Guest Post by Catherine Howe (@curiousc)

These are some notes from the discussion we had at Bluelightcamp on the network of networks concept. This is a collision of two projects I am currently working on:

  • The network of networks project that was discussed at CityCamp Brighton
  • The Citizenscape projects we are in the process of getting up and running (will write more about this really soon)
BLC TagsExplorer
BlueLightCamp #ukblc13 network from tweets sent over unconference and hackathon (Via TAGSExplorer)

In both cases the proposition is based on the idea that it is a ‘good’ thing to have more networked and connected communities. At the moment we are looking at communities of place but the thinking could apply to communities of interest as well. The benefits from more connected communities might be varied:

  • greater community resilience
  • greater shared assets and resources
  • improved awareness and more efficient flow of information
  • amplified civic ‘voice’ in the decision making process

There is also something within this, I think, about connecting communities to the emergent participatory digital culture that brings future relevant skills that I want to tease out / mull more.

The session at bluelightcamp was a chance to try these ideas out on an informed group of people and as ever there was some interesting challenge / enhancement of the ideas so huge thanks to people who participated. The main points discussed in the room and online were:

Do we need to do this? Ben Proctor raised the question of ‘if people wanted this wouldn’t they do it for themselves?’. This led to a discussion about an example in Cockermouth where the community created this kind of network of networks in response to disastrous local flooding and the effect has persisted after the immediate crisis was passed.

Here is a link to the cockermouth hyperlocal website that formed during the flood crisis. http://www.cockermouth.org.uk/ (via Kate Norman)

They also have a physical space that is managed by intergrated services. It might be an interesting model for you to look at http://www.cockermouth.org.uk/C3A/ (via Kate Norman)

I think there is a really good point here – do we need this kind of network of network outside of times of crisis or campaign? Will people invest time in these activities (whatever they turn out to be!) in order to have access to this when they need it or is it best considered a spontaneous network effect that can be made more likely in times of need but can’t be manufactured without that clear need? From initial discussion we have had with content and network creators they see a value in being further networked but we will have to see whether this value is sufficient to get them to act on this – or if we can put tech in place that makes these connections very low in friction and easy to accommodate.

There was a further discussion around social capital vs network analysis that I think I need to work up from a more theoretical point of view. I moved away from social capital analysis as I am very action oriented and I find social network analysis a much more practical analytical approach but there is undoubtably useful measurement data in social capital.

This leads to the question from Ann about the way in which we are planning on measuring impact (and therefore describing value) and we currently have three measures we will look at developing (and measuring in Citizenscape):

  • Reach – how extensive is the network
  • Representativeness – how representative (based on demographics) is the network of the geography or topic it is concerned with
  • Impact on decision making – can we trace ideas from the network into the policy making and decision making process of the organisations involved

There is a further issue of measurement which how we use the knowledge we have about the networks transparently to show them relevant information about themselves – this is participation not surveillance.

Clare added a very thoughtful point about treating people as members of things not as outsiders and I think this captures what we want to do very well – we want to connect people through the groups and networks that the are already members of. This is very much aligned with an asset based approach to community engagement and simply shows respect. This leads to the question of how do we connect to the groups/individuals who we see are not present in the initial network of networks and our intent is that this becomes a shared endeavour across the whole network – but this is something I will pick up when we start discussing specific interventions for the Network of Network project.

There were some interesting comments from the online audience when James shared his notes from the last session (you can see these here twitpic.com/cmd29g) and some great examples from some West Mids folks which brought some discussion about the varying strength of connections in a network which is something I will need to think about – not sure how we measure this (reciprocity? proximity? intensity??) but its an important point.

So – what next? I’m going to start capturing some of these challenge points in order to share them with the project teams as we work with them – its important to keep an alternate view of things in mind to avoid the missionary zeal one can fall in to! I’m also going to start properly designing ideas for interventions and also companion measurements.

As ever please shout if I have missed anything or if you have ideas I should have considered. Thanks all!

Catherine

BlueLightCamp: Discussion on the network of networks and digital neighbourhoods

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