Hmmm, interesting times ahead

Note: i was going to title this post “ride the wave” but thought against it, due to the increasing  levels of conversations around google wave, i didn’t want to confuse anyone as to what i might be talking about.

So here goes my retitled post….

The future of local government certainly looks like an interesting place to be over the coming months and years, considering the economic climate and the pressure on councils to explore new ways to deliver services and to release the efficiencies that the national parties are pointing to.

For me this is an opportunity for the whole of the local government sector to stand up and to engage with local residents and to redefine what the “local” social contract is between citizen and public service provider. It should also consider the difficult issues of what services we should be providing and how those services could be provided in the future.  We should also consider whether or not we are actually the best people to be providing these services to our local communities.

A recent example in Barnet, albeit small scale, focuses on an unused piece of land that a local community turned into a prize winning garden. This shows exactly the kind of opportunity we in local government ought to be encouraging, promoting and celebrating around citizen provided services.  The Leader of the Council sums it perfectly on his blog

A couple of gardeners from the council might, just might, have produced a garden as lovely as the local residents have done here. They would not however, have produced the community spirit, the sense of neighbours, young and old, working together to transform their street.

via Barnet Council – Leader Listens Blog.

This type of approach, where communities are coming together and deciding to provide support services for their own communities are far better able to respond and are flexible enough to adapt to local demands. I also believe that the local knowledge and community spirit within these local networks and service based communities are so rich and dynamic that we would struggle to compete even if we had significant funds to spend in these areas.

Nothing in my opinion beats the power of community spirit and social capital.

Another example of this approach is the Southwark Circle

Southwark Circle is a membership organisation whose members stay sorted, connected and lead the lives they want to lead. It does this by introducing members to each other and local, reliable Neighbourhood Helpers

via Southwark Circle

There is so much opportunity in this area and the above examples on are really the tip of the iceberg, however it does require local government to be a bit more ambitious in how it deals with the future and it needs to start allowing communities and groups to take more control locally over some services. This could be the only way forward for really local services. But and to quote a surfer friend of mine “i’d rather be riding this wave then ducking underneath”

Finally I would recommend visiting, buying and or downloading a copy of Social by Social it is a great read and is well worth getting and dropping on some of your colleagues desks or saving into a local shared drive.

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.

Facebook In Devon – Statistics

Whilst raising awareness of social networking and the possibilities that it offers local government, something which i am always asked is “So how many people are we really talking about then?”

Well i thought i would find out, so I used the facebook “advertising” option and this is the results based on facebook’s Estimates.

All the following statistics are based on these search criteria:

who live in the United Kingdom
who live within 25 miles of Exeter, Barnstaple, Torquay, Newton Abbot, Tiverton or Plymouth
Age range

  • Under 25 – 66,560 people
  • 26- 40 – 56,380 people
  • 41 – 55 – 23,300 people
  • 56 plus – 5,240 people
  • Men – 73,780 people
  • Women – 79,180 people

What I find interesting about these statistics is that for most groups we are talking about the size of a small/medium town, so it would seem to add value to the argument that we really need to listen and communicate/engage these people somehow to find out what we can do to improve services locally for them.

The bigger question though for me and i’m not 100% sure of the answer although i’d guess at No is:

  • Are these people likely to be engaged already in Shaping Local Services?

Now facebook isn’t the only tool, but it does provide a good example of the level of people locally who you could reach, and who are likely to have not been reached before. Surely that can only be good for local democracy and service improvement.

Google Wave – are we “waving” goodbye to the old school

The much talked about Google Wave will be available later this year and the preview demonstrated at Google I/O event has got me thinking and after watching the video (below) there are a number of opportunities for the public sector, here are three areas where i feel we could gain real benefit, with this type of new functionality.

  • Emergency comms – with email, web publishing and IM all interconnected. Communicating to a wide audience goes beyond your “contacts” list and can essentially reach the world in an instant.
  • Community engagement – comments/conversations on blogs or other sites will be sent to me in my inbox and i can reply via my inbox. This would help those people who want to re-use content on various platforms and enable those people to capture all feedback and collate these and pass the conversations from one platform into another to facilitate wider community or network involvement (this coupled with the conversation playback facility will transform collaboration)
  • Integrated access to colleagues / people on mobile devices (mobile and flexible working) this changes the landscape of mobile and flexible working in my opinion.

I for one am really excited by the prospect of seeing how this can allow people to work, collaborate and communicate more effectively……

It won’t solve everything, but it can teach us a new way in sharing and collaborating together.

Well done Google.