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David Wilcox

Exploring how we can contribute to @thersaorg Networked City - adding the citizen and community dimension #RSACities

4 min read

The RSA Networked City initiative - which I wrote about here - got off to a great start last week with a public event and follow-through workshop.

I was particularly interested in how our London Networked City exploration might contribute to the RSA programme … and also how we might benefit from that, since I and others involved in London are RSA Fellows.

The RSA initiative was promoted as Smart City plus Sharing City … with a mix of technology apps and platforms for social, economic and environmental benefits and ways to support cooperation and collaboration.

I think we can contribute by promoting the importance of citizen participation and community building. I tweeted during the public event:

At @thersaorg event on Networked Cities = Sharing City + Smart City. Should be + Participatory City. Otherwise excluding

and received some encouragement

Think David Wilcox's point from audience hits the nail on the head - need more than digital inclusion to involve everyone

— Sufiya Patel (@sufiyapatel) May 18, 2017

We are developing the idea of Connecting Londoners as I've summarised in this note.

We are exploring three linked challenges as services and funding are cut, and the ways that people communicate are changing rapidly:

  • how will Londoners in future find out where to get help for themselves or their families in times of need; find local activities that interest them; share or sell items or services; find opportunities to volunteer; campaign for or against change in their community … and organise projects?
  • how can individuals, groups and organisations make use of the Internet - together with other methods - to cooperate and collaborate more effectively?
  • how can we ensure that those most in need, and most vulnerable, are not excluded by these changes?

... with a range of practical initiatives including mapping, communications, and co-design.

The day after the RSA event I was pleased to hear Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of NESTA, emphasise the importance of both bottom-up and top-down development, as I reported here. Geoff said:

What we have learned - contrary to many expectations 30 or 40 years ago - is that most of the dynamic of digital and indeed the knowledge economy, through most societies, is that it widens disparity, it widens inequalities.


It is important not to lose sight of that small and sometime very big P political side of what is being talked about - but it requires that the bottom-up and top-down link. It is no good enough just to fetishise either - just fetishising because they are grass roots, if they don’t get access to power and money, any more than it is good to fetishise top down, command and control or directive.

It is when the two combine that you get profound and lasting change in this space.

I think we can build on the previous RSA work on communities, as I said here, and provide a practical testbed in London to apply past experience and new ideas.

RSA could certainly help us by convening joint events, sharing development ideas and hopefully opening some routes to funding. We could apply for some project support through the Catalyst fund.

I found some support for cooperation at the RSA workshop, so I'll explore further and report back.

I'm also sure there's a lot more to be learned from the NESTA Digital Social Innovation programme, and from Cities like Barcelona, as I reported here. London will shortly have a chief digital officer, so I think we should prepare to pitch ideas there. Meanwhile, as Geoff Mulgan said during the DSI event, it is people not clicks that change societies.

Most of the profound change associated with digital technology moves at the speed of culture as much as it does of technology . Most of the things we are talking about here that really matter require changes to how people think, how they feel, how they behave as well as hardware and software.

The networks we need to build for a Networked City are human ones, as much as tech.