Category Archives: social reporting

How BIG could digitally amplify the impact of its £82 million investment tackling social isolation

The Big Lottery Fund’s investment of £82 million in 15 partnerships, that are working to reduce social isolation, could spark innovation and benefits beyond the 200,000 older people immediately involved in the programme. However, to achieve that I think the programme deserves more attention than it is getting, and the addition of an innovative approach to promote storytelling and learning.

The programme was announced earlier this year, as a joint initiative with the Daily Mail, and a couple of weeks ago BIG confirmed which partnerships would be funded from the 30 shortlisted. Originally a much longer list of areas expressed interest, so it has been a highly competitive process. As BIG says in its release:

Currently, there are 10.8 million people aged 65 or over in the UK and this is expected to rise to 16 million over the next 20 years. Of those 10.8 million, 3.8 million live alone, and one million say they are always, or often feel, lonely. 17 per cent of older people have less than weekly contact with family, friends and neighbours.

More people are now at risk of becoming isolated as the population of older people grows, lacking contact with family or friends, community involvement or access to services. The Big Lottery Fund aims to encourage changes and improvements so older people are happier, healthier and more active, contributing even more to their communities.

That’s a major social issue, and as BIG says “partnerships in the fifteen areas will test what methods work and what don’t, so that evidence is available to influence services that help reduce isolation for older people in the future”.

The release adds:

Throughout the Ageing Better investment, evidence will be produced to show the social and economic impact of a range of approaches. Ecorys, working with the Brunel Institute for Ageing Studies at Brunel University and Bryson Purdon Social research, will measure the impact of the funding and share successes and lessons learnt so projects deliver sustainable improvements.

Before going on I should declare a slight interest, because I’ve been marginally involved through sub-contract work in planning how asset and social network mapping may be used by partnerships to underpin the community engagement and asset based approach advocated by BIG, and summarised by BIG England chair Nat Sloane:

There are concerns about a ticking timebomb facing adult social care, but older people have a wealth of experience and skills to offer their communities. We need to tap into this – to help them help themselves and others living alone. Our Ageing Better investment will put them at the heart of the way the projects are designed and delivered to ensure that future generations of older people not only live longer but also live well.

There’s lots happening in the partnership areas already, with many excellent ideas hinted at in the information so far released. That makes me feel there is plenty of scope to share stories day-to-day about local projects over the next five years of the programme, as well as undertaking the structured assessment planned by Ecorys.

All partnerships are expected to put older people at the heart of their programme, both in guiding projects and acting as volunteers, and that provides a lot of opportunities for community and social reporting – which is, of course, one of my interests. However in this instance I would advocate that partnerships work with local social media enthusiasts to develop the necessary skills, and with people like my friend John Popham, whose blog details his work on digital storytelling and what others are doing in the field. I could list a dozen other people – like Shirley Ayres – who blend professional work with a personal commitment to sharing learning about social innovation using digital technology. I expect to meet quite a few at the Futuregov Expect Better event this week.  Perhaps nationally Globalnet21 could help with some of their excellent webinars and events, as well, of course as organisations like Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness.

The announcement of winners on September 8 received no significant coverage that I spotted – apart from making the lead in Tony Watts new Later Life Agenda newsletter. Tony’s OBE for voluntary work in the field is well deserved. Nothing in the Mail, and as far as I could see, little local coverage (I’m wrong on that – see update below). Nothing about the vision statements setting out the programmes in each area, that will now be developed into plans by the end of the year, and hopefully funded from next April.

I think BIG deserves more credit for the meticulous way in which the programme has been developed – and the partnerships for their innovative proposals. Even more I think it is essential that there is some way for people involved in the programmes to tell the stories of what is being achieved – and the challenges they face – to maintain their enthusiasm and inspire others around the country, beyond the 15 partnerships.

However, I wonder whether there may be a problem here for funders like BIG. They know the power of digital storytelling, use social media themselves, and increasingly fund projects enabling people to tell their own stories. They can issue press releases, and put out competitive contracts to promote programmes, and hook up with big media. All important – but not on their own enough to help foster the social ecoystem that releases the energy of local partnerships and people (who may not yet have the skills for storytelling) and also uses the amplifying capacity of people like John, Shirley, and Tony (to name a few … multiply that by scores).

