Indy and I went to an event organised by Kevin Harris at Local Level along with Networked Neighbourhoods and Capital Ambition yesterday. It was a really useful event seeking to figure out the research questions we need to get into as neighbourhood and local community websites are increasingly becoming a pervasive model of how local people communicate with each other and create a dialogue [progressive or otherwise] about the places in which we live. What became apparent was that the these platforms are effectively creating the 'agoras' / public squares of the 21st Century, the places where local people are coming together and being discursive about their neighbourhoods in a way we haven't seen physically happen for at least the last 30 years and the world seems a far messier place these days. This is simultaneously exciting and somewhat terrifying because it has triggered a whole bunch of bigger questions:
> how can and should Local Authorities and local service providers engage in a real-time emergent discourse about Place? > is this an officer level communication or a corporate communication? > the need for radical shift in the desicion making architecture of Local Authorities and councillors to respond to new social media and how they are organising the civic economy of neighbourhoods > does an essentially 19th Century institution and governance model have the capacity to govern emergent real time discourse and innovation? > where does legitimacy come from for online communities given that only about 1% of wiki users [for example] are actually creators of content? > what are the limits of crowdsourcing and when do some decisions just need to be made [we went to representation democracy for a reason - every time another person joins a group the decision making time period increases] > what can a community realistically change i.e. what is local value - what is the role of the state as an agent of public value - where do these things come together and how?
Its an absolute fascinating set of questions - because they are fundamental to the redefination of the state as an enabler, to the citizen as a civic actor and to all the questions of inclusiveness, accountability, legitimacy, roles, rules and responsibilities that this infers. What seems to be the key is the system itself - the transparency of roles and culture. There is some research coming out of this and I can't wait to have a read.