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How about celebrating the 20 year history of community networking and hyperlocal

The annual Talk About Local unconference #TAL15 on Saturday was a great opportunity to catch up with the world of local blogging, online communities and community journalism that’s now collectively known as hyperlocal.

As usual on these occasions Will Perrin, Sarah Hartley and Mike Rawlins did a great job of semi-organising the crowd into self-managed sessions about everything from WordPress plugins to crowdfunding, and “surviving the abusive relationship with Facebook”, and stimulating lots of energising conversations in between. Here’s Sarah’s round-up.

The event also prompted me to reflect that it’s now just 20 years since I and a bunch of other enthusiasts, inspired by earlier North American online pioneers, and the arrival of the World Wide Web, launched UK Communities Online as a network to support local digital initiatives, or what we called community networking … so please excuse a little digital nostalgia. Maybe 2015 is a good time to look at what was then, what’s now, and what might be next.

In 1995 I spotted, thanks to the Web, that the Morino Intitute was holding their second Ties that Bind conference at Apple HQ in Curpertino, and managed to blag my way to a fare and conference tickets. Thanks due to Kaye Gapen, and Steve Cisler.

You can read here a history of what happened over the next few years, including a launch conference in October 1995 at BT headquarters, and funding for network development from BT, IBM, the Department for Trade and Industry and others.

Tribute is particularly due to Richard Stubbs, Michael Mulquin, Kevin Harris, Dave Greenop and other pioneers who did so much of the early work. Michael became UKCO director. Terry Grunwald provided so much inspiration and experience from the US (and we must rehost the Making the Net Work site). I hope we might update all our stories – about which more below.

Although Communities Online didn’t survive as a network, I think it helped people explore what the Internet might mean to local communities, and to share experience in experimenting with different approaches before the days of blogs and other social media. I believe that we contributed to government thinking, and industry too.

I’ve put together below links to pages I wrote. Many external links are unfortunately broken, which shows how digital is not necessarily a good archive medium. Or put another way, if you want stuff to last, you have to maintain your own site. Even so, I’m afraid I lost some stories.

What’s perhaps most interesting is the sort of models for Community Internet we envisaged then … as expressed in a Manifesto which the BBC helped promote at the time.

Summary of a manifesto for local onine communities – 1999

  • Every citizen, regardless of their economic circumstances, should be able to share the benefits of the Information Age – including better communications, greater participation, electronic life long learning, and e-commerce. To achieve this they should have access to local community technology centres, plus public online forums and services to create an online community. The centres will provide technical support and help ‘on the ground’, the forums will be ‘virtual spaces’ for online communities related to localities.
  • Centres and online communities should be easy to find – signposted locally, and through a national gateway.
  • Public support should be available, particularly in low-income neighbourhoods, where the market is unlikely to provide facilities on a sustainable basis without public funding.
  • Development of centres and online communities should be piloted through pathfinder projects, with community participation.
  • There should be a network and support for the local champions and partnerships who will develop the centres and online communities.
  • A virtual resource centre should be developed to provide sources of advice for local champions and partnerships, and a neutral space online for discussion of the development of centres and online communities.

Long version of the manifesto

Quite a lot of this has come about. The Tinder Foundation has been particularly successful in developing and maintaining a network of local centres.

The people who gathered on Saturday at #TAL15 – and others – are innovating locally in ways we couldn’t dream of. Chris Taggart’s Openly Local map shows hyperlocal sites throughourt the UK and Ireland.

There is a Centre for Community Journalism and course at Cardiff University

I mentioned the manifesto and Communities Online to Will and a few other people at the unconference, and found some interest in discovering more about our collective history … and what we can learn from the journey.

We talked tentatively about a 20-year anniversary event, and re-gathering stories from the pioneers.

It could provide an opportunity to explore more fully what community-based models are most relevant today, to complement the local digital frameworks being developed by Government: see for example my reflections on the Grey Cells blueprint. My hunch that in future we’ll have to look at personalised approaches, as well as local sites, as I wrote here about Living Well with tech.