What’s needed is the national equivalent of the local approach being promoted by BIG: look at the existing communication assets and networks in the field – and not just the big organisations but the freelances and volunteers. Set out some comms objectives, and invite people to pitch ways and means to achieve them by training, support, content creating, publishing to a range of media. Bring people together to build the human networks that will create five years of buzz in the virtual ecosystem. A modest investment in facilitation would yields much higher returns on the £82 million.

My suggestion would be to start this as soon as possible, so that partnerships can move from their competitive and secretive mode – imposed until now – into a more open and cooperative culture that will produce some cross fertilisation of ideas in plans now being prepared.

That would also help carry partner organisations and volunteers through the flat spot between January and April when full funding is confirmed, based on December submissions.

The obvious question is “how much would this animation cost” – but I don’t think it is the first thing to ask. That should be the same as the one partnerships are addressing locally: “how do we find out who is already doing good stuff in this field, and what would it take to encourage and support them to do more”.

Disclaimer: these are personal ideas, and do not reflect those of others I have talked to in the programme or elsewhere. I’ve drawn on inspiration from similar explorations I’ve worked on, including one with John for BIG on People Powered Change.

Update: I clearly wasn’t watching my Twitter feed as closely as I should in the week of September 8, when Hall Aitken – who are supporting partnerships – did great work in tweeting local coverage of the awards as it emerged. But there doesn’t seem to be any one place to find out details: the main Big Lottery Fund page about the programme has a latest news link, but it goes to a piece about Middlebrough, not the press release.

Further update: link now fixed, to the press release. There’s a list of the partnerships with funding. The Old People Twitter account @BiglfOlderPeop provides updates.

There’s now a Storify of the Twitter responses to the announcement.

Community reporting and citizen journalism unpacked

Citizen journalism and community reporting

The Institute of Community Reporters – which I wrote about earlier – has produced its first discussion paper, exploring the different between community reporting and citizen journalism.

I think the paper is very good … not least because it sets out far more cogently than I did some of the issues I nibbled at in More rebranding of citizen media as “journalism. ” Sigh”.  I argued that just because people post videos or use blogs to produce content about their communities doesn’t mean they follow the news-dominated agenda of journalism, which may be good for some campaigning,  but not for community building.

In the paper, Teresa Wilson, Partnership Manager at People’s Voice Media, distinguishes between news, and story.

Story can be the means by which we work out our thoughts and ideas about who we are and how we connect to those around us. It can be an exploration, a search for meaning or an offering up to others. From a community development point of view, story is an extremely useful tool for helping people to locate themselves in their own lives and their communities. And more importantly, it is universal and there are no prerequisites required in order to tell a story.

We all have something to say and stories to tell about our lives and this is our starting point for Community Reporting. From here, we support people through a process of refining communication, developing new skills, thinking more about the audience for their stories and the impact they want those stories to have. Some of the stories that Community Reporters tell might be considered ‘newsworthy’, but the heart of Community Reporting is in individuals telling stories about their own lives rather than reporting on news, an approach that serves to benefit both the individual and the community.

As Simon Safari, Chair of the Tenants’ Association in Botkyrka, Stockholm says, “I believe that we need more thinking to create sustainable communities, and [giving people] the right to describe their own reality is one of them.”

I strongly recommend reading the Community Reporting and Citizen Journalism paper in full, together with the explanation  of the Venn diagram I have linked, above.

Teresa explains the role of the Institute in developing some quality assurance around the role of community reporter, with editorial guidelines, training, and the opportunity to work with other reporters. Teresa concludes that reclaiming the term reporters is important …

… because for us it means family. It’s a network of people joined together by a common set of goals and values, sharing their successes and frustrations and learning from each other in the process. We hope to see the network grow and the model continue to support more of the kind of people who wouldn’t traditionally create content for the web into the wonderful world of content creation, where their stories and views count, and where they feel ultimately more connected to the world around them.

I hope social reporters get honorary membership too.



Exploring the new community enablers, and how digital may help them

Over the past few months I’ve been nudging at a number of projects and storylines that really needed linking up  … as well as developing explorations as a way to making sense of complex situations, joining up different interests, and helping people use social media. I think that’s what social reporting is about, and it’s coming together.

Here’s news of a new exploration to follow the ones with Big Lottery Fund and Nominet Trust. It’s about community organising, building, mobilising … networks …. and how digital technology can help. I hope you’ll find interesting the way that it has evolved, and maybe make some suggestions.

