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We Live Here: What it's all about

By April 26, 20123 Comments

As some folk will know, we’re involved in an interesting project with Brighton and Hove City Council and The Democratic Society called ‘We Live Here‘.

Thanks to initial funding from Nesta’s Creative Councils, it is working with three communities in Brighton and Hove, looking at how community networks can be mapped and understood to help local government and its partners serve and support them.

We Live Here is now at an important stage – with initial research into those networks having been played back to people in the communities through a series of events. Public-i’s role is to provide the technology – in this case the Citizenscapes – to display the networks and  their activity online.

  • Hangleton and Knoll (a ward in the City’s outskirts that is one of the three communities chosen for We Live Here) had its event in March. See the Citizenscape here.
  • Brunswick (a ward close to the city centre in a conservation area) had its on Monday, 16th of April. See the Citizenscape here.
  • And the city’s Black and Minority Ethnic communities had its on meeting on Wednesday, 18th of April. See the Citizenscape here.

Now, with all this work bearing fruit, and with We Live Here beginning to feel very real, I thought I’d publish a short interview that I did with Anthony to help people to understand more about the thinking behind it.

What is We Live Here?

As Anthony explained, We Live Here is a response to a feeling shared by Anthony, Catherine and others that we need to make goverments fit better with the way the world is moving. He said government is lagging behind in the changes that are happening to society as a result of the internet and the networking that it is enabling. For government to respond it needs to refocus on the people it serves.

“People are getting much better service from Amazon than they are getting from governments and that’s not just because Amazon are cold, hard capitalists,” he said. “It’s because they have a vision of their customer service that’s very focused and government doesn’t have a vision of its services that’s citizen focused.”

Anthony said We Live Here is the start of a process to “both understand and map social networks in an area and provide the democratic infrastructure for them to have repetitive democratic conversations, rather than a one-off consultation”.

This Slideshare presentation is probably the best summary of this – and it’s funny, too.

The team, Public-i and the project

As I said earlier, we’re the project’s technology partner, which means we’re helping to take the ideas developed by the We Live Here team and make them (digitally) real. With our interest in how the social web can benefit democracy, we fit quite snuggly. As Anthony put it: “Public-i’s commercial activities around webcasting and social uses of technology and Demsoc’s philosophical activites around new models of government in personalised democracy are obviously quite well aligned, so when the opportunity to talk to the council about this came up, it wasn’t too long for us to put We Live Here on the table.”

We Live Here has also benefited from the talents of Paul Brewer and Nicky Cambridge who both work for Brighton and Hove City Council, as well as Emma Daniel at the Brighton and HoveCommunity and Voluntary Sector Forum (not to mention the enormous work done by Susie Latta, Demsoc’s tireless project manager). Working as a team, Anthony said We Live Here has gone from a set of aspirations and ideas into a practical, real project. That started by breaking down the project brief into several simple steps: connect, inform, discuss and decide.

It’s that connect phase that the We Live Here team has been busy with recently. This consists of finding out the valuable individuals, organisations and connections that are relied upon by people in each of the communities. “From the council’s perspective, they know about the residents’ associations in Brunswick, the Hangleton and Knoll Partnership and the Black and Minority Ethnic Community Partnership,” Anthony said. “We are asking people who are active in those networks, ‘Who else do you know?, ‘Who else do you trust?’, ‘Who else do you recommend as sources of information about the local area?'”

This physical work has been supplemented by online searches – carried out by Public-i and using our Social Media Audit methodology. At the same time, we’ve been working within communities, with the Social Media Surgeries helping voluntary, community and resident organisations to develop their own online presences.

What’s next?

By feeding back the results of the initial research to those living and working within the communities it will allow the We Live Here team to get a stronger idea of where there are strengths and weaknesses in communities lie and develop a working model of how they function. “The aim is then that we create a kernel of democratic process and a network-finding process that’s replicable elsewhere”, while also ensuring communities are given additional help in different ways where it’s needed. Long term, Anthony said he hopes it leads to a “community that’s more connected, that’s more self aware and has the tools to make it active, democratically.” That should, hopefully, mean that we’ll see communities getting powers, perhaps including community-budgeting powers and Brighton and Hove is planning a set of neighbourhood council pilots elsewhere in the city soon.

Here’s the MP3 of my chat with Anthony. It’s not that short, about 15 minutes’ worth!

We live here Anthony Zacharzewski

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