Tony Burton is tireless in supporting the dynamism of localism. last week he organised a meeting at NESTA between localism activists - many from Neighbourhood Planning Forums - and organisations developing digital mapping tools in the service of community engagement. Commonplace were among several presenting. You can see a summary of the event here.

Luddites out there?

Being a fan of both technology and community empowerment, I was a happy punter. However, there was a bit of dissonance between the technology providers and their would-be clients/partners. One area of dissonance was around the capacity to adopt technology, especially outside big metropolitan areas, and the second was an objection to the perceived commercialisation of this type of innovation and support for community. Both indicate a need for more communication.

I for one think that the barriers for adopting technology are mostly temporary. Broadband cover is improving and there will be pressure to improve it further. The reason is simple - mobile devices with web capability - smartphones and tablets - are becoming the norm. Increasingly, we will be pushed to make greater use of them - because it is a cheaper way to provide services and - let’s be honest - because the mobile carriers who place smartphones in our hands are keen for us to use data services and pay for them. One participant mentioned a parish councillor strongly resistant to using anything beyond email - yet what are the odds that this same councillor will be using internet banking quite soon if they are not already? and from there it is a short distance to other apps. But technology for citizens ought to be very highly intuitive, with interfaces that require no training. If they require training, they should probably be redesigned until they don’t.

How much should it cost Neighbourhood Planning Forums to use technology?

The question of paying is vexing. We are a for-profit company, but social goals are hardwired to our purpose: our success is tied to making Commonplace ubiquitous in local environments and communities. Such ubiquity will also signal a step-change in public engagement. So I’d argue strongly that, at the outset, there is no contradiction between commercial imperatives and public good. And if any central body wants to bulk-buy Commonplace licences and distribute them, we’re open to discussion; it could be a very good use of public funds as the cost of acquiring a consultee through Commonplace is relatively low compared with other methods. Until someone picks up this challenge, though, Neighbourhood Planning Forums can take advantage of the Commonplacespecial Summer Offer:

One year Commonplace Licence for just £1,000 plus VAT - a deep discount.

Offer valid for first ten applications. The license period commences when you start the consultation or six months from purchase (whichever the sooner), not when you buy - so take advantage of the offer now in the knowledge that you will not be rushed.