Big Lottery, Media Trust and People Powered Change. Positively.

Update: Caroline Diehl, chief executive of the Media Trust, has provided more detail about their approach in a comment to my earlier post.

The rise of community and citizen reporting and journalism and the critical need in communities for vibrant local media, as revealed by the Goldsmiths Leverhulme research we commissioned last year, is the reason that we feel a UK-wide project to connect, resource and amplify this grass roots activity is needed. It’s also in response to the increasing demand for Media Trust support from local organisations across the UK, which this will help meet.

The news hubs project is about finding and supporting existing activity as much as it is about inspiring new innovation to take place. Our role will be to work with local news platforms – be they hyper-local websites, blogs and twitter feeds or church newsletters, local parish papers or parent-teacher news – to help them meet their own individual aspirations to improve the quality and reach of their journalism. It’s absolutely about local to local news but it’s also about celebrating what’s happening in our communities across the UK and bringing those stories to the widest possible audience – yes on TV but also online and in print.

It’s a similar approach to our Community Voices project, which worked with many local community digital media projects around England to get projects off the ground or to add value to their existing activity. For example, we worked with Vintage Radio in Birkenhead to develop community radio for older people by older people, Meadow Well Residents’ Association on an estate in North Shields to challenge stereotypes with digital photography and on a film project with Club Soda in Croydon to address the isolation that people with learning difficulties experience, amongst many others.

Our experience through our Press Association partnership ‘Community Newswire’ is that there is an appetite for local news stories in the mainstream media, as much as there is an appetite locally to project relevant news from further afield. We hope this project will go some way to make those connections whenever and wherever the local community or mainstream media feel appropriate.

This is about adding infrastructure that local people can use in whatever way suits them and hopefully to play a part in improving the quality and reach of citizen and community journalism that will mean we all have our voices heard and can all create positive change in our own lives and the lives of those around us. We’ll be working with local organisations across the UK. If you want to be involved or kept up to date – let us know.

I wrote what follows before seeing the comment, but I think the main points are valid, and hope the approach Caroline outlines offers some scope for collaboration. What do you think?

Dave Briggs wrote an excellent follow up to my piece about the Big Lottery grant of £1.89 million to the Media Trust, saying Localism needs bespoke, not scale. The Media Trust plan – as described here – looks somewhat oriented towards mainstream media practices and a rather top-down system of news hubs … all planned and approved without engagement with the many organisations already working in the field. Unless they are keeping very quiet about it. Dave wrote:

The point of localism is that different communities have different needs, which means they need different tools and solutions. Yet still ‘scalable’ single solutions get funded. But of course you can’t scale bespoke, even though bespoke is what is needed here.

I was tempted to carry on the discussion by highlighting the apparent dissonance between the Media Trust plan and Asset Based Community Development advocated on Big Lottery’s People Powered Change site. That emphasises making the most of the assets in any community – the buildings, services and above all the people. Nurture strengths rather than highlight problems, and beware big investments that may disrupt the community ecosystem. I’m a big fan of Cormac Russell, who is featured on the site, and who is developing an ABCD Europe site over here.

The easy shot at Big Lottery is – why not adopt the same approach when planning national investments?

But then more positive thinking took over, and I tried moving from the “being critical” aspect of social reporting into making sense, joining up and helping out (explained here).

Whatever the pros and cons of the Media Trust grant, it is a done deal, and they have been enormously successful in putting together the top-level partnerships involved. I don’t think anyone else could have done that. They do have some experience of working locally, through the Community Voices programme … even if it is rather heavily branded.

Then, serendipitously, my friend Ed Mitchell alerted me this morning to a development on the Transition Network, where he manages their online activity … or rather nurtures a very distributed bottom-up system. Their Social Reporting Project call for reporters is worth quoting at length:

Introducing the Social Reporting Project – finding the new narrative for Transition

Calling all writers, photographers citizen journalists, community blog editors and everyone who has a story to tell. This September we’re launching an innovative and ambitious Social Reporting project that sets out to explore and communicate the different issues and experiences of being in Transition.

And we’re looking for 12 correspondents in the UK to tell their initiatives’ story from the front-line, on line, over a three month period between August and December 2011.

