Time Geography, Social Media and Social Exclusion


I was in a meeting today where we were talking about how we could develop our community engagement and participation approaches using online resources (social networks/ social media etc). We also started talking about the need to present to particular “communities” (what ever we mean by community)  information about how we are doing, what we are spending etc, giving them the opportunity to be better informed to contribute to the decision making process.

The reason i write this post is because a colleague introduced me to “Time Geography” a concept where by you understand different elements such as time, mode or travel, access etc and use this to understand and analyse how people might make choices around getting from A to B.

I can see huge value in learning more about Time Geography as i can see that this is a really useful tool by which we can understand and determine the role for social tools in enabling access to services or supportive communities, and also helping to understand some of the wider social exclusion issues people face.

To help explain the concept more i have included a diagram and a quote from “A Time Geography Approach to the Visualisation of Sport

Time Geography Elements

Lifelines represent the path taken by an individual in time-space. An individual will trace a path between stations (e.g. school, work, home – can vary according to size), where they congregate with other individuals to create bundles. Movement in spacetime can be constrained by the boundaries of some domain, a physical manifestation of authority constraints. Finally, a prism represents the total area of space reachable by an individual in the time available (can be projected backwards in time as well as forwards). The shallower the slopes of the prism, the faster the individual is capable of travelling. The prism is symmetric if the station of origin is the same as that of the destination (as in figure 1), asymmetric if otherwise. Together, these time geography elements form a powerful analytical tool

The aspect of this which i find most fascinating is the way in which you can start to model and analyse individuals in terms of their access to communities or in this case “bundles”.

In the context of engagement and participation, the “lifeline” that someone takes may well have been drastically altered or reduced due to the increase in social media tools and socially supportive devices such as internet enabled phones. This will in turn and we know that it has created numerous more “bundles” online where people congregate and converse with one another. This could in turn contribute to understanding customer preferences for channel usage if particular channels were easier to access based on their lifeline. So a local library with Internet access becomes a hub for active citizens, digital TV might provide a role in information provision and service delivery to specific types of communities, this would also be true for mobile or wifi networks.

In a social exclusion context this might help us understand whether or not people who are excluded do so because of their “prism” being to wide and effectively restricting them from accessing services or communities (regardless of whether the community is online of offline). If we could start to surface this in a more visual context like this we might be able to determine as councils whether or not alternative channels of service delivery were likely to be effective or even if other providers (community, voluntary sector etc) might be better suited to delivering the service themselves. This was eluded to in a recent Charles Leadbeater piece in the Guardian on the State of Loneliness.

This is only my early thinking on the subject but i see real value in using this method to help understand how social media and social networking might be able to reduce the slopes of individual “prisms” to allow greater opportunity to participate in “bundles” or communities.

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