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NESTA, the innovation agency is starting a major exploration of the future of hyperlocal media "covering everything from struggling local papers, and reduced local BBC services, through to new Government-backed local TV, and the blogs, online communities and radio stations run by passionate digital activists".

This could be really important to anyone interested in how local media impacts on our communities - for good or ill - as well as those running local blogs and online communities.

At the moment news of the programme is limited to an open call for strategic partners to join NESTA in the programme - but there is promise of an open call for funding in March this year for 10 prototypes, using mobile devices, of up £50K each.  The partners call document is here as a pdf. It says partners have to contribute £50k in cash or kind.

An introduction says:

"Together with a broad range of strategic partners, we will develop a 2-3 year programme that tests the economic and social opportunities for hyperlocal media.

"The purpose of Nesta’s programme is to understand the potential for and stimulate a diverse and sustainable UK base of hyperlocal media services that create public value.

"Our work will identify the disruptive technology, business model and content opportunities and challenges for hyperlocal media. Our approach will be predominantly practical – by prototyping the next generation of hyperlocal media services with relevant user-generated content, commercial content, open data, local news, entertainment and sport and content that builds strong local communities".

"The criteria for (pilot funding) selection are to be confirmed, but may include:

  • How does the prototype develop engagement with local communities?
  • Can it scale?
  • Is the business model sustainable?
  • Capacity to deliver"

This is the first attempt to look at local media in the round, not just from an angle (local papers, local radio, blogs etc) - so there's a good chance it will be useful to consumer-citizens who happily pick and mix whatever is going. It is also important for anyone interested in the future of their town or village, because there's a chance NESTA will look at what's good for communities and not just for media balance sheets. They've been running a very interesting Neighbourhood Challenge that might cross-refer, together with previous work on Mass Localism. The NESTA CEO Geoff Mulgan has promoted the role of online social networks in neighbourliness and reciprocity.

However David Wilcox and other commenters on the blog have raised issues about the approach:

  • Partners who can continute £50k will inevitably be big institutions, who may shape the programme to their agendas.
  • The process of mapping->foresight->mobile pilots->dissemination may not offer scope for insights from community (rather than media) interests.
  • There is currently no transpartency in the process, or interaction.

Fortunately NESTA, in blog comments, have said that it is early days, and they are very open to ideas.
What do you think we might do?
Should we suggest some briefing and interaction with community interests at an early stage? For example, David suggests an open unconference in a follow up post.

For me, someone who is not very techy, I ask what does this mean for our communities? How can we get the best out of the things that are happening in them?

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Hi Emma.

Have been involved in community we development for ten years and having run community web portals for the last three years, I can't think of a single grassroots run community web project with 50K available to participate in the project. Seems designed to ensure participation from only the larger commercial interests. Working with the small groups and individuals already creating and maintaining community web networks might give a more realistic angle on how 'usable' services could be developed and enhanced.

"hyperlocal media" - please do remember (in a rural context) ye humble DIY Community newsletters, plus local radio stations - like my hometown Radio Winchcombe (shades of Dibley!)

I hope that this isn'y solely about "mobile devices".....we have to appreciate LOW tech media and not the techie end of things.....



[Not a Luddite] :)

Pol - agree with you about the money and would hope that the people at NESTA are about the needs of local commmunities and not just the larger organisations (I am thinking here about how Your Square Mile seems to be a bit of a damp squid).

James - I am with you. many of the groups and people in my community would prefer newsletters/noticeboards etc. (am no Luddite either but more about realism). 

Thanks Emma for referencing my posts and getting this discussion  going. I dug out some details from the NESTA call for partners, and posted here.

Pol: From the NESTA info, the £50K is a requirement of in-kind support that strategic partners are asked to provide. There is talk among some hyperlocal community projects of forming a grassroots alliance to get to the table and so help shape the programme.

James: it does look as if the funding call will be around mobile ... and I agree there's a need to look at a mix of old and new, digital and non-digital media.

Emma: I agree we do need to know more about what's happening with Your Square Mile, and also Media Trust's Newsnet: my earlier stories here and here

I think we need an open process to discuss these issues with the researchers, and it is good to see from comments on my post that NESTA is open to ideas.

hi all, I'm glad David's taking this thinking to NESTA because we will all gain if they open the doors to the local-est voices (ie those who think £50k is a lottery win) . The potential for participatory democracy is huge if it isn't left in the hands of elite interests (which will alienate the grassroots communities further). So I'm also pleased to hear that NESTA are open to your comments  - here's hoping for the widest possible discussion (now that would be a strategic partnership)

This is a good discussion to be having. and a good place to have it..

“There is talk among some hyperlocal community projects of forming a grassroots alliance to get to the table and so help shape the programme.”