I’ll check whether others involved in 1990s, and now, would be interested in organising something, and if so hope to get an organising group together, ideally with TAL.

Meanwhile, if you are interested, please drop a comment, or contact me via david@socialreporter.com or @davidwilcox.

Talk About Local and #TAL15

Links from the Partnerships Online site

Other links

The Cola Road Documentary and what’s next for Colalife

The RSA Great Room, with its James Barry paintings of The Progress of Human Knowledge,  was a fine setting yesterday for the launch of The Cola Road Documentary telling the story of the Colalife mission to deliver medicines to poor mothers in isolated Zambian villages. There was lots of learning for us – not least more on how the original idea of delivering the medicines in Coke crates has changed.

As you can see from the applause pictured in my panorama, and the tweets below, the film by Claire Ward was very well received, with further news coming through during the evening about Colalife being presented to the UN General Assembly as one of 10 breakthough innovations to save lives.

The original Colalife idea, that captured people’s imagination, was to use Coca Cola’s unique supply chain to deliver ant-diarrhoea medicines to save children’s lives. That has worked in trials, and the Kit Yamoyo won a Design Museum Product of the Year award. However, the real innovation proved to be designing a value chain that rewarded people all along the line, without necessarily using crates, as I reported earlier.

The change in design approach was highlighted by BBC global business correspondent Peter Day in a programme broadcast on Radio 4, and yesterday Peter chaired the panel discussion after the showing. Here’s his account of finding a better business story than he expected from the Kit Yamoyo award.

Later in the RSA Gerrard Bar I was able to catch up with Simon Berry – who created Colalife with his wife Jane – for an update on future plans, and also meet Ali who cycled from Cairo to Cape Town with Lizzie to raise money. Their story here.

As well as explaining how the Colalife programme now aims to move from pilots to national coverage, Simon highlighted the importance of social media in developing Colalife. As you can see from the Colalife blog, he has done an extraordinary job of openly chronicling the programme.

Here’s a selection of the tweets during and after the showing.

Earlier posts about Colalife

 

Introducing Lobbi – with bold aims to change politics locally and globally

Downloading Democracy 2013 – Archived Live Stream from John Popham on Vimeo.

Earlier this week Lobbi, a new initiative promoting citizen engagement and action through social media, hosted a Downloading Democracy event in London. You can that see that it was a well-informed and lively affair from Mick Fealty’s excellent report, the live stream recording and Storify from John Popham.

As well as convening the event, Lobbi is developing a new online platform, outlined in this interview with Mick by the founder and initial funder of Lobbi, Hussain “Hoz” Shafiei.

As he explains on his Linkedin profile, and the interview, Hoz is “an Iranian by blood an Arab by birth and an Englishman by upbringing” with a passion to revive UK politics with an demonstration of what might also make a difference to other nations and cultures.

Hoz writes:

I returned to the UK in 2011 and decided to no longer work in a commercial industry and started on my journey to enhance global democracy. It is for this reason that I started Lobbi a project that will allow a real time connection between the electorate and their elected representatives….

Lobbi is an innovative and unique method of engaging the electorate to become re-enthused and involved with politics on a long-term basis. This is created through the ever-growing power of social media, with a Facebook/Twitter-esque interactive forum and information portal.

Lobbi provides the voting public with the means to discover current issues that affect them – instantly – via their smart phone, tablet or computer. In addition, they can get their own views across in the same way as they’d post on Facebook or Twitter. But more than this, it’s a two-way street, as politicians and elected representatives also interact, giving them a vital link to the public mood on a ‘real-time’ basis.

In short, Lobbi brings politics into the 21st century – and about time too…

You might ask, what’s new? I’ll come to that … but first, what’s not.

You can find a free event most months in London about how we need to revive democracy, and fairly frequent discussion of the role of the Internet.

