How do people think about local issues when they’re connected to specific places? That’s what we’re trying to discover through ‘Who owns my neighbourhood?’ – our Make it Local project from Kirklees Council and  Thumbprint Co-operative.

We’re using land ownership data as a starting point for local discussions – a way of encouraging a sense of ownership within our local communities. We recognise the value of local knowledge and we want to make it easier for people to do a variety of things in their neighbourhood – anything from reporting problems to looking after an area of land. We’re hoping to find out whether the land ownership data is useful to local residents, and to discover new ways of doing things by creating a space in which people can share their ideas.

The idea to use land ownership data came from The Young Foundation’s Mandeep Hothi, who is working with us on the Local 2.0 neighbourhood media project. We’re currently working in two Kirklees neighbourhoods (Dalton / Rawthorpe and Newsome) finding out what residents, community groups and service providers are interested in, and using lots of different kinds of technologies to help them share what they know. We saw the Make it Local programme as an opportunity to explore how open data can be used to create something relevant at a very local level.

Andrew Wilson from Thumbprint Co-operative is already participating in our neighbourhood media work, using text messages about particular places or projects as a way of helping people co-ordinate local activities and share information about their neighbourhoods. If you’re standing on a street corner and you discover a problem that you want to do something about, a standard text message from any kind of mobile phone (steam-powered or sci-fi) can be a powerful thing. We want to know more about how open data can contribute something useful, not in isolation, but in the places where people need it.

We have been inspired by the way that residents have set up voluntary groups and projects to make better use of areas of open space in both Newsome and Dalton. There are already lots of voluntary groups using public spaces, including friends’ groups, sports teams, environmental groups and walking groups, who have something to share about local land and may want to declare an interest in particular places. For example, Alison explains why Newsome residents organised a Play Day at Ashenhurst Recreation Ground and woodlands:

(around 200 people took part in Play Day – there were no participants for a council-organised activity session at Ashenhurst Recreation Ground the previous week). Who owns Ashenhurst Rec?

We’re asking the question ‘Who owns my neighbourhood?’ to get people thinking about what personal responsibility we are each willing to take for the place where we live, and how we might be able to help each other to look after it. There are lots of individuals who contribute to looking after their neighbourhoods. Our very own Steve Tuck inspired us to think about this in a different way by blogging about small acts of personal responsibility and how they can contribute to The Big Society: Big Society, Odd ol’ me and the Lash

Online collaborative tools could help community groups, individuals and service providers to co-ordinate their activities much more easily. Working out how we can help people to share and collaborate is an important contribution to The Big Society, through which the Government say they aim to “empower local people and communities to bring about the changes they know their community needs.” For us, it’s all about empowering neighbourhoods (whatever the policymakers choose to call it).

Some of the questions we’re asking through this work are:

  • How can we make it easier for community groups to use public spaces?
  • Should any part of a neighbourhood be unused?
  • Who’s responsible for keeping our neighbourhoods clean?
  • Who decides how land is used?

They are big questions, but we may well find some answers through small acts of sharing.

So far, we’ve only arrived at our starting point for Make it Local, but we’ve got here by sharing too sharing ideas and experiences between residents, voluntary groups, service providers, Thumbprint Co-operative, The Young Foundation and NESTA. I think we’ve started in the right place. Let’s see what happens when we add some data…

 

Diane Sims, Kirklees Council