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Uh, £395k to be spent on "software that will provide an online home for any campaign, and ways to develop pamphlets and other materials; a guide to campaigning; a forum for campaigners to share experience; piloting; and development work to make the tool available to other local authorities"??? Is this supposed to be new? Do I detect a couple of problems? (i) imagining online participation as if it were distinct from offline participation; and (ii) failing to take account of the fact that there are libraries-full of stuff about this and hundreds of people round the country with profound experience of the issues. Am I missing something here?

By the way David, my take on the use of the term 'campaign' is that it's about assimilation: you neutralise even the language of challenge by taking it over and re-defining it.

Thanks Kevin
... so on your final point might the danger be that councils say "here's how you 'campaign' in a way that is approved by Government. If you don't do it our way, we won't listen to you"?

Kevin / David,

You really are creating issues out of nothing. As the originator of the CampaignCreator idea I can categorically tell you that it developed out of seeing that there was online campaigning help and offline campaigning help and that the two did not seem to be married. That was the initial premise of the CampaignCreator.

In terms of "control" of campaigners the only exclusions on the use of the CampaignCreator that has been discussed so far is to exclude corporate and party political campaigns and campaigns to promote individuals rather than issues within the community. No other aspect of control has been discussed. Of course councils, other than Bristol, may try to do that but it certainly is not on the agenda of the current project team.

Shane - I don't doubt the motivation of the project team, and it may be that Bristol City Council is a model authority prepared to host any amount of dissent on a CampaignerCreator platform. However, I think investing £395,000 in the project is only justified if it can be used far more widely. Will other authorities be so enlightened? Experience as a journalist, activist, and consultant working online and offline in this field makes me hugely sceptical. Campaigning and participation is ultimately about influence, power and control. Whatever the benefits of the CommunityCreator tools, I suspect community groups will find themselves severely constrained if the platform is controlled by a council.
The Bristol pilots will provide some reality checks on usage. I also think that a simulation, as I suggested, would provide some insights. How about it?

Sorry Shane, I think you've missed the point. To question the spending of nearly £400 of public money mostly, as I understand it, on developing software for community involvement, is not 'creating issues out of nothing'. There is a wealth of experience in this country and elsewhere that has left some pretty clear lessons, including the need to invest more in the processes of offline participation, and that systems set up by authorities for local communities tend not to get used. One suspects that these lessons have not been taken on by government because they're not the kinds of lesson they understand - they don't fit with a command and control managerialist culture which sees community engagement as a top-down process. I hope I'm wrong about what's happening in this case (my knowledge being based solely on David's post) but I'd have to be pretty far wrong for £395k to be justified.

I'm not sure who the players here are and where you are coming from, but as someone who has been involved with an online community network for five years now, I'd say there are two main points that concern me about the Campaign Creator project.

1. £400,000!! We've achieved our community network (now in its ninth year) without funding - imagine what we could do with that kind of money to invest in it! But there are no funding streams directed to communities for grass-roots projects. Why not?
2. Context and relationships. The important thing for any local campaign, issue, organisation, project is its local community. As you say, leaflets. Where do local people put their leaflets? Through neighbours' doors, in the local library, etc! With a strong and independent e-community you have the local platform; people are heard.

You will find information, activism and merely presence in our e-community, for not every organisation is campaigning. Many just want to be seen, get members, promote events, raise funds. But where local citizens are campaigning it is essential they are visible across their own communities - to like-minded supporters, the local public and to decision-makers. There are huge advantages to communities in sharing information across a local authority area, for democracy is geographically based. Where decision-makers know a campaign is online and public locally, nothing concentrates the mind more. It becomes very effective.

Some examples with our network that you may find really enlightening, currently very active:
Twickenham Online: the Mogden Community Website
Hampton Online: Buckingham Fields for All
Without the local context of the community network, these campaigns could not succeed as they do.
The VoxPop letters to the editor is very lively, as you will see. It's all great fun, worthwhile - but very hard work and not cheap. But then, other people pay £40 a month to attend a gym or whatever.
www.oncom.org.uk

Interesting stuff and great debate - coming from a pubilc sector background operating at corporate level with many members/councillors and the public, this initiative is very proactive in enabling the public to bridge that gap between their issues and the politicians/council.