The storylines leading towards this exploration have included Networking civil society, Sociable events to build networksCelebration 2.0, Games to realise community assets, Digital literacy, the limitations of citizen journalism in community building, and the official and unofficial connectors that may make localism work.

These and others fill out – more by chance than design – the framework I wrote about last year which focussed in new roles, new structures, new resources and new methods.

The projects that I’ve wanted to join up are firstly some interviews with community organisers and builders, commissioned by Community Matters, to help citizens and community groups understand the different models and what could be useful for them; secondly the Media4ME project on social media in multi-cultural neighbourhoods; and thirdly social reporting training.

Several things have acted as catalysts to turn this into a package. Firstly, as I trailed here, and reported more fully in my previous post, Drew Mackie and I ran a day’s workshop with the community builders at Forever Manchester, and I also talked with Mark Parker about his experience as a community organiser in Southwark.

A common strand was joining up networks both online and face-to-face. Then in addition, Drew and I have been working with Ben Lee, of the National Association for Neighbourhood Management, on the Media4ME project described here. Part of that work is helping people in Fishermead, Milton Keynes, use social media around summer fun days, bringing together many creative projects in the area.

So – here my proposed exploration, as a draft invitation.

The new enablers

Join us in an exploration of the new roles, skills and approaches of community enablers, including how can they can include digital technologies in their tools for network building and neighbourhood change.

We will be looking at the growing numbers of community organisers, builders, connectors and mobilisers now being trained and supported both by Government and independent organisations.

While there are differing philosophies of social change, there is some common ground on methods for organising and facilitating action by citizens.

Several are exploring how best to use digital technology in their work, including support for community media projects, citizen journalism and social reporting.

During the exploration we will be interviewing key people in the different movements and organisations, curating information on the different approaches, and blogging about new developments.

David Wilcox of is running a workshop with Communities and Local Government where he will preview a game that will help enablers choose suitable social media methods.

On May 10 Socialreporters, Media4ME, and community organiser Mark Parker are running a seminar focussed on developing further practical ideas on the use of digital technologies in neighbourhoods, and in particular network building both online and face-to-face. How do we ensure digital is really useful for local network development?

We’ll be collaborating with those who are training community enablers of various types, and developing a social reporters kit with a number of groups now experimenting with social media in neighbourhoods.

As part of our work with the European Media4ME project we are working in Milton Keynes to support local people using social media to develop new connections in their community – and will be reporting on similar work in other European projects.

As part of the Celebration 2.0 project supported by the Nominet Trust we’ll be producing a kit specifically focussed on how to use social media to amplify community events.

We’ll also be drawing on lessons from earlier exploration with Big Lottery Fund on People Powered Change, and with Nominet Trust on how young people can use digital technology to engage socially and economically with their communities

Our outputs will be a report on community enablers, advice on using social media as part of neighbourhood change, and a kit for social reporters.

I’ve posted it in draft because I would welcome any suggestions. Subject to that, I’ll post an update here shortly, and then move over to where we are running the explorations. I’m also wondering whether this might be the occasion to re-animate our Social by Social network.

A social reporting game for community builders

Recently Drew Mackie and I ran a training workshop about social reporting with community builders at Forever Manchester, as I trailed here. In practice it was more of an exchange of ideas, insights and triggers for further exploration … which is how we hoped it would turn out. We learned a lot.

I won’t attempt a detailed description, but want to share some of the materials we used, partly because they relate to a further exploration I’ll write about in my next post. I also want to mention a couple of interesting developments we’ve seen since the workshop.

Briefly, we gave a presentation about how we saw social reporting supporting community building, with a strong focus on mapping and building networks. Slides here.

Social reporting workshop

Then we played a new variation of the Social by Social game. We invented a fictitious place to give us a context, based on Slapham, which we have used in another game.  We developed some challenges, reflected on how community builders might address them, and then used a set of cards to consider what tools might be relevant.

Social reporting game cards

I need to have a proper catch-up with Gary Loftus and the rest of the team in Manchester. However, at least two of the tools are in use. Gary Stanyard tweeted how he and the team are using the YeD network mapping software, also used by Drew, to draw both social and ideas connections. They are now avidly sharing ideas for development.

The community noticeboard is now in use in Great Lever.

