Search Results for: your square mile

A little recap on Big Society

I’m really enjoying Paul Twivy’s book Be Your Own Politician, which champions social action and citizen engagement, informed by his insider knowledge of how challenging it is to promote and negotiate support for that within the political establishment and Whitehall.

Paul recounts how he succeeded through work with Comic Relief, Timebanking, Change the World for a Fiver, and the Big Lunch, among much else – but not so much with the Big Society Network and Your Square Mile. His chapter on how this unwound is fascinating, and generally confirms my understanding as an independent observer and also paid-for socialreporter for the Network at one stage. Here’s the Big Society Wikipedia entry.

Paul recounts the point at which the change of leadership of the Network, from his initial role to that of Steve Moore, emerged through Steve promoting the fact in his bio for a TEDx event in Athens in November 2010. I picked up the bio reference – without any briefing from Steve – and blogged a piece “Steve Moore leads new Big Society Innovation Platform“.

I aimed to provide people with an even-handed update on Big Society developments, because they were so difficult to come by,  and declared I’d known Steve for a some years and worked directly for him and then the Network. I explain that Paul had worked hard on developing Your Square Mile, and this was due to launch soon.

Unfortunately Steve had jumped ahead of any official announcement, and Paul recounts in his book the difficulty and embarrassment this caused. (I didn’t appreciate until now that Steve had used Paul’s slides for his talk). May I offer a retrospective apology for my part in the upset? I probably should have checked, since I had worked for the Network, and owed it more than a purely journalistic relationship.

On the other hand, there was considerable public interest in Big Society and the Network, and I think it’s fair to say I was one of very few people trying to get behind the politics and provide a running account. I was frustrated by the lack of briefing – although reading Paul’s account, I can now better understand the reason for that. It wasn’t an open process.

Anyway, you can read that particular blog post here, and judge its tone yourself. The tag cloud on this blog – right sidebar – shows that that over the years I’ve written more about Big Society, Big Society Network, and Your Square Mile than most topics, starting with a report of the launch. That includes a video interview with Paul and Nat Wei, as well as David Cameron’s remarks. I subsequently joined the Your Square Mile mutual, reported the launch, including an interview with Paul.

I’ll leave the retrospection at that for now, although it would be interesting to reflect on what Your Square Mile was trying to achieve, and whether there are lessons for what’s now needed for local social action, blending digital and non-digital methods.  There may be some wider value in the work I’ve been doing with Drew Mackie on Living Well in the Digital Age, and the idea of local Living Labs.  Here’s some thinking on operating systems and social apps, connecting local frameworks with the DCLG Grey Cells model.

What’s digital life like for a community enabler?

Following my rather theoretic post about developing a how-do kit and networks for community enablers I’ve had a couple of exchanges that fill out the reality. Here’s an amalgamation of those, combined with my experience and workshop discussions.

The voluntary sector community enabler’s story

I’m a development manager in a voluntary organisation that supports local groups, so I work with colleagues and volunteers on training, providing information, helping with fundraising, dealing with the council and programmes funded by Big Lottery and other agencies. Life is too many meetings, too many calls, too many emails, too much paperwork.  I enjoy it, but would love to find ways of using technology better to be more effective.

We need to be on top of the latest information nationally and locally, and already use sites like KnowHow NonProfitKnowledgeHub, Locality, Getlegal, Directory of Social Change for advice. Then there’s Zurich’s Community Starter site for groups planning action, and Community HowTo for digital tools.

Despite all that it is really difficult to put together help for people that I support – and manage my own personal information. I’ve got an iPhone but know I only use a fractional of what’s possible, and on my computer I’ve ended up with collections of bookmarks, lots of pdfs in different folders, spreadsheets storing contacts. I know I should transfer to our website and share with others, but there’s never the time.

Communications online is a mess. One large project is using Basecamp, some groups have Facebook pages, and Twitter is OK for quick messages, but not for groups. Mostly we end up with lots of cc emails.

