Government champion backs Your Square Mile as activist hub

Last July Baroness Newlove, the Government’s Champion for Active Safer Communities, promoted the idea of a central information hub for community activitists, as I reported here. Her latest report favours Your Square Mile as the the solution.

The report is a pdf, so I have clipped the relevant section:

I am a firm believer in the power of information.

Technology has, of course, changed everything in terms of the ease and speed at which information can be got out there. I applaud this Government for the importance it attaches to transparency. Putting more data into the hands of citizens means they can hold services and decision makers to account. It means they are also in a better position to get involved, by working out exactly what needs doing to improve their neighbourhood.

However, as I have said elsewhere in this report, I get very frustrated, whenever I see information wrapped up in jargon or presented in very complicated formats. Organisations need not just to surrender the information they hold. They also need to remove all the trappings that suit professionals, or other people well versed in bureaucracy, who have the time and training to handle data. These unnecessary barriers will discourage the people who really count: hard-pressed local residents trying to work out what’s going on, what to do and how best to do it.

My original report in March 2011, and the Government Progress Update that followed in July, set out the criteria for a successful, effective online ‘hub’ for the kind of grassroots activists I believe in.

I have said that I want to see a service that is clear and simple for the end users. The information they need should be just a couple of clicks away. It should be presented in language that everyone can relate to and understand.

A good hub would showcase what works and explain how different areas have overcome problems. There would be content provided by activists and practitioners, rather than Government. There would be links to local information, allowing activists to get their hands on facts unique to their area.

In July we also said that, if there were promising models already out there, or in the pipeline, time and money should not be wasted on ‘re-inventing the wheel’.

In September, when I met up with activists from the seven Newlove Neighbourhoods who so generously helped me in compiling my original report, I sought further advice from them on what they liked in online information and advice.

Bearing all of this in mind, one model stands out: yoursquaremile. co.uk.

This website was launched in October 2011. It is early days and I really hope it meets its huge potential. It meets the criteria I set out in previous reports, and which I have summarised again above.

  • The Be a Savvy Citizen town map is easy on the eye and easy to use. With a couple of clicks, it allows users to find information on whatever aspect of local life is concerning them and signposts them to where they can go for expert advice if needed.
  • The Local Info facility means that people can find all kinds of information about their neighbourhood gathered together in one place. They can, for instance, find the crime map for their street without needing to log on to police.uk and re-entering their postcode.

Your Square Mile has great promise to be that online website hub for grassroots community activists. As this technology is so fast moving, I shall also keep a look out for other sites which may develop.

There are other websites out there to help grassroots activists grasp the tools and materials they need.

Many spring up daily across the web and in other English speaking countries.

Although the report mentions these sites

… it doesn’t refer to the more obviously relevant ones like Our SocietyABCDEurope, and NatCan that are each doing well in attracting hundreds of members and a wide range of discussion and resources. Networks like Transition TownsFiery Spirits and i-volunteer show what’s possible with additional facilitation.

Nor is there any mention of the Media Trust Newsnet project, supported by the Big Lottery Fund with £1.89 million. More here in my previous posts.

The features of Your Square Mile that Baroness Newlove highlights are valuable, but there isn’t yet anywhere for activists to tell their stories or network with others, and as I wrote in my earlier piece I think the idea of one hub is a mistake. We need a well-connected network of sites. More on that in a later post.

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