Saturday, 27 March 2010

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Unannounced visits: family, friends, salespeople I remember my old mum used to delight in an unannounced visit, if I happened to be out for a long run or nearby with some time to spare. Many of us live highly-organised lives now though, and we have our technologies to check ahead for convenience. We don't do surprises. Saga recently published results from the Saga Populus Panel survey of over-50s, in which they asked about unexpected visitors popping in. The unsolicited attention of salespeople (nowadays they always start by telling you 'it's alright, I'm not going to try to sell you anything...') is always unfortunate as someone who works at home and my sense is that the practice has increased noticeably in the recession. Thirteen per cent of panel respondents say it happens 'often' and the proportion is higher (17%) in the over-75 age group. But the figures for family (35%) and friends (36%) are encouraging. The regional differences (eg family in London, 25%; in Northern Ireland, 49%) are stark if unsurprising. The survey also asked how well people know their neighbours. Here too the figures are interesting, with just 1% in all age groups and all socio-economic groups saying that they 'don't know them at all'. (See my previous tentative conclusion that for the general population, about 5% of us have no contact with our neighbours). According to the Saga Populus Panel data, about one third of over-50s say they know their neighbours well 'and often socialise together', while 64% say 'we talk and say hello sometimes'. For those over 75, the proportion who say they know their neighbours well and socialise is a stomping 44%. I note that this was an online survey: does this mean the sample is biassed towards people who are more communicative?
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Jim Diers on citizen action Yesterday Jim Diers, author of Neighbor power, spoke at a meeting that I co-organised in London with Ben Lee at Shared Intelligence. 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.

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