We are still asking Is e-democracy now a reality? as the BBC reported in 2007, with periods of excitement around the role of social networks in the Arab Spring and the success of the Five Star Movement in the Italian election.

What’s certain is that we have plenty of online spaces for general campaigning, and specific systems for civic engagement, whether developed for citizens by mySociety or agencies like Delib.

Consumer Focus has sponsored a Digital Engagement Cookbook with 68 recipes, and Helpful Technology offers a Digital Engagement Guide of practical help and ideas.  For a wider perspective, just look at the programme for Personal Democracy Forum in New York next month. For advice on what’s worked or not, check in with Steven Clift who coined the term e-democracy in 1994 and has been promoting it globally ever since.

Steven is particularly informative on the hard slog of achieving an inclusive approach, which may come more by knocking on doors and using email lists than new social tech functions.

So how might Lobbi make a difference? At this stage I should declare an interest, because I’ve been engaged in discussions on a Lobbi Linkedin group over the past few months, and also invited to join a smaller group next week to help inform strategy. I’ve worked with Steve Moore, who is leading Lobbi development, on a number of projects, including in the early days of Big Society Network.

Steve is now developing Britain’s Personal Best (BPB) “which convenes thousands of organisations and millions of people to achieve a personal accomplishment over the course of one weekend each year”. He’s a man with the ability to carry though a big idea.

I don’t know what the Lobbi strategy will be. That depends in part on discussion next week. As Hoz indicates, a mobile-friendly system is under development that could, potentially, connect elected representatives in an area with citizens there, enable reporting of local problems to agencies, and encourage neighbour-to-neighbour cooperation. However, old hands in this field will warn that tech doesn’t do it alone.

Firstly, just build it … and they probably won’t come. Why should citizens embrace a new system  if they are happy with Facebook and its scope to create groups, pages and networks? Why should politicians and officials engage in a system that may not integrate with the ones they already have in-house?

Secondly, local politics and community action requires a blend of online and offline activity. That’s not just because a third of people may not be online – a point made by Chi Onwurah MP at this week’s event. Or that, in my experience, relatively few community activists are enthusiastic online activists. It’s also that getting things done, once you go beyond Clicktivism, involves building new relationships and trust, working through ideas and options, and making decisions in complex situations. Online isn’t enough for that.

Thirdly, if you do manage to get a lot of people online in the same place, you need to put a lot of effort into facilitation and site management. That’s a skilled operation.

The more ambitious you are, the more the costs and management issues increase. Where will the revenue come from, not just to manage and develop systems, but to fund the offline activity?

I suspect that in further discussions to refine Lobbi, those experienced in the field will suggest either focusing on one activity that current platforms and programmes are not offering – and do that really well. Or aim to connect some of the very disparate online activities currently underway. And to be agile – try stuff out small scale, revise and redevelop.

My hunch is that given Hoz’s passion, combined with Steve’s contacts and convening skills, Lobbi might do well by aiming to be as much a movement and community as a new platform. What was very evident at the Downloading Democracy event was the number of people who’ve been around the scene in the last six or seven years welcoming the chance to meet up for a chat. After a burst of activity in 2007-09, and the failed hopes for Big Society, we’ve rather lacked the social spaces to bring together social techies, community activists, new-style democracy advocates … well, forget the labels, I mean people who want to do good stuff locally using a mix of methods new and old.

At local level, there’s general accord that it makes sense – particularly in hard times – to go for an approach that makes as much as you can from the strengths of local people, projects, and buildings before developing new initiatives from scratch and seeking funds that might otherwise support existing initiatives. Map existing assets and networks, and concentrate on community building. Social technology can help in that process, as I’ve explored here and here.

Maybe there’s a couple of new angles for Lobbi: one focused, one more open.

First, if looking for a niche, consider focusing on how to digitally enable the enablers who help build communities. What help do they need in the personal use of technology, how can they help others, how can they enable their organisations. Go person-centric.

