Over on the UKIE-dem mailing list and at Designing for a Civil Society, there has been discussion about the BBC relatively new plans to launch an Ultra-Local network of community sites and the closure of the BBC Action Network.

Mick Phythian, a Local Government ICT manager from Yorkshire wrote:

Working as a local government IT manager I have offered to provide the
117 parishes within our district with sites but they don’t want or won’t
maintain them – they probably have enough trouble getting councillors!
Try doing it on communities of interest and the same issue will arise.
We put discussion forums on the district council web site (internally
and externally) and no usage. We offer the councillors web sites or blog
and little take up.

Some local communities do well and have the focused energy or campaign
needs. When young people want something they remanage Youtube or
something their friends will look at.

Its horses for courses and we’ll have a ragbag of solutions for a long
time to come!

He’s come to the same conclusion as we have.  The excellent local sites such as TalkSwindon, VentnorBlog, TalkClacton etc are down to the energy and passion of individuals rather than technology.  People need to be free to choose whatever they are comfortable with and local government, if it wants to support, should help to cover costs of training and hosting if requested and more importantly to engage with the people on the sites.  Run consultations, get cllrs and senior officers to join as members in their professional capacity, but dont try to set up a rival or to take control of it.

1 Comment

Geoff Reid · 21st February 2008 at 1:21 pm

Shane, I completely agree with your comments and am saddened, yet completely unsurprised by Mick Pythians.
The ‘Swindon Community Empowerment Network’, (SCEN) was launched in Swindon last year….and, (as I predicted at the time), vanished off the radar again a few short months later.
Although I don’t think SCEN should be described as a local government venture, I believe it was perceived as one, and Swindons online, and offline communities seem to have responded to it by body swerving around it. I have no clear idea what budget SCEN had available to it, but I bet it was a lot larger than the small amount I spend annually on the Talkswindon forum.
Given a modest, (but adequate), budget I’d love to be able to take a year off work, take the SCEN project on, modify it slightly, add some stuff to it and get it off the ground, (online and offline), in a way that appeals, and is useful to, the average person and community group.
As Mick says, it’s horses for courses for the forseeable future and perhaps that’s not a bad thing. I’m yet to be convinced that a ‘one-size fits all’ e-dem participation solution can be produced that will be universally successful at the grass roots level.

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