Category Archives: local

A wealth of hyperlocal insights from #TAL12

The Talk About Local unconference in Birmingham yesterday was a highly sociable and enjoyable chance to catch up on the development of hyperlocal blogs and online communities … and also gather some insights for Socialreporters’ new exploration into community enabling and digital tech.

Here are the video interviews that I shot. I’ve summarised below, with links to each interview. The playlist is here.

In thinking about the new exploration, I was particularly interested in Sean Brady’s description of how he became a network weaver after being a parish councillor (referencing Tessy Britton and Eileen Conn along the way), and Lorna Prescott’s conviction that people working in local communities can start using digital tools easily with some support. Nick Booth and Dave Briggs provide some tips on how to do that.

Annette Albert provides an honest assessment of what it means for a non tech person to run a local online community – an enormous achievement on her part, with 1200 members. Vicky Sargent and Steve Brett emphasise the need to blend online and face-to-face activity to engage people in neighbourhood plans.

The online community notice board n0tice.com got a lot of mentions as a way to curate information about events, online activity and wants and offers. I can see that becoming even more popular. Franzi Bahrle is taking an interesting approach with VisualBrum.

On the wider front, I was particularly interested to hear from Will Perrin and Alex Delaney that TAL and Media Trust will be collaborating in future. Maybe there’s scope for a tie-in with People’s Voice Media, whose Institute of Community Reporters I wrote about recently. Philip John and Simon Perry talked about the Hyperlocal Alliance, and Dave Briggs has invited everyone to join in developing the Hyperlocal Handbook.

Here’s the interviews

The first Talk About Local unconference was in Stoke on Trent in 2009, as I reported here, and where I shot these interviews.

Playlist for TAL09 here.

NESTA announces details of hyperlocal research and funding

The innovation  agency NESTA has now announced full details of Destination Local, their hyperlocal development programme, which I trailed here.

Together with the Technology Strategy Board they are funding £1 million of pilot projects.

In particular, we are looking for prototypes that make the most of mobile technologies to deliver geographically-relevant local media.

Our goal in funding the prototypes is to understand what new business models may be required, what types of service work well with audiences and the challenges and opportunities of using mobile technologies.  Successful applications will be able to demonstrate how they help to understand these themes.

I’m glad to see one of the partners are the champions of local bloggers, Talk About Local. As Sarah Hartley writes on their blog:

At Talk About Local we’re delighted to have been invited to become partners in what must be the biggest drive of its type to identify the technologies, business models, content opportunities and challenges in this space.

We’ve championed, cajoled, encouraged, developed and celebrated the great work which goes on up and down the country since we were formed in 2009 and welcome both the focus the initiative will prompt, as well as the coming together of expertise it is facilitating.

The two headline announcements today are calls for applications:

  • Nesta is offering seed funding of up to £50,000 to test the next generation of hyperlocal media services. Applications open today at www.nesta.org.uk/destination_local
  • The Technology Strategy Board aims at technology-focused feasibility projects and offers grant funding of up to £56,250. Applications will open on 23 April at http://www.innovateuk.org/competitions.

Here’s quotes from the NESTA press release:

Jon Kingsbury, Programme Director, at Nesta, says: ‘Consumers’ increasing adoption of new, mobile-based technologies offers exciting possibilities to deliver highly localised information services to niche audiences.  ‘Destination Local’ will prototype the next generation of hyperlocal services in a bid to understand whether these new technologies and platforms can deliver sustainable, scalable models that serve local communities and deliver economic benefit.’

Dr. Jeremy Silver, Creative Industries Lead Specialist of the Technology Strategy Board, says: ‘Traditional models of local media, print or broadcast, have suffered as the internet has undermined their business models. But the combination of social media with location-aware technologies, the lowering of barriers to entry for self-publishing, and the high degree of user-engagement now visible online suggests that new models for local media might emerge out of new smarter uses of enabling technologies. We believe that the UK could be a great source of innovation in this field and that this could have value to communities around the world.’

