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July 19, 2010

Homer and Bart need to set up a hyperlocal site in Springfield

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 11:43 am

How often do you see Bart, or Homer, online in the Simpsons?

Not that often.

Sounds like a trite point, but bear with me.

Their hometown of Springfield – founded in 1796 by Hans Sprungfeld who travelled west to found the New Sodom – is surely the best known, most perfectly sealed open society in history (totalitarian hell holes like Hoxha’s Albania and Kim Jong Il’s North Korea don’t count).

And the TV show should have its own hyperlocal site run by Marge, hacked into by Bart, rubbished by Homer and monetised by the evil Mr Burns.

I don’t want to spiel forth on proverbial egg sucking, but hyperlocalism is in our midst, is a force for change, a force for good, but belongs in Springfield, the Isle of Wight or even Rockall.

It’s about Krusty the Clown’s antics, about emptying bins, mending cracked pavements, making sure older people don’t freeze to death in the winter. It’s about giving a voice to you and me. All that mundane stuff we fuss about when we live our lives.

It’s NOT about helping central and local governments – and people who run them – to avoid their social responsibilities. It shouldn’t be used as a cost cutting exercise or as cornerstones of grand political campaigns.

Unfortunately, hyperlocalism and the movement for local services and democratic ideals could soon be wholly consumed by David Cameron’s Big Society. Much of this Big Society talk is simple political puff, although I suppose it should be given the benefit of the doubt before the doubt inevitably supersedes the benefits.

But as more local people sign up to Cameron’s movement, they should be mindful of the morass of national political infighting, local political rivalry and hyperlocal bitchfesting that will probably follow.

This is not cynicism for the sake of it. It’s hyper-reality if you like. Ho ho.

Hyperlocalism is in essence a grassroots affair that can be anything and everything. It is anchored in local reality. It’s a celebration of localism. It’s a forum, a panacea and an advertising vehicle, yes, it should be monetised so the people running it can make ends meet.

But, above all, it belongs in Springfield, the Isle of Wight and (if people fancy living there) Rockall.

Yesterday I spoke to Rosie who set up a hyperlocal site in her area of Cheltenham only two months ago. A year ago she knew nothing about hyperlocalism or twitter, now she’s a full time community manager, interviewing local politicians, speaking out about local education issues and encouraging people to enter local charity events. She’s proof that a lot can be done in just two months.

Below she talks about her project.


July 7, 2010

Report on Big Society Network Open Night

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 11:16 am

My colleague Rob Mair atttended the Big Society Network Open Night yesterday. He’s emailed me about it today and I thought I’d share some of his observations and musings post event.

The Big Society Network Open Night was an attempt to bring together lots of different organisations (including quangos, charities, technology companies and social enterprises) to brainstorm ways of creating a Big Society.

The Big Society Network is essentially looking at ways to get people engaged in local communities (or hyperlocal communities) for the benefit of that area. Paul Twivy, CEO of the Big Society Network, said people in any one square mile have plenty of skills but often, when people do community work forget about the skills they have that may benefit that area.

He used the example of an accountant; accountancy is boring (his words), so accountants look to do something completely different from accountancy when it comes to doing voluntary work in the community.

But charities could benefit from free accountancy, and the accountant would be using his skills for the benefit of the wider community. And I think this idea is at the heart of the Big Society Network.

Which is noble – but I’m not sure where we all fit into this. Many people spend time doing digital engagement work, which is profit motivated – and this is at odds (indeed any sort of personal gain seems at odds – everyone’s hang up on the Big Society Network is ‘what’s in it for me?’) with the aims of the Network.

After the introductions, I took part in a discussion on ‘How Technology Can Help’, and the strong theme from this was that any website to come out from it must be completely removed from gov/local authorities. People at grassroots level (esp the most isolated) don’t want to engage if they feel that it is authority led. Overall it was a very interesting discussion though.

Still not sure how far this idea can be taken as it stands. Altruism is as well and good, but people have to earn a crust.

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