However, from my experience it only tackles half the issue - as the project description states: "Rather it is the lack of ability that individuals and communities have to make their voices heard and a lack of trust that anyone will listen when they are." - what about the members/councillors themselves?

Anybody who has spent some time in local government will know the vast power vacuums created around elected officials. I have stood up in council meetings and directly questioned member/councillors on their opinions simply stating 'thank you for your opinions but what about those of your constituents whom you represent?' and 'please can you provide evidence on how you have come to this decision?' (always goes down well).

Although there are some fantastic member/councillors out there, there are a whole lot of others who don't really understand the true nature of their roles (we can always argue they are elected so therefore are representational - however, look at the stats and demographics of those who are voting).

Creating forums and enabling dialogue is all well and good but if the members/councillors aren't ready to listen then nobody will get heard.

sorry, can't remember how to use track back - but as project lead, I have left my comments here

http://www.readmyday.co.uk/blogs/stephenhilton.php?itemid=705&PHPSESSID=26ef81dd1ef053f71ade2e79886bb18b

Stephen - thanks for the item on your blog. I have copied it here because I wanted to comment, but your commenting link isn't working

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Stephen writes on his blog

Join the Community Campaign Advisory Group here
We have chosen to start an advisory group for the community campaigns pack project supported by online and off line meetings. If you want to join please email me and I will arrange a username / password. You require no specialist knowledge, just interest and enthusiasm for the idea that most people can, with support and encouragement, make a positive contribution to their community - don't complain, campaign.

There have been some blog postings here. There is much misinformation reported in this post (despite the fact that I have published all our budgets and project plans on line). The amount being spent on technology is actually pretty small and no one has forced me to start an advisory group – I did it because I value external comment.

I have been pretty disappointed by the level of input so far (but I accept that you do get out what you put in) The few people who have participated appear to invest a great deal in maintaining antagonistic relationships between authorities and communities. The ‘government bad’ ‘community good’ model just doesn’t do cut ice – its all a bit of a mixed bag if we are honest. Most of the time this view appears to be driven by members/officers/communities protecting their thiefdoms. Let’s move on.

The on line forum moderator should be in place next week and I am particularly pleased that our first choice person has agreed.

As this is an innovations project we should aspire for something better, although I fully accept it will be a bumpy ride and this post will not help but hey, it's an innovations project and about time I used this blog to say what I think.
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I tried to comment

Stephen - you refer to 'much misinformation' in my blog post. Could you please specify so that I can correct if necessary?
It would be helpful if you could give the URL for documents you mention.
The amount spent on technology may be small - but £395,000 is a lot of money whatever it is spent on.
The other issues are difficult to address here, because most readers will not have access to the advisory group forum.
The key issue I raised in my posting was whether councils can host community campaigns. They can do many things well - and often do. I don't think that hosting potential opposition is one of them. I may be wrong - but believe it is a fair point to raise. Unfortunately all the main development decisions were made before the advisory group was appointed, which does lead to some frustration when no rationale for project design is offered. I would welcome your views on that main issue here, on my blog, or in the advisory group forum.

It appears the comments section on the Read My Day blog site is still out of action. It was suspended due to a massive spam attack but will hopefully be reinstated sometime soon.

David’s main challenge to the project is

‘[can] councils host community campaigns. They can do many things well - and often do. I don't think that hosting potential opposition is one of them’.

This is a very good question. Two things occur in response – (1) go to any council meeting and you will see that council’s frequently play host to opposition. In fact council’s are one of the only organisations I can think of that have opposition built into their management structure. Were else would you routinely see ‘board members’ (i.e. councillors) publicly disagreeing with each other after every board meeting?

(2) I do not yet know whether councils generally can or should play host to campaigns. However, council’s arguably, do have a role to play in developing spaces where debate amongst equals can take place, such as Athenian market places, community centres, council chambers or on line forums. The approach we are following in Bristol with things like askbristol.com is to develop these spaces but then to find ways to hand over greater control to communities. For example, we are training up a group of citizen moderators to offer impartial facilitation of discussions; we are providing more simple-to-use ‘ground up’ tools like epetitions. These things are starting to have impact but change is needed on all sides.

The future hosting of the campaigns project has not yet been decided. We have a work stream looking at sustainability and this is really where we wanted the advisory group to give us the benefit of their experience and creativity.

Must get to work now, hope this is helpful

Stephen

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