There’s a comprehensive round-up of the the announcements and links from Damian Radcliffe, who until recently worked at Ofcom tracking hyperlocal developments. In a private capacity Damian has produced an excellent landscape review as part of the NESTA research, referenced below. Damian writes:

You can read the press release here as well as some FAQs and a list of partners (which includeCreative EnglandMozillaSkillsetSTVTalk About LocalTime OutUniversity of Central Lancashire (uclan) and the Welsh Government).

The Technology Strategy Board is to invest up to £1.8m in feasibility projects that address the converged nature of the digital landscape, the first part will look at encouraging innovative, hyper-local cross-media platforms and enabling technologies that will drive new service offerings, reach out into communities and provide conduits for public services. There’s a four page brief here.

Projects should last up to 12 months and are eligible for grants of up to £56,250 or 75% of total costs. Total project costs must not exceed £75,000. Click this link for more details.

My own involvement has been around a landscape report looking at hyperlocal in the UK. You candownload it from here. Many thanks to everyone who has said nice things about the report thus far. With 52 pages, 173 footnotes and I think 15,000 words or so, it is not necessarily a short read, but I hope it is a useful and insightful one.

Sarah Hartley over on the Talk About Local blog has published Five hyperlocal take-aways from the Here and Now report – be interested to see what others glean from it.

NESTA’s main Desination Local site

The official and unofficial connectors that may make localism work

Yesterday I was at the launch of a substantial report about “official” work in neighbourhoods, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, on how councils can take forward government policies to decentralise control, promote active citizenship and maybe help realise big society.

The language was of good partnership working, civic responsibility, maximising the opportunities in devolution, community leadership roles for local councillors … and professionals working on this for years.

However, success also depends upon the less official matter of how far citizens are prepared to do more for their neighbours, and how councils can encourage people to engage more in providing local services formally or informally.

As Liz Richardson of Manchester University, the author of the report says, the key issue is about attitude as much as policy:

The big lesson is about trust and risk – transfering more control means you have to trust people that little bit more to do things by themselves. Sometimes they’ll mess up, sometimes they won’t. There has to to be some way of keeping that accountable, but allowing space for it to happen.

Liz has been working with Mick Charlton and other officers, councillors and residents in Bradford, where the council already had an impressive record of neighbourhood working before the coalition government developed big society policies.

JRF have been working there since 2004, so it is an ideal place to explore the issues in depth. As Mick explained in the interview, there have been two-way benefits of sharing ideas with researchers.

Earlier in the week I spent a day with a team of community builders at Forever Manchester, exploring how social reporting could help their work in local neighbourhoods – as explained here.

The talk there was of getting out and talking to people, making connections, helping people find skills and resources in the community … and aiming to be able to move on from the neighbourhood within a year or so once new networks were developed.

In London Mark Parker is telling the story of his work with a team of community organisers in Southwark. It is mainly on the street, rather than committee rooms, and in Noticing the unusual suspects Mark makes a distinction between those well-versed in the official world, and the unofficial connectors, a term he attributes to Cormac Russell. Mark writes:

Community leadership needs to be both horizontal and vertical. Some people are eager to speak their mind to the powerful and will tackle the problem they encounter head-on. These folk seldom have time for a deepening relationship with their neighbours and can be criticised as speaking for themselves alone. Others are the glue that link together people and places in any community. They are often well-known locally – in the street or on the block – either as that kind old lady (and often they are women) at No 6 or that old busybody! They hold a great wealth in social capital and are seldom seen at community meetings. Yet their role in bringing people together is vital.

So is there a divide between official, top-down, and unofficial bottom-up, as it is often characterised? I don’t think that’s a helpful way of thinking about it (and certainly not one promoted in the JRF report … they just couldn’t cover everything, and the full report has more about the community perspective).

We need both parts of the system, with more side-to-side connections and networks both in agencies and in communities.

Where the JRF research, and the community organising and building experience do join up, is in the focus on the importance of neighbourhood workers, builders, connectors – whatever they may be called.

Local service delivery is complex, and so are communities. We need the joining-up people. If we agree that, what becomes interesting is the philosophy, and style by which they work, which is something I’ll return to later.

