Category Archives: local

Funder NESTA tells community projects: cut the paperwork, blog your reports

I’ve been catching up with the Neighbourhood Challenge programme that was launched last year by NESTA and Big Lottery to support innovative work by community groups in 17 locations around the country. They were chosen from 600 applicants, so I think we can expect to see some interesting developments.
Often the problem with these big agency funded programmes is that they are launched with a flourish in London, and after that it is difficult to see what’s going on until a long evaluation report emerges that may or may not give many insights into what really happened. By then things have moved on, and the chance to share lessons has been lost.
In between, local people and agency staff have probably been too caught up with reporting procedures to tell the stories that might interests the outside world … or even local people. There may be an unwillingness to open up on how they tackled problems in case that doesn’t play well with the funders. read more »

Big Lottery funds £1.89 million of citizen journalism. Is that what communities most need?

I can well understand why Gary Copitch is very cross about the Big Lottery grant of £1.89 million to the Media Trust for its three year project “to establish connected news hubs around the UK to support citizen journalism and to help communities and charities get their voices heard.” But it is complicated.

At one level it seems to about be about a big organisation getting funds for work smaller groups have been pioneering for years … and those with London connections picking up opportunities without competition. However, I think it is also about the difficulty funders may face in trying to turn bottom-up innovation into something that scales-up across the country.

Beyond that it is also about what sort of communications is community-friendly, and whether we can hope professional journalists will develop it.

Gary and People’s Voice Media have run an excellent community reporter training programme for some years, and while based in Manchester they work across the UK. They didn’t get a chance to bid. Nor – so far as I can gather – did others who have done so much to promote local blogging, online communities and use of social media to benefit neighbourhoods, towns and villages. The grant was awarded without publicity or competition.

There’s now some 15 years of hard-won experience in the field, and it’s not something that Media Trust have really engaged with in the past, as far as I can see. read more »

First Your Square Mile sites up – privately

The highly-ambitious Your Square Mile programme, that aims to help develop “8000 local democracies” throughout the UK supported  by new online systems, now has some of the first sites up in the pilot areas, using SocialGO. Here’s screen shots from Todmorden. There is no central register of sites, but as examples here’s Liverpool8Manton, and Wigton. read more »

Dutch show the way in neighbourhood screens

While I was at the Media4Me 2010 conference in Holland recently I met Chris Kwant who is Senior Policy Adviser ICT and Media Affairs to The Hague municipal council. Over the past four years Chris has directed development of a unique system that allow local organisations to display news, announcements and videos on large screens in the street or shops. Once organisations are approved with a login, they can publish whatever they like, without control from the council. Different content can be distributed to different screens among the 170 in the city. read more »

Neighbourhoods online are more sociable

We’ve had neighbourhood web sites since the mid 1990s, and before  that in North America, but not enough research into the extent to which they increase people’s sense of belonging or change attitudes to those public bodies that may engage online.

Today Kevin Harris and Hugh Flouch gave us the results of their work on behalf of Capital Ambition, focussed on three sites in London. Summary here (pdf). I talked to Kevin and Hugh at the lunch break of their conference, together with Debby Matthews.

Experience in Brockley Central, East Dulwich and Harringay Online shows that these sites do make a difference. As one person said: “I knew none of the neighbours until I joined the site”. read more »

NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge: one year, £150,000, be innovative

NESTA today launched their Neighbourhood Challenge programme, which from February next year will offer about £150,000 to each of 10 areas in the UK.
The aim is to explore different methods of community organising, over the
period of a year.
As I wrote earlier, this is the first new money for social action in the government’s Big Society programme, and the Big Local Trust will then “scale up” a programme initially across 50 areas.
Organisations who want to engage are being asked to express an interest within the next month, after which 30 will be involved in helping design the programme. Those selected will be notified in January, and start work almost immediately.
Areas chosen will be those with “low social capital”, which during discussion was taken to mean places where not many people are involved already in local action. The aim of the Challenge – and the Big Local Trust – is to work in the areas that don’t usually benefit from funding.
read more »

Redesigning Civil Society, collaboratively

The Guardian’s Societydaily roundup quotes my remark that “It’s obvious we are going to see big cuts in local services whoever is
elected, so we had better get thinking” So here we go.

Patrick Butler writes in the Guardian:

I have some sympathy with the signatories of this letter in “defence of civil society”, from a group of social entrepreneurs who feel that the election knock-about over David Cameron’s ‘big society’ has somewhat obscured, misrepresented or trivialised some of the ideas within it – citizen engagement, community ownership, self-help, public services co-ops and so on.

Adding:

Media cynicism about big society I expected. But I’ve been struck by how a combination of election fever and tribal loyalty has turned some liberal-minded friends and colleagues who I imagined might be sympathetic to some of the ideas in the concept into unfeasibly staunch defenders of the big state, as if what we had before us was a straightforward choice, one or the other. Friends who have for years bemoaned the decline in voting, the scarcity of cub scout leaders, and other signs of the erosion of social capital bristle at the chutzpah of Cameron for proposing to do something about it.

and concluding:

But if we can’t or won’t accept the need to find new ways of filling the spaces from where the state has seemingly no option but to retreat, the forthcoming cuts to public services are going to be even more painful.