I’m interested to see what Urban Forum found in their survey of social media use, and might try Yammer when I have a moment … but it’s no good if others won’t use it.

As well as managing our own communications we have to try and help some local groups who have been told that they must set up blogs to report how they are using funding under one of the big national programmes. That’s pretty challenging for volunteers who may be excellent at face-to-face relationships and newsletters, but just don’t have skills or confidence to do much online beyond email and standard websites. A few did manage to use the simple Posterous site, but that was bought out by Twitter and closed and they had the nightmare of trying to transfer elsewhere.

It’s tempting to think that some sort of new platform for everything might help … wasn’t Your Square Mile aiming to do that as part of the original Big Society plan? The problem is getting people to move from the familiar, particularly if their friends aren’t there and they are doubtful whether it will be maintained.

I would love to see someone trying to develop useful ways to help people like me and the groups I support – and would do what I can to help.

But it can’t be one-size-fits-all, and it shouldn’t duplicate what’s happening already. We need better connecting of existing resources, and ways in which people can pick and mix the simplest set of tools they need, with some confidence that they will continue to be available. Of course it’s not just about the tools, it’s about developing digital literacy as well as all the other literacies we need in this sort of role.

Where can I find other people like me interested in learning together?

Does this ring true? As I wrote yesterday, enablers might be councillors, community organisers, people running local groups, citizens developing a campaign and/or generally working to revive local democracy. Do please drop a comment, or email me and I’ll fictionalise if you prefer. Then we can run a workshop like this one.

I have embedded links to most of the references above, but they aren’t showing up too well. I hope to fix that shortly.

Thanks to the enablers who shared their digital lives. More please!

 

Building a network for People Powered Change

Over the past week the partners in Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change initiative have provided some updating posts about their work, on BIG’s blog.

This was promised as part of the evolution of PPC, which I wrote about earlier, referring there to the work I and colleagues did on the process. It was part of BIG’s exploration of how to be more than a funder, and as Linda Quinn, Director of Communications an Marketing puts it BIG is: “… developing a number of ideas which we hope will make us a more engaged, open and social organisation. I also hope it will help us support projects to share their stories, inspirations and ideas”.

On the communications front BIG is setting up an internal comms system, and experimenting with social reporting from events. In addition they are:

  • Crowdsourcing ideas in how best to map where funding goes and the impact it makes, drawing on people’s willingness to swap and share experience.
  • Providing support for projects to tell, share and learn from stories including surgeries and games.
  • Testing ideas on the use of social media with projects funded under the Silver Dreams Fund and the Jubilee People’s Millions.

The posts on the BIG blog are from Your Square MileMedia TrustUnLtdNESTA and the Young Foundation. They mainly focus on the work they are supporting on the ground, as a result of BIG funding. It is all fascinating stuff, and I hope we’ll see more, whether on the BIG blog or on their own sites.

In my mind it sparks the possibility that BIG could extend its own “sociable organisation” approach to helping create a more sociable network for People Powered Change. As part of our work with BIG, Drew Mackie did some quick network mapping at the workshop that we ran. You can see one of the resulting maps above, showing who knew who and who worked with whom.

Drew also asked what resources organisations held, and you can see those in this online map, by mousing over the nodes.

The map is just a snapshot of relationships and resources at any time, and doesn’t say anything much about the strength of relationships or collaborations that may, or not not, be evolving.

BIG is a strong supporter of the idea of Asset Based Community Development in localities, though which the aim is to nurture and build on resources, rather than just identifying problems and seeking more funds. Or if you are seeking more funds, showing that you are making the most of what you have.

I hope BIG and partners won’t mind me suggesting that there could be scope for doing the same with the People Powered Change network that we surfaced through mapping at the workshop. It might be achieved through:

  • some more systematic mapping (there wasn’t much time at the workshop)
  • further blogging from those on the network, to let each other and all of us know what they are doing
  • some way to aggregate feeds (perhaps creating a river of news on the lines Dave Winer sets out here)
  • some sociable events
  • ways to promote better internal communications ….

