Most local authorities creating local information systems choose Web publishing. North Kesteven decided on a more interactive approach as their Head of Economic and Community Development explains.
If you know where Lincolnshire is then North Kesteven is the bit in the middle just south of Lincoln. It is attractive but sparsely populated with less than one person per hectre. Its strength is the communities which make up the whole. There is a clear sense of local identity, of people working together. The pressures are, however, real and familiar, local shops and services are closing, public transport is very limited, youth unemployment is high, there are few cultural opportunities and local firms feel physically isolated.
The system, developed through a feasibility study undertaken by the National Enterprise Centre at Stoneleigh, offers a District Internet. Employing FirstClass client software the system runs on servers based at one centre with local call charge access from any part of the area.
It sets out to offer simplicity low costs, easy access, accountable local control and be fun!
The theory is not that the system will solve all the problems of the area but that it will give access to information in a way that makes location irrelevant and draw on the skills and talents of those living here to support one another.
The system is now quietly live, with emphasis initially on getting parish councils on board. Supported by grant aid for computer purchase, for some this is a leap into new technology everyone is, however, facing some gritty issues in working out how to abandon paper technology. The real benefits will start as the local councils start to use bulletin boards to share problems and find solutions, they do not yet realise how powerful and resouceful they will be as a collective group.
The success of the system will depend on it being inclusive, different users will come onto the system for different reasons but the strength will be in the depth of the community and the unexpected links.
As well as promoting other user groups the aim next year will be to promote simple practical database applications, a system to search to establish who else is planning flower festivals on your chosen June weekend and to then chose an alternative date, a joint marketing campaign or sabotage would be a typical local application.
While some of this database development will be done professionally, schools will also be involved in the process encouraging them to develop databases on behalf of others as well as creating short live systems of their own.
Not everyone in the district will have access to computers, so provision of public access points is a key part of the system. The aim is to test a range of models. These will vary from a full blown Rural Technology Centre, already opened, a sharing arrangement with a parish council office to a shop within a village shop idea.
It is early days, and everyone is still tolerant and enthusiastic, there is a sense for the team involved that we need to do everything at once to ensure that the new users find a system that reqards their involvement in it. There is also a need to try to think laterally about the way the system can be used, a football fixture list for village clubs is a hot favourite. The next steps will be to explore ways in which the system can be structured to support media applications particulary to promote use by young people and the use of the system for shopping.
FirstClass software, used on bulletin board systems, is produced by SoftArc Inc http://www.softarc.com/