This is a post from Andrew Brightwell from the Public i blog.
We Live Here is reaching an important stage – with initial research to map community networks now being played back to people through a series of events.
- Hangleton and Knoll had its event two weeks ago.
- Brunswick had its on Monday.
- And the city’s Black and Minority Ethnic communities had its on meeting on Wednesday.
Now, with all this work bearing fruit, and with We Live Here beginning to feel very real, I thought I’d publish a short interview that I did with Anthony to help people to understand more about the thinking behind the project.
What is We Live Here?
As Anthony explained, We Live Here is a response to a feeling he shares with Catherine and others that we need to make goverments fit better with the way the world is moving. He said government is lagging behind in the changes that are happening to society as a result of the internet and the networking that it is enabling. For government to respond it needs to refocus on the people it serves.
“People are getting much better service from Amazon than they are getting from governments and that’s not just because Amazon are cold, hard capitalists,” he said. “It’s because they have a vision of their customer service that’s very focused and government doesn’t have a vision of its services that’s citizen focused.”
Anthony said We Live Here is the start of a process to “both understand and map social networks in an area and provide the democratic infrastructure for them to have repetitive democratic conversations, rather than a one-off consultation”.
The team, Public-i and the project
Public-i, the company I work for, is the project’s technology partner, which means we’re helping to take the ideas developed by the We Live Here team and make them (digitally) real. With our interest in how the social web can benefit democracy, we fit quite snuggly. As Anthony put it: “Public-i’s commercial activities around webcasting and social uses of technology and Demsoc’s philosophical activites around new models of government in personalised democracy are obviously quite well aligned, so when the opportunity to talk to the council about this came up, it wasn’t too long for us to put We Live Here on the table.”
We’re responsible for the Citizenscapes, the tools we’ve been using to capture the online activity that is taking place within each of the three communities. You can see the Citizenscapes here:-
- Hangleton and Knoll
- Black and Minority Ethnic
Aside from Public-i, We Live Here has benefited from the talents of Paul Brewer and Nicky Cambridge who both work for Brighton and Hove City Council, as well as Emma Daniel at the Brighton and Hove Community and Voluntary Sector Forum (not to mention the enormous work done by Susie Latta, Demsoc’s tireless project manager). Working as a team, Anthony said We Live Here has gone from a set of aspirations and ideas into a practical, real project. That started by breaking down the project brief into several simple steps: connect, inform, discuss and decide.
It’s that connect phase that the We Live Here team has been busy with recently. This consists of finding out the valuable individuals, organisations and connections that are relied upon by people in each of the communities. “From the council’s perspective, they know about the residents’ associations in Brunswick, the Hangleton and Knoll Partnership and the Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership,” Anthony said. “We are asking people who are active in those networks, ‘Who else do you know?, ‘Who else do you trust?’, ‘Who else do you recommend as sources of information about the local area?’”
This physical work has been supplemented by online searches – carried out by Public-i and using our Social Media Audit methodology. At the same time, we’ve been working within communities, with the Social Media Surgeries helping voluntary, community and resident organisations to develop their own online presences.
By feeding back the results of the initial research to those living and working within the communities it will allow the We Live Here team to get a stronger idea of where there are strengths and weaknesses in communities lie and develop a working model of how they function. “The aim is then that we create a kernel of democratic process and a network-finding process that’s replicable elsewhere”, while also ensuring communities are given additional help in different ways where it’s needed. Long term, Anthony said he hopes it leads to a “community that’s more connected, that’s more self aware and has the tools to make it active, democratically.” That should, hopefully, mean that we’ll see communities getting powers, perhaps including community-budgeting powers and Brighton and Hove is planning a set of neighbourhood council pilots elsewhere in the city soon.