Twenty-First Century Domesday Book

I don’t really have time to watch much TV, for a long time, the only TV I have really seen is late night repeats of “QI”, “Have I Got News for You”, and “Mock The Week” on Dave. Those are the kinds of programmes I like, and it is good that they are on when I’m around, but I’m not sure they bear 15 or 20 repeat watchings each. That is why the BBC iPlayer is so good, I am firmly of the opinion that 99% of the decent TV programmes made in the UK are made by the BBC, and so I could happily live with only the iPlayer for company and no other TV channels available.

The iPlayer means I can find quality TV programmes and watch them when is convenient to me. I am fascinated by history, and it has been a pleasure this week to catch up with the first two episodes of the BBC series “The Normans”. Watching episode 2 this evening, I was struck by the description of William the Conqueror sending out “men with weapons accompanied by men with quills and parchment” to collect the information that went into the Domesday Book. A thought was sparked in me by the mention of the last question which was asked by the Domesday Book inquisitors, namely: “Can more be had than is had?”, which was about the potential for extracting more taxes from the people.

This led me to thinking about the work we are doing on the Big Society in the North, and in particular, in seeking to develop Big Society Community Noticeboards.  It’s probably a bit grandiose to think of it like this, but this endeavour is a bit like a 21st Century Domesday Book. We don’t have any resources at all for this work at the moment, and we certainly don’t have people to send out to collect information, whether or not they are armed with weapons or parchment. So, we are forced at the moment to use free technologies and social media, seeking to plug in the offline communities at one end, and output information to the offline at the other end. In-between, we are piecing together bits of technology like an iPadio channel (here), which means that people can phone in community information, and a Tumblr noticeboard here (thanks to Paul Webster for this) which outputs the information in a readable format.

These are our modern day equivalents of men with weapons and parchment.  And, in the context of the Big Society, we are again asking the question “can more be had than is had”, but we are not talking about taxes here, we are talking about community activity. Can we encourage more people to get involved in community activities. Our 21st Century Domesday Book is an audit of community capacity.