The following describes a methodology for local development in an increasingly globalizing, networked world.
The methodology has been developed thus far by Hazel Ashton in the course of some 15 years of practical local development work, research and theoretical study. It draws on the affordances of:
(a) communications technologies, including Internet, social media, and film making
(b) creative arts, especially narrative and its co-creation
(c) diversities, including the networking of locals who have wider – ultimately global – connections
(d) connecting local, academic and policy knowledge, talents and resources
For the potential of communications technologies to be realised for local development, they need to be blended with local everyday human, face-to-face communication. Such blending enables the communicative abilities and agency of local people to be amplified in ways that neither form of networking by itself can hope to achieve.
In the methodology, localities that develop this kind of communication and networking are described as “Network Localities”.
An important way to begin networking for development based on connecting locally and more widely connected diversities is to welcome newcomers by supporting them to mix and network. This is here called “locally-grounded cosmopolitan” networking
Such local-to-local contact and networking increases the awareness of opportunities and supports conditions for collaborations on projects, and relevant new infrastructure-creation that, can, cumulatively, create unique new opportunities for communities and individuals in them to flourish.
Such collaborative projects can be purely local, and they can also reach beyond localities to wider metropolitan, national and even international levels. The wider aim of such projects is to support the development of an innovative nation of network localities, or well-connected local “villages”. These will cumulatively enable the nation as a whole to network in new and more effective ways both internally and in a globalizing environment to meet unprecedented economic, socio-cultural and ecological challenges and to identify new opportunities in this environment.
1. Seeing local community as a primary end in itself, not primarily as means to other ends: There is a well known story of a poor person who was given a goose which laid golden eggs, but instead of looking after the goose, thus ensuring the supply of golden eggs, the goose was killed to get the eggs. Of course then there were no more eggs. If local community is to support inhabitants to meet needs and aspirations it has first to be respected and nurtured in its own right as a golden goose. Paradoxically when community is first respected as a primary end, many other purposes can then be achieved. Philosophically, this approach starts, as Scott Lash (1994) says, with a sense of the ‘we’ of community which can also enable the individual “I” to flourish. Such a starting point is in contrast with the usual model which begins with the individual “I” that, multiplied and competing, will somehow aggregate into a coherent, flourishing community or society.
2. Hence, starting with a practical concept of community: which involves, here, starting with local inhabitants having a sense of their locality and what it consists of, what they need, what they have to offer and wish to offer – their particular gifts.
3. Linking or connecting social capital or networks: Most are aware of the power of the so-called ‘old boys networks’ but little thought is given to how to create and use community networks (encompassing its established and newcomer and human and non-human). Little thought is given either, to how communications technologies can enable all of this to be done to much greater effect. As a result, localities remain largely disconnected with much of their potential unfulfilled. As John Wardle, St Albans community practitioner and philosopher said,
It’s a sad state of affairs when someone is in need and someone is offering, but the two cannot find each other. In modern cities this is very common. Effective community needs good information to happen. Without it we have tragic waste. This can be in the form of loneliness and isolation of food, goods and energy. It takes good communication to find that kind word or spare cabbage its most welcome home (Hazel Ashton MA thesis).
4. Ongoing vision-based communication, networking and project development essential: As Scott Lash notes, the ground, or circumstances in which we live are constantly moving in the global network order. So there is a need to constantly retrieve and develop local ground (Lash, 1999). In other words, a one-off visioning, or planning or consultation or a community event, is not going to be effective for long.
5. “Freedom of the press is owning one: there needs to be some kind of local communications media to enable local people to create and share in the creation of their own narratives and development around their own needs. This media needs to be owned and driven by the local community with genuinely community protocols to support and sustain community communication (in all its diversity). This is to ensure ongoing accountability to all those who live in local community (and not, for instance primarily to advertisers, or funders, or particular individuals).
6. Local aesthetics – learning is play: Local communities that wish to engage diversity (socio-economic, cultural, age, education etc) need to think about what will entice people first to become involved and then to wish to stay involved in community affairs. People are attracted to communities based on tastes that they have. Normally, such taste communities take people away from local community to join instead with others who share their tastes. People tend to be cautious about being involved with local affairs with people who might have quite different tastes. Therefore, thinking is needed about how to include local inhabitants with diverse tastes by developing a comprehensively engaging village aesthetics – or village communities of taste. This is where local creatives can help.