Second, take an asset-based approach nationally. Map who is doing what in this first, and aim to build connections both personal and technical. Use that knowledge both to advise and build kits for the enablers, and to create a strong community and movement for technology-enabled social action.

Hoz and Steve have been generous in bearing with the challenges that I and others have raised during earlier discussion, welcomed new ideas and connections, and remained determined to press ahead. With that sort of spirit, Lobbi could be a catalyst for a fresh approach to politics and local action.

As Mick Fealty puts it more eloquently in his report:

There’s a term in evolutionary biology called punctuated equilibrium which suits the uncertain times we are living in. The gist is that big changes in living organisms largely occur in short episodic bursts when their external environment undergoes some form of drastic change. In such terms, the current multiple crises in democracy is being driven by sudden and rapid technological advances in human communication.

The resulting uncertainty is a necessary precondition for the emergence of novel theories and practices for how we might functionally respond, both as collectives (nations, communities, sharers of a global environment) and individuals (politicians, priests and citizens). None of us really know where any of this is taking us, though we can see and feel seriousness of the deficits that arise as a result of the disruption of ‘business as usual’. There are no road maps.

When life isn’t business as usual, we need people like Hoz and Steve. If only to get me blogging about this stuff again.

GlobalNet21 hub to boost Newsnet coverage

The Media Trust’s Newsnet is following up its commitment to feature a wider range of community media, on a number of fronts. Earlier stories here.

There’s an offer of five awards of £500 for “inspiring stories from across the UK of how community media, citizen journalism and community reporting have contributed to positive change in local communities”. A couple of interesting pitches are in the forum already.

In addition there’s a great demonstration of the potential of community media by Newsnet staffer Adam Perry:

I made a short video this weekend with Kirkbymoorside supporters of Safe and Sound Homes, a York-based charity that I volunteer for that works to prevent youth homelessness.  Supporters were holding a sleepout to raise funds and you can see the resulting video about their experiences here.  As well as the video my son, who has an interest in photography took the photos, and the weekend became a good example of using all the free tools we could find to get the message out to the community and to SASH’s supporters across North Yorkshire; Clare Usher from SASH put together a summary using Storify which you can see here.
During the course of the weekend I also had the good fortune to meet Kirkbymoorside resident and newsnet member Gareth Jenkins who runs The Kirkbymoorside Town Blog, and is setting up blogs for Helmsley and Pickering as well.  We didn’t get much of a chance to chat as the work for the sleepout took up most of the time, but I’m looking forward to catching up with Gareth very soon to find out more about the work he’s doing in these communities and the challenges of building an audience.

I posted a rather provocative piece in Newsnet forums following my post on this blog about the apparently narrow focus on citizen journalism … and I’m glad to welcome new developments, and a promise there from Alex Delany of improvements to the Newsnet site.

An even more interesting development could be the linkage with Globanet21, being launched on March 28 at an event at Channel 4.

Francis Sealey, Christina Wiltshire and supporters have built Globalnet 21 to a membership of 3,800 through a mixture of events and webinars and other activities. I took part in a webinar the other day on Strengthening Civil Society through social media, and was very impressed with both organisation and contributions. The March 28 event intro says:

Ensuring people have a voice in the public square of debate and discussion is vital in any democracy. We try to enable this through our meetings, webinars and podcasts.

We are now taking this one step further.The Media Trust has now invited us to become a Beacon Hub for their lottery funded Citizen Journalist project. This will link us to a Single Publishing Interface to enable those stories that members want to distribute more widely to be published to media partners (BBC, ITV, local and national press.) They will also be available on our own Blog Podcasting Channel and through the Media Trust.

At this meeting we will learn what it means to be a Beacon Hub and how our members can get their stories into the public domain whether they be blogs, photojournalism or podcasts. Not only will we find out about Beacon Hubs and the work of the Media Trust but also we will discuss Blogging and how this is an important tool of citizen journalism and Photojournalism and our plans for an Exhibition of this in May.

