Eden Big Society Information Exchange

Eden1

Yesterday, I was privileged to be part of the first Eden Big Society Information Exchange. During the day, probably around 200 people gathered in the small village hall in the Cumbrian village of Great Asby. It was really interesting to see the Big Society in action, as the dynamic and charismatic local MP, Rory Stewart, galvanised the senior civil servants and agency managers, who he had persuaded to leave their coseted Whitehall worlds, into earnest discussion about how Government might help communities to achieve their ambitions.

Eden3

It was a really interesting process, a bit chaotic at times, owing to the large numbers of people in a small hall, but, ultimately quite inspiring. It remains a concern of mine as to whether Big Society can be done this way everywhere. Eden is a Vanguard Area, and Rory Stewart is very persuasive, I can’t see teams of high flying civil servants descending on every community in the country, and I also wonder what would happen if you try this in some of the more disadvantaged and / or socially and ethnically diverse areas. But, it seems to me that Eden is making real progress in working out how Big Society might be implemented.

Eden2

You can see more of the photos I took at the event here.

The day started with Rory Stewart MP introducing the objectives, and then handing over to a number of senior civil servants and national agency representatives who were there to see how the might help local people to achieve their Big Society objectives. Here is the video of that session.

Here is the video of the afternoon panel session:

And some scenes from the round table discussions

Some archived live video

http://qik.com/video/17700644

http://qik.com/video/17703083

Twitter Gritter

The weather is getting colder, and, even though it’s still October, there have already been some #uksnow tweets on Twitter.

Sandwell Council Gritter in Birmingham in mid-summer

When I was in the Big Society Vanguard area of Eden Valley, recently, we were talking about the real difficulties which heavy snow causes in that area, which is in England’s most sparsely populated constituency. Last winter, people were snowed in for days, cut off from services and shops, and no one was able to get through to them. And people experienced real difficulties getting information about which roads were clear, which had been gritted, and when. This caused further difficulties in that people sometimes set off on journeys and then came to a section of road that wasn’t gritted and got stuck.

During this conversation, I mentioned the “Twitter Gritter” initiative, started by the wonderful Dan Slee at Walsall Council. Last winter Dan was giving real-time information on Twitter as gritters went out about which routes were being cleared. So, I made a mental note to speak to Dan about how he does this, what technology is involved, and how it might be replicated elsewhere.

So, yesterday, on arriving at the Beyond 2010 conference in Birmingham, I spied Dan across the room, and resolved to quiz him about just how he does it. And this produced a pretty amazing revelation. Dan told me that there is no expensive technology involved. The gritter driver simply texts or emails him as they are about to set out on a route and he puts the information out on Twitter.

This is one of those examples where really simple ideas don’t get spread, when the solution is so straightforward and effective. I had assumed that more people weren’t doing it because it involved some kind of expensive solution, linking GPS devices on gritting lorries with a control centre and online mapping. But, no, some of the best ideas are the most simple ones. And this is yet another example of the ability of the internet and social media to take offline information and amplify it.

This could be another classic Big Society initiative. Dan is employed by Walsall Council, but, it seems to me that there is no reason why local volunteer co-ordinators couldn’t be appointed to receive texts or emails from gritter drivers and output the information to Twitter, Facebook, hyeprlocal websites, and text messaging networks.

We can do this, can’t we?

Explaining the Big Society

People are still saying they don’t understand what the Big Society is about, despite attempts to explain it from the likes of David Cameron, in his conference speech yesterday, and Lord Nat Wei in his blog. Julian Dobson has been raising the level of debate, and there has been some high quality to and fro on the Big Society in the North Forum.

Still people are saying they don’t understand it. I really don’t think the mainstream media are helping on this. I was struck by this quote from an article in the “Evening Standard”:

….ours is a nation that pokes fun at those who do try to make a difference. From Dad’s Army to Citizen Smith to the Vicar of Dibley, we mock those who attempt things for the common good.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23885680-enough-talk-about-the-big-society—its-time-for-action.do

There was also an item on “Newsnight” a few months ago which just set out to ridicule the whole thing.

So, I’ve had an idea. “The Apprentice” has just returned to our TV screens, with teams of obnoxious, self-obsessed, self-promoters, scratching each other’s eyes out in an effort to avoid the fatal finger of the blessed Lord Sugar. Why not adapt this format, so we have teams of people wanting to do good for their communities competing to implement the best (Big Society) community initiatives? And, to make it more effective, I think the activities of each weekly programme should take place in the same community, so it is possible to measure the impact of the actions, and demonstrate how one community can grow a series of projects which engage local people and grow community capacity.

