Could 20thC civic join up with 21stC hyperlocal?

The Civic Trust was an important force for conservation and local pride for 50 years, with a network of campaigning civic societies and an awards programme. I found the Regeneration Unit in particular great people to work with on a number of projects.  But earlier this year the Trust ran out of money, and closed … and I confess I didn’t even notice. That shows how far I’ve given up reading magazines, and moved online. It may also show how little visibility the Trust had in the new online world.

Thanks goodness my friend Kevin Harris has kept in touch, and now reports on moves to create something in its place. As he says “The Civic Trust was precisely the kind of organisation of which it might have been said, if it didn’t exist they’d have to reinvent it”. The Civic Society Initiative has just published the report on their consultation… and if I may quote from Kevin’s piece:

“Among the main findings:

  • Civic societies want to be less reactive, work more in partnership and be more campaigning in their outlook.
  • There is a refreshing openness within civic societies about their shortcomings and their mixed reputation – ageing, negative and out of touch but also locally knowledgeable, actively concerned about the future and wanting to connect more with their community.
  • The movement lacks confidence in itself and others can appear to value it more than civic societies themselves.
  • Civic societies seek a unifying mission and purpose for the movement. This is likely to be based around issues of place, pride, identity and community.

“The analysis reveals a wish to move from being:

  • Separate voices to being a collective movement
  • Hierarchical to being more networked
  • Dependent to being more independent (especially financially)
  • Organised top-down to being more federal.

“Three main roles have been identified for the national body:

  • Providing information, support and advice to civic societies
  • Facilitating civic societies to network and cluster together
  • Being a national lead and voice for the movement which provides inspiration and direction; lobbies and campaigns on its behalf; and raises its profile and influence.

“The organisation is now seeking feedback on the report by Friday 20 November”.

Hang on …. this is all very networky, facilitative, bottom-up, open …. just the sort of values that people in the new hyperlocal movement I’ve written about before are following. The recent Talk About Local event in Stoke on Trent, Community Voices programme launched by the Media Trust, Local 2.0 at the Young Foundation all show how the tools of social media – combined with more traditional methods – can give local people a powerful voice and help the organise. The RSA is going in the same direction with its Citizen PowerConnected Communities, and Social Media projects.

I wonder if the two tribes know each other? There could be great synergy if the Civic Society Initiative people were prepared to embrace the new organsing tools … and the hyperlocal folk could connect with a wider range of interests.

My co-authors and I in the Social by Social book (using social tech for social good) have just created an online network based on earlier work with the hyperlocal groups, and hope that may be one place where some joining up could take place, as Amy Sample Ward explains here.

However, what’s really needed is a few calls, followed by a good face-to-face meeting if people are interested. I wonder if the RSA might oblige in helping organise? The energetic chief exective Matthew Taylor has said in the past that he wants the to 250-year-old organisation to be “the RAC of civic activism”, and the projects I’ve cited show some movement along this path (although I have my doubts about the RAC analogy). There’s a good fit with the Charter the RSA Fellowship has just launched.

Or maybe the Civic Society Initiative would be interested in organising the meetup themselves? Umm – contact us leads to an admin email address and web form. Still, I’ll have a go.

Anyone got other ideas for some oldstyle-newstyle joining up?

Update: I’ve started a discussion over on the SocialbySocial site

One comment

  • October 20, 2009 - 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,

    Good blog. The folding of the Civic Trust is scandalous.

    As the person leading on the Citizen Power programme at the RSA, I am very interested and keen for the RSA to help develop a strategy for filling this void.

    Creating and establishing a network for civic organisations is one possibility.

    This post is a good start.



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