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Friday, 6 August 2010

Friday Thought - Big Society gets (k)IT

As some may know, my region, Eden in Cumbria, was recently chosen as one of the four vanguard communities for the Big Society. Quite what this will mean is, as yet, unclear, particularly in a community where JFDI has been going on for centuries because of our remoteness from Westminster, both geographically and emotionally.

This blog post can be read at

However, one thing that has become clear is that in order to deliver many of this community's dreams and aspirations, we need decent comms infrastructure to overcome our remote location, distance from services, distance from each other etc. It also means that the meagre budgets that we have at a regional level may well be better spent by the communities themselves through use of technology to reduce costs, increase efficiency and so on.

So, here's my thought for the day. This country is about to lay off hundreds of thousands of people in the public sector. Having been into public sector offices far too many times, I think I can safely say that the vast proportion of these people sit at desks and use computers. Some, although a far smaller proportion, may well also have laptops and smart phones.

There are community projects throughout the UK who could benefit from these items. We can use flat screen monitors for digital noticeboards on our community wireless networks, we can use old computers to bring the digitally reluctant into the 21st century, we can use routers, servers and so on to connect the disconnected. We can use smartphones to create exciting new community apps and demonstrate them to communities, Parish Councils etc, and also (where the mobile network permits) demonstrate mobile apps for community use. Laptops are often beyond the pocket of many of the rurally deprived and these can be used in so many ways - I would only bore you if I began to create a list of their potential uses.

If this IT equipment goes anywhere, it should be into our deprived and rural communities first and foremost. I have this awful feeling that some well-meaning charity will blag a contract to clear public sector offices of unneeded IT kit and start shipping this essential equipment abroad. We must not allow that to happen. These are UK assets, paid for with UK public money, and we need them here. In particular because the Big Society is expecting everyone to solve major issues as volunteers but we cannot do it without the required equipment which can normally only be acquired with hard cash.

I'm sure completely honourable and trustworthy people can be found to reformat hard drives, smart phones, etc for nothing if it means that we then have access to equipment that will permit community projects to succeed without having to operate on broken shoestrings and without the right tools for the job.

We'll work on sorting out the infrastructure too - oh, we already are!


GuyJ said...

Digitally Reluctant - that is a fine descriptor and one for Martha Lane-Fox and Raceonline2012 to think about carefully.

The debate between charity begins at home vs the telescopic philanthropist has a long pedigree.

The latter expression being attributed to Charles Dickens criticism of William Wilberforce, the 19th Century MP rightly lauded for bringing an end to slavery overseas whilst supporting the Corn Laws at home.

One of the attractions of giving at a distance is that the giver of charitable largesse does not have to come into contact with the recipient.

In other words just because you help someone doesn't mean you have to want or wish to spend time in their company!

Anyhow, what's all this got to do with this blog post?

Well, although acting local means dealing with extra complexity and detail compared with cramming shipping containers full of (k)IT, if we are to enlighten the Digitally Reluctant then that extra work is simply part of what is required to realise positive local change.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all this.

See here for a model which can be rolled out nationally relatively easily

Cybersavvy UK said...

Next gen link

Cybersavvy UK said...

Have made your link live above, John. However, in the instance I am outlining, we've already paid once through public sector funding to these RDAs, councils etc so surely the PCs etc should just be free?? Especially if they are otherwise going into landfill or very expensive container ships.....

Anonymous said...

I'm in favour of "free"; who wouldn't be? But I've been at the game long enough to have learned that there is always a cost - somewhere.

An interesting alternative to 'free' is very low cost. The model developed by CoSY Computers of Sheffield might be of interest - a social enterprise, 2 part-time employees working with volunteers; 10 years experience refurbishing PCs.

A well developed supply chain - with some very interesting stock just in and more due soon.

A joint project setting up a local workshop in Eden might work well.

Take a look:

Be glad to hear from anyone interested in working together.