Adding:

We bring a special dimension to the work the Media Trust does by offering material through our members who are interested in the big issues of the present century, want to discuss them, give stories and case studies to illustrate them and create a socially responsible society that holds those who take decisions to account.

If Globalnet21 can encourage network members to post, it should provide a rich source of content for Newsnet.

Meanwhile, over at the RSA, we are discussing how digital champions and reporters can animate online networks for the 27,000-strong Fellowship. Maybe there will be a chance to share experience.

 

The challenge of networking civil society

Summary: local activists and volunteers need to share their achievements and experience in hard times. The publicly-funded sites for this have some limitations, and  smaller sites, mainly run by volunteers, don’t have the resources to grow. Is there scope for more joining up, rather than further top-down solutions?

Government policies of localism and cuts to the voluntary sector are pushing citizens and community groups to do more for themselves on the ground, and find their own ways of learning from each other nationally. A couple of recent events prompted me to review what is available online.

The first event was an invite to chat informally to a new team in the government department of Communities and Local Government about the role of social reporting in helping sharing. It was very encouraging to meet a young team full of enthusiasm and enquiry, who describe their remit like this:

The neighbourhood engagement team are working to open up the conversation on neighbourhoods policy to a greater range of people: sharing enthusiasm, tapping into a wider pool of ideas and examples and exploring how government can best support those who want to have greater control and influence in their area. Workshops and online platforms will empower those active in the community to continue the conversation across professional silos, supporting each other to innovate in local arenas with less central government direction.

The second event was a webinar, organised by Globalnet21, on whether social networking can “help create a network of mutual independence that strengthens the countless groups that are the social glue of our civil society”.

That nudged me to prepare the slides that I posted earlier, based on work I did last year with Big Lottery Fund, as well as the blogging I’ve done here about social reporting. I’ve linked a lot in this piece so you can find starting points for your own research, and draw your own conclusions.

I started looking at what platforms are being developed to help people share – about which more later. However, as you’ll see from the slides, I was also emphasising that sharing is about networks, not one-stop-information-shops, and it is people who make that work. It takes people who have some digital literacy skills, with the support of facilitators. An excellent post by Tim Davies says it very well and is worth quoting at length:

When we look at a successful example of online collaboration the most obvious visible element of it is often the platform being used: whether it’s a Facebook group, or a custom-built intranet. Projects to support online learning, knowledge sharing or dialogue can quickly get bogged down in developing feature-lists for the platform they think they need – articulating grand architectural visions of a platform which will bring disparate conversations together, and which will resolve information-sharing bottlenecks in an organisation or network. But when you look closer at any successful online collaboration, you will see that it’s not the platform, but the people, that make it work.

People need opportunities, capabilities and supportive institutional cultures to make the most of the Internet for collaboration. The capabilities needed range from technical skills (and, on corporate networks, the permission) to install and use programs like Skype, to Internet literacies for creating hyper-links and sharing documents, and the social and media literacy to participate in horizontal conversations across different media.

But even skills and capabilities of the participants are not enough to make online collaboration work: there also needs to be a culture of sharing, recognising that the Internet changes the very logic of organisational structures, and means individuals need to be trusted and empowered to collaborate and communicate across organisational and national boundaries in pursuit of common goals.

Online collaboration also needs facilitation: from animateurs who can build community and keep conversations flowing, to technology stewards who can help individuals and groups to find the right ad-hoc tools for the sorts of sharing they are engaged in at that particular time. Online facilitators also need to work to ensure dialogues are inclusive – and to build bridges between online and offline dialogue. In my experience facilitating an online community of youth workers in the UK, or supporting social reporting at the Internet Governance Forum, the biggest barriers to online collaboration have been people’s lack of confidence in expressing themselves online, or easily-address technical skill shortages for uploading and embedding video, or following a conversation on Twitter.

