Plan to train thousands of local digital activists

Over the next few months I think we’ll hear much more about the potential for community activists to use blogs and other digital tools for social change in their localities.

One push will come from the digital mentors programme, where the Department for Communities and Local Government has now selected five consortia to develop bids in more details for the planned £900,000 support programme that I wrote about here.

Further support could come from a plan to provide direct training to thousands of activists like those running the Kings Cross community site here. Local community sites have been around since the mid-1990s, but they now have a well-placed friend in Will Perrin, who started the Kings Cross site a couple of years ago.

Will is a senior civil servant working in the social media field, and while he keeps a strict separation between day job and local activism it does mean he is well-placed to work with other enthusiasts on how to spread the action through his advocacy for ultra local voices.

I met up with Will at the 2gether09 launch last week at The Hub in Kings Cross, when appropriately enough he led the bill with a welcome to the area, some history of past and presents struggles with development pressures, crime, poverty, the sex trade and other darker aspects of community life. He then took us through the development of the web site with other volunteers, and the way that it has become a focus for community action. You can see his presentation above.

Afterwards I invited Will to use my portable videoboo(th) to provide a summary, where he confirmed his training plan and responded to my invitation to say why he thinks social media can make difference.

Social media can reduce the barriers to people engaging in democracy, in their communities and in making it easier to campaign, and that’s what makes difference on the ground.

If it makes it easier to get to a meeting, to write a letter, to engage with our 19th century domocratic processes, then that’s how social media can make a change.

The training plan is being developed in association with the 6000-strong network of UK online centres. They are one of the leading contenders in the digital mentors programme, running a very impressive open process to develop their proposal in detail on their Voicebox site. It is a model of how to invite collaboration, listen to what is said, and then develop a meaningful summary of what is emerging – as Anne Faulkner has done here in impressive detail.

As I’m writing this an email arrives from my friend Kevin Harris noting that he has now been blogging about neighbourhoods for five years, and claiming it was me that gave him the nudge. But then it was Kevin who did so much good work in the 90s to inspire me and others to get involved in local online networking. I love it when things join up like this. Anyone else got some connections to throw in?


  • December 8, 2008 - 10:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks David. To continue the historical theme for a moment – (i) I do think William’s initiative is the most significant at a national level for several years. The rhetoric about social (digital) inclusion has persisted fitfully but it’s good to see some real action again.
    (ii) I believe it’s now ten years since Shipley College established online connections with local community centres, pioneering quite a lot of outstanding work along the way by fussing less about fancy kit but focusing on community work skills to address people’s experience of exclusion. Let’s raise a glass to them and others like them, who will make William’s objective attainable.

  • December 8, 2008 - 11:58 am | Permalink

    Hi Kevin/David
    In terms of inspiration I have to mention My Brighton & Hove, at which has been running for at least ten years and grew out of the excellent work of Queens Park Books, which documents local history.
    It has over 6000 user-generated pages and has only ever been run by volunteers.
    It has now spun off a too for community sites at
    SCIP hasn’t had anything to do with this other than helping when we can but it’s a great example of how to build a network of skilled people and a tool which can be used across the community [although it’s not open source as it happens]
    I must also echo David’s name check for Kevin’s lead in the mid to late 90s, esp when the Policy Action Teams started taking notice of IT for neighbourhood development.
    Has it really taken so long for someone to notice this sort of stuff?
    Best wishes all

  • December 8, 2008 - 12:00 pm | Permalink

    sorry weblink should be
    and one on your old pathch David is
    North Laine

  • December 8, 2008 - 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Connections… connections… hmmm. Well, I read both your and Kevin Harris’ blogs with interest… I saw you speak at geeKyoto earlier in the year, and I must’ve missed the event by minutes – I was visiting the Hub for the first time for a meeting on Thursday, but left to catch my train back to Liverpool just as they were setting up for some event…

    I think this is a great idea, and something I’ve been trying to find and help or help to start here in Liverpool.

    I attended an excellent and well-attended debate about the future of Liverpool back in October, but was disappointed by the dearth of ongoing discussion online afterwards. I’m slowly piecing together a plan, and finding the right people to talk to, but would be interested in working with people to accelerate that.

  • December 10, 2008 - 9:11 am | Permalink

    What a great presentation by Will, very helpful in articulating the way a few people can transform communication and by extension empower whole communities.
    I’d also mention how enormously positive it is that this conversation is now taking place here and on A lot of people have been doing this sort of thing kind of instinctively around the UK but because of the absolute lack of attention by the media it has been difficult to connect and learn lessons from each other – or even to know what others are doing in different but comparable places.

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  • January 1, 2009 - 11:24 am | Permalink

    I live on the A43 in Northants, between Moulton and Kettering.The most dangerous 9 mile stretch of road in the county.

    Campaigning to improve road safety by legwork and flyer is very time consuming. The introduction of a web site and online petition to Downing St has made information open to all.
    I am very lucky to have a son called William Perrin !!!

  • January 1, 2009 - 11:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks Chrissie – is a great example of a tightly-focussed local campaigning site. I hope it gets results! May William’s inspiration spread widely

  • January 23, 2009 - 10:04 am | Permalink

    we have moved this proposal on a bit, given it a name ‘Talk About Local’ and i have posted the latest news here.

    Not quite finalised yet, but getting closer.

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