Cross-pollination: Growing cross-sector design collaboration in placemaking, was a knowledge exchange project in partnership with The Open University that took our asset-based cross-pollination approach into communities in England, Scotland and Wales, aiming to help empower organisations and networks to work together to shape their local places. The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under their Place programme.

Project dates: January 2022 – April 2023

The Story  

Cross-pollination brings people together to identify shared goals and objectives, identify and connect local projects and initiatives, and work together to unearth and mobilise local assets (skills, networks, physical spaces, tools and resources, funding pots etc ) as a basis for forming partnerships and collaborations. 

The approach aims to break down barriers between those working in the community and voluntary sector, local businesses and/or local government, and to create a space where all ideas and assets, and projects of different size and focus are brought together and valued equally. In simple terms, the approach explores how you can bring your projects, initiatives and assets together through collaboration to make what you do together more powerful and effective than what you could do separately. 

We had initially developed the cross-pollination approach through our Scaling Up Co-design research project, and first experimented with it as a tool to support a place-based conversation and collaborative action at Portobello Connects in 2019. While we had experimented with the approach in other projects and place-based conversations since then, we were keen to explore how we could empower others to take up the approach and use it, and this knowledge exchange project created the space for us to do this. Through this project, we worked with groups in England, Scotland and Wales to help them activate local conversations and networks, and prototyped a resource pack, which we have now made available as an open-source guide to the cross-pollination approach.  

Kick-starting our conversation with locally based partners

In order to explore how we might take the approach into communities, we worked with three partners with whom we had collaborated on other initiatives to explore the right mechanism to get people involved. These initial partners were The Glasgow Urban Lab in Scotland, Merthyr Tydfil Council in Wales, and the Clapham Junction BID in London. Initial conversations revealed that though a simple concept, cross-pollination as an approach was hard for some people to grasp or to see as relevant and useful to their community. With this in mind, we decided to experiment with different ways to get people involved.

Online seeding session

Our first activity to do this was a free online event, which we promoted as a space to learn more about the approach and to do a taster session of a cross-pollinations workshop. This was attended by people from different parts of the country, but with a clear cluster group emerging from the Glasgow area. This would become the basis of a group with which we would collaborate, alongside our emerging group in Merthyr Tydfil.

Initial cross-pollination activities

Our initial activities saw us supporting a Design Day in Merthyr, to help several groups come together to co-design an open day for the community of Gurnos. The open day was then held later in the summer, and created a fun-filled day for the community with all sorts of free creative activities, as well as a cross-pollination wall which aimed to share information about local projects and initiatives and encourage collaborations across sectors in the area. You can see what happened at the open day in this film, Celebrating our Gurnos.   

In Glasgow, in collaboration with those who had attended the online seeding session, we convened a Share, Connect, Create: Glasgow, an open workshop at Many Studios in the East End of Glasgow to explore the potential of cross-pollination to help activate underused and unloved spaces in the city. This then led to further conversations, connections and an event to explore the role of growing in revitalising underused spaces, which was organised by two of the attendees of Share, Connect, Create: Glasgow, the Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) and Many Studios, working with the Glasgow Community Food Network’s Food & Climate Action Project.

A open call to interested groups

In May 2022, we decided to put an open call out to groups interested in learning more about the cross-pollination approach and, with the support of the research team, in delivering a cross-pollination workshop in their local area. We selected two groups to support, and following an initial online workshop to introduce them to the approach, worked with to plan workshops for their areas. 

Through the call-out, we connected with Becky Lyon, who had recently been appointed as The London National Park City Ranger for Barnet. With the support of the research team, she convened a workshop that used the cross-pollination approach to explore and activate a network of grassroots ecological projects and initiatives. One of the key things that emerged from this workshop was a directory of local ecological initiatives on instagram, which has been used to help grow the network and local collaborations.  

We also connected with Sheffield City Council, who were supporting a locally based network in the Gleadless Valley which had lost some momentum due to the impact of the Covid pandemic on local groups and organisations. With the help of the research team and an external facilitator, they organised a full-day workshop which brought the various members of this group back together to reconnect and to identify some shared objectives for collaborative action. This worksop helped inform the brief and role description for a new post to help manage and support the network. 

Sharing learning 

Next, we brought these groups together for an online sharing event, which was a space to share their experiences and reflect on how the cross-pollination approach had worked in their areas. There was much discussion on the importance of creating a safe, playful space in which everyone stepped into the conversation as equal. As the participating groups were varied in their experience, sector and indeed objectives for using cross-pollination, we explored the role that cross-pollination could play in different contexts, and how who convened and facilitated the cross-pollination activities could influence how the activities were shaped, and their impact on further collaboration. 

One of the key recommendations that emerged from the group discussion was that whilst it was important that this approach remained flexible and able to adapt to the context in which it was being used, it would be useful to create some kind of cross-pollination resource to help people take up the approach.   