Building the capacity of people and institutions, and changing cultures, so that online collaboration can work is far trickier than building a platform. But, it’s the only way to support truly inclusive dialogue and knowledge-sharing. Plus, when we focus on skills and capabilities, we don’t limit the sorts of purposes they can be put to. A platform has a specific focus and a limited scope: sharing skills lays the foundation for people to participate in a far wider range of online opportunities in the future.

The challenge of supporting sharing and local innovation was picked up last year by the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) under its banner of People Powered Change, with investments of £5.76 million in a range of programmes including Your Square Mile and the Media Trust’s Newsnet, as I first wrote about here, and followed up later. I then worked with BIG for a few months exploring, with John Popham, how they might be more than a funder. Posts here.

As part of that work I put together a Netvibes dashboard taking feeds from the main community and voluntary sector sites.

I’m a little circumspect in what follows, because BIG is a client, and I know the people involved in Newsnet and Your Square Mile, and admire what they are trying to achieve.

Here’s Linda Quinn of BIG,  Gavin Sheppard on Newsnet,  Paul Twivy of Your Square Mile, in interviews last year.

The bad news is that at present it is almost impossible to find out what is going on, where to get help, how to to connect. As I aimed to show in this slide from the webinar (pdf download), there’s a big gap between local networking and national, with many unconnected initiatives in between.

I know it is early days, but as well as the CLG neighbourhoods team work, further announcements are due soon from BIG about People Powered Change (see below), so it is a good time to review progress so far, and how to build on or complement those investments. We have the elements of a rich knowledge ecosystem if we can join them up.

Your Square Mile (£830,000) has a powerful vision of what people may need locally, and a site that does a smart job of aggregating useful data and advising people about local services and the part they may play. There is currently no networking, but that may be a feature of next stage development. Baroness Newlove, Government’s Champion for Active Safer Communities, favours the site as the hub for community activists, as I reported earlier.

In addition Newsnet (£1.89 million)  has a vision of local hubs to connect a network of citizen journalists. Their site has some limitations, but there is interesting discussion and some good examples of hubs, with ways to upload and network news promised later.

In my view something like Newsnet has great potential if it can blend the dynamic of community reporting with citizens finding their own voices to tell their own stories. However this will take time, and on current plans Newsnet site will be archived in two years, when BIG funding ends. We can’t reckon it will be a long-term element in the mix (however, see update below).

Meanwhile a range of unfunded online communities like Our Society, ABCDEurope, and NatCan are doing well in each attracting hundreds of members and a wide range of discussion and resources. Networks like Transition TownsFiery Spirits and i-volunteer show what is possible with some modest investment in platform, and far more facilitation. Tim Davies facilitates Youth Work Online here.

(Disclosure: I’m one of the group running Our Society).

Mandeep Hothi, writing for Guardian Voluntary Sector Network, reports on the results of some other BIG-funded work supported by DCLG’s Empowerment Fund, confirming again that investment in social media and technology is not in itself the answer. It is people who connect. Social media can amplify and assist … but we need to understand the fine grain of how that works as a blend of face-to-face, SMS, email, forums, Facebook and other methods.

Another of the People Powered Change partners, NESTA, are just beginning a big programme of research and development in the field of hyperlocal communications. Interest from the BBC may help catalyse a network of hyperlocal activists in London.

So … we know that just investing in technology isn’t the answer, and that instead it would help to improve and support the digital literacy of activists. We know there are a number of programmes that could join up to achieve this: I’ve only highlighted a few.

But who is going to help bring it together? Big Lottery Fund is a strong supporter of the idea of asset based community development: making the most of the resources that you have in any neighbourhood, rather than just looking at the problems and putting in more funds. Could BIG apply that philosophy to networking for civil society?

