Questions about the UK Square Mile Idea

On the 700+ member Democracies Online Exchange, I started a conversation about Your Square Mile, a very interesting proposal that could directly impact our the UK-based local communities in our international Issues Forum network and the Neighbourly/Neighorly idea.

Here are is an excerpt from their two pager and some questions I’ve posed:

Here is some text from the Big Society site (an excerpt from the two
pager David Wilcox linked to
) – then some questions below:

There are 93,000 square miles in the UK. We tend to only hear about
two of them, the square miles of the City and Westminster, and have
felt badly let down by both of them in recent years. “Your Square
Mile” is about enabling citizens to make changes in as many of the
other 92,998 square miles as possible.

There are an estimated 900,000+ community groups in the UK and 238,000
Social Entrepreneurs. We want to enable citizens to find and join
these organisations easily, using their own needs and passions as a
start-point, and to feel able to start their own neighbourhood groups.
We want to link these groups, social enterprises and communities to
each other to share ideas and resources, complementing the role of
existing umbrella organisations.

We want to create a platform to enable and empower all kinds of
citizens and social entrepreneurs to achieve things their way: be an “
i-phone for their apps.”

We are therefore going to create the U.K’s biggest mutual: to which
all citizens will be able to belong.

Over the summer and autumn, we will engage in a public co-designing
process to gather ideas and best practice, to raise awareness and
solicit feedback on our proposals. Concurrently, we will work with
commercial and non-commercial partners to develop a benefits package
for membership and a delivery platform that will be as inclusive and
easy to use as possible (including PC’s, mobiles, public kiosks and
other technologies as well as printed materials, community centres and
face-to-face meetings.)

By December 2010 we will have launched Phase 1 of the mutual providing
national tools, advice and practical benefits such as highly
affordable liability insurance for all kinds of local volunteering and

My questions:

1. “Neighbourhood groups” – do they mean general interest resident
associations (which is a very different frame than “social action”
around specific issues? How does this jive with the neighbourhood
efforts of local councils where existing resources seem to support far
larger areas often designated by the government?

2. Does the “co-designing process” have a home on the web where
detailed proposals outlines will be shared?

3. What the heck does “be an ‘i-phone for their apps.'” mean to
everyday people? 🙂

4. So, who is leading the effort to outline the technology platform –
finding existing voluntary sector groups seems straight forward – but
does this envision everyone having their own dynamic square mile of
online interactivity with their neighbors or are you going to break up
the country into 93,000 pieces people can identify with? (We’ve been
pondering dynamic and personalized neighbour circles for private
exchange among groups 25-100 nearby people –
with a design the connects people into public life online at a larger
scale where we have our historical base of experience. To me the
“platform” sounds quite complex … almost like something twice as
complex as Facebook behind the scenes.)

5. Is there any evidence that neighbourhood Facebook Pages/Groups are
so successful that you’d mention them by brand (in the evaluation
section)? They seem pretty darn lightweight engagement-wise even if
they theoretically attract numbers compared to other community blogs
and online groups I’ve seen.

6. As a “mutual,” will members be required to pay? Where will/is seed
funding come from to make this all work?

3 thoughts on “Questions about the UK Square Mile Idea”

  1. Steve – thanks for picking up on the note I posted about Your Square Mile. I’m not working on the project directly, but in my social reporter role shot some video of Paul Twivy expanding on the project when Big Society Network ran an open evening. I’ll alert the team to your post.

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