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.

A return to the “old skool” – Social Media challenges in the Public Sector

I have started to realise much more now (better late than never i always say) is that one of the greatest challenges to the public sector engaging in social spaces is “does society as a whole really want us there?” i suspect on face value the answer is No. But if you look at this from the viewpoint of Public Sector Reform and considering the future budget position Local Government needs to consider this as a matter of priority in my eyes.

The recent post by Paul Clarke over at HonestlyReal talks about changing focus and understanding the real purpose of local government.

There is the opportunity if we allow it to happen for the public sector to consider a completely new model of business. One which enables local people to determine how best public, private, voluntary and community resources should be defined to deliver local services.

Now one of the challenges presented here is the concept of “local” (offline and online) becomes slightly more complex and requires us as service providers to think about and acknowledge the complex lives people lead and the way in which they live them.

What we are really talking about is challenging the way society itself works and how it can be supported to provide leadership to its own communities alongside Public Sector organisations. We are in effect challenging society to develop more fruitful and more meaningful relationships to enable them to support themselves. Social Media has started to enable people to reconnect in more convenient and timely ways.

An interesting article in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago Charles Leadbeater which argues that relationships and mutual self-help rather than the reforms, such as those in Government’s “Building Britain’s Future”, are the key to more effective public expenditure.

There is a project called Southwark Circle that does this kind of thing, a quote about this project on the Particle Website states

This is a social reform challenge, not just a public service reform challenge.  The question is not just “What can public services do to improve quality of life and well-being for older people?” but rather “How can a locality mobilise public, private, voluntary and community resources to help all older people define and create quality of life and well-being for themselves?”

For me this just reminds me of what my Nan and other older people i talk to used to say to me about when they were young:

“Communities helped themselves back in the day, neighbours would support each other and would help each other out, we didn’t have or need the same kind of support you lot have today”

Are we seeing social media facilitating a return to traditional and “old skool” values around community and neighbourhood support.  I see the main difference being the “community” and the “neighbourhood” that people relate to is more complex and far reaching (offline and online) than ever before.

If this is the case, then the Pubic Sector truly has a huge task ahead, not only support itself to transform the way we engage with people and our own staff, but to acknowledge those communities who are already engaged but also nurture communities (offline and online) to become part of the wider public service delivery model.