Big Society in the North is moving on

As Julian Dobson has already explained here, events are moving on in the Big Society in the North.

There has been some criticism about the restricted nature of the consultations we have been able to carry out to date. We are aware of the deficiencies, but, as Julian says, we are doing all of this without a budget at the moment, and we have been moving quite fast. This means we have necessarily been having to use social media as the quickest, and cheapest, way of getting the word out. Thus, the kind of people who receive the message and act on it will be limited. But, we fervently hope that those people will cascade the messages out to the people they work with.

At the planning meeting on Wednesday, we were talking about how we can communicate with the many community groups who will play a big part in the Big Society but which aren’t online. The idea we came up with is this.

Community Noticeboard

Community Noticeboard by Pip Wilson

Many supermarkets have Community Notice Boards. We would seek to encourage the supermarkets, as part of their contribution to the Big Society, to promote Community Notice Boards (and install them if they are not present already), and make sure that local groups are using them to promote their events. Then, we could get someone in each town, city or district to go round and photograph the boards and upload the photos onto a central site. We might even persuade the supermarkets to get one of their own staff to do this. We could develop a phone app, which made it really simple to upload the photo to the right place. Then we would extract the information from the photos and make them into an online diary with location, maps, etc. We’d need to start small with this, because, until we get some resources, the data processing could get onerous.

I think this is something that could be relatively simple to do, quite cheap to execute, and would have the added benefit of helping to bring groups online who had not previously been making use of technology.

Any views?

20 thoughts on “Big Society in the North is moving on

  1. Personally I think relying on any noticeboard process, in supermarkets or not, virtual or real is likely to fail.

    Instead think word of mouth. Think ‘member get member’. Think ‘introductions and referrals’. Think Big Society ‘cells’ based in people’s homes.

    Build relationships through conversations and outreach.

    How can you facilitate and amplify local action. How can you help communities to organise? How can you add value

    • I totally agree, Mike, that this is what needs to happen at the local level. But we are talking here about trying to map activity over a very large area of the country, and needing to do it as easily and cheaply as possible.

      • …and the purpose of mapping?

        Mapping dynamic, social processes and getting a useful product at the end is mighty hard. Is providing ‘a map’ the best way of helping people to navigate the territory?

        Are we trying to accelerate exchange of interesting practice? Provide information on places where people can ‘engage’ and put a shoulder to the wheel? Provide a space where we can develop methodologies and practices? Provide a brand that can add power to local initiatives through solidarity and organisation?

        All of the above and more?

        I think this matters because it will define the role and value that BSitN. I hope I am not seen as being critical or difficult! Glad to see that the drive behind BSitN is both practical and pragmatic….

  2. I think its about everyone doing their part. So using both ideas and any more people can come up with.

    For us we are trying to store things centrally as John said, so for that we are asking for people to do two things. 1. The word of mouth idea, spread the word however you can, wherever you can, and to as many people as you can.
    2. Tell us what you are doing! Then we can help connect people together. The noticeboards is one idea. If people have got better ones then let us know and we can try using it.

  3. Mike,

    One of the key purposes of the mapping is to demonstrate the richness and diversity of activity out there which can be characterised as “Big Society” in the quest to avoid the re-invention of wheels.

    • Mike

      I’m not sure this wholly applies to you, because you are well versed in using online tools and know how to get your message out.

      We are talking how to identify local activities which are being run by people who don’t use social media. As a lot of Big Society stuff is being done on a shoe-string (and not just by Big Society in the North), if activity is not visible online it may well be missed.

      It’s about gathering evidence to say to policy makers, look at this, it’s happening there.

      • I still think the same challenges apply whether they are online or offline noticeboards. Word of mouth strategies and a strategy that uses introductions and referrals through gatekeepers will generally be more effective.

      • You are right again, Mike.

        This is a way of getting much more information to those gatekeepers.