Here’s the key points from the JRF report:

  • Neighbourhood workers are key to co-ordinate partners and services, broker agreements and solve problems creatively.
  • Active citizenship could be strengthened by tapping into the pool of ‘willing localists’.
  • Transferring more control to communities requires new mechanisms to share risk and reward between public sector bodies and communities.
  • Councillors can play a community leadership role, and be honest with constituents, tackle difficult issues head-on, and mobilise the wider community.
  • Central government could offer support, guidance and leadership for action at the local level on the shared challenges facing local public sector organisations and local government.

Links

BBC collaboration helps network London hyperlocals

Today very big media (the BBC) met very small media (London hyperlocal bloggers and online community managers) and found they had something to work on together. It might be the start of something significant for local communities.

Their shared interest was that the London TV analogue signal will be switched off next month, starting on April 4. For most people it will be a simple matter of retuning their digital sets if they are using Freeview – but there are still many who will need equipment like a set-top box.

The get-together, in the BBC Council Chamber, was organised by Hugh Flouch of Networked Neighbourhoods

About 1.4 million people could be eligible for the BBC help scheme, which can include installation, advice, and follow-up support for 12 months. However, despite all the publicity, there may be some people who suddenly find their TV isn’t working any more.

Local web sites, like Harringay Online, run by Hugh and other local volunteers, have good connections in their neighbourhoods, as Networked Neighbourhoods research shows – and not just online. They are likely to know who’s who in local networks, and be able to get the word out in various ways.

We heard details of BBC plans from Liam McKay, Switchover Help Scheme Manager for London, and also from presenter Maggie Philbin, who has been spreading the word at events around the country. Then we got into huddles to come up with some ideas of our own, on how bloggers and BBC could work together. As well as local site managers, we had Matt Brown, editor of The Londonist, whose site has enormous reach throughout the capital. It all sounded very promising.

The bigger idea, as Hugh explains in the interview, is that BBC and hyperlocal sites both have a public interest role, and could work together more to deliver on that. BBC can’t always get to the grassroots … and while local sites definitely are grassroots, they need more nourishment to keep going.

The possibility of collaboration with the BBC, and other big agencies, could make it worthwhile for the bloggers and site managers to develop a network that could offer more more fine-grain communication locally. A London network isn’t a new idea, as Hugh explained, but this time something might be possible, particularly if the BBC could help out – perhaps by listing local sites at BBC London. There has to be something in the collaboration for both sides. Samantha Latouche explains more about the help scheme.

Maggie Philbin lives in Chiswick, and when she isn’t out evangelising the switchover help service, drops in to her local site to see what’s happening locally.

I go on to my local website chiswickw4.com at least once a day, and if I’m working from home it is slightly more, because there is something slightly addictive about checking out what’s going on. I know it doesn’t matter whether you have lost your cat or there has been some horrendous tragedy, I know the web site will cover it, and the forum will cover it. They are a really powerful source of local news and the place that you turn to.

“Sitting around this table today was this absolutely golden resource across London, of the people who know their areas. No matter how hard you try as a big organistion like the BBC you cannot know your areas as well as the people in this room. Tapping into this knowledge is really useful for the BBC – and I hope it can be reciprocal, and can go both ways.

I don’t think the London bloggers could have hoped for a strong endorsement – and if this interview is useful for a local site, you can get the embed code here. I would just be glad of a link back.

Innovation agency NESTA announces hyperlocal media research and funding

The UK innovation agency NESTA is starting a major exploration of the future of hyperlocal media – covering everything from struggling local papers, and reduced local BBC services, through to new Government-backed local TV, and the blogs, online communities and radio stations run by passionate digital activists.