The project will be co-ordinated by Charlotte Du Cann (This Low Carbon Life editor) and Ed Mitchell (Transition Network Web co-ordinator). It will take the form of a co-operative communty blog on the Transition Network site. The blog will publish daily posts and feature guest editors each Sunday, plus a monthly round-up. We will support it with twitter and Facebook activity and the newsletter. We’ll discuss how we shape the blog together and there will also be editorial feedback and advice on hand if needed (oh, and deadlines!).

The main aims of the blog are to show and record what’s happening in different initatives from a subjective and objective point of view: personal reflections, community events and projects, regional patterns, shifting cultural values, big issues of the day, the spirit of the times.

Most of all the project aims to capture the story of a people navigating their way through Transition and creating a new narrative for the ‘down curve’ of consumption and energy use.

To launch the pilot Ed and Charlotte will be giving workshops on Social Media and Storytelling at theTransition Conference in July. We’ll be looking at all aspects of reporting – from finding your voice to listening to people, from prose style to creating features. We’ll also be working as a media team to cover the conference as it’s taking place – in words, pictures and sound. If you’re coming to the conference come and meet us there!

<end of quote>

Wow! Isn’t this the very essence of Asset Based Community Development taken into the field of networked communication? Would Big Lottery and Media Trust be prepared to take a look at this, as well as the work being done by People’s Voice Media, Talk About Local and others in similar spirit? Might it be possible to co-create something that marries the substantial infrastructure investment from Big Lottery and Media Trust with this more organic approach? And where might we talk about this …?

At which point I received an invite from Cathy Aitchison to a Community Media group on Our Society, where in the past Cathy has been rather successful in facilitating conversation about the other Big Lottery People Powered Change communications investment, Your Square Mile. There the group is called Our Square Mile. I’ve reposted my original piece over in the Community Media group, and will follow up with other more positive thoughts.

Over the past month or so John Popham and I have been developing ideas for social reporting in the context of big society, linked to a social apps store of methods, and received some encouragement from Nominet Trust. That’s public domain, at least via some tweets and earlier posts on the store. Before the little fuss over the Media Trust grant, I had some very encouraging chats with Big Lottery staff about social reporting and the opportunities for connecting up stories not just from their programmes, but also others supported by big agencies. There seems much to build on.

What next? My inclination is to advocate an open approach: map the various interests, identify strengths, convene events at which we co-design systems and identify our roles.

On the other hand, that is very time consuming when John, I and other freelances don’t get paid for ideas and brokerage, and run the risk of having any ideas picked up by others who favour a more conventional approach.

In addition, community media folk can be, by disposition, creative and somewhat individualistic. Herding cats? Trickier, I suspect, unless you have the convening power of Big Lottery.

For the moment, I’ll put this post out with best wishes to Big Lottery and Media Trust, as well as other reporters, encourage people to join the Community Media group, and see what turns up. It’s been a good day so far.

Previously: People Powered Change needs ppchange communications


  • June 2, 2011 - 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I think you need to be clear about your aims. Are you trying to put power into people’s hands so that they can talk about their dreams / plans / hopes / fears and be able to shape their destinies and govern themselves? Or are you primarily interested in creating a new narrative? I’m afraid that rather a lot of people claim to like the first, but only if they can ber sure it’s going to lead to the second.

  • June 2, 2011 - 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Although what I’m going to say doesn’t address the subject, I think it’s really good that Caroline has responded openly and comprehensively. There are other chief execs like Peter Wanless, Toby Blume and Philip Colligan who are openly engaging with people about their organisation’s decisions and hopefully this will create a tipping point for others to follow.

    Your approach to social reporting of “making sense, joining up and helping out” is even more critical to create an environment where mediation is becoming as important as facilitation. And we need more of these (but paid!).

  • david wilcox
    June 2, 2011 - 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Gordon, that’s a very useful reminder to be explicit about purpose before choosing communication methods. That’s something we emphasise in the Social by Social game. I’m sure we could tweak it to bring out some of the issues here.
    Noel – I can’t agree more about the open style of the chief execs that you mention. Unless there is a lead from the top it is difficult for others to follow. Of course, explanation after the event is no substitute for open process earlier on, when appropriate, but this does hopefully provide an opening for continuing conversation.
    And thanks for the reporting encouragement. If only we could find the business model …

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