  4. I’m discovering, as if I didn’t already know, how little happens online in closely knit, rural communities. I know my neighbours have looked at me askance for 15 years about my www address on my car, and go blurry eyed when I talk about broadband, but it is only now I am involved in Big Society that it is really becoming clear to me how FEW people here in rural Cumbria and the Dales use the Net, apps etc.

    Our jungle drums are pretty damned efficient without any online tools, connectivity or apps, because there are long-established (think 1000 years) lines of communication. However……you can’t know everything going on within your community unless you have multiple channels through which the information is disseminated.

    Therefore, I like this idea and I like the idea of having an inbuilt calendar function so people don’t double book. After all, there’s a limit to the depth of our pockets but we all want to support local events as much as possible and a clash inevitably means the jam is being spread more thinly.

    Our co-op has a notice board but it needs more space given to it as it is always full. Wray in Lancs has digital noticeboards and they are awesome though costly (but there may be ways round this).

    You can upload your event, for sale/want, parish council meeting date etc etc from home and they show on all the notice boards in the village, thereby capturing those people who aren’t online or don’t want to be. It also brings footfall into underused village assets – hall, pub, shop, GP surgery etc – so people can see what is going on and get real one to one face time with neighbours whilst there.

    Keep progressing the idea folks, it’s great! I’ll see if I can get a video from Wray showing how theirs work – it’s only a fairly simple bit of Javascript sent to touchscreens via a webform.

  5. I know I have said it before, and will no doubt say it again…
    … most people don’t know what social media is. The digital noticeboards were an easy introduction to people to the wonders waiting to happen… It is a great way to start. We used touchscreens because we had no space for keyboard/mouse. It would be just as easy to use a laptop, or an old computer. Our online centre uses computers from skips. It doesn’t need a lot of money to do stuff, just willing volunteers to make things happen.
    Big Society can turn into something that is a lot of fun as well as something very useful with a bit of innovation and imagination.

  6. Mikes, Chris and Lindseys comments are spot on, our community response will be “whats in it for us”, local noticeboards are used to sell stuff, advertise church based functions and charitable events to the largely white christian community and all local conversations tend to happen through the local paper which has its own recognised voices / channels that effectively largely control access to the wider community and thus dominate the local agendas which largely go back 20 + years housing, farming, fishing, tourism, jobs etc, etc, outsiders / incomers who are not part of “the network” and who have radical solutions either don`t get a look in or find thier ideas are co opted and then they are shut out of the local process. e g if it does not come from a specific part of the community it gets no where re Lindseys comments in another of her blogs about outsiders / incomers and them taking 25 years to open invisible doors to getting things done, hence considerable initiatives from incomers and outsiders in our community over the last twenty years have largely come to grief despite large amounts of cash and time being thrown at them, rural areas have unique handicaps, patterns and mindsets that often exclude much of the energy, ideas and resources they need to solve the problems they have given that the volunteer age demographic where we are is 75 to 80 % north of 45+ and aging rapidly social media won`t cut it much, word of mouth will be amongst key activists / locally connected volunteers, for this read councillors and approved members of the community who are mostly 50 + and this skews the agenda, engaging the dormant / disengaged rest (in our town / hinterland about 70 %) of the population takes exposure, multiple methods of engagement and time both of which end up costing significant amounts money, I know from direct experience and unless they can see two things immediately they engage, which are:- a purpose and the funding to deliver it they will quickly dissapear, in short what will the mapping actually deliver in usable terms quickly, speed is of the essence. Chicken and egg spring to mind we want groups to form which can be mapped (which has happened many times in my community of 14,000) and then we wait for the money because the ideas will come thick and fast, so will the means to deliver them also come thick and fast (or do we put our hands back in our own local pockets again) l I happen to think mapping is essential however down on the ground what use will it be for the coalface volunteer when they start truly “dreaming” and become inspired and fired up, this needs to be addressed first, a farmer in our area does not round up his cattle and then feeds them he dumps the food and they come a running, he then counts them (read maps them). Social activity and doing things for nothing is a way of life around my parts and others in rural areas, the “volunteer” pot is nigh on empty of extra capacity (I know from 20 years of working largely in the voluntary sector) and energy for “new” initiatives, old initiatives and agendas are what will be re energised and focussed on by the existing network, its already happening from where I stand, the first question from them already is where is the money to do what we know we already want to do, this is not unique to us, this is a common problem amongst most coastal / rural communities I have direct experience of it in at least 7 how will mapping effectively contribute to that.

