About FRAW & the
Free Range Network
The Free Range Activism Website
The Free Range Activism Website began in its rawest form in the early 1990s, on a CD; containing a set of useful information for activists. In 1996 it moved on-line for the first time, as part of the GreenNet web server – albeit it was only the ‘best’ parts of that early CD because there was only 50 megabytes of space available.
FRAW actually became www.fraw.org.uk in September 2001 when the domain name was registered. Since the early 2010s we have grown to around 2 gigabytes of data.
When this resource was first set-up, from that very first off-line CD, its purpose was simple: To support the work of the members of the Free Range Network as they campaigned on different local issues. We already shared our information resources between each other electronically, via email. in moving to do that via the web anyone could access and share those resources, give us feedback, and learn more of our work.
At that time much of the information we shared was official government publications, many of which cost tens of pounds each to buy, which we had scanned and converted to electronic formats. Around the end of the 1990s we were “giving away” the equivalent of £50,000 per month of this information from the FRAW site.
The Free Range Network's ‘letter writing tool’, developed with the electrohippies collective, February 2001
By the early 2000s though, when the government started doing that themselves, we changed too. Freed of the need to do what the government had previously failed to do, we focused on the next ‘problem’. Rather like government publishing, around this time academic publish had become a highly concentrated corporate fiefdom charging tens or even hundreds of pounds for just a few pages of text.
For the next decade we shared technical and scientific information – and the articles, reports, info-graphics which we produced ourselves to interpret that for a public audience. While the number of sites sharing scientific research has grown, this role still forms a large part of what the site does, and the server space that is devoted to it.
Today, now into its third decade of operation, we find that the wheel has turned full circle. Access to information is no longer the issue, since public administration and the media rarely look at the detail of the mass of information that is available all around us today. The issue today is helping people adapt to the reality of ecological limits, because both politics and the media cannot address the reality of that issue – not even climate change, which is currently the only facet of this issue which they talk about.
To that end we're pooling our resources to redevelop and re-engineer the site once more to reflect this new reality. That began in the Summer of 2019. Over the next year or two, as has always been the motivation behind the site, our intent is to develop a whole new body of work to fill the void on what is currently available to grassroots campaigns from mainstream pressure groups.
The Free Range Network
FRAW is primarily the on-line home of the Free Range Activism Network – a ‘dysorganisation’ of campaigners, activists and experts with an interest in developing technical resources for community groups and individuals interested in ‘changing the world’.
The Free Range Network's
‘Fracking Truth’ stall at the
Green Gathering, 2016
Over recent years our collective work has changed its focus. It’s changed because, as political and economic changes make the dialogue over campaign issues seemingly more ‘extreme’, the nature of how local politics and campaigns function is changing too.
For example, the way fracking has been pushed through by the government against public opinion, and the immense backlash from the public that process has created (certainly it's been the greatest public campaign since the government's roads programme of the 1980s/1990s), has fundamentally changed nature of local campaigns and their need for information and expertise.
As a result of these changes, and as the FRAW site enters its third decade of operation, its purpose is changing too. To that end we're completely rebuilding the site. There are two objectives of the ongoing (2019-2020) re-engineering of the site:
- Firstly, we're performing a total, from-scratch rebuild of the site’s content in order to reduce the amount of data it transacts during its normal operation. This not only means simplifying the design of the site. We're eliminating the need for almost all forms of scripting. This is part of a commitment to ‘low-impact design’. Another restriction we've had of late is hitting our two giga-byte limits on server space, which the re-design should solve by freeing up more storage.
- Secondly, we removing lots of the old information, and we're going to upload new work with a specific direction – encouraging people to solve today’s economic and social issues not through technology or new development, but by disengaging and disconnecting from the economic and technological mainstream. This is an issues that's been developing for us over the last decade. Our problem has always been that working/campaigning on this issue always created a lot of noisy resistance from mainstream environmental campaigns. Today though we see these problems, ignored for so long, transforming into crises. Only equally radical measures will enable people to tackle them.
A Free Range Network ‘Weekend Workshop’, September 2008
The purpose of this redesign is straightforward. Our focus is shifting towards helping people ‘disconnect’ from the cults of economic growth and technological change. This more than anything is the speediest way for individuals to reduce their ecological footprints, and address issues such as automation, resource depletion, and the ongoing collapse of neoliberal economics.
More practically though, by re-engineering our site to consume less energy and resources, we throw down a challenge to the wider environment movement whose use of on-line technology is driving their consumption of energy and resources ever-higher.
As part of this process we’ll be working together to produce new resources over the next few years. The written versions will be available on-line, but our aim – as in the late 1990s and early 2000s – will be to take these issues ‘on the road’ to work with communities directly. If you're interest, please get in touch.
Paul Mobbs in ‘science
communication mode’, Wales, 2008
Paul Mobbs has been working with community groups for over thirty years. Since 1992, as a freelance researcher, writer and environmental consultant specializing in the needs of community-based campaigns, NGOs and small companies, he has generated a large quantity of materials for local campaigns – much of which he gives away for free via the FRAW web site.
His work spans a many areas: from planning, pollution and environmental regulation; the work of local and national government; historical archive research; and tying it all together, the use of computers and information and communications technology to empower community campaigns and ‘data activism’. His web site provides his written work, as well as presentations, handouts, and some videos of my past and present activities.