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Making a place for technology in communities

PlaceCal and the capabilities approach

This post is a draft of a journal paper by Prof. Stefan White and I on our application of the capability approach to community technology in Hulme and Moss Side. We’re hoping it will be published next year, in the mean time please let us know if you have any thoughts on the draft! If you prefer, you can download it in pdf form.


We discuss how a capability approach to information technology in neighbourhoods with low social capital can create embedded and sustainable Community Technology Partnerships (CTPs) that connect residents and institutions together, reducing barriers to social participation and collaborative action.

Current research indicates older people in deprived neighbourhoods have chronic problems with the effective sharing of community information, a key factor in the “digital divide” 1. Manchester Age Friendly Neighbourhoods (MAFN) conducted 4,000 interviews in four ‘age-friendly’ resident-led neighbourhood partnerships in Manchester. This fieldwork demonstrated that the inability to create and share information within and across residents, communities and service providers is a key contributor to social isolation and barrier to local collaboration.

MAFN developed a CTP to correlate perceptions that it was difficult to find out what was going on in the neighbourhood, with an exhaustive audit of actual activity. The result was collective surprise at finding out about dozens of events in each area that were previously either poorly communicated or which were not normally published at all, relying entirely on word of mouth.

The CTP was developed using a capability model 2 to discover and overcome both the social and technical barriers preventing the hosts of neighbourhood activities collaboratively and sustainably self-publishing their event information. This resulted in the production of PlaceCal, an holistic social and technical toolkit that ensures groups and individuals have the technology, skills, infrastructure and support to publish information, creating a distributed network of community information.

  1. Niehaves & Plattfaut, 2014 ↩︎

  2. Kleine, 2013 ↩︎

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