The roots of Village Connections

The current Village Connections site has evolved through a number of phases. Its roots are  in concepts first developed in practical,  local ‘village’ development projects that evolved over a period of about 12 years and culminated in the St Albans Community Web, Christchurch 1999-2002 (see presentation notes from the Flaxroots Conference reporting on the first phase of the web project, and Blog on the web project for second and final phase).

Subsequent university research by Hazel Ashton led to a wish to develop a website as an interface between local development, academic and policy worlds.

The St Albans village website was set up because local people weren’t able to create a place to meet. They wanted something akin to a village square, but there was no room.  There was only space for cars and car parks.  Once the website was created, people found they could meet in the virtual village and,  as a result, their understanding of St Albans and connections with each other were enhanced.

Now it is still difficult to find public space and time for fully participatory discussion and networking for thinking about local development. Time and space for this focus is needed because everyone lives somewhere and all  share life in an increasingly interdependent and changing world (see Brokering Solutions Blog on possibilities with community media)

Connecting locality, academia and policy – tri-nodal communication

The approach modeled here is  transdisciplinary – including people and ideas from diverse backgrounds: university disciplines, knowledge and skill sets. It is locally grounded and cosmopolitan, recognizing local through to global networking opportunities as essential for effective development.
Most importantly, the approach seeks to model participatory holistic development – incorporating economic, cultural, ecological and social factors and making this development inclusive, interesting and engaging. The  increasing the use of creative arts – narrative and film and communications technologies and especially interactive web can strengthen and enliven this engagement.

Like the St Albans website before it, the Doctoral research website was set up as web with information, along with interactive features.  The aim was for full participation, for people to feel safe and free to express themselves authentically, and be comfortable with disagreeing, or share a different perspective.

The Doctoral Abstract (PDF, 11KB) and Introduction to thesis chapters (PDF, 22KB)
gives a sense of how and why the methodology was developed and the use of the web.  One of the key challenges of the doctorate was to work and write authentically across the realms of community, policy and academia which it sought to connect.
After the doctorate came a post doctoral project which was able to  develop the concept of  connecting the virtual village  further.  There were two stages: the aim of the first post doctoral website was to set out the research New Creative Social Science for Chosen Quality Futures (see Power Point) and report on happenings, conferences, research etc.  Sharing and presenting the work in  England and Cairo were part of this.  The second phase was to embed the ‘whole of locality’ approach and incorporate more interactivity with blogs: around an imaginary village square.


Hazel received a Social Policy Evaluation and Research (SPEaR) Linkages Scholarship (2003) which enabled her to design a methodology that included the making of a film, designing an interactive research website and engage the expertise needed to facilitate the kinds of participatory involvement required.

The SPEaR Linkages funding programme facilitates cross-sector collaborative social policy research and evaluation to enhance effective decision-making so as to improve the knowledge base that informs social policy in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Hazel also to received a BRCSS (Building Social Science Research Capacity) Doctoral Research Award for support in the final stage of writing. She says, “membership of the BRCSS network – including through Access Grid interface, has expanded enormously the range of people and knowledge I was able to readily access for my research and ongoing encouragement and support.”

BRCSS  also  granted a post-doctoral fellowship that enabled, amongst other things, the further development of this website.

A special indebtedness to Richard Thompson

Richard was a Reader in Psychology and Sociology and in fact established Sociology at the University of Canterbury. Hazel came to know Richard after he had retired, in the 1990s. Very sadly, Richard died in 2006 and so was unable to see Hazel’s thesis completed. Thanks also to Jennifer Thompson, Richard’s wife, for supporting Richard in his desire and in his efforts to help.

The encouragement and support, including financial support received from Richard Thompson was invaluable.

Hazel came to know Richard through Quakers – in particular, his peace movement work.

Hazel says, “It is doubtful if I would have even thought about attending university, let alone about pursuing an academic career, if it had not been for this support.”