After the workshop we ran with BIG in December, Linda Quinn wrote:

We’ll then spend some time working our thoughts into an overall strategy that will inform a paper to our Committee in March. My sense is that much of what we discussed is about how we engage, how we share and how we collaborate. Some of this I think we can test out in pilots, some of it requires us to think how we might change our internal processes but all of it requires that we carry on the conversation with those who have helped us so far and hopefully will remain constructive critical friends and supporters in the future.

In drafting this post, I started at this point to write that Power Powered Change phase two, when announced, may be more about investment in people than in technology platforms, and that it might be developed in part by bringing together the various initiatives I’ve mentioned, and others, to co-design something  for the future.

However, I don’t know if that will be the case – and on reflection I don’t know that we need to wait on BIG … however welcome their support would be.

I then wondered whether there was more scope for joining up the smaller sites I mentioned – even if only by sharing newsletter items and some feeds, and having a shared signposting system of who is doing what where: a more accessible version of the Netvibes dashboard I developed.

Ideally this network of networks should be animated by some social reporting … helping people make sense of the civil society ecosystem, and joining up conversation. It would be the online equivalent of local community building, in this instance designed to make the most of the knowledge assets that we have.

What do you think? Is there a problem for activists trying to get information and advice, and connect with others? If so, should we follow Baroness Newlove’s suggestions, and focus on the development of one site, like Your Square Mile? Or should we try and build a knowledge ecoystem of smaller sites, and of civil society organisations better able to network online? (By we, I’m thinking of those who manage online communities or other civil society sites).

The NESTA hyperlocal research and development programme is very timely. Maybe we need something similar at national level.

Update: if you are interested in the big picture, Steve Dale has some deeply-researched slides and notes on The Future of social media and social networks

Update 2: I dropped a query about Media Trust plans into Newsnet discussions, and Gavin Sheppard responded:

“Whilst the BIG funding is for another two years, we’re committed to supporting the platform beyond that date. Obviously further development will depending on what funding is available to us, but I see no reason why the community can’t continue to grow beyond 2014″.

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.

Media Trust launches Newsnet site and network

The Media Trust have launched their site for Newsnet, which aims to be “a UK-wide hub of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers, providing them with the tools and skills to get more from their local news, as well as learning from the experiences of others.

“The aim is to improve the quality and reach of these stories, through increased sharing amongst communities and distribution to mainstream media outlets, including Community Channel’s UK360 magazine show, which will broadcast some of the best community news stories”. read more »

Tip to NESTA on hyperlocal research: go camping

The UK innovation agency NESTA has just launched a 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. The programme is starting with mapping who is doing what, followed by formation of a partnership, foresight research, and funding for innovative pilots. More here in my earlier post. Below I suggest NESTA might consider a more open process to complement current plans.

For the past few years people involved in websites and other digital stuff for for central and local government, and anyone else interested in civic services and interactions, have got together for free, open conferences organised by volunteers, with no set agenda, a minimum of Powerpoint and a max of conversation. Here’s the first one I reported, organised by Jeremy Gould in 2008. It was hugely stimulting … even slightly shocking … to see such creativity released from the realms of bureaucracy. Other unconferences followed specifically for local government, and other interests.

Credit David Pea

Today I went to ukgovcamp2012 organised by Steph Grey and Dave Briggs, hosted by Microsoft, with an attendance list of more than 200 people over two days, and around a dozen sponsors large and small. read more »

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 »

Beyond Big Society towards Big Competent Citizens

I’ve been reading the latest RSA contribution to the contentious Big Society discussion  … or what used to be a lively discussion since it has rather died down in the past few months (earlier posts here).

Government has carried on with BS policies like localism, but toned down calls for citizens to do more for each other. That’s because promotion of BS as a brand was drowned out by shouts of “its all a mask for the cuts” together with “we’ve been doing this for years” and “no-one is going to volunteer for a party political idea”.

At the same time there’s been continuing muttering from a wide range of people that there are good ideas in there if we could change the name, recognise the many past and current traditions of community action, and de-politicise the whole thing. We need to move on – but how? read more »