This week’s RADAR ignores the snow, FIFA and the Ashes to direct your attention towards a fascinating report on community websites, some alcohol-related news, and a selection of ace things.
First stop this week is a Networked Neighbourhoods report on how communities are finding a voice using the internet. In recent weeks we’ve been looking at developing a project related to mobilising communities through the power of networks. This, added to the fact that one of the authors of this report is one of my favourite bloggers, meant that I was a particularly interested reader. As one might expect from a report produced by such confirmed advocates of neighbourhood websites, the report is overwhelmingly positive on the impact of online communities on the people who use and interact with them. It takes 3 London websites as its sample, and argues that they “serve to enhance the sense of belonging, democratic influence, neighbourliness and involvement in their area”, and says that participants were found to have “more positive attitudes towards public agencies where representatives of those agencies are engaging online”.
The increasing importance of this kind of media seems predictable to me. As the internet becomes more and more central to the way people live, creating an online community to supplement and strengthen a “real” one will surely become increasingly important. Add into the mix a landscape in which newspapers, both local and national, are floundering, and the need to put the spotlight on local news and decision-making seems even more pressing.
The report is available in a number of formats on the Networked Neighbourhoods website; a short summary is here, a more extended summary here, a full report here, and a collection of videos here. To supplement this, Kevin Harris’ slightly bittersweet blogpost about his long, and ongoing, struggle to bring his thinking to the mainstream, and a Guardian piece on a community website that wasn’t part of the NN study. Lastly, here’s a video from David Wilcox from the launch of the report.
Secondly, and again related to an area in which Vanilla is working at the moment, alcohol-related news.
Andrew Lansley’s health white paper pledged to ringfence £4bn of funding to improve the country’s health by tackling issues like excessive drinking, smoking, and obesity. Although the majority of specific interventions will not be announced until next year, for example the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum pricing for alcohol are subject to consultation, the Treasury did announce a rise in the tax on high-strength beer. Beer stronger than 7.5% alcohol by volume will be subject to the higher duty from next autumn, while tax on low-alcohol beers with a strength of 2.8% or less will be reduced. Mirroring the reception to the paper more generally, experts were cool in their analysis, for example Professor Ian Gilmore, chairman of the alcohol committee of the Royal College of Physicians, pointed out on the World at One that only 1% of beers had 7.5% alcohol. He called the government’s measures “window-dressing”, adding that it “looks less like the ‘big society’ and more like big business”.
More broadly, the white paper confirmed the government’s conviction in the philosophy of nudge, using behavioural economics and choice architecture to influence people to make better decisions and adopt better habits. The idea comes from the book, also called Nudge, by American academics Thaler and Sunstein, and has had a major impact on politics on both sides of the atlantic; Sunstein now works in Obama’s administration, and Thaler advises Cameron’s team. The Nudge blog gives a good indication of some of the ideas, and here is its wikipedia page. The lack of detail in Lansley’s paper has been blamed by some on the nudge philosophy, which is still viewed sceptically by some. Dr Vivienne Nathanson from the BMA, for example, said “We agree that ‘nudging’ people to be healthy may be more effective than only telling them how to live their lives. However, if people live in an environment where they are surrounded by fast-food advertising and glamorous alcohol marketing, nudging will have a limited effect. We need an environment that helps us make healthy choices, and sometimes tougher action is needed to achieve this”.
Lastly and in brief
- As a follow up to last week’s RADAR, which mentioned the RSA Whole Recovery report, here is a more detailed piece on one person’s road to recovery.
- an independent evaluation of Teach First, the scheme which trains top graduates to become teachers in difficult schools, showed both that their teachers were effective and that pupil’s outcomes were altered as a result. This is particularly interesting to Vanilla as it comes at a time when the charityworks board is looking into how the scheme might grow and expand. The report can be read here. NPC commentary, which notes that the report found unusually significant statistical results, and also says the report highlights the role charities play in bringing innovative solutions to the most complex of social problems, can be read here.
- Along the same lines, here is a review of current tools available for charities looking to measure their impact from Civil Society Media. It is unfortunately behind a paywall, but worth including here in case anyone has a subscription.