Twitter and other forms of social media are changing the way that communities interact and are active; it is shifting power away from formal power brokers who operate through bureaucracies to a wider, more informal and diverse set of people. Local Government has to support, grow and shape local connection and communities to improve outcomes, but also so it doesn’t become an irrelevance.
Traditionally if you wanted some help or information you asked someone you knew directly or some sort of official. You were bound by whether they were in the know – a direct one to one relationship. Now people are connected to lots of people in the know whether they personally know them or not. Now a question can be posed to the ether, responses coming from virtually anyone. A business, a neighbour, an expert, a friend, a colleagues, and of course local government or your local Councillor. They can come from your street, your city, country or anywhere in the world.
For local government this presents a very real threat; if the council wasn’t helpful before then you had one disgruntled resident, now everyone knows about it – and if the council isn’t supporting me then why should I pay my taxes to keep them employed?
But of course it also offers an opportunity to reinvigorate the relationship between public and the state, to work together to achieve common goals and to generally create a more healthy, happy and supportive civic sphere.
It is what we are doing in Lambeth through the Cooperative Council.
Residents ability to demand change and improvement is rapidly changing (although not by everyone at the same pace) and Local Government must adapt to be able to respond, to support the the fastest movers without leaving behind those in need of more basic levels of support. The old ways, if they were adequate in any case, need now to be directed to serve communities how they need to be served.
The relationship is moving from a “we want, you deliver” to a “how can we deliver this together.”
In Lambeth we are trying to create deeper and more supportive structures within and between communities, so they are better able to seek and find the support they need. We have to engage the strengths of the public and its capacity for reciprocity, not only because people with supportive social networks make for better outcomes, but because it leads to a more equal and happy society. In saying that there will always be a need for support services provided directly by Councils, especially given the varying failures of private sector forays into issues around welfare, employment and social care.
But for the many, however they are connected whether on the same street, through business or a community around race, parenthood or climate change, support to connect to affect, to improve or unite will be supported when needed.
You wouldn’t tell your postman to leave a parcel with a stranger. But you might with someone you know on your street. We are creating opportunities and spaces to bring neighbours together through our community freshviews, safer streets days or street parties – these might just be saving someone a trip to the post Office Depot on a Saturday. But who knows how else that neighbourhood might be able to support itself?
For my generation “Everybody needs good neighbours” is well known and more relevant, especially in London with lots of people moving in and out from diverse backgrounds all the time. Strong neighbourhoods won’t solve everything but it can’t hurt to see what they can solve.