In a recent post I quoted this:
Rather than expect people to visit somebody else’s online space to share their views or debate issues, more and more people will share their own views through a personal space, weblog or wiki with the expectation that these can be cross-posted or syndicated to other places that would like to share them. People should own their own contributions and express them in their own voice - it should be up to the consulting organisation to do the leg-work to aggregate these contributions by going to the people, rather than vice versa.
I've been playing with wikis for a while, using PBwiki, and I used to visit Ecotone when it was active, but I have never used it for any serious purpose. Now in a naked attempt at promotion, which I freely acknowledge, those nice people at PBwiki have offered to double my wikispace it I post about them here. You can tour their site or sign on and play as I did.
There is a serious point to this of course. The availability of extra space gives me a chance to think about slightly more complex possibilities. I also believe that the greater the variety of tools available, whether blogs and wikis or photologs (like flickr), the more likely it is that they will permeate into the wider community and give the standard member of the public the chance to have their say in their own words.
I'm working on something at the moment which could bring some of these ideas together in a public consultation. If it is going to work I have to be able to do it myself because I am in no way a programmer - I stopped doing that when I sold my BBC Micro. Anything that depends on complex tools simply won't work. I'm hoping to adapt an idea from Village Design Statements that I know has been used elsewhere in other ways (here and here for example).
I'm looking for funding for a bundle of disposable cameras (or better still some digital compacts) to give out to 'ordinary people' so that they can then take pictures of what matters to them. The current context for me is our local town centre, but it could be health, being young in this town or anything . The idea is to upload the pictures plus writings by local people to a wiki or perhaps to a photolog and enable a debate around those images and writings. A wiki would be better in many because it can take all forms of comment in formats not predetermined by others, but the downside is that with no structure it can be hard to find your way around. It is important that this doesn't take place in isolation - it has to be tied in with other things to give everyone as many ways in tot he discussion as possible. We could also for example set up an online forum, hold 'cafe conversations', exhibitions of the photographs, invite letters in the local paper, do guided walks, have a market stall. We could look at the history of the place - and therefore at why it looks and operates as it does today. The Urban Tapestries project might be another option
I'm quite excited by the possibilities, but also slightly daunted. Most public consultation activity does one thing - it almost certaintly isn't enough and it may indeed be the wrong thing, but by and large it is easier, especially for time pressed and/or cash strapped local authorities or voluntary groups. The approach I'm thinking about is multi-stemmed and much more complex. I haven't even begun to think about how we might collate what comes in...