Princes’ Foundation Master Planning at the Watermark draws to a close

The initial phase of the intensive ‘Enquiry by Design’ process drew to a close last night (Thursday 10th November) at a Public session entitled “Presentation of the Two Masterplans”.

The event was very well attended (the large hall in the Watermark was at maximum capacity) and personally I felt the mood of the room was warm and interested.

My understanding is that the next phase involves the Plans that the Princes’ Foundation proposed, will be brought together and made publicly available in a way that everyone can view, discuss and give their feedback on. All of which I’m very much looking forward to.

In the mean time a discussion about peoples thoughts at last nights meeting has started on Ivybridge Matters…

BuddyPress activity streams vs forums

I’m generally happy with the way that WordPress / BuddyPress combo is working for the new community website I’ve put together (Ivybridge Matters)

But one thing I think our users generally find confusing is understanding the difference between posting comments directly into the activity stream for a group, versus going into the forum and creating posts and replying in there.

Generally comments in the activity stream disappear quickly for all but the quietest groups, and yet it’s the first thing users are presented with, and the most likely way they are liable to try to post updates and questions – which are soon lost ‘off the bottom’.

To encourage (force?) users to use the Forum, I’ve tweaked the BuddyPress code so that only a groups’ Admins and Moderators can post comments directly into a groups activity stream. WARNING: This is not a generic solution. The code change, changes it for all groups and I’ve only tested it (and only expect it) to work for BuddyPress 1.5.

The tweaked file is available for download here and is a variation of the file

Given that I’m using BuddyPress 1.5 (with Forums for Groups installed), and the theme ‘BuddyPress Colours‘ (version 1), to get this to work I simply had to:

  1. Create the directory wp-content/themes/buddypress-colours/activity
  2. Extract post-form.php from the zip file and copy it into the directory created in Step 1
All seems to be working well for me. Feel free to use this as you will from my point of view. Let me know how you get on, and I’d appreciate any comments or suggestion.
Ideally it would be driven from BuddyPress / Settings / ‘Restrict activity stream comments to Admin & Moderators only’ yes/no. But I haven’t the time now to look into that for now.

Standing for election to Ivybridge Town Council

First let me mention a couple of facts:

  1. My business’ office is in a town council owned building in the centre of Ivybridge.
  2. I tend to work late.

As a result, I found myself wandering past the Town Council meetings on several occasions. I eventually poked my head around the corner at the right time and ended up sitting in on a few.

List of things that struck me about the Town Council meetings

(in the order they occurred to me)

  1. The age range of the Councillors is not very representative of the age range of the Ivybridge population.
  2. They take what they do seriously whilst still being interested and caring.
  3. They receive an interesting, informative and yet succinct summary of Policing in Ivybridge every month.
  4. They manage a not insignificant budget – approx £380,000
  5. Virtually none of the approx 12,000 residents attended the full council meetings I went to.
  6. Almost everyone of the 3 or 4 members of the public who attended the full council meetings were there to discuss a particular issue they were experiencing (which is perfectly reasonable – I mean they weren’t just generally there to hold the Council accountable).
  7. The meetings aren’t desperately exciting – although me being me, I found them quite interesting 🙂

This set me thinking. Surely people should be more engaged in this process – know more about and have more say in how their money is spent ?!? Surely?

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone who spoke, whether public or Councillor, obviously cared about Ivybridge and it seems to me they’re doing their job. But to my mind, the process of Town Council seems very disconnected from the individual people it serves.

So, me being me, I wanted find out how else it could be done.

In my work, I see diverse groups of people coming together everyday on the internet and achieving amazing things. So I started wondering whether there’s a way of bringing ‘modern communication’ techniques together with the tried and tested methods of Town Council governing.

After a few months of cogitating, and lots of chatting with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, I decided I’d try to do something constructive.

This weekend I set the ball rolling…

  1. I’ve registered the domain
  2. I’ve put myself forward and been nominated to stand for election to the Ivybridge Town Council in the forthcoming 5th May 2011 local elections. In fact I handed in the nomination papers at Follaton House in Totnes this morning.

What do I want to stand for?

Better community involvement & communication through modern technology.

I think using the internet to bring the council and electorate closer together will be a difficult but acheivable target. I’d like to help grow into a hub of information and discussion about what the Ivybridge Council is doing. It should work closely with social media sites such as twitter and facebook to allow people to use the websites they are most comfortable with.

I’d like to enable some of the following…

  1. …people to state their opinions, however diverse, about issues to be discussed at the next council meeting
  2. …people to ‘vote’ on the website for opinions that they support
  3. …people to comment on and debate opinions
  4. …people to share links to pertinent facts about what’s being discussed
  5. …someone (me?) to summarise these opinions at the council meeting and note the responses and actions / votes that occur as a result
  6. …people to receive an easy to read summary of what happened in the council meeting and how their opinions were received and acted on

That point number 5 was the one I struggled with most. Trying to figure out how to link the website community with the council itself until I realised I was avoiding doing it myself.

Hence my standing for election.

I’m really interested in trying this approach to see if people will get involved.

I appreciate it’s a new way of working and could take many months and  hard work to get off the ground (assuming it works at all), but I’d much rather live in a Town that worked this way. So maybe together we can get the council to embrace this way of involving the electorate in the day to day business of how their money is invested.