We didn’t really know at the end of the workshop where our initial exploration would lead. Just what approaches and tools may be useful depend very much of local circumstances, and the particularly skills, equipment and disposition of the community builder. I’ve absolutely no doubt that the Manchester team will find lots of innovative applications – because of they bring such diverse experience, skills plus much enthusiasm to the work, and have great support from their organisation. They have started a blog here.

The day in Manchester was one the recent events that convinced me it is worth starting a more detailed exploration of community building, organising, enabling … networks … and how digital technology may help. That’s in the next post. Meanwhile, do drop a comment or get in touch if you are interested in a workshop.


Social reporting insights from an exploration for BIG

Big Lottery Fund have now reported on plans to evolve their England programme, with some generous references to the work John Popham and Drew Mackie and I did last year.

I’ve posted on their plans at – How BIG aims to be a more engaged, open and social organisation. Also copied below.

We spent three months exploring and blogging openly about how BIG might be more than a funder, ran a workshop to bring together people we met along the way, and did some network mapping. It seems this has influenced the development of BIG’s future programme in some small but significant ways.

In addition, it yielded a few useful lessons and inspirations for social reporting, as I mention at the end of the earlier post. Here’s further thoughts:

  • The first is that “explorations” are something a social reporter can offer to a client as an alternative to research and consultancy – if you have a client like BIG that is prepared to take the risk and be a little innovative.
  • However, online exploration isn’t enough: the real buzz came from the workshop we ran at the end of the process, where BIG staff were able to meet some of the people we had talked to.
  • Although you can start with a quest, you don’t know where it will lead – and often the most interesting stories arise by chance.
  • The value to the client may come as much from the introductions as from content. We were able to say to people in government and other agencies “I think BIG would be interested in that” – and vice versa.
  • If you blog openly as you go, there’s a good chance you will spark other connections. And you don’t have the chore of writing a report at the end that may or may not be read and acted upon.

Maybe there’s nothing really new in this. Some researchers conduct open processes, some journalists share their contacts and work in progress. Lots of people run creative workshops, and do social network maps.

I’m just re-assured that it seems to stack up as part of the portfolio of services that a social reporter may offer, along with reporting events, and helping people learn how to use new ways of communicating and connecting.

So – how to get paid as a social reporter? Events, explorations and enabling.

Here’s my post from

Linda Quinn, Big Lottery Fund Director of Communications and Marketing, has provided an update on how BIG will evolve its England programme after a year of People Powered Change.

Linda kindly acknowledges that some of the new ideas draw on the explorations last year documented on this blog. Linda writes:

This included a workshop with some of those people with ideas and a shared interest in this area, informing a paper to our England Committee on future ways of working.

The Committee supported the paper and as a result we are developing a number of ideas which we hope will make us a more engaged, open and social organisation. I also hope it will help us support projects to share their stories, inspirations and ideas.

In her post, Linda highlights:

  • Recognising that encouraging beneficiaries of funding to tell stories and be more sharing has to be reflected inside BIG too: so they have set up BIG Connect as an internal network.
  • Crowdsourcing ideas in how best to map where funding goes and the impact it makes, drawing on people’s willingness to swap and share experience.
  • Support for projects to tell, share and learn from stories including surgeries and games.
  • Testing ideas on the use of social media with projects funded under the Silver Dreams Fund and the Jubilee People’s Millions.

Linda adds:

In a future world I’d love all our evaluations and grant management to be socialised so that stories and impacts are available to the armchair auditors, enthusiasts and others working in similar areas – this very much reflects the open data work we blogged about here at our joint event with NCVO andNominet Trust. Such a social approach not only shows the impact of National Lottery funding but also provides an opportunity for projects to promote and showcase what they do, share and inspire others.

We’ll also develop our focus on some place and people based initiatives that strongly reflect People Powered Change. For example, our Big Local Trust investment recently announced a further 50 areas that will receive at least £1million for local communities (around ward size) to decide how they wish to spend that money over a ten year period. This is taking decisions out of central committees and into local communities and giving them the space and time to make those decisions.

People Powered Change informs a way of working that will develop overtime and we’re keen to continue to hear what others are doing, where we can share and where we can learn. And talking of sharing, you may recall that in March last year we also announced a number of awards under People Powered Change. These were to UnLtd’s, ‘Big Venture Challenge,’ Young Foundation’s ‘Building Local Activism’ project, Media Trust’s ‘Newsnet’, NESTA’s ‘Neighbourhood Challenge’ and Your Square Mile. We’ll be publishing a blog from each of these over the next week or so updating on their activities, investments and learning.

