Today, we’re pleased to welcome you to ShareTown. Our fictional town and its cast of characters sets out an unashamedly positive vision of a preferred future in which interactions between citizens and local government are balanced and collaborative, and data and digital platforms are deployed for public benefit rather than private gain.
In this future, government plays a plurality of roles, working closely with local people to understand their needs, how these can best be met and by whom. Provided with new opportunities to connect and collaborate with others, individuals and households are free to navigate, combine and contribute to different services as they see fit.
Click through to explore ShareTown and its cast of charactersVisit ShareTown
"The future is the ultimate public space, something we all have a stake in and seek to be part of. But it is also a fictional place – it doesn’t yet exist"Annette Mees, Theatre-maker
Local government is the primary provider of numerous essential services, which make their citizens’ lives liveable on a day-to-day basis. It is the safety net for children in need of care, for those facing homelessness and those caring for the elderly. It controls housing in the rental sector, maintains local infrastructure, nurtures public green space and provides those all important bin collections and parking permits.
Budget restrictions have meant losses of almost 50 percent for councils across the country. This has had obvious consequences for services, as the stop-gaps which were once in place to protect the vulnerable have been stripped back. Already, a number of councils have cut their services to a statutory minimum, with more likely to follow.
This austerity narrative is not one that easily fosters a creative mindset, especially after so long a time, during which all the obvious ideas have presented themselves. But the changing needs of aging populations, the rapid rise of technology, changes in the way we work, impending climate crisis, combined with the ongoing pressure on funding all demand new ideas and fresh ways of looking at the options. Faced with such relentless challenges and so few resources it would be easy to feel despair.
"To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing"Raymond Williams, Resources of Hope (published posthumously in 1989)
Against this backdrop the ShareLab team wanted to find a route by which we could explore how people’s needs can be put at the centre of services, using collaborative models for organising and ownership, aided by platform technology. And to do this we decided to be radically optimistic and focus on a preferred future in which those ideas that are currently emerging at the edges have become the norm.
ShareTown is not intended as a prediction, but a source of inspiration - and provocation. If, as theatre-maker Annette Mees says, the future is fictional and the fictions created about it help us set our direction of travel, then the making of stories about the future we want should be something we can all be involved in - not just the media, politicians, or brands.
Many of the details of this town and how its citizens live derive from a May 2018 workshop with leaders from local government and civil society. Identifying criteria for a positive future for public service delivery, we looked for seeds of that future in projects and social innovations from the present, including those funded as part of Nesta’s ShareLab programme.
The themes, ideas and predictions that came up in our discussions are interwoven into the ten stories we've written, outlining a cast of characters involved in different scenarios taking place in different parts of the town.
"Okay, I’ll start with some of the great stuff that’s going on now, that we feel we want to grow, that can be the seeds of other things. So, new models of ownership—coops, exchange platforms, community land trusts, cooperative housing … the idea that these innovations are going to be more accepted, more desirable, particularly with engagement from the younger generations, tech-savvy and collaborative"Workshop participant, May 2018
We wouldn’t have got this far without the help of Justin Pickard of Strange Telemetry, the guidance of Nesta’s Futurescoping team and illustrator Cathrine Finnema’s beautiful way of bringing our stories to life. Or for the presence, ideas and candour of the twenty five participants of the workshop in May. The level of interest and engagement at this event has made us realise there is a cohort of people with an appetite for this kind of engagement - and a need to find new ideas for the future. This has informed the thinking and planning for a new programme which we hope to share more information about in the New Year.