Mixing online and offline information, you can set up a network to keep in touch, and help those who need it.
I’ve put together this how-to guide to help neighbours around Aotearoa quickly build the infrastructure to help the people who live on their street get virtually connected.
This is just one way to do this – if you give it a try, you might change it or tweak it a bit, or use different technology – but the basic approach is pretty simple.
The basic steps
- Create the online infrastructure
- Invite everyone to use it
- Make the invitation as accessible as possible
- Pay attention to privacy
- Share the power
- Be clear on what and who the group is for
- Stay meaningfully involved.
Why should we do this?
Because it’s so important to be connected to each other – now more than ever – and particularly to the people you live near.
Does it work?
Yep, it can if it’s done right – mostly with the right intention, and paying attention to detail. On Saturday 21 March, I started off this experiment by letterboxing my street in Wellington. As I’m writing this, within two days of letterboxing, more than 25% of the houses on the street I letterboxed are on the contact list, and most of them have also joined the Facebook group.
What you need
A reasonable knowledge of how to use Google Docs, Gmail, and Facebook.
A printer (or a lot of patience and reasonably legible handwriting!)
Appropriate safety gear to wear while delivering invitations – for example, gloves and a mask – and a clear understanding of hygiene guidelines.
A few hours of time to get things set up.
What it costs
Pretty much nothing – just the cost of the printing and the paper – and your time!
The infrastructure that you’re creating
A contact list hosted in Google Sheets that anyone who has a secret link can access.
A private Facebook group.
How to do it
The way you set things up sets the tone and the effectiveness of the group. Your actions model the way the group will initially begin. Think about some of these values and principles:
Invite everyone who lives on the street and nearby. Allow everyone the opportunity to be part of it, irrespective of any pre-existing tensions, relationships or issues
Pay attention to privacy. Be mindful of and sensitive to people’s privacy needs and concerns – be as careful as you can be with how people’s details are shared – but also don’t let it hold you back from connecting.
Share the power. Make sure that everything is owned equally by everyone – make sharing and equality a priority, and clearly explain this when you set up the group.
Be clear on what and who the group is for. It’s for the people who live on your street and nearby to connect and stay in touch. It’s not a city-wide or suburb-wide group – those already exist.
Be meaningfully involved yourself. Make sure you’re also involved in and benefiting from the network you’ve seeded.
Above all else, be considerate of accessibility. Some people don’t have Facebook, or internet, or even a cell phone, so they might need more assistance to get involved and be supported by the network that you’re starting up. For example, my family has a very elderly neighbour that we’ve shared our contact details with. I called him today and offered to help with the groceries and anything else – and to connect them into the network of people. If we’re unable to help with groceries, someone else will be able to.
Create the infrastructure for connectedness
Open a unique Gmail account in the name of the street (eg firstname.lastname@example.org)
Using the account, create a Google Form for people to fill in their contact details. I asked people four questions:
- What’s your address?
- Who lives at this address?
- What email address (or addresses) are the best for reaching the people who live at this address?
- What phone number (or numbers) are the best for reaching the people who live at this address?
Connect the form to a Google Sheets document that saves the submissions people make using the form.
Create a private Facebook group in the name of the street (eg Smith St Neighbours).
Create a physical invitation
Write a short invitation for people to get connected and share their contact details. The invitation should:
- Include a link to the Google Form – you can create a shortened link to access the form
- Include your contact details so they could get in touch with you if they have any issues
- Explain how the privacy of the contact list and management of the contact list will work
- You may also want to include a note about the hygiene precautions you took while delivering the invitations
Print the invitation out and do a letterbox drop of the invitation
This was to everyone that lived on the street or in adjacent side streets –what felt like a natural boundary for connection.
- All houses and apartments on the street
- All houses and apartments on small adjacent streets
Take as much care as you can when you’re dropping the leaflets. Wash your hands before you set out, wear appropriate safety gear – for example, gloves and a mask – if you have it, and wash your hands the moment you get back home. Follow all health guidelines. Obviously don’t do it if you have any symptoms!
Conduct your letterbox drop as quickly so you get back inside as soon as you can.
You may also feel safer simply putting up posters, rather than directly putting material in letterboxes. Again, wash your hands before you go out, and wash them as soon as you get back in.
As people join, actively share the administration of the groups and content with others
When people fill in the form, email them a link to the contact list and to the Facebook group so that they can check their details and join the group if they are on Facebook.
When people join the Facebook page, give them admin rights.
Support the ongoing communications and connections of the people in the group – and do a little bit of community activation
Explain what your role is – and that you’ve set this up simply so that people can connect with each other
Invite people who join the Facebook group to introduce themselves (I used a pinned post at the top of the page)
Be kind and be present in the conversations in the group. Here’s a great poster from the Tauiwi Tautoko project about how to have good conversations about hard stuff.
Finally: stay involved – and use the group yourself! Reach out to the people you live near to. Say hi. It’ll make a difference.