… and hey, I find I’m repeating many of the ideas that Linda and colleagues are already exploring for BIG.

How much more powerful it would be if BIG could become not just a more social organisation, or even a networked organisation, but one that is catalysing a really active network for People Powered Change.

We looked at different network models as part of our work with BIG, using the diagram of this general example representing a shift from a hierarchy through more of  cluster towards a mesh. As Tom Phillips mentioned at the time, the nodes can  be created by sociable events … so that part of BIG’s programme will certainly be helpful.

If the network developed, it could be the strategic movement that would support the one-the-ground developments reported by PPC partners – not just through their individual organisational efforts, but by drawing on the strengths of the network as a whole.

It may well be that some of this is happening already, and if so early examples would be great topics for further posts from BIG and partners, or others in the field.

One great example is the work of the NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge programme, which funded 17 local projects under PPC … reported here by Alice Casey. Each neighbourhood was asked to blog about their work as it developed, and so maybe there’s potential for a PPC network in miniature emerging already.

Social reporting insights from an exploration for BIG

Big Lottery Fund have now reported on plans to evolve their England programme, with some generous references to the work John Popham and Drew Mackie and I did last year.

I’ve posted on their plans at socialreporters.net - How BIG aims to be a more engaged, open and social organisation. Also copied below.

We spent three months exploring and blogging openly about how BIG might be more than a funder, ran a workshop to bring together people we met along the way, and did some network mapping. It seems this has influenced the development of BIG’s future programme in some small but significant ways.

In addition, it yielded a few useful lessons and inspirations for social reporting, as I mention at the end of the earlier post. Here’s further thoughts:

  • The first is that “explorations” are something a social reporter can offer to a client as an alternative to research and consultancy – if you have a client like BIG that is prepared to take the risk and be a little innovative.
  • However, online exploration isn’t enough: the real buzz came from the workshop we ran at the end of the process, where BIG staff were able to meet some of the people we had talked to.
  • Although you can start with a quest, you don’t know where it will lead – and often the most interesting stories arise by chance.
  • The value to the client may come as much from the introductions as from content. We were able to say to people in government and other agencies “I think BIG would be interested in that” – and vice versa.
  • If you blog openly as you go, there’s a good chance you will spark other connections. And you don’t have the chore of writing a report at the end that may or may not be read and acted upon.

Maybe there’s nothing really new in this. Some researchers conduct open processes, some journalists share their contacts and work in progress. Lots of people run creative workshops, and do social network maps.

I’m just re-assured that it seems to stack up as part of the portfolio of services that a social reporter may offer, along with reporting events, and helping people learn how to use new ways of communicating and connecting.

So – how to get paid as a social reporter? Events, explorations and enabling.

Here’s my post from socialreporters.net:

Linda Quinn, Big Lottery Fund Director of Communications and Marketing, has provided an update on how BIG will evolve its England programme after a year of People Powered Change.

Linda kindly acknowledges that some of the new ideas draw on the explorations last year documented on this blog. Linda writes:

This included a workshop with some of those people with ideas and a shared interest in this area, informing a paper to our England Committee on future ways of working.

The Committee supported the paper and as a result we are developing a number of ideas which we hope will make us a more engaged, open and social organisation. I also hope it will help us support projects to share their stories, inspirations and ideas.

In her post, Linda highlights:

  • Recognising that encouraging beneficiaries of funding to tell stories and be more sharing has to be reflected inside BIG too: so they have set up BIG Connect as an internal network.
  • Crowdsourcing ideas in how best to map where funding goes and the impact it makes, drawing on people’s willingness to swap and share experience.
  • Support for projects to tell, share and learn from stories including surgeries and games.
  • Testing ideas on the use of social media with projects funded under the Silver Dreams Fund and the Jubilee People’s Millions.

