Thursday, 27 May 2010

Insidious hyperlocal big society

Its now a post new condemnation dawn, the dust is settling, the fractures clear for all to see, the first signs on the walls....

Hyperlocal...means.....different things to different people and while Mr Gale makes a valid analysis on its application as it relates to the aggregation and delivery of location specific content Gary's Hyperlocal Bloggage, there is a sense that the term has achieved a level of common usage, certainly amongst certain areas of the politico-digerati, and is due a critique at a different, less technically oriented level that is less awed and self-reverential than seems to be currently the case.

To cognoscenti hyperlocal is used as a catch all term in relation to an ecosystem that embraces data and information (and opinion), collates, aggregates and in some cases analyses or comments on that information and a mechanism by which these parts are published and distributed (online but not necessarily). Critically advocates anticipate that this ecosystem stimulates interaction with and the influencing of outcomes for and by the residents and citizens that are the subject of or might be impacted or influenced by the data collated and the implications for them of putting it in one place. So, data (bus timetables, surgery opening times, 24hr pharmacies, taxi ranks/numbers, your usual yellow/white/green pages), information (automated updates of central, local government, parish news, news aggregation/feeds, blogs, tweets), events and on and on. An upmystreet for those in my street if you like. All well and good you would think with energetic extension of successful 'models' mushrooming around the country, typically on the back of one or two energised individuals.

The embodiment of volunteerism (the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without the expectation of pay or other tangible gain) or almost - more of a freemium model in which advocates and early adopters can leverage that exposure for other gain. No harm? Not to be confused with voluntarism - the use of or reliance on voluntary action to maintain an institution, carry out a policy, or achieve an end. Oh you mean the big society James, don't you? But so easily and conveniently confused.

Hyperlocal(ism) is to a degree synonymous with local activism of one kind or another and represents one way in which residents might feel more engaged, included or even represented. NIMBYism is a subset of the species, typically given over to single issues be they planning, dog poo or parking. Tribalism is another slightly more loaded subset of the species. These groups of 'concerned' or 'engaged' individuals can be very small, very vocal, very well coordinated, very aggressive, very 'right' (as in if you don't agree with me you can only be against me).

Bit like the lights in our street, happily still off for a few hours every night. Any why is that? Simply put; because the greater good takes precedence - local authority bills are reduced, carbon emissions cut (slightly!), star gazers can, noctural wildlife gets a welcome stimulus, citizens with blazing lights might turn some of them off - net social and economic welfare benefits.

Trouble is the big society subverts hyperlocalism, volunteerism and the greater good in favour of voluntarism and any number of -isms to drive down societal granularity and undermine our common frame of governance. There is a very real risk of the return of the politics of the ducking stool and the lynch mob, the accreditation of a new generation of grown up bully boys (you think those gangs of teenagers are scary, wait til small groups gerrymander local decisions and intimidate nay sayers in the name of the big society) who can and will ride roughshod over regional and national vision.

There is of course plenty wrong with an over-centralised state where every decision requires central sign-off; most sane folk recognise that a devolved hierarchical administration has to have stronger frameworks and stronger operational mandates at each level to reconnect them with the executive. Hyperlocalism as a 'movement' needs to forge an identity that truly engages with a genuine cross-section of their citizenry rather than be hijacked as an exemplar or communication tool for narrow interests. At the same time local authorities need to grasp the nettle of hyperlocalism themselves to reconnect with those same constituents.

In the meantime we might be able to better collate the relevant information from all those geotagged and other-wise location related data sources though a vernacular, dynamic sense of place means that this will never be perfect!

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