Once again the blog begins with the comment that 'it's been a while' (which by the way is a great track by Staind - see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVC1iBVnKJk&feature=related ) but don't forget to come back to the blog........
Anyway, I met with Will Perrin (@WillPerrin ) yesterday to talk about all things local - hyperlocal sites, localism generally, activists being enabled and finding a voice through simple and easily avaialble technology and open data....and it was quite an eye opener for me.
The best way to get a handle on what's happening, it transpired, was to have a run through of some very varied 'hyperlocal' sites and hear the stories behind them and, particularly, the impact they can have on communities.
The sort of 'bible' for this kind of localism is probably openly local, see: http://openlylocal.com/ for the general site or http://openlylocal.com/hyperlocal_sites for a growing directory of hyperlocal sites.
Without doubt the site whose name was certainly the most 'interesting' is: http://www.birminghamitsnotshit.co.uk/ - yes you read it right.
Others that are worth a look are: http://parwich.org/ , Digbeth is good: http://digbeth.org/ , King Cross: http://www.kingscrossenvironment.com/ and one more, The Cricklade Bugle: http://www.cricklade.info/
There are plenty more examples from inner city, communter belt, rural Scotland and the moors and dales. Small community inspired, community developed, community sustained sites, many of which are becoming or have become a focal point for community buiding and community action and activists but are run by volunteers whose ages range from 21 to over 70 years old, many of whom had not touched a computer prior to their involvement but many of whom were equipped through training provided by http://talkaboutlocal.org.uk/. It really is great stuff. I come from a pretty small rural community in the North East of England and the attractions of a hyperlocal site are obvious and compelling - I can see an addition to the directory very soon....
In many ways this is 'big society' happening from the grass roots up without the need for politicians of any hew being the driving force or, even more importantly, without them being able to have any 'control'. Don't you just love it?
For me as the MD of Socitm, rather than me the local resident, this whole movement is a great example of people being empowered and real objectives and community goals being acheived by the use of freely available and accessible technology. I guess one of the most glaring 'facts' arising from my initiation is that many councils either don't really know about what is going on or, worryingly, they do but treat it as a threat rather than an opportunity and an effective channel to real citizens. This is obviously not true of all local authorities, but I suspect it is of many.
The 'big society' aspect is fascinating - see how the residents used their hyperlocal blog to rally around and sort out their 'poo' problem: http://littlemanea.wordpress.com/environmental-issues/ . We see citizens doing it for themselves instead of just whinging that somebody else should do it. I'm sure somebody should have...but now it's now done, and the doing of it instead of the whinging about it has had a really positive and beneficial impact on a local community - result as far as I can see! However, there is also a strong element of rightly calling to account those public authorities who should be doing something but aren't...and that is also 'big society'.
It's not all just about activism, it's also about news, useful local information - from real people, it's about community 'feel good' , cohesion, purpose and many other really great, but all too easily lost, community characteristics. It's always the new converts who are the most evangeliistic...the test of course comes down the line, (I think there is a parable about a sower that deals with this.....)
Before signing off, we then touched on a related issue, open data...now there is an interesting area with still far to few public bodies taking it seriously enough. See http://data.gov.uk/ for more detail, but if you want to see the sort of information that can be made readily, easily and freely available see something such as the 'spending dashboard' on openly local: http://openlylocal.com/councils/spending. And finally, if you want to see how your council is doing with the publication of open data see here: http://openlylocal.com/councils/open , you may wish to encourage them a little....