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David Wilcox

How to support community development and give London citizens a voice: build networks, use social tech #netwcity

5 min read

Yesterday's excellent event Call to Action: raising the profile of community development across London confirmed for me the important role of network building and the value of digital technology. John Popham has a Storify of tweets, with the promise of videos to come. Here's my thoughts on what action to take.

I contributed an update on Networked City, explaining that we are developing ideas at two levels:

  • The Living Lab simulation of a London borough as a way to play through how to to use social network mapping, tech, personas and local communications to build personal and community connections. download pdf
  • Exploring how to help build connections London-wide by networking existing networks, using both geographic and network mapping, and a range of communication methods.

The Living Lab attracted interest from quite a few people who are working on local projects, including Help on Your Doorstep. I plan to organise a workshop with my colleague Drew Mackie early in April to follow through - so do get in touch if you are interested. Contact details here.

I hope we can then plan together how to use various methods in the Living Lab "for real" in a London neighbourhood to help build connections, and support cooperation and collaboration.

As I pointed out yesterday, there's a great opportunity presented by The Way Ahead initiative which is led by London Funders, London Council for Voluntary Action and Greater London Volunteering. The TWA report on pragmatic co-production, which I've copied here for easy reference, recommends:

  • communities identifying for themselves, with support if needed, what their needs are
  • funders, the public sector and civil society’s understanding of need being based on what communities identify for themselves
  • communities being enabled to change their own lives for the better
  • communities shaping solutions and responses to opportunities
  • communities shaping services delivered by others, whether these be public sector or civil society services
  • communities advocating and campaigning on their own behalf, with support if needed

That shows a strong alignment between TWA objectives and discussion yesterday about the need for citizens and groups to shape their own future locally, and develop a strong voice across London. The five TWA task groups will be reporting by the end of this month on how they see the TWA report ideas put into action. Yesterday Alison Navarro previewed recommendations from the voice and campaigning group, underlining the potential.

As an aside - at least one commentator suggests that community voice is now even more important with the appointment of George Osborn as editor of the Evening Standard - a paper I worked for as planning correspondent in 1970s. I can understand the concern. It's bad enough to have a proprietor with a political agenda, quite extraordinary to have an editor who is a sitting MP.

At the London-wide level, there were a lot of ideas yesterday about how to achieve greater sharing of ideas, learning, and collective action - including the development and implementation of a community-led London Plan by Just Space.

At this strategic level there was also interest yesterday in how network mapping and the use of online comms could support events and other activities. I think Networked City could help there. Rather than jump to any immediate solution I would suggest forming a communications group from interested people yesterday, and others in the Community Development Network London, who organised yesterday's event, and exploring options.

Maybe we need the Living Lab equivalent at London level - looking at the role of geographic and social network mapping together with online comms. This should include a role for interests.me, who gave a compelling presentation earlier in the week to the London Voluntary Sector Forum, and Justmap, whose goal is "to highlight communities assets and projects, connect actors campaigning for a fairer London and identify strategic cooperations".

Both interests.me and Justmap are core contributors to Networked City, and they were able to present their ideas, together with the Living Lab, at our event with the Deputy Mayor recently. I think we have a route to City Hall.

In summary my response to the call to action, in collaboration with Networked City:

  • Develop and test the Living Lab as a way to help citizens connect, and to build local community networks.
  • Explore scope for practical collaboration with The Way Ahead once task groups report
  • Set up a communication and networking group to look at options for London-wide campaigning, co-operation and collaboration.

Thanks to Matt Scott for organising yesterday's event, with Deirdre McGrath at LVSC. Matt's also in the lead on Networked City, so I'm hopeful about joining up while maintaining complementary agendas.