Looking back on the work that John Popham, Drew Mackie and I did for BIG, I’m naturally delighted that it proved useful in helping develop some ideas for their programme. We were given a pretty open brief by Linda and deputy director Shaun Walsh, and encouragement to follow up ideas as they emerged. It was a social reporting exploration – and the reverse of a carefully-planned research and consultancy project.

In the event a lot of useful stuff came up by chance … perhaps because of “strategic opportunism” as James Derounian said over here “putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.”

The post about internal communication Linda mentions – Sharing outside means first sharing inside – arose because I bumped into Tom Phillips at an innovation event in Kent and shot an interview. I went to the event because it was organised by Noel Hatch, and I knew it would be interesting … if not in what way. I got lots of other interviews too.

The post about BIG staff inventing Biglopoly, referenced by Linda, came from an outside source who was working with BIG on the Big Local programme. BIG staff then readily produced their own excellent video explaining what they did: I was really just the story-spotter.

On reflection I think that the 50 or so blog posts that we generated served several purposes:

  • They provided an exploration of the landscape of people powered change, and some insights and ideas for BIG to dip into.
  • They informed the workshop that we organised, bringing together many of the people that we met, providing an opportunity for them to share more ideas directly with BIG staff.
  • They also provided some further stories to share with Shaun over a coffee at several points during the exploration.

Being engaging, open and social is more about attitude than mechanisms, and Linda and Shaun set the style in taking a risk with a social reporting exploration. We just found and told some stories to help things along.


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

Crap detection and other essential network skills

I’ve just bought Howard Rheingold’s excellent book Net Smart: How to thrive in the online world. It isn’t much about the Internet as technology, but rather the literacies made possible by the technology, and why we need to acquire them. As Howard says here:

Mindful use of digital media means thinking about what we are doing, cultivating an ongoing inner inquiry into how we want to spend our time. I outline five fundamental digital literacies, online skills that will help us do this: attention, participation, collaboration, critical consumption of information (or “crap detection”), and network smarts. I explain how attention works, and how we can use our attention to focus on the tiny relevant portion of the incoming tsunami of information. I describe the quality of participation that empowers the best of the bloggers, netizens, tweeters, and other online community participants; I examine how successful online collaborative enterprises contribute new knowledge to the world in new ways; and I present a lesson on networks and network building.

I’ve pulled a few words around the five literacies into a little mindmap to provide some additional flavour. I’m sure I’ll blog more about the book later, because it has so much wisdom about how to make the most of the amazing new communication tools we now have, without being swamped. And much more.

For the moment I just want to reflect on how it helped me shift the perspective I had in my previous post about The challenges of networking civil society as joining up social spaces, into the challenge of developing digital literacy, and supporting people in the networked world.

Despite quoting extensively from Tim Davies on the danger of focussing on platforms (blogs, Facebook, online forums) rather than culture and capacity, I did bang on a lot in my earlier piece about how better to connect the various online spaces serving community activists, so they could find information, communicate, collaborate.

While I do think that would help, a few conversations that I had after I posted the piece made me feel it would be difficult to achieve. I was reminded that the various online spaces reflect different interests, approaches and business models. There probably isn’t enough incentive to do things differently … because the user/customers don’t pay, the funders probably won’t do much nudging, and volunteers have enough to do maintaining current activity without negotiating new arrangements.

It’s tempting to go for Baroness Newlove’s one-stop activist hub, but that’s not going to work any more than one newspaper, magazine, TV channel, bookshop would serve our very varied needs.

On the one hand organisations (and individuals) need to be more skilled and thoughtful in the way that they publish and communicate (PLEASE … no more 50 page pdf reports … you know who you are). And we all need to be smarter at listening, engaging, collaborating online.

If funders and agencies are concerned about helping citizens and small groups play a bigger role in civil society, focussing on Howard’s five literacy would be more useful than investing in further platform development.

I would argue that we also need the online equivalent of on-the-street community builders, so I’ve also dropped in a mindmap of about social reporting that I’ve used before, with some video.

