Communities by design? Neighbourhood Media and Creative Citizenship

December 21st, 2012 by Giota Alevizou in Community-led Design Hyperlocal Research | no comments

On November 23nd I presented at an ESRC seminar series, entitled “Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights” in Vienna. I presented some interim findings around uses of media by neighbourhood and community groups who participated in several workshops within our community-led design strand. Here’s the programme of the day and a link to my slides from the Vienna Seminar.

We also discussed the idea of emerging media genres, within hyperlocal or neighbourhood media in our Creative Citizen project meeting in Birmingham in December. we used these discussions to further elaborate on definitions of creative citizenship.

What follows below aims to further fuel these discussions, as well provide some insight into the emerging definition of neighbourhood media. Previous blog posts, contain further info about focus groups and workshops with communities involved in co-design practices abounding spaces and services, as well as, recruitment methods.

Mapping media, mapping media use

In recruiting participants from existing community projects, we aimed at exploring the following questions:

  • how do individuals and communities involved in participatory design projects, engage with each other and through new media?
  • how do communities involved in such projects use the media to navigate through the vast information ecologies, to communicate with, and mobilise, each other?
  • how do communities represent their outputs, achievements and challenges they face to raise the possible impact of their civic contributions?

Overall we recruited 33 participants from 17 community projects. Here’s a snap shot of what emerges. These are some preliminary and descriptive insights, based on what we discussed in the focus groups, and on how participants filled media matrices and questionnaires:

Media use is embedded in participatory design processes, whether this is to prevent destruction or to articulate vision for development.

Personal connections and personal communication through meetings, events or festivals, are key. Word-of-mouth seems to be important for spreading information about developments in local areas.  Door-to-door engagement seems particularly prevalent in rural communities, housing estates and when a problem emerges requiring emergent, and activist mobilisation.

Neighbourhood media, is an emerging genre within hyperlocal form a mix of analogue and digital forms, they serve both functional purposes (to communicate, announce, facilitated interaction), and but provide platforms within which communities can work to enhance socio-cultural value and shared memory.

Mediated practices in community-led Design: the community/neighbourhood media mix

Mediated practices in community-led Design: the community/neighbourhood media mix

Some typologies around the notion of Networked Neighbourhoods exist, notably by Baines (2012) and Flouch and Harris (2010), pointing to: civil local networks, local discussion sites and blogzines, placeblogs, mainstream social media groups, action groups, and commercial or citizen-run hyperlocal news sites.

We have found that analogue media and personal communication are central in community practices.

Mediated practices: Information seeking & navigation, representation and communication (N: 33 participants from a total of 18 community projects)

Mediated practices: Information seeking & navigation, representation and communication (N: 33 participants from a total of 18 community projects)

Groups use considerable amount of printed media, what we would like to refer to as ‘small media’, such as pamphlets, leaflets, posters, and newsletters created and distributed by the community project members at low cost.


In terms of online media, all groups used email to communicate, share ideas and gather information. All also had some sort of project website. Local online websites were the most popular way of finding out local information, compared to local newspapers or social media. Most groups have a Facebook page and said that this was useful, whereas Twitter was less used and had just been adopted by some groups.


New tools and websites for community-led projects are constantly launching. These include: ‘local’ social networks and neighbourhood forums such as those that our participant communities mostly maintain, community project networks, crowdsourcing of assets (like civic crowd), online resources, online noticeboards, skill-sharing, time-banking, neighbourhood auditing toolkits and tools for collaborative commentary using Google Streetview, such as sticky worlds.

Take-up of these new tools is not widespread within the community-led projects that we have encountered so far. Uses and possibilities depend on particular local factors and socio-demographic contexts.

Overall, social media and the internet present new tendencies towards navigation and information sharing, as well as communication, visibility and communal story-telling as well as self-representation. Likewise, face-to-face interaction, private communication and ‘small- media’ (e.g. posters, leaflets, pamphlets, etc) are vital for raising awareness or for advocacy; for mobilising volunteer support and further engagement, promoting thus the need for an analogue and digital mix in community and neighbourhood media.

Nuances of creative citizenship?

Admittedly, dedicated websites are seen as a necessity for enhancing group or project profiles and wider community outreach; many participants contend that these are developed ‘bit by bit on the way’,  and point to challenges such as time resources, digital literacy and financial demands. Though all participants consider more collaborative interfaces favourably, they also point to tensions regarding openness and privacy.

Tensions around processes of mediation

Tensions around processes of mediation

Community-led or participatory design as a practice is very diverse, but our initial findings reveal that it can indeed bring people together with a shared sense of purpose that would lead to a mutual benefit surrounding public spaces and services. We will continue to map the landscape through diverse methodologies, including textual analysis of neighbourhood media and through asset mapping with specific communities. Our initial findings suggest that participants in the diverse initiatives we examined thus far – though loose, broad and decentralised – are centred around issues of social justice, including economic redistribution, quality of life and communal identity. As such, media embedded in participatory design processes often provide a platform within which communities can work to enhance cultural value and shared memory. These processes are inline with understanding of citizenship as John Hartely mentions,  “practices of association among co-subjects”, rather than a notion of “rights and obligations to a state” (Hartley, 2010).

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