Some work is underway to map the hyperlocal landscape, undertaken by Damian Radcliffe. That should be pretty comprehensive, because Damian produces excellent updates on what’s happening in the field: you can see his review of 2011 here, and other slides here. read more »

Recipe for community building: have a picnic

The past week started and ended particularly well, with rather different events both about building relationships and community.
Yesterday’s event in Manchester was about Asset Based Community Development, with an emphasis on finding and nurturing the good people, ideas, and activities that you already have, rather than starting with needs and problems (probably leading to a funding bid). The message from Cormac Russell, Jim Diers and others was that we have more resources than we recognise, if we only look, and then make some effort at joining up. There’s an earlier interview here with Cormac and Jim. read more »

Local democracy is a competitive business: how can Create a Council be more engaging?

Last night’s event on why Londoners might wish to campaign for the equivalent of local parish councils brought home to me the gap between new and older forms of engagement and representation – and prompted some ideas on how to blend the two.

I’ve followed up my earlier post about the event with one over at socialreporters.net, where John Popham and I are blogging for the Big Lottery Fund People Powered Change programme. I’ve copied that below to save you some clicks.

As you’ll see there was a strong case, in principle, for new local councils as a way in which local people could have more control over their area, raise funds through a precept, and decide how to spend it. I found the people from the National Association for Local Councils (NALC) – who represent 9000 parish and town councils – very knowledgable and engaging. They had invited along some passionate enthusiasts for local councils to talk to us at the Coin Street Community Centre, were generous with the wine and nibbles, and well equipped with leaflets..

It was a great treat to see Ellie Stoneley, who is tweeting furiously for @createacouncil, along with her #unbornbaby, and then read afterwards about her trip to the smoke. read more »

Local democracy is important: but will we vote for it?

It’s a good time to talk about local democracy – whether the type you vote for, the type you get involved in, or both – and so I’m looking forward to the Create a Council event in London tomorrow evening.

The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) – which represents parish and town councils – argues that that “if local people are elected by their community to influence and make decisions that will affect their own area, it will have significant impact on improving lives throughout the capital”.

In their media release of October 17 NALC suggest the engagement of people after the recent riots, in helping clear up their neighbourhoods, could be supported by new, small, local councils.

The creation of new local councils in London would give communities a voice and this in turn could help address some of the underlying causes of the recent London riots. Local councils have already been created in urban areas such as Leeds, Birmingham, Bradford and Milton Keynes and have helped address social issues caused by deprivation by providing community leadership and brokering relationships with Government at large.

Localism and the Big Society have been much heralded and discussed by the Government and the Prime Minister himself, prompting much debate from Whitehall to town and village halls. What better way to ensure local ownership of decisions, control of assets and to get people involved in their area than to genuinely give power to the people.

Of course, electing representatives is just one way of engaging with the civic sphere.

read more »

Playing the game of saving Slapham community spaces

The Community Matters annual conference last weekend gave Drew Mackie and I a chance to test out a new workshop game that we hope will help local groups plan take over and run community buildings – or improve the ones they have.

This is particularly challenging when councils are disposing of property in order to reduce costs, when local groups face cuts in funding – yet the demand for community services is increasing. Our workshop produced lots of conversations about the realities of people powered change. We started talking about buildings, staff, finance … and ended up focussing on community and collaboration.

There’s lots of excellent guidance and inspiring stories of groups creating very impressive spaces, both urban and rural: see for example the work of the Asset Transfer Unit, the examples at The Place Station, and the Big Lottery Fund Village SOS initiative. read more »

Transitioning towards personal and community resilience

I’m in the middle of the three-day Transition Towns conference in Liverpool, and so far it feels like the best conference I’ve been to since … well, maybe Ties that Bind in Cupertino in 1996.

That one was exciting because it was a chance to connect with North Americans who had been using the still-new Internet for local community building. Over the past 15 years the emergence of community and social media has given us the tools and inspiration to explore new ways of sharing, creating, collaborating.

Online has been the new frontier, the promised land, the place to try and pull the unconnected across the digital divide. It can offer great benefits, but I think that even the most committed of the digerati would concede tech isn’t enough. Social media doesn’t necessarily produce social behaviours. Just because people can share it doesn’t mean they will … and more and more information and apps can become a burden not a blessing.

Time for a new framework … for me anyway. Transition has a lot to offer. read more »