You might argue that talking about digital literacy for community activists may be rather premature when actual use of technology is pretty unsophisticated in most community groups. There’s a case to be made … “why bother”? On the other hand Howard’s points about staying focussed, engaging, collaborating are as much about attitude as tech … and should make sense in any setting. I think crap detection will strike a chord as well.


Networking civil society

I’m co-presenting a webinar this evening hosted by GlobalNet21 on the topic of Strengthening Civil Society Through Social Media. It starts at 19.30 GMT, and details are here. The event, organised by Francis Sealey, nudged me into putting together a presentation that draws on various piece of work I’ve done with Drew Mackie, John Popham and others. Here’s the slides, and you can view them with notes here, or download a pdf. The intro to the webinar is:

At times of financial restraint and when Governments are looking at how civil society can be recruited to deliver on their own agenda then how can we ensure that the many associations that make up civil society can protect their independence. Can social networking help create a network of mutual independence that strengthens the countless groups that are the social glue of our civil society? This is the topic of this webinar.

How do we develop social networking so that groups can have an influence and make a difference? Is it sufficient to just set up a meetup site or a NING site for example and then hope that it will take off into cyberspace and be successful. What more do we need to do to reach wider audiences and particularly vulnerable and marginalized groups that do not always join into existing online communities?

I’ll be joined by Joe Taylor, who will be talking about NatCAN, The National Community Activist Network, that has 630 members on a Ning network. Joe and the team behind NatCAN also use Skype and other tools to collaborate and help activists connect.

The event is part of a series by the Third Sector Research Centre in their Beyond the Radar programme: more here. That’s been exploring how small “Below the Radar” groups can maximise the impact of their activity.

As I hope you see from the slides – particularly the version with notes – I’m suggesting that we can’t expect social networking technologies on their own to empower groups and connect up the thousands of activists who could learn from each other. That depends – as ever – on networky people and more sociable organisations. I’ve used Drew Mackie’s cartoons of the various Networkistas, and I’ll be talking about the role of social reporters in making sense, joining up and helping out.

We need to talk about Media Trust Newsnet

The big backgrounder story for UK community reporting at the moment is the roll out of Newsnet by the Media Trust, with a £1.89 million investment from the Big Lottery Fund as part of People powered Change. That was controversial at the time. The latest development is that the Trust have appointed three large commercial consultancies, with Civil Society Governance reporting:

The Media Trust describes newsnet as “the UK’s first online network of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers”. The online portal aims to provide local people with a platform to connect and tell their local stories, as well as find resources and share ideas. The ultimate aim is to support community cohesion at a local, regional and national level.

I hear that this has further upset some people in the field who have been developing community reporting for a few years. There’s a feeling the Trust is failing to acknowledge or work with these other potential partners, so the Civil Society news headline “Media Trust collaborates to deliver citizen journalism project” rankles just a bit.

Community and social reporter types may be keeping their heads down (if they’ve heard the news) because Media Trust could be a client/news distributor, and anyway who wants to upset Big Lottery Fund (BIG).

However, comments are taking off under the story, with a strong challenge from Gary Copitch of People’s Voice Media, who have been running community reporter programmes for over three years. He says: “I am afraid to say this is just another example of an organisation who receives Lottery funding only to duplicate existing provision”.

Community media veteran Steve Thompson has been working in this field since 1997: “Folks should always be cautious about claiming “firsts” as there is nothing new under the sun”.

I can add an archive of material and activities going to to the mid 1990s, when a group of us set up UK Communities Online.

(Incidently, I couldn’t find any other coverage of this story … and there’s nothing on the Newnet blog or a Media Trust press release. Strange.)

I find it particularly difficult to write about this, because like others in the field would love to work on Newsnet. I know and respect the people involved, and recent had a very cordial interview with Adam Perry, and earlier with the Trust’s director of marketing and communication services Gavin Sheppard.

In addition, I’ve spent the last few months working with BIG on how they might develop People Powered Change. John Popham and I did that by a process of open exploration on, summarised here, and leading up to a very creative workshop. BIG are now reflecting on future plans, with decisions at committee next March.

The focus of the work ended up around how BIG can be more than a funder, perhaps operating in addition as a broker and convenor to help nurture the development of existing activities as well as funding new ones. At local level BIG supports the idea of Asset Based Community Development, as I reported here. With hindsight, it might have been better if this approach had extended to the big investments made under the people Powered Change banner. I reflected on the launch here: People Powered Change needs ppchange communications.