In other words… Those who have used their own initiative and innovation to set up and run (often highly successful) grassroots level community networks and portals will be expected to spend additional time and effort to go out and form new alliances and change their ways of working in order to fit in a new programme laid done from powers upon high.

Well… Thanks but no thanks!

NESTA seems to have it backwards on this issue.

Over the last ten years I have seen this kind of initiative come and go both at a local and national level. New strategies, new technologies and new ways of working, all announced with great fanfare and all destined to eventually disappear with almost no impact on the communities they portray to support.

The real innovation taking place in community web and local media development is being undertaken by individuals and small groups of local people working at grassroots levels with budgets of tens or hundreds of pounds - not with thousands or tens of thousands of pounds.

These are the people NESTA and similar organisations need to start engaging with!

It’s all well and good for a bunch of ‘strategic partners’ coming together to create new ‘community’ APPs for the ipad… but if no one in your own local community can afford an ipad then it’s not much use to you.

Yes, of course there is an important role for larger interests such as TV, radio and social media resources to play in community web and local media development. However, what really needs to be explored is the means and methods local communities are already using to create their own digital and media resources.

Until communities themselves are included in the decision and development processes of such programmes as that proposed by NESTA, then such programmes will be resented by many (as top down management) and largely ignored.

There may be problems with some of the links in the opening post, so here they are for easy reference

It's worth reading the pdf for a fullest info so far on the programme. I hope NESTA might join the conversation here, and/or set up their own blog about the programme.

I also offered these background links in my original post, which may be relevant

Thanks for pointing this out David. I will fix the links. :)

Hi Pol. I have to say I agree with you about the impact and working with communities. You are right that many communities see projects like this as top down and they are often ignore projects they have no connection/imput/reason to be part of. 

Hiya - I've run a campaigning website in London's Kings Cross for some years and now run Talk About Local we help people in deprived or isolated communities find a voice online that they own and run themselves.  

We also do our bit to help people who run independent local media of all types, though mainly on the web to come together and network.  Our emphasis is strongly on helping people with volunteer-run media.  

We have run three unconferences for people who run local media, each attended by 60-100 people - in 2009 in Stoke-on-Trent, in 2010 in Leeds and 2011 in Cardiff. Each has had rave reviews, including I think from David Wilcox.  We are planning a 2012 event for April - nailing a venue right now, probably in the West Midlands.

The lovely thing about hyperlocal media in the UK is that there are still wide open spaces, you can never have enough local media.  One of the striking things about very local or hyperlocal media in the UK is that the big media groups have largely failed or just not entered this space - except DMGT and to some extent TM.  They all find it very hard to make it pay given their very high cost bases and debt mountains.  I'm delighted that the BBC has been told to reverse some of its ridiculous local radio cuts. I've written extensively about Jeremy Hunt's local media plans and my disappointment that he isn't drawing in web media.

Given this gap, it is legitimate for NESTA to try to bring big companies to the table, big guys and little guys have a lot to learn from each other (I had great fun bringing the BBC and local bloggers together in the West Midlands and Trinity Mirror with local bloggers).  But allowing people to draw the impression that they are excluding the little guys was a mistake. 

NESTA have been talking to me for some time about the scheme that they are slowly unveiling not least because they know that local independents are the only people who can produce good quality hyperlocal sites right now. It's a shame that the impression has formed that they aren't interested in the little guys - that doesn't seem to be true to me. I have offered to run an unconference for them and hope that NESTA will write a blog post explaining their approach.

On hyperlocal alliances etc - I first wrote about this on a Ning run by David i think in 2009 after our Stoke unconference but it never really took off, people think that the overhead isn't worth the questionable benefits.  We tested the water again last year with some of the established local sites after some Americans set up a trade association for hyperlocals there - but again there wasn't really the interest. Maybe its time will come.

I am interested though in exploring the co-op ownership model for independent media in a large conurbation - there's something in the co-op model that meets some of the disquiet/lack of trust in media. we have a good blog post from Ally Tibbit on this.

Thanks Will for deeper background on this - and I can certainly endorse strongly the events and all other activities of Talk About Local I've seen in the past. If there's scope for an alliance and/or convening of digital hyperlocalists TAL looks well placed**. However, as you say, there's a difficult balance for people working their keyboard and cameras off just keeping the local content and conversations flowing: is it worth putting effort into collaborations unless it helps them keep going rather than diverting energy? The local coop model certainly sounds interesting.

I had the chance of a chat with Jon Kingsbury in NESTA earlier today which gave me a clearer idea of what's happening, and a lot of reassurance that they are open to ideas. I'll post reflections on that a bit later. The time may be right, if we can be smart about he formats.

** Disclosure ... we are working together on Celebration 2.0 but I would have said it anyway. I'm now saying it with even more confidence:-) 

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