Developing an open-source resource pack

Empowering others to take up and use the cross-pollination approach was the primary objective of this research project, so we followed the advice of our pilot groups, and developed an open-source Resource Pack which includes: information on the background of the approach, values and principles of the approach; case studies of how it has been used in different contexts; practical guidance on the key stages of cross-pollination; a flexible model for a cross-pollination workshop, and printable props to use in the workshop. 

Growing more strategic partnerships

We were keen to test this resource pack, and to further explore the role of networks as convenors of cross-pollination workshops, and also as champions who could introduce it to others and help empower them to use it. 

The London National Park City management team expressed an interest in introducing cross-pollination as an approach across their network of Rangers, both as a tool to connect the various Rangers working across the city, and as a tool that each could use with their local networks. The research team and LNPC organised a workshop to introduce cross-pollination approach and Resource Pack to their Rangers, and LNPC are now using it as part of their induction for new Rangers. 

We also had the opportunity to test the cross-pollination workshop model and Resource Pack as an evolution of an event, Portobello Connects, which had been run by The Glass-House in Edinburgh back in 2019. Portobello Connects was the first time we had used cross-pollination to support a place-based conversation, and working with the Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations Council (EVOC), we both reconnected with participants of Portobello Connects, and organised a cross-pollination workshop for the area of Liberton and Gilmerton. This journey of both looking back and forward has been captured in a film by our project filmmaker, Emma Crouch (who has also captured our collaborations in Merthyr and London).

We will continue to stay in touch and collaborate with these groups, who have now become part of our emerging network of cross-pollination champions and enablers. 

If you would like to use cross-pollination in your area, please do get in touch.      


The cross-pollination activities through this research project are still quite recent, however we are already seeing some impact from the initial collaborations that emerged through the project. Above all, the project has created opportunities for groups in a range of contexts to forge local connections, and with others in different parts of the country adopting the cross-pollination approach. Whilst this emerging network of cross-pollination champions and enablers is still quite small, it is already starting to change ways of working and to shift power dynamics within working groups. 

The fact that the approach is now being adopted by both London National Park City and EVOC as a way of working, to support activities that they convene and also encouraging those they work with to use the approach, has demonstrated that it is an approach that can be shared and used by others. 

There is also the very human dynamic of just creating safe spaces for conversation in which everyone feels valued and that they have something to contribute. Again and again, cross-pollination event participants have spoken of the different feel of these workshop spaces, in which they felt they could connect with others with confidence, but also in more playful and creative ways. They also spoke of the simple impact of learning more about their local area and the people and initiatives within it, and this is not only informative, but also helps boost pride in the area, as well as helping to forge connections.

Going back to Portobello four years after our first cross-pollination workshop has also revealed some longer term impact. We discovered that some of the tools and methods used at Portobello Connects have now been adopted by the Scottish government in the development of local Place Plans. Above all, they are now creating spaces to bring different people and sectors together to talk about their shared places and to share stories and information, which is offering an alternative to the traditional route into community engagement through a scheme or policy-based discussions. The value of the creative tools and resources we use in cross-pollination also emerged as a legacy piece, with the Community Council still using a large foam map of the area that we created for Portobello Connects. 

It is early days yet for the groups and networks we have worked with through this research, so we will explore what emerges in their communities over time. One immediate impact for us at The Glass-House and the Open University is that we have developed new partnerships, which we are continuing to build on with new collaborative activities being planned.


Cross-pollination website

  • Visit the Cross-pollination website to find out more about the project partners and activities

Cross-pollination Resource Pack

If you would like to use the cross-pollination approach in your area or with your networks, these resources can help: 

More Information about project activities:

  • Watch our showcase film exploring activities from across Merthyr Tydfil, London and Edinburgh here.

In Merthyr Tydfil

  • Read about a workshop to co-design an open day to activate local pride and collaborative activities, and then another about the open day itself in the following blogs.  
  • Blog: Cross-pollination: Design Day in Merthyr by Jake Stephenson-Bartley and Katerina Alexiou
  • Blog: Celebrating our Gurnos by Katerina Alexiou

Watch the film that captures this journey of collaboration (in both a short and longer version):

In Glasgow

In Sheffield

With London National Park City 

Read about a workshop led by Becky Lyon, A London National Park City Ranger for Barnet, and then about a workshop led by the research team to train other London National Park City Rangers to use the cross-pollination approach.

In Edinburgh

Read our blog about the Portobello Connects event in 2019, and about going back to speak with event participants in 2023. 

Then watch a film about the journey from Portobello Connects to Share, Connect, Create Liberton and Gilmerton, and read a blog by Charlie Wright of Ediburgh’s Voluntary Sector Council on the value of creative approaches like cross-pollination. 

The Cross-pollination Approach