It’s always tempting to over-flatter a client, but I must say how impressed I’ve been with the way that BIG staff have given John and I a free hand in reporting, and have now started some significant internal discussions triggered by the conversations that started. There’s particular problem for a funder in opening up and taking on additional roles, because there’s usually “give us the money” in the background.

So: how to report on this story, in a way that helps move things forward positively? What’s the storylines … beyond the easy controversy angle?

  • Is the criticism just sour grapes from some community media types jealous of new people in the field? The Media Trust does have the skills and resources to do things at scale. But shouldn’t they build in the skills of those with grassroots experience?
  • Is there a danger that the focus on “news” in Newsnet will miss the opportunity to bring to the surface deeper insights about the ways that people are taking action locally – the sort of thing revealed by the recent micro-mapping research?
  • Is BIG investment of public money (that is, our lottery punts) in Newsnet leading to some unfair competition with organisations like People’s Voice Media? I would be interested to hear also from Talk About Local, who do excellent work in the field as well.
  • Should BIG give some sort of steer to their People Powered Change beneficiaries – who are listed as partners, and not just grantees?

And have I just wrecked my chances of further work with BIG, and any relationship with Media Trust? Maybe – but I don’t think you can call yourself a reporter if those jobs that verge on consultancy prevent you writing about significant issues.

I think that the solution is fairly simple … if BIG will forgive a little cheekiness on the last day of my contract. How about convening an open event in the New Year around the role of community and social reporting in People Powered Change, inviting Media Trust and other interests along … and running that as a consensus-building workshop.

The one big problem I found at the start of the work on People Powered Change is that people didn’t talk to each other enough because they were busy delivering (although I think that’s now changing). What better topic to start a new round of open conversations than with community reporting? We can’t aim to help people in local communities find their own voice, if we can’t do that among the various interests involved.

Meanwhile, comments are very welcome here, or if you spot that discussion is happening elsewhere tweet @Media_Trust @davidwilcox. The #newsnet tag seems to be mainly German rather than UK discussion. There is also a #ppchange tag.

Previously: Caroline Diehl, chief executive of Media Trust, responded to my earlier story in a comment here, explaining how they will collaborate locally and inviting people to express an interest.

Update: the Media Trust is offering to answer questions in a video interview. Add yours here.

Joining in Celebration 2.0: social media for sociable events

Reporting from events, and helping make them more sociable, is where a lot of my ideas on social reporting developed … with a early boost from the 2gether08 Festival a few year back. I’m therefore particularly delighted to be part of John Popham’s team for Celebration 2.0, which he has launched with a post here.

The genesis of Celebration 2.0 was the #twicket initiative that John ran on Easter Monday, live streaming a village cricket match, with local commentators and a global audience. Wikipedia entry here. John identifies three important lessons from #twicket:

  • “Fun” events can achieve large scale, global audiences online and attract mainstream media attention;
  • People who previously had seen no use for new technologies in their lives radically changed their attitudes as a result of being involved in an event that was enhanced by technology;
  • Serious messages can be conveyed to large audiences engaged by their interest in the fun nature of the event.

And adds:

So the core of Celebration 2.0 is to do more of what #twicket was about. Essentially, I will be going where people are having fun, helping them to use new technologies to enhance and amplify their events, engage new audiences, connect with others in the world doing similar things, and celebrate their traditions and cultures. And, in doing so, I’ll be looking to disseminate some practical strategies for engaging the reluctant in the use of new technologies.

There’ll be live streaming, recording audio and video, blogging, tweeting … and helping people do all that and more themselves. I do most of my reporting on an iPhone, uploading straight to YouTube, and a lot of people have the same capability on their phones. If not video, do some audio from any phone. We’ll produce a toolkit by the end of the project in  mid-2012, expanding the one I started with Bev Trayner.

The project is supported by Nominet Trust, and we will be working closely with the Talk About Local team who support local online sites.

I’m also hoping that the Media Trust’s Newsnet project – which I wrote about on – might provide channels for wider distribution, and that is further scope for building on the work John and I have been doing with Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change. The Big Jubilee Lunch next June could offer some terrific opportunities.

John is the main point of contact on all this, and he provides details in his post. We are keen to hear both from people running events, and also from policy people and organisations looking for fun ways to engage people using a mix of media. It’s not just about the impact of one event. As Tom Phillips says here, events can help build networks too.