Networked Neighbourhoods has been working with the BBC to test the potential contribution of an alliance of London neighbourhood sites, using the forthcoming digital switchover as a catalyst.

With representatives from a number of London local networks and heritage media groups, gathered in the council chamber at Broadcasting House yesterday, we explored the ways in which neighbourhood websites could be used as part of a two-way public service information network.  (Special thanks to David Wilcox who has already offered a summary on Social reporter, with a video interview of Hugh Flouch, Samantha LaTouche and Maggie Philbin).

When an organisation like the BBC or a government department needs to communicate with people individually at the most local level, there are numerous potential connections to be established or revived – through councils, schools, carers’ networks, GP surgeries, sports clubs, interest groups and so on.

Hugh Flouch, Sam Latouche and Maggie PhilbinBut there will still be gaps. When the London digital switchover takes place in a few weeks’ time, some people will be taken by surprise and risk losing use of their television altogether – and they could well be vulnerable people for whom the company of the TV is very important.

Following several months of discussions with Hugh Flouch, the BBC recognised the exceptional potential of online neighbourhood networks to reach the parts that other efforts cannot reach. It requires those who are unfazed by the switchover to think about and inform those they know who might find it problematic.

So what is the potential of a regional alliance of local websites? Not only can they function as channels in both directions for major external institutions like the BBC; there is also the potential to syndicate stories, and the potential for greater sustainability of sites through supporting advertising and other input.

We’ll be talking to the BBC to explore this potential further in the future.