We'd managed to gather a select band of interested and interesting people to hear Jim's inspiring presentation about citizen action and democratic involvement, based on his experience running Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods.
What Jim has helped local people in Seattle to achieve, and what he's helping others around the world to grasp, is a sustainable and appropriate contribution by local people in the processes and actions that make a difference to their neighbourhoods.
The key points that I take away from the discussion for reflection are these:
- Collective citizen empowerment is not so much an idea whose time has come - it was always an obvious option: rather we should say, time's up for some of the barriers that have been in the way for too long.
- One reason Seattle's Neighborhood Matching Fund worked was because the Department of Neighborhoods imputed a value to residents' voluntary time. This is a topic we've been talking about off and on in the UK for far too long.
- Another reason for the Seattle success was that they chose to encourage and accept bids from unconstituted groups of residents. They found other solutions to the problem of where to bank the grant. Again, this is something we've failed to work-through properly in this country, largely because of the centre's control-obsession.
We also had input yesterday from Hugh Flouch about Harringay Online, which stimulated a lot of discussion about how neighbourhood networks can contribute to collective action and how people can use them to interact with the structures of governance. More when Hugh and I have finished our London study.
Special thanks to Steven Clift for the heads-up on Jim's visit, and thanks to Shared Intelligence for the venue and catering. If you missed this opportunity, watch this space because Jim expects to be back in a year or so, and we're confident we can find a larger room.
**Postscript** David Wilcox has offered a characteristically imaginative and thorough account.