  7. I think one of the key barriers to effective community activity is that people don’t know what’s going on in their area. This becomes a vicious cycle when the people running community organisations either lack the resources to publicise their activities or don’t know how to use tools like social media to get their message out (and very often both barriers apply).

    I think this proposal could, in a small way, square that circle, by taking analogue information about local activity and, in a relatively cheap and easy way, digitising it and making it available on other platforms. Now, I don’t pretend that this will mean thousands of social media-savvy people suddenly plunging themselves into local community action, but we mustn’t forget that people exist in online and offline modes for various parts of their lives, and people who receive information online very often pass it on to their offline friends.

    The ultimate aim of all this is to make it easier for people to participate in local community activities by raising their profile and making information about where, when and what more widely available.

  8. Let’s talk about mapping for a minute and the importance of it in “””social engineering”” the Big Society.

    We live in boxes. We travel in boxes (be there our boxes or public boxes). We work in boxes, and we socialise in boxes. Call these ‘comfort zones’.

    Every year I go to Scotland on the motorbike and we flit around like headless chickens to cover as much mileage as possible in our 5 day annual holiday – it’s all we get off each year. Every year I say “I wonder what’s over that hill” or “I need to get out of /off this box and walk round the corner”. Time is tight so we don’t have that luxury usually. But all of us need to get out of our boxes.

    Mapping could provide the links between ‘boxes’, between communities, between individuals who need to know what is going on just outside their comfort zones. Neighbours when you live in a rural area can be 15 miles away, not in the next street. In Australia, they can be 500+ miles away and yet you think nothing in Oz of leaping in the car to go to the neighbour’s party, 7 or more hours away. We used to drive to Madrid from Gibraltar regularly for a meal when I lived out there – it’s quite hard to do an equivalent drive in the UK without running out of island!

    Some of us on this list have the ‘luxury’ of knowing our neighbours because of the location we live in. Especially those in rural areas. But I’ve just watched Dara OBriain on TV talking about his suburb and how none of his neighbours in the odd numbered houses know any of those on the other side of the street – the evens.

    Mapping could remove some of the barriers, bring you new neighbours by showing you there are events happening a mere few miles away you had no idea about, take you across a county boundary/beyond the parish etc.

  9. Been thinking about this further (JohnP, you owe me a Saturday night without my head whirring!!!)

    OK, let’s narrow this down to the KISS principle.

    1) Events, calendar etc
    2) Mapping
    3) online/offline integration

    I reckon we need a really simple website (there must already be an app out there), that can be accessed by multiple channels and needs minimum volunteer input to cross-channel everything. So, think the tourist late room solution where every B&B/hotel emails the TIC at the end of the day and the TIC prints out a sheet of rooms available in the locality and sticks in the window.

    This access to the info must work **whatever** your chosen access mode – online, offline, etc. That to me is INCLUSION.

    (Reminds me of going into the Post Office about 15 years ago and saying, “Is there any way I can send a fax from here to an email address?” before efax came along.)

    There are different routes to entry

    1.Volunteer takes photo of notice board and uploads to website
    2.Person enters event onto local website and links to surrounding parishes/streets/communities
    3. Other?

    And there are different access points for the info
    1. online eg websites, FB, twitter, etc etc etc
    2. digital noticeboards
    3. village/shop/public noticeboards
    4. mobile – what’s on round here?
    5. email notifications

  10. Pingback: Big Society Community Noticeboards – Part 3 | John Popham's Random Musings

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