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.

3 thoughts on “Twenty-First Century Domesday Book

  1. I suspect, John, that your analogy with the Normans is more accurate than you imagine. And that the question: “can more be had than is had” applied to the Big Society would indeed be about taxes! And part of an ideology which sees community activity as a potential substitute for the state and public agencies.

    Nothing new of course. For years, well intentioned policy-makers and academics pointed out the huge and essential contribution made the “informal sector” – for example by carers. And of course, politicians have seen it as a resource to be exploited.

    “Can we encourage more people to get involved in community activities? Sure. But with “us” as part of our own communities working together with neighbours and friends.

    But if “we” means paid professionals who encourage “them” – unpaid volunteers – then what is actually happening here? The Normans were invaders and colonialists.

  2. Hi John,

    Have you seen this?

    Glenn Le Santo has started a #FindBritain campaign, using Twitter, Social Media, Facebook etc.

    “FindBritain could be seen as a modern-day domesday book. FindBritain is a
    comprehensive, detailed, media-rich and relevant snapshot of Great Britain today.
    FindBritain is an attempt to seek out and record Great Britain as it is in 2010.”

    Perhaps you two should talk?

    #FindBritainFollow #FindBritain on twitter for regular updates :

    • Thanks Sarah,

      That had sort of crossed my peripheral vision, but, now you mention it, it is obviously something I need to take seriously

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