Community 21 is a joint initiative between University of Brighton and The Rural Community Council Network led by Action in Rural Sussex, co-directed by Nick Gant (UOB) and Teresa Gittins (AiRS).
Community21 takes the form of an online ‘toolbox’, social networking and data management system that facilitates community networking, peer-to-peer learning, co-design and participation in sustainable neighbourhood planning under recent localism and planning legislation. It questions how collaborative design processes and accessible technology can help tackle key issues that communities face today. Through the prism of neighbourhood and community-led planning, Community21 addresses issues and opportunities of resilience in unstable and changing social, environmental and economic times. The project engages communities and community development practitioners directly in the formation of key research questions and co-designs tools and solutions directly with communities undergoing change and envisioning their future.
One of It’s primary aims and abilities is to practically facilitate sustainability (social, economic and environmental) through approaches that connect individuals and communities in a an ‘open innovation’, ‘multi-local society’ of active communities of practice. The project sits within the context of new and emerging ‘localism’ and planning legislation formed by previous, and the current coalition government, and within participatory,lay and expert power and 'knowledge controversies' and the facilitation of 'ecologies of scale' through interlinking and connecting communities and their statutory neighbourhood plans and community activism agendas.
The project deploys and composes a range of digital interface, participation and content management methods to counteract the unhelpfully divisive, polarised and polemical language and culture of sustainable development and climate change, when presented to everyday people as part of their ‘local’ development. By engaging communities in a range of processes of self-reflection and self defined agendas through co-design and participation the project helps to define how communities use agile technologies as part of practical community development. It addresses research questions relating to how communities can be enabled to undertake their new roles as the ‘lay-architects and planners’ of their own neighbourhoods under localism. It is also leading to innovative connections and ‘interactive management tools’ that enable effective communication and consultation, management efficiency saving in the provision of services between local authorities and communities in times of economic pressure.
The project piloted in January 2011. It tested and evaluated the benefits and impact that the system has in augmenting both established and new practices and policies for the community council's processes and innovation in participatory community led and neighbourhood planning. In phase 2, (2014 onwards) a full working software solution with community development agencies nationally and currently forms interactions between a wide range of stakeholders at local, regional and national level. It also forms connecting pathways between communities and other research groups and service providers in formerly disparate areas such as water, energy and food provision, to emergency planning and wildlife conservation.
Ongoing and emergent research findings have been presented at numerous symposia, forums and conferences including; The Rural Commission (2011), The Living Knowledge Conference in Copenhagen, Engage Conference Bristol, at the West Sussex, Broadband Summit organised by Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP and attended by senior executives from leading broadband providers and Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt (2011), The South East and National Rural Community Council Conference (2011). The Waterwise Conference (2012), The Rural Futures Conference (2010) attended by the then Secretary of State for Environment and Climate Change, Hilary Benn (2010) and directly to the current Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Charles Hendry and Secretary of State Francis Maude The ESRC Seminar Series: Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights (2013), The International symposia on Communities in the Digital Age (2013) and UK and Ireland Neighbourhood Planning Conference. The project also formed the content of an article for the International Journal of Community Engagement Research, ‘Gateways’ (published in November 2010) and has fed into policy advisory documents including DEFRA water sustainability.
Project Development Team has included