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.

There is an open call for strategic partners to join NESTA in the programme, and then promise of an open call for funding in March this year. The call document is a pdf, so I have copied some sections below (my headings). The introduction to the programme says:

“Together with a broad range of strategic partners, we will develop a 2-3 year programme that tests the economic and social opportunities for hyperlocal media.

“The purpose of Nesta’s programme is to understand the potential for and stimulate a diverse and sustainable UK base of hyperlocal media services that create public value.

“Our work will identify the disruptive technology, business model and content opportunities and challenges for hyperlocal media. Our approach will be predominantly practical – by prototyping the next generation of hyperlocal media services with relevant user-generated content, commercial content, open data, local news, entertainment and sport and content that builds strong local communities.

From the call for strategic partners:

“The benefits to being a strategic partner include:

  • The opportunity of undertaking practical R&D work
  • Helping to develop thought leadership in the field
  • Fast-track learning and knowledge generated by the programme
  • Development of a strong network of partners

“We would expect strategic partners to provide financial support, or resources in kind to support the programme, up to the value of at least £50,000”.

Programme aims

“The programme aims are:

1. For the UK to have the most globally-advanced public understanding of:

  • the demand for and the markets in which hyper-local media services operate
  • business models that are sustainable and support the growth of hyperlocal media services
  • what practice works well and how to solve some key challenges
  • emerging and future trends
  • what policy interventions might support a strong plurality of hyper-local media
  • potential private/public investment opportunitie


2. To have directly stimulated:

  • the testing of high-potential technology, standards and platforms which are emerging (mobile, augmented reality, geo-location, RFID, ) in order to
  • deliver new and useful forms of hyper-local media
  • the development of the right technical and content skills for people to better launch and run their own services
  • useful and productive collaborations between existing, large-scale media organisations and innovative, emerging player”

Programme outcomes:

“The programme will deliver the following programme outputs:

  • Research that maps out the current landscape of hyper local  media activity in the UK and internationally
  • Foresight research into potential scenarios for local media in 2020-25
  • Research on audience/market demand
  • Research on the media sales market opportunities
  • 10 seed-funded prototypes for hyper local media services which are focussed on mobile devices (up to £50k per prototype)
  • A targeted programme of action research activity

The funding call

“NESTA would seek to support ideas that:

  • experiment with emerging technology
  • deliver engaging local content
  • meet identified local demand
  • cost effective
  • test sustainable business models
  • collaborate with other local resources
  • offer potential to scale/replicate

“The criteria for selection are to be confirmed, but may include:

  • How does the prototype develop engagement with local communities?
  • Can it scale?
  • Is the business model sustainable?
  • Capacity to deliver”

My immediate thoughts are – overall that there should be great benefit in a programme that looks at hyperlocal media as a local communications ecosystem – not just through the lens of newspapers, broadcast media or local community-based activity.

That approach should enable us to consider the potential impact of media developments on the social and economic health of a community – as well as the financial health of the media industry.

My question, however, is whether that issue will be foremost in the minds of the sort of strategic partners the call may attract. If the entry qualification is a contribution of £50,000 in cash or kind, partners are going to be at the bigger end of the media scale, or will be other large institutions. Will they be thinking about the needs of citizens and their local groups in the round, or mainly as consumers?

It sounds as if there will be scope for a range of experiments under the funding call, but I wonder whether the tone of the enquiry may have been set by these bigger players by then, and community interests will fall into the category of people to be “consulted”.

Perhaps the community interests could form a consortium and pitch to be a partner, offering their expertise in kind.

My suggestion is that there’s at least a programme blog reporting on developments and enabling contributions, together with some early workshops with a range of people involved in community-based hyperlocal developments: I’ve listed some below, with other links.

However, these are minor reservations, and there’s plenty of scope in the programme for engaging, fine-grain development and communication, as NESTA has demonstrated in the past. That would be in the spirit of hyperlocal.

Update: I’ve posted a follow-up here suggesting that NESTA might run an unconference on the lines of ukgovcamp, which was on last Friday and Saturday. That would help open things up. Philip Colligan responded positively on behalf of NESTA:

“So sorry that I can’t be at the camp. Looks amazing. I know my colleague is planning to attend today.

We’re right at the earliest stage of our hyper local media programme and very much in the market for ideas – so really welcome this suggestion David. Others with ideas should connect with Jon.

“We’ve hosted a few unconferences on different issues over the years and been involved in many more – including the brilliant City Camp London brought together by Futuregov. I am sure we could make it happen.

“BTW have a great day with The Amazings. I’m a big fan of what they’re doing”.

See also comments below.

Update 2: Our Society now have a forum for discussion about the programme


  • January 18, 2012 - 4:50 pm | Permalink

    This is a very exciting proposal. Nice to see hyper local being taking seriously. The important point here is that’s it not just about media organisations anymore but how communities can have a voice. The use of social media and local online and offline communication is a key part of this.

  • January 20, 2012 - 10:24 am | Permalink

    This would be the perfect way of supporting grassroots community networks like B4RN but nesta don’t seem interested. I think they think that government has got it sorted, but they haven’t.

    Support has to go to rural areas and innovative projects, it is not good enough to say ‘let them have satellites’ because they are not the future and too expensive.

    Until internet access is affordable and ubiquitous we will never be a digital nation.

    The way to make hyperlocal work is to get fibre into rural areas for digital hubs and let the people build the network out from that.

    New rural networks on fibre will knock the spots off the old copper phone line connections and make the monopoly incumbent throttling the country shape up and upgrade its infrastructure and deliver a digital britain.

  • Lorna Prescott
    January 22, 2012 - 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi David
    I agree that this programme should bring some benfits, yet the entry requirement for strategic partners is concerning. Chris’s point about access feel critical.
    I’m wondering how we might feel the benefits of this programme, or event be part if it, in Dudley. I have come across a few hyperlocal sites, which I think are comparatively new, so things are slowly developing, I can’t help feeling we’re a few years behind Birmingham, where even public sector officers were setting up helpful sites (I don’t know of any instances of that in Dudley). Also our Social Media Surgeries in Dudley are producing sites focused around community centres and the activity of tenants and residents associations. Some these will evolve quite slowly as we’ve been working with individuals who are very new to online networking. They won’t have heard of ‘hyperlocal’ – so I’m wondering how we can start to build a discussion around this.

  • david wilcox
    January 22, 2012 - 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for comments.
    Gary – I couldn’t agree more … so it is important that those concerned about communities, who are also media savvy play a big part. Like people’s Voice Media!
    Chris – I hope this programme is another chance for you and others to get some leverage for rural broadband. It should throw the issues into stark relief
    Lorna – I think it is crucial that very different local realities are brought to the for. How to do that? As a start maybe a grassroots alliance to get to the partnership table; a more open process from NESTA; an unconference as I suggested here in my follow up post.

  • January 24, 2012 - 4:51 pm | Permalink

    David, a few more quick thoughts.
    1. As the paper hints, understanding scale is crucial. As with words like ‘community’ and ‘neighbourhood’ there are wildly varying assessments of coverage around; but with some channels, if your constituency is just a couple of hundred short you may well have to shut down.
    2. The paper mentions ‘content that builds strong communities’. Hopefully there will be some recognition that it takes a lot more than that. Also that these media can strengthen communities that are already empowered, disproportionately, thereby contributing unexpectedly to increased social divisions.
    And 3, I think you are right to imply that there’s a challenge to ensure that ‘the needs of citizens and their local groups in the round’ are embedded in the scheme. Nonetheless, community engagement is one of the quartet of key themes, so there is recognition, and plenty of experienced people ready to help develop understanding if the opportunities are given.

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