliamentary-committee
EC comment: the report and the press comment appear to focus on the real difficulties for the organised voluntary sector to deliver public services. Disappointingly, the report appears not to address at all the other issue that the whole community sector beyond the radar is a key to the real Big Society, ie communities taking power over their own neighbourhoods. This aspect raises different issues from the delivery and management of public services, which are also not being addressed by government nor by the voluntary sector.

GLA review of Community involvement in Planning in London Oct 2011
my submission: social eco-system dance in planning
Latest GLA paper on the review: http://www.london.gov.uk/moderngov/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=5844&CT=2
The GLA report is expected March 2012.

EC videos & broadcasts

Nutbrook Street, Peckham, SE15
Nutbrook Street, Peckham, SE15
click link to the left for interview



  • The Planner May 2020 “Co-design must not be seen as a quick fix by adding the letters ‘co’ before all the other processes. It needs a transformative shift in the institutions’ & the professionals’ understanding of how to work with people who live and work in neighbourhoods,” Eileen Conn. This article appeared in the May edition of The Planner magazine and has been reproduced with permission http://www.theplanner.co.uk
  • Peckham Perspectives August 2017. ...Not only is Eileen a pioneer for the local community, she is also part of the Peckham Levels Steering Group, and we’re super grateful she’s involved, bringing her unique knowledge of the local area to help guide our project...
  • Museum of Walking - January 2018 “Amazing walk in spite of the weather” - So wrote Rachel Gomme, live art performer, ecological walking artist and Peckham resident to boot, but her comments were echoed by the 25 diehards who joined Museum Co-creator Paul Wood for an Exploration of the Urban Forest in Peckham last Sunday. Oh did it rain and never stopped. This didn’t deter the group, and although I was a tad confused as Paul deviated off our carefully planned route, we managed a circular walk full of intriguing trees, local myths, and a lovely meeting with a local hero. Eileen Conn has been a community activist for more than 40 years. Indeed it is the 40th anniversary since she won over Southwark council to plant an avenue of birch trees in Nutbrook Road – selected by Paul as one London’s best street tree avenues. It was terrific to meet her and hear her talk with such enthusiasm about Peckham and how she has galvanised the community and the authorities to invest in civic buildings and public space.
  • Time Out January 2018 - 9 best London street trees Peckham birches: Peckham is home to some fine birch tree avenues, which can look at their glistening best in winter when they show off their white bark. The birch species with the whitest bark of all is the Himalayan birch – now the most frequently planted in London too, even more so than the familiar silver birch. Where to find them: Nutbrook Street, SE15 January 2018.
  • CLF Art Cafe in the Bussey Building & Eileen Conn ..... around this time (2007 / early days of The CLF) a chance meeting with Eileen Conn of Peckham Vision lead to Mickey and The CLF joining forces with Peckham Vision in order to fight the proposed demolition of CIP House, with proposed plans for the creation of a tram depot on the site. Alongside Eileen, site owner Jonathan Wilson and architects Benny O'Looney and Adam Khan made a plan to save the building...


Transforming Peckham, transforming the world
5x15 event, 8th September 2011: 15 minute performance linking my local work to my theory

Peckham campaign history
Audio interviews in local history recordings Summer 2011 http://soundcloud.com/peckhamstories/eileen-conn-interview-part-one http://soundcloud.com/peckhamstories/eileen-conn-part-two
London radio interview: Peckham Action Group campaign 23 Feb 1979
an Athens account or similar is needed to log in to hear this audio recording. http://radio.bufvc.ac.uk/lbc/index.php/segment/0002200510015

The local websites I run

Residents Network: http://peckhamresidents.wordpress.com
Local rail services: http://www.southwarkrailusers.net
Peckham town centre: http://www.peckhamvision.org
Bellenden neighbourhood: http://www.bellenden.net

Local projects demonstrate the model

These are part of the new processes I have been creating and exploring to enable local people to become informed and connected with each other sufficiently to collaborate effectively with the institutions. I do this on a shoe string so it is very slow; but evidence shows it is working. My theory and model are part of my effort to explain why I think it works.

This quote from Dr.Albert Dzur, Bowling Green University, Ohio, USA is a useful way of encapsulating the same kinds of ideas http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/acs/faculty/dzur_a.htm:
“… the value of citizen participation in the professionalized and expert domains that impact public affairs, and how collaboration helps bridge the distance between professionals and the communities they serve, encourages mutual trust, develops skills, and builds networks for communication. [this is] "democratic professionalism" - the importance of sharing previously professionalized tasks in order to enable and enhance broader citizen engagement in major social issues...”

The nature of community

Underlying the work of Peckham Vision is the understanding that the strength of a community lies in the connections between people who live, work and run businesses there. Peckham Vision is dedicated to nurturing those connections, and exploring ways to link into the energy and enthusiasm of our neighbourhood. This work is influenced by the two systems approach developed by Eileen Conn, long time resident of Peckham, co-ordinator and founder of Peckham Vision and associate research fellow of the TSRC (Third Sector Research Centre). Further information about the two systems ‘social eco-systems dance’ model can be found here.

Other relevant references

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2014/04/30/book-review-rediscovering-voluntary-action-the-beat-of-a-different-drum-by-colin-rochester/ Book Review by Dr Armine Ishkanian: Rediscovering Voluntary Action: The Beat of a Different Drum by Colin Rochester. Dr Armine Ishkanian is the Programme Director of the MSc in NGOs & Development, LSE Department of Social Policy. She is the author of Democracy building and civil society in post-Soviet Armenia (2008 Routledge, London), The Big Society Debate: A New Agenda for Social Welfare? (May 2012 together with Simon Szreter; Edward Elgar Publishers) and numerous academic journal articles. Her research examines the relationship between civil society and social transformation as well as how civil society organisations and social movements engage in policy processes. Read more reviews by Armine.

What we have to do

Eileen: “… The whole way everything works has changed in the last 60 years and the whole global society is managed by technical experts – technocratic, bureaucratic experts. It’s like a sort of alien brain on top of all of us; what we’ve got to do is get the real brain, that’s us, to articulate its views to help the alien brain do its job better…” quote from http://tinyurl.com/Peckham-Rye-Fete-interview 3rd September 2011

Media articles

about Eileen Conn's work and the work of Peckham Vision:

click link to the left for interview
My London Story crop med for web.jpg