I am not sure if the “you’re fired” element would be appropriate in this variant of the format. But, then again, perhaps it would. If you’re not effectively doing good for the community, then you’re out. Step aside and leave it to those who CAN do it.

The main benefit of this is that other communities would be able to see the Big Society in action and transfer the lessons to their own neighbourhoods.

Any TV producers up for this?

Big Society Community Noticeboards – Part 4

Just a quick post to update anyone interested on where the Big Society in the North has got with the Big Society Community Noticeboard.

Thanks to Paul Webster, we’ve taken another big step towards the Big Society Community Noticeboard, which is intended to collect information from offline groups, collate it via the web, and output it to places where offline people can see it.

We have some way to go before we can make a reality of this, but we’ve made a start, and it works like this.

You can call iPadio from any phone on 0203 384 2144 & enter the PIN code 4455. You can then record a message which will be uploaded onto the web, and, after moderation by me, appear here http://www.ipadio.com/phlogs/bsitnorth

Paul has done a bit of RSS trickery which means that the iPadio recordings are pulled through to appear on a Big Society in the North Noticeboard here http://bsitnorth.tumblr.com/

iPadio uses Spinvox automatically to transcribe the first minute of all recordings, and this provides the text that appears on the Noticeboard. The transcription is not that good unless you speak very clearly.

As I say, this is a very early prototype, and the really big challenge is going to be to output the information onto local community noticeboards. That is going to need displays in communities, and a way of localising information to appear on particular screens.

It would be useful, however, if we could start to put the word out and try to get some offline groups using it.. We will need to re-think if it really takes off, because I am currently having to moderate each individual recording.

Since writing this original post, I have been fortunate enough to visit the village of Wray and get a real-life demonstration of the Community Noticeboard in the village post office, delivered to me by no less than @cyberdoyle herself. It’s in the video below. I think this is definitely an idea worth replicating.

Big Society Community Noticeboards – Part 3

I think we are moving towards some sort of proposal on Big Society Community Noticeboards. My original post here elicited some fantastic comments which have taken the idea on several stages. It also, thanks to Kevin Campbell-Wright, resulted in a major supermarket chain expressing interest. I won’t say who they are at this stage, because that’s at a very early juncture, but it’s a very encouraging development.

Community Noticeboard

Community Noticeboard by Pip Wilson http://www.flickr.com/photos/pipwilson/201445240/

There are two proposals here, but I think it makes sense to bring them together as two sides of the same coin. The original proposal is about getting information from offline organisations and making it available online in order that it can be brought to the attention of the wider world, can attract new users and members, and, from a Big Society in the North perspective,  we can find out who is doing Big Society stuff without the resources to go out and physically connect with them.

The second proposal is about getting information out to people who are not online, by displaying information from the web on public displays. Thus, proposal one collects the information from people who are not online, and proposal two displays it, also to people who are not online, but not necessarily to the same people.

So, we now need to work out how to make all this happen. And, initially at least, we’ll need to do it with few or no resources.

So, here’s some thinking that I’d welcome some feedback on.

Stage 1 – collecting the information – We get someone (which may be a supermarket employee) to photograph the notices on the Community Noticeboards and upload them to the internet. This needs to be by a process that is as easy and cost-free as possible. My current thinking is to create a special Flickr account, and encourage people to use the “upload by email” option. We may need to find other ways of uploading if the person doing the uploading is not sufficiently confident to set up email on their phone or able to connect their phone to a computer. I am also looking at Shozu which may be a simpler way of uploading photos, but it will need to be downloaded, installed to a phone, and configured for the Flickr account. This may not be that easy if no one is available locally with the requisite technical knowledge. And, whichever method we use, we need to be mindful that data charges are likely to be incurred if people are uploading directly from phones.

Stage 2 – Collating and distributing the information We need to work out if this could ever be automated, but, I suspect, for the foreseeable future, that is not going to be possible. So, it would need to involve people looking at the uploaded photos, transcribing the information, and entering it into a system which can make use of it. I was originally thinking this might be achieved by something like a Google Calendar, but it would need, eventually at least, to output information which could be shown on public displays.

Stage 3 – Displaying the Information The ideal would be something like the community displays in Wray, or even a Community Info Point. I suspect that we will have to start this at least by looking at sticking old, recycled computers in shops and pointing the screen at a shop window. This probably means that we need a revolving slide show, rather than stuff which can be operated on touch screens. And, crucially, we will need the data collection scheme to spit out information relevant to the locality.

Oh, this might all be complicated, but, if we pool our cognitive surplus, I am sure we can make it happen.