Local social tech: can communities do it themselves?

We had a terrific workshop about local communities and social tech yesterday with some 40 people crowding into the boardroom of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills for an unconferency session.

We heard news of major national programmes like Community Voices, Talk About Local, Local 2.0, Timely Information to Citizens – details of those here – then broke into groups to discuss a wide range of topics. Videos over on the localcommunities site, twitter stream here.

Thanks to Steph Gray of BIS for the accommodation, Antonio Irranca of Communities and Local Government for convening – background here – and my Social by Social colleague Amy Sample Ward for co-organising.

Julian Dobson – who edits New Start magazine – provides a thoughtful analysis over here, warning  “the danger is that this all becomes a love-in for geeks with a bit of community engagement thrown in”, and urging the spirit of cooperative community activity rather than too much Government sponsorship. Or too many consultants driving the agenda.

While there are clear gains for governments in having better skilled and more engaged citizens, and potential value for money in moving more public services online, we shouldn’t act as if nothing can happen without government funding or sanction. The co-operative movement started with a few poor people pooling their funds to set up a shop in Rochdale that provided local people with essential goods at a fair price. The trade unions started with workers clubbing together to provide hardship funds and representation in their fight for better pay and conditions. Communities are still capable of generating their own solidarity. Far better, surely, that they generate the funds to employ the social media experts directly than continually going cap in hand to civil servants.

Fair enough. What particularly pleased me about the event was that we managed to get into the same room a mix of people from central and local government, social media consultancies, community development projects and also bloggers and managers of local community networks. Plenty of room for continuing debate.

What next? The Media Trust offered to convene another workshop, and Talk About Local have an unconference in Stoke on October 3, which is a must. Amy and I hope the local communities site could be a neutral space for all interested in local social tech to share experience, resources, ideas. Can progammes share a virtual space, as well as a physical one? Talk About Local have led the way with a group on the site, so I’m hopeful


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  • September 23, 2009 - 4:03 pm | Permalink

    David, thank you very much for organising this interesting event!

    I have no doubt that some collaborations and joint thinking will come out of this in due course. The more dialogue between different partners the better in order to coordinate resources and brains 🙂

  • September 23, 2009 - 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, David – look forward to following the debate and getting involved where I can.

  • September 25, 2009 - 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Good work all! Hoping I can make it to the next one 🙂

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