7. A need for community-owned screens: People’s attention and commitments tend to be drawn away from their localities by screen-mediated networking and aesthetics, specifically, ubiquitous screens which function as human-technological interfaces. These screen interfaces include not only televisions and computers in households, often in separate rooms for separate family members, but they are also mobile, carried about in hands for phoning, texting, surfing the Net and diverse forms of social networking. Therefore, as will be described schematically below, a locality needs to have aesthetically attractive screen interfaces of its own if it is to gain the attention and commitment of its members and bring them together in a mutually supportive community.
It will be useful here to identify in a schematic framework some phases and variables to do with the implementation of communications technology projects in localities, and related levels capacity-building.
Phase 1. Localities without any locally-based communications-technology projects: in such localities social interaction is largely mediated through screens (television, Internet, mobiles) in households, workplaces, pubs, streets. Left to themselves, such screens tend to draw local people’s attention away from their localities and locally-grounded relationships. If there is to be effective, local community development, some engaging, locally-based screen interfaces are needed – and projects to set these up.
Phase 2. Where there are local communications media projects such as a regular community news-sheet or magazine and an information-providing and interactive Website. These can include amenities for local communication, including exchange or marketing of goods and services (see useful discussion of web-based trading platform by Thomas Greco). This may include or begin with an informal system where local people can ask for and offer help, or more formal trading system, like a local TradeMe, or less formal systems such as TimeBanks, and perhaps some kind of local film creation. To contribute meaningfully to community development, such communication projects need to be created and driven by people whose primary commitment is local community building i.e. such development is more important than operating from a building, being on a committee, personal C.V. development, or even doing things with technology (although those skilled in the use of technology can make very important contributions when they collaborate with more community development-focused people). Where priorities other than community networking and building take over, communications projects tend to contribute little to community development.
Phase 3. Where local communications projects are driven by people whose primary motivation, (combined with a practical sense of how to go about them), is to support local people and organizations to have and to use appropriate and effective communications technologies to network with one another in the locality, and to support one another to network effectively beyond it. A working group that is specifically so focused and has a mandate to establish this kind of community networking needs to be set up and sustained.
The most effective single tool for such a group to develop is a locally-focused Website which is constructed for, and very much open to, local information sharing and interaction. This may also be run in conjunction with a printed news-sheet or magazine and, from time to time, local films might also be produced. These communications technology projects are interrelated. Everyday face-to-face and on-line communication continually and increasingly amplify each other. One outcome of this networking and collaboration can be the spawning of many kinds of social, economic, environmental, educational and other innovative projects, both ad hoc and on-going.
With face-to-face and technological communication continually amplifying each other, such a locality moves from being a simple geographic locality that may or may not have some communications technology projects, to becoming what is called here a “Network Locality.” Such a locality can be described as an “interactive node.”
An interactive local node that can identify what it wants to be and how it wishes to act and interact in the globalising environment has options that a simple non-networked geographic locality does not. The latter will be typically more fragmented and lacking in coherent vision. This fragmentation makes local community much more available to global networks that scan the world for labour, land, production and marketing sites on their own terms.
Phase 4. Where the inhabitants of such a “Network Locality” use the local Website and local film-making, any local print media and other relevant communications technologies to share in the creation of successive, on-going acts of aesthetically engaging, aspirational and developmental narrative film to envision and create local flourishing. This filming involves on-going narratives about local place, the kind of place all would like to live in – seeing anew what is there, seeing the possibilities and practical steps to achieve them, and evaluation of steps taken.
The unfolding of such narratives brings to light obstacles, and opens up issues for shared problem-solving as to how or whether they might be overcome, and so can add a marked degree of shared realism to idealistic goals.
When local diversities (socio-economic, cultural, educational and age and taste) in the locality are able to have on-going input into this filmmaking, new synergies of possibility, vision and project development can unfold as the narrative is progressed from act to act.
Local capacity is built up as the locality develops its ability to act and interact constructively as a node in relation to other, metropolitan, national and international centres or nodes, and in relation also academic and policy nodes.
See also Derek Wenmoth’s Blog Collabetition in education. He asks what would education look like in a networked school environment. He posts a TED presentation Institutions vs collaboration by Clay Shirky who demonstrates how closed groups and companies will give way to looser networks, where small contributors (as in localities) can have big roles and fluid cooperation replaces rigid planning.
Your comments welcome