Community websites at the heart of a ‘new culture of localism’
Community campaigners are finding new voice thanks to the latest online tools
Via blogs, local community websites and social media platforms, people are being mobilised in ways that were not previously possible.
It’s a change referred to as part of a “new culture of localism” by Networked Neighbourhoods which yesterday launched a study of the social impact of citizen-run networks and the implications for local authorities.
“This study comes at a critical moment in the history of citizen-state relations. With the establishment of a new coalition government, unprecedented reductions in public sector spending, and a new culture of localism and co-production, citizens are being expected to assume greater responsibility for what happens in their area and local councils are expected to concede power” state the authors Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris.
In some cases, the activity on the ground may only be easily evident to those directly involved, with campaigns often happening within online ‘walled gardens’ – but they increasingly empower people offline in a more visible way too.
W14 is one such site. It was not part of the study but its 610 members carry on their online activity largely behind a subscriber log-in on a Ning platform. However, they have successfully helped to raise the profile of a campaign to save a Sands End community centre and library.
The site’s Annette Albert explained how the activity has encompassed more traditional campaign methods, such as collecting a petition with 6,700 signatures, together with blogging and newsletter production to get their message out.
“I was invited to a meeting of the Sands End Action Group and by this time most of them were members of W14london. They blog regularly and the most effective campaigning tool is a newsletter I can send out showing the actual blogs and people can comment on them or join the group.
“What has been really amazing has been for the first time I went to a full council meeting at our town hall. I know there were other people there, members of the site, who had never attended a council meeting and it was fascinating.”
This sense of empowerment in the ability to influence local decision making was highlighted as an important aspect of the impact of community websites by the Networked Neighbourhood report.
It found more than half (59 per cent) of respondents already felt able to influence decisions and two thirds (68 per cent) felt more able to influence decisions as a result of participation on their local site.
“Our study took place during a time of turbulent transition in the public sector, with severe pressures on funded services, and intense efforts to renew the relationship between citizen and state.
“Neighbourhood websites clearly have a part to play in this unfolding agenda. They help to raise and debate local issues transparently. They offer the promise of increased co-production and hence cost savings. They provide a channel and encouragement for people to get involved in civic and community issues. And they function as a space for the renewal of resident-council relationships.”
Source: The guardian.co.uk blog