How helpful is journalism for People Powered Change? Further thoughts.

What sort of community media and support for knowledge sharing, learning and innovation do we need – both locally and nationally – when the big society policy agenda expects so much more of citizen-led action?

The significance of this issue – which I touched on rather theoretically here – is now given more practical import by the Big Lottery fundingfor the Media Trust’s ambitious £1.89 million programme of news hubs for local communities, which I reported here and here.

Dave Briggs blogged that Localism needs bespoke, not scale and tweeted: “I’m thinking that the incorporation of the journalism angle into community media is unhelpful”. More below on the award, citizen journalism, and community media – but first a look at what seems to be happening on the wider front of how to find out “how to”.

Time was when there were substantial Government-supported networks, knowledge hubs and toolkits to provide that. Some may have been a bit old-style in their use of media … but funding cuts have meant that there are fewer around, and others are struggling to survive. I believe there are discussions among funding agencies about how to archive material … but I don’t hear much about what to do next.

The forthcoming Community Toolkit, from Zurich, looks interesting … but however valuable, there’s a limit to what static resources can offer. People need to share stories and tips, chat about what’s worked for them and what hasn’t, and get some help in filtering the mass of information evolving online.

That’s what the Knowledge Hub will shortly offer to local government, developed after some five years of experience with online communities of practice. It will provide every sort of social media tool, and both stands on its own as a system and integrates with external sources. There was a very thorough and protracted process of specifying the system, and procuring the contractor. Here’s a report from one of the workshops that I attended.

I’m not suggesting that the community and voluntary sector – and the many small unfunded groups Below the Radar, described here by Angus McCabe – need the equivalent of the Knowledge Hub. They are far more varied in their requirements than local government and public sector agencies, as Dave Briggs points out in saying one size doesn’t fit all.

The Big Lottery People Powered Change programme aims to fund, support and inspire community level activity across the country, and as well as the many, many small grants given to groups under various programmes, ppchange is funding infrastructure: that’s what the Media Trust grant is about, together with four others announced in March. All were “solicited” awards – that is where people from the Lottery identify a need and approach organisations which they think can fulfill it, as I understand from Big Lottery CEO Peter Wanless’s explanation in his comment here.

The Media Trust project focusses on news, rather than know-how, as you can see from their announcement here. That may be valuable in itself, as Media Trust CEO Caroline Diehl says in her comment to my post – but it doesn’t fill the knowledge-sharing gap that I identifed above.

Perhaps it goes some way toward the sort of integration of mainstream media and hyperlocal, citizen, journalism that Charlie Beckett, director of the Polis describes as Networked Journalism. I’ll ask.

Maybe we can look to one of the other Big Lottery ppchange grant-aided programmes to help with knowledge sharing – Your Square Mile – which received £830,000 for its technology platform in March. Their announcement gives a few details of the tools they are developing, and it is good to see that they now have a blog and Twitter account, but that’s it so far. The pilot sites are private. We have to wait and see.

While there has been criticism of the way in which the grants were made, there is a lot of goodwill towards the ppchange programme … not just because they have funds! The promotion of asset-based community development as the basis for their philosophy is very welcome.

However, the difficulty for anyone who wants to help ensure that the infrastructure investments provide the best possible assistance to projects on the ground is that it is very difficult to see beyond the press releases. Because the award process was closed, there are no bid documents or specifications. There’s not much encouragement to contribute ideas, or applications that might be useful. As I wrote here there’s no people powered communication – so no certainty that the five ppchange investments will join up.

So much for the analytical, critical bit of reporting in this. In later posts I hope to have more ideas on what might be a useful role for social reporters in helping facilitate sharing, and generating the know-how we need. As I wrote earlier, the Transition Network may help show us the way.

Meanwhile Alex Stobart is warming up discussion over on the Our Society Community Media group with talk of a Freedom of Information request. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

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