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Next stage complete – leaflets dropped to the first 28 homes in my street

June 27, 2011

I guess I passed a major milestone today. I dropped leaflets in at the first 28 homes in my street. That’s 1/4 of the total and about as many as I reckon I could then visit in the week to ten-days I have given myself… assuming that not every one of them is willing and available to talk at length. My idea is to gauge what these households tell me before I approach the next 1/4, adjusting the approach if necessary and hopefully being able to say “‘n’ houses down the road have already said they are interested” – important since it’s a classic tipping point phenomenon that’s only any use to enough people if it’s any use to enough people…

The leaflets simply say who I am, where I live, and what I look like… in the hope that I’m recognised when I turn up on the doorstep. They make the very basic proposition – “I want to test the idea that if more people in a neighbourhood know each other, and have easy ways to communicate and cooperate, everybody’s quality of life improves… if only a little bit”. I don’t even mention the internet – that’s how set I am on people not judging this as an ‘internet thing’. One of the first solutions I want to ‘street-source’ is how to make communications just as efficient for people who want in, but don’t want to use the web, as they are for those of us who are online. I then say I want to come and call on them for 10 minutes to explain a bit more, and to listen to what they think, and how they would like to see things develop. Finally I give them as many contact methods as I can for me – from a note through my door to a text or a dedicated e-mail – and three options. If they don’t want me to bother them… let me know. If they’re happy to talk… do nothing, or let me know a good time. If they actually want to help, and give me much-needed local encouragement… let me know straight away.

It didn’t take long to drop the leaflets once printed (NB – that’s not cheap – given the price of printer ink!) – and btw they were redesigned by my younger daughter, and rendered up into landscape powerpoint. She’s one of the few people I can forgive for pointing out the obvious shortcomings of my dense and over-long portrait Word documents.

I learned a few things. More accurately I was reminded of a few things I learned in 1981 whilst doing the Census. 1) At least 90% of all letterboxes are badly designed, especially if the purpose is to make it possible for a third party to get a document into your hallway. 2) I could never be a postman – as the one knuckle I have that is chronically subject to eczema is the one that takes all the stick when  negotiating letter boxes and 3) The houses with the scariest sounding dogs always have the letter boxes which require you to stick several inches of hand through their nylon bristles, if you are going to get your document to drop inside… probably a waste of time, since said dog will probably then destroy or even ingest the leaflet.

I was struck by how determined I was to get the leaflet to land inside the house and not to become a slot-blocker like so many of the pizza delivery fliers. I’m under no illusions (indeed I should have a T-shirt printed with ‘I am under no illusions’ on the chest) about the proportion of these leaflets that are going to be consigned straight to the bin along with junk mail and all that information vital to ‘The Occupier’, but I still wanted to give each one the best chance, like a hatched turtle heading for the sea.

I didn’t feel as conspicuous doing this today as I did the other day when I was just walking about making notes. I think that’s because ‘leafleting’ is a conventional activity – it happens all the time. It’s also one of the things which makes politics (which this project isn’t btw) do-able. Politicians are expected to drop leaflets, knock on doors, be welcomed or reviled, praised or argued with and then, when elected, they can slip into lots of other conventional activities such as meetings, votes, committees, legislation and press releases. You know where you are with all that – even down to the shortcut self-definition that Party can give you. Not so with suggesting that your neighbours should get to know each other a bit better and then start to find new ways to share, protect, help or even just have fun. There aren’t many route maps for that.

Nor did I feel some big sense of event once I’d done it… even though this is a piece of line crossing, however modest, that I have been building up to for years, Perhaps I should. There are a bunch of people just down there, now, who have a picture of me, know where I live, and know that for some strange reason I want to change things a little.

So what happens now? I suppose I might get one or two messages, positive or negative, but what I mainly expect to happen is… nothing. I just have to hope that nothing happens… for the right reasons. I won’t know that until I start knocking on doors. That starts on Friday.

[Meanwhile I’m honing my toolkit, a bit of what a market researcher would call a ‘topic guide’, and also a list of examples of things that people could do together – or have been done elsewhere in the world. I hope I’ll find time to blog a little about those tomorrow or Wednesday, although it’s now time for the day job to take over again.]

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