Linda adds:

In a future world I’d love all our evaluations and grant management to be socialised so that stories and impacts are available to the armchair auditors, enthusiasts and others working in similar areas – this very much reflects the open data work we blogged about here at our joint event with NCVO andNominet Trust. Such a social approach not only shows the impact of National Lottery funding but also provides an opportunity for projects to promote and showcase what they do, share and inspire others.

We’ll also develop our focus on some place and people based initiatives that strongly reflect People Powered Change. For example, our Big Local Trust investment recently announced a further 50 areas that will receive at least £1million for local communities (around ward size) to decide how they wish to spend that money over a ten year period. This is taking decisions out of central committees and into local communities and giving them the space and time to make those decisions.

People Powered Change informs a way of working that will develop overtime and we’re keen to continue to hear what others are doing, where we can share and where we can learn. And talking of sharing, you may recall that in March last year we also announced a number of awards under People Powered Change. These were to UnLtd’s, ‘Big Venture Challenge,’ Young Foundation’s ‘Building Local Activism’ project, Media Trust’s ‘Newsnet’, NESTA’s ‘Neighbourhood Challenge’ and Your Square Mile. We’ll be publishing a blog from each of these over the next week or so updating on their activities, investments and learning.

Looking back on the work that John Popham, Drew Mackie and I did for BIG, I’m naturally delighted that it proved useful in helping develop some ideas for their programme. We were given a pretty open brief by Linda and deputy director Shaun Walsh, and encouragement to follow up ideas as they emerged. It was a social reporting exploration – and the reverse of a carefully-planned research and consultancy project.

In the event a lot of useful stuff came up by chance … perhaps because of “strategic opportunism” as James Derounian said over here “putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.”

The post about internal communication Linda mentions – Sharing outside means first sharing inside – arose because I bumped into Tom Phillips at an innovation event in Kent and shot an interview. I went to the event because it was organised by Noel Hatch, and I knew it would be interesting … if not in what way. I got lots of other interviews too.

The post about BIG staff inventing Biglopoly, referenced by Linda, came from an outside source who was working with BIG on the Big Local programme. BIG staff then readily produced their own excellent video explaining what they did: I was really just the story-spotter.

On reflection I think that the 50 or so blog posts that we generated served several purposes:

  • They provided an exploration of the landscape of people powered change, and some insights and ideas for BIG to dip into.
  • They informed the workshop that we organised, bringing together many of the people that we met, providing an opportunity for them to share more ideas directly with BIG staff.
  • They also provided some further stories to share with Shaun over a coffee at several points during the exploration.

Being engaging, open and social is more about attitude than mechanisms, and Linda and Shaun set the style in taking a risk with a social reporting exploration. We just found and told some stories to help things along.

 

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″.

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.

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.

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An update on social reporting, including support from BIG

A couple of things came together recently to re-convince me that “social reporting” is a useful banner under which to promote the blending of new and old media and skills for collaboration and social benefit. (Here’s how the idea started, for me.)

The biggest and most thoughtful bottom-up support for the idea, and a big contribution to its practice, has come from the Transition Network, where Charlotte Du Cann and Ed Mitchell are editing and producing a social reporting project.

Twelve writers around the country are compiling a national blog about their real life experiences of being in Transition … moving towards low carbon, lower energy lifestyles and communities. I reported recently from the Transition Network conference.

Charlotte was kind enough to quote me on social reporting, with a definition that Bev Trayner and I developed a couple of years back. read more »

Your Square Mile unveils plans powered by millions of members


Six months development work by the Your Square Mile programme came together yesterday with the launch in London of a new website to support local action, new pledges of cross-party support, and plans to create a citizens mutual organisation with millions of members.

You can catch up on the background to Your Square Mile on my earlier post here, including a talk though the site by YSM managing director Jamie Cowen.

Today at 1pm Jamie will engage in a live chat online hosted by Our Society here.

At yesterday’s launch we heard support from both Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, and Tessa Jowell, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, and from a couple of the 16 pilots YSM that has been supporting. YSM is a partner in the Big Lottery Fund People Powered Change programme, for whom I am doing some work. read more »