Friday, 14 May 2010

Will neighbourhood management fit into new social policies? Another day, another government. You know how it is - wake up, a cabinet's been formed, eyewatering public sector cuts in the air, wonder what's up for neighbourhood management? Pottered along to the National Association for Neighbourhood Management conference, along with about sixty other folk. Probably all of us (with the exception of one of the speakers, who shall remain nameless) had years of experience of co-production and were sensitised to its nuances, and led by NANM we co-produced an absorbing event. We heard two nicely complementary presentations from Gerry Stoker and Steve Broome. Gerry spoke about the Manchester Uni / Southampton Uni research into changing civic behaviour, which has come to be known as the 'Nudge-nudge, think-think' project because of the way it contrasts two ways for policy to influence what we do. Meself, I just think there's a massive policy conspiracy to get me to see things in that framework. Steve Broome offered the first update I've heard on the RSA's connecting communities project which has been carrying out social network analysis in the New Cross area of south London. They've been rather coy about what's been happening but suddenly here's a whole lot of data which, Steve says, will help us understand 'the total set of connections and possibilities within a community'. Drilling down you can appreciate where the strong and weak points might be, and you can help people to recognise and exploit their network position. Apparently 'people who value neighbourliness are more likely to be in the core of the network.' This will be worth examining closely. At least two pieces of work that I'm aware of have suggested that there may not be a strong connection between neighbouring and community activity. The project report is expected in about 6 weeks' time, and Steve said the data will be made available online. Hopefully the kind of work they've done will be inexpensively replicable, and we'll begin to see constructive ways of exploiting the knowledge gained, eg in finding ways to support older people to age in place. This is the place to offer a note of tribute to two street reps from Shipley, Sue and Arthur Kenworthy, who made the journey down to London to have an input to the two workshops I ran. When a number of practitioners are gathered together in a room, there's nothing like having the experience of local people to draw on. Sue and Arthur are a couple of residents trying to make a little bit of difference in their neighbourhood: they exemplify the barely-recognised efforts of thousands, but yesterday their thoughts and experience were listened to and valued. So will neighbourhood management fit into new social policies? We seem to be watching a rapid shift from what I call transactional government - characterised by treating the citizen as compliant consumer of state services who has to struggle for their entitlements - to what Geoff Mulgan has called relational government, characterised by involvement in decisions, co-production and conversational democracy. Am...
Get me out of here, I'm a native Here's contemporary television's contribution to our understanding of community in recession-hit England, from a programme planned for Channel 4, in which: Eight people move into a house in a beautiful rural village. Collectively and individually they do things that will benefit the village and the villagers. Each week the village hold a ballot to decide who should leave. In the end, the last remaining member of the group wins the house and the rural life they crave. TV being what it is, there have to be dubious personalities, tense competition, video diaries, enviable gain, and a little dastardly dealing. I suppose there will be no shortage of locals willing to step forward and play along in the voting: if not, presumably dummy-villagers have to be brought in as extras. And the rest of us who are expected to be watching will no doubt be invited likewise to vote off our screens the least civic-minded, least neighbourly, least convivial souls. It will soon become the punishable sin of our age to be indifferent about local sociability. Apparently the village of Grassington is under consideration, and minor concerns have been raised. If you want to apply as an individual inspired to win an idyllic rural home worth £300k, then you have until the end of the month. You'll have to answer questions like: 'What do you think you could offer to a village community?' If the present government is still around by the time the programmes go out, they might quite like it as a device for helping to mend broken Britain. But has Mr Cameron got time to participate? I fear not. No matter - cue a little Elgar, chocolate-box rural village images which then fade to some prime ministerial lyricism about the Big Society and, er, what have you got? That's right, the reinforcement of a comfy mythology about neighbourhood connections, while the reality of local community involvement against social injustice will be accumulating brutally elsewhere. Nah, ignore me, I'm jess an ol' cynic.

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