OI Interview: Annemarie Naylor, Director, Common Futures


Wednesday 19th March: we spoke with Annemarie Naylor - Director of Common Futures, Local Public Data Panel member and Associate Director working with Locality. In the past, Annemarie was responsible for implementing regional spatial and economic strategy components in respect of social inclusion. More recently, she helped establish the Asset Transfer Unit (ATU), input thinking about community assets in respect of the Localism Act and delivered a peer network for community libraries. Below is a summary of key insights from our conversation about digital assets and enterprises.

Talking Digital Assets 
There’s a long history in the UK of community ownership going back over a thousand years - of people arguing against enclosure right through to the Occupy movement in more recent times. What’s interesting is that it appears to stop there, with land and built assets, upon which the old agrarian and industrial economies were based. It hasn’t really been considered by proponents within the context of the knowledge economy. Building the confidence of local communities to acquire and develop their own land and built assets has been core to my work over the past five years. But, more recently, I’ve been looking at the potential for communities to develop digital assets  both tangible and intangible. Locality helpfully sponsored a pilot programme, managed by The Creative Coop, to explore how community knowledge transfer might be harnessed to develop online services and enterprises. Whilst helping Lyme Regis Development Trust, we realised that the community lacked decent connectivity to the web, so the pilot project took that on as well – facilitating a knowledge exchange with Guifi.net which enabled the group to install their own wireless network. There’s also a lot of attention coalescing around libraries – as many as 10% will be managed by communities across England in the near future. So, we’ve been exploring how libraries, as bastions of information, could harness community publishing in its broadest sense and focus upon multimedia production, presentation and archiving rather than mere information consumption, to underpin a new hyperlocal digital asset class. Finally, there is emergent thinking around how open data could be harnessed as a digital asset or endowment by communities to deliver social impact as well as underpin an investable proposition. Could libraries help drive the open data agenda at the local level?

The Potential of Data Coops 
There’s huge merit in the open data agenda - with opportunities for greater transparency, enterprise and innovation. But, there are also issues surrounding legibility, analytic capability and ownership from the point of view of communities. Many open data platforms, including data.gov.uk, are tech rather than community oriented – failing to start by asking: what is it you are trying to achieve? In addition, a significant proportion of the requests received by the Open Data User Group reveal the challenges the layperson faces when seeking to identify and/or extract information that is useful  in marked contrast to larger corporates and private enterprises keen to benefit from the release of public data. On ownership  we’ve been transferring and endowing communities with land and buildings for over 100 years now. And, if something is to represent an asset, it has to somehow belong to them, at least, such that they can extract social and economic value from it in some way. How does that translate to the world of open data if we hypothesise that it could underpin digital assets and enterprises developed by and for communities? Is there also an opportunity here to harness value from the vast amounts of data generated by community organisations themselves? If these same organisations were supported to better capture information about their offline activities, might there be scope for powerful data coops to develop - where groups could pool information about their activities and associated outcomes and, with that, support the cross-fertilisation of good ideas, increase their competitiveness as well as their social impact?

Annemarie’s recommendations for an Open Institute?
This area of London contains some of the most deprived boroughs in the country – but, it also benefits from great local institutions that are firmly embedded within their communities - for example, Toynbee Hall, the Shoreditch Development Trust and Oxford House. The best thing the Open Institute could do is work with and build upon those institutions in all that is does. I would like to see an open community owned wireless network installed by civic engineers from the community so that everyone living in tech city benefits from Government’s aspirations for and investment in the area as an internationally renowned destination for all things tech. The future-proofing lies in investing in local people – involving them in the design, build, maintenance and management of the network as well as future upgrade efforts - maximising the digital literacy, skills and ambition that could flow from the same. The corporate internet is all about creating unskilled information consumers – majoring on connectivity (for those able to afford it) as well as download speeds. For me, the future lies in the democratisation of knowledge production to stimulate and celebrate the creativity of every member of our communities.

Listen to the full interview here.

- Olivia Tusinski