The Guardian piece comes in the wake of a letter from Steven Clift, who has been promoting e-democracy and engagement across world for the past 15 years. He writes to 20 of his contacts:

Hey all, through about five different channels across different countries I’ve picked up on growing interest among community builders (particularly at the neighborhood engagement and local democracy level) in some sort of mix of digital guides and connecting tools that help people share lessons and civic energy across local communities. People want to move from talk to problem-solving and direct citizen engagement.

Some of you are into virtual guidebooks, others into Linkedin-like tools, local e-competitions, unconferences, or digital storytelling. I have my own interest in fostering multi-tech online communities of practice. What seems new to me is the level interest in connecting the active citizens (not just connections via trade groups or global sites like Zunia.org at the professional level) across communities directly via digital means. What is definitely new is all the simultaneous interest in channels that are not all that connected and some cases networks are that are new to me.

This is certainly the sort of thing that the Big Society Network wants to promote, and chimes in the exploration of social technology for local action on this wiki and the SocialbySocial network I’ve been developing with Amy Sample Ward and Andy Gibson, co-authors in the SocialbySocial handbook. It also gives me a nudge to do some joining up with guides I’ve written on participation and partnerships, and dig back into some entries on my old blog Designing for Civil Society.

The difficulty in blending social tech, social enterprise and older (but still very necessary) models of community action is that it is complicated … because local communities are complex. You can provide ideas for small scale actions by individuals and groups, but area-wide action involves building consensus among different interests, agreeing priorities, who does what, and so.

One technique I’ve found works (and of course there are others) are the various workshop games developed over the years with my colleage Drew Mackie, and more recently with Amy and Andy for Social by Social. They help people, working in groups, through the process of thinking about their situation, who they want to involve, and their goals, and then offer ideas for action on cards. There is then a follow-through in which people look at roles and resources, and the story of what may happen.

The most recent game focusses on social media, but Drew and did a Regeneration Game a few years back, for NIACE. It’s not now available from them, but we can easily reconstruct the cards and instructions, with ideas for nontech local action.

As a first step I’m planning to rework the local communities wiki with appropriate versions of the game (s). The different elements of the game (understanding your locality, involving others, choosing project ideas) can be linked to more detailed information, and where possible practical examples of neighbourhood action.

One of the most interesting issues for me, in linking tech-enabled social action with older methods, is how far the world of social media helps promote the principles and values we need for working together.

Amy, Andy and I had a lot of fun putting together a set of propositions for the Social by Social book, which you can see here. And just to show how things join up, I’m just off to a Net Tuesday event organised by Amy where David Turner will facilitate a discussion on the Cluetrain Manifesto which inspired our propositions. It has started me thinking about some proposition for redesigning civil society, big or otherwise. I’ll report back tomorrow. I’m expecting to re-inforce ideas about being open and human, generous … co-designing, learning from others, connecting across boundaries. I do know there will at Net Tuesday be people who think and behave that way … which is ultimate why social tech may help in our civic redesigning. It is people and collaborations that make things work, not tools, however smart.

Citizens UK stage a pre-election "fourth debate"

I’ve just caught up with the news that Citizens UK will be staging a “fourth debate” next Monday May 3 with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and “a senior Labour representative” addressing their 2500-strong Assembly. This will focus on six issues in a People’s Manifesto. Citizens UK say:

Although they won’t debate with each other on stage, it will be the last time before the polls that all three leaders address the nation from the same stage.

And unlike the prime ministerial televised debates which millions tuned into but which involved almost nobody, at the Citizens UK assembly the candidates will be responding to an agenda which reflects the priorities of ordinary people.

There will be music, powerful testimonies and political negotiation. This is a people’s assembly – of the sort many thought no longer existed.

Three days before the nation goes to the polls, the leaders will be quizzed on their commitments to specific policy pledges – on wages, housing, immigration and the recognition of civil society.

read more »

Neighbourhood activists prepare for cuts with "pay what you can" event

Good to see people who work in the front line of social action and local renewal gearing up to respond quickly to the changes that will hit work at neighbourhood level, whatever Government we have after May 6.
The National Association for Neighbourhood Management has a spring conference on May 12, and has switched pricing to “Pay what you can afford”, starting at £20. Booking here. read more »

Voluntary sector 'ultras' gear up for post election campaigning

I’m interested to see that the National Coalition for Independent Action is taking on its first member of staff (details below). Just another voluntary sector post? Not really, because Coalition members have been campaigning for some years against the Government contract and funding culture which, they believe, has drawn many nonprofit organisations into a close and unhealthy relationship with the State, where their independence is compromised by tight targets and monitoring.

All rather relevant in the context of Conservative proposals for The Big Society, with its “radical revolt against the statist approach of the Big Government that always knows best”. Hmmm, any similarity of concern? Here’s NCIA, who acknowledge they are sometimes known as the “hypercritical ultras of the voluntary sector“: read more »