Joining up community building, organising and social reporting

Later this month I’ll be doing some work with Gary Loftus and his new team of community builders at Forever Manchester, when we’ll spend a day exploring how social reporting can play a part in Asset Based Community Development.

As you can see here, I found some great stories when I reported from an ABCD conference that Forever Manchester ran with Cormac Russell and Jim Diers in November.

Community builders need to use a range of communication methods to find out and map what’s happening in an area, build connections, and help people communicate better themselves. I think there’s a good fit with the ideas and practices of social reporting, and also the development of digital literacy that I sketched here.

While planning what to do on the day in Manchester, I spotted this post by Mark Parker, who is both studying and practising community organising in Southwark. (There are some interesting differences between community building and organising methodologies, but network building is core to both approaches)

Mark and I have had some stimulating chats in the past – but this post really brought home to me the big gap between networking realities on the doorstep, and the more optimistic hopes we may have for networking civil society.

Mark makes the point here – and in a further chat we had – that many people that organisers meet do not have computers or mobile phones, and may just have landlines. Networking is enormously important – but online will play a small part for many people. Mark said to me:

It’s not just to leave the minority out of the network by focusing mainly on digital means. We must find ways of using the online experience to drive real face-to-face networks.

We need a sophisticated understanding of the impact that online networking, and practices like citizen journalism, may have in an area – as I touched on here.

I don’t think any of this downplays the importance of social reporting and digital literacy skills for community builders and organisers. As well as networking citizens using a range of methods, old and new, they will also need to bridge between the increasingly digital world of news and knowledge, and conversations on the doorstep.

As both local papers and local voluntary organisations close, and councils move to digital-first, the risks of digital exclusion increase. Building community will mean supporting those with least online access to create more effective networks with each other and with those who are more powerful.

Who you know has always been as important as what you know, and increasingly both of those are achieved online: or at least started online. Relationship-building still needs face-to-face, but the range of possible relationships can be greatly extended online, and maintained in part that way too.

It is difficult to develop projects with a group, when some members don’t have email, but others are sharing documents and tasks online.

As Mark mentions in his post, some community organisers will be receiving digital media training from Locality and izwe. I’ll do my bit of network building by introducing Gary and Mark, and then look for more opportunities to connect community and social reporting, citizen journalism and community building and organising.

One good opportunity may be at the Social Networking Below the Radar event being held next month at Big Lottery Fund.

Link summary:

See also Mark’s post for further useful resources


  • March 12, 2012 - 10:56 am | Permalink

    Good post as always David.

    One thing I find surprising is Mark Parker’s assertion that people in communities may have landlines rather than smartphones. While I agree that they probably won’t have smartphones ( and have twice recently at events had to correct lazy assumptions that everyone has a smartphone these days) I disagree that they are more likely to have a landline. Having a landline often requires people to be credit-worthy, and many low-income people cannot meet those criteria. That, coupled with the increasing availability of low-priced pay-as-you-go mobiles, which are usually not smartphones, or at least, not data-enabled, means that a lot of low income people have cheap mobiles, but not landlines. That is why I think we should be making more use of text messaging.

    • Mark Parker
      March 12, 2012 - 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Hi John – thanks for your comment. I am only drawing on the experience of meeting residents in Walworth over the last four months. The evidence from the contact details people have given me is that older people are more likely to give me only a landline to contact them. They may of course have a (cheap) mobile at home but perhaps leave it in the kitchen drawer most of the time and not think to offer it to a stranger at the door. I suspect though that text would not really overcome their problems of access to digital media. I agree wholeheartedly that text is a very important tool but it will still not reach the folk who have never become confident users of a mobile phone.

  • March 12, 2012 - 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post David. It’s really good to see the emergence of this kind of collaboration, what you describe is practitioners taking their various offers and putting them at the disposal of communities, for them to decide how they want to use them and how best to put them together. Which I think is exactly what we need to be doing more of.

    We have more that unites us across our different offers than sets us apart when we’re prepared not to become too theological about it. Sadly some people have put alot of effort into contriving difference to make it seem like they are offering something new, when in fact they are just trying to grow a market using fancy new versions of old tools-new wine in old bottles. What Mark’s work and Gary’s shows is that you can’t workshop change you’ve got to do the hard graft of getting out their and building relationships. I think your ability to capture the depth of that version of the story along with John’s (Popham) is something we really need. You are both excellent at drawing out the ingredients neccessary for social change even when they are not bright and shiny.

    I would suggest that what you’ll see a lot of in Manchester is Community Building without the frills, clever stories, etc, instead the actual door knocking, network building etc, exactly what Mark does in Southwart. I’d love you to draw that out more. I think it’s key, and also the hardest piece to get funded and to sustain and to appreciate in social media (perhaps?).

    Let’s hope we see lots more community building and a lot less empire building, and old wine in new workshop bottles in the brave new world of the hyper local. Thanks for all your work in curating. You may be interested to know we have have similar trail finder sites to Manchester in:

    1. Dagenham
    2. Thornton Heath
    3. All over Gloucestershire
    4. Torbay
    5. And the emergence of facinating work in the inclusion space in Glasgow and Edinbourgh.

    Not to mention what’s happening across Europe.
    I think it would be good to think outloud about how we can ensure that Social Media is part of the universal offer. Let me know if that’s a coversation you’d like to have.


    ABCD Europe

  • March 14, 2012 - 6:59 am | Permalink

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the great article! I’d like to add that we are excited about the prospect of our Community Builders becoming Social Reporters another tool we can add to the Forever Manchester’s Asset Based Community Builders Toolbox, which is rapidly expanding with all sorts of tools to hand and being developed by the team.

    Social Reporting, will our help Community Builders to gather stories in the local neighbourhoods, whilst doing great work with Connectors. The Community Builders are our Neighbourhood ‘Asset Tappers’ and whist weaving in to the fabric of the local community, connecting, learning and teaching, they will be able to use social reporting to help local people tell their own stories to the world!

    Asset Based Community Builders & Social Reporting marry up very nicely!

    Looking forward to our day on the 27th!


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