Tag Archives: 2gether08

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Can RSA help bridge the social innovation divide?

There’s something of a digital divide emerging in the UK between those who believe that web-enabled social innovation is almost impossible within established nonprofit organisations, because of their management structures, culture and generally low-level of tech skills, and those who believe charities can make the change if they really try. See my item on Social Innovation Camp for illustrations of the “outsider” view.

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Socialreporting an event – the inside story

The 2gether08 Festival of social innovation, media and general good stuff, held in London last month, gave me a terrific opportunity to try some concentrated social reporting, and learn what an extraordinary team effort and mix of tools it takes to make it work well.

I ended up managing a mix of blogging, video, social networking, and Twittering before, at and after the event, linked to some lightweight webcasting.

The whole experience gives me some confidence that there is plenty more to do in blending online and offline sociability and creativity … but before I get too carried away I should reflect on the particular circumstances and happenchances that made it relatively easy and a lot of fun.

The initial basis for success was having event curator Steve Moore as a client, and Channel 4 behind him as main sponsor.

Eight weeks before the gig Steve said: “I’ll pay you for 2-3 days a week – create a website and whatever’s necessary. I trust you to do the right thing”.

At that stage there was a venue, the former Rochelle School in Shoreditch, event organisers Germination, main sponsor Channel 4 … and a rather sketchy programme.

Steve’s idea was to recruit some high profile speakers, then take an open space approach to the rest of the programme and invite participants to pitch their ideas for sessions. It seemed possible in the time only because of the range of contacts Steve has developed over the past few years in the policy and social innovation field, around a range of smaller Policy Unplugged events. Channel 4 and their £50 million 4IP fund were also a big draw. I knew what magic Germination could manage, after doing some social reporting at SHINE, the event they organised for social entrepreneurs.

The website was fairly easy. I introduced Roy Charles, Steve’s partner, to Simon Berry of Ruralnet, whose team have spent the past year or so re-inventing their online services to provide social enterprises and nonprofits with cost-effective tailored systems using a mix of Web 2.0 tools. I was confident Duncan Arrow and Paul Henderson could do what we needed on their WordPress MU system (which also hosts this blog).

Steve had set up a 2gether 08 page in Facebook as a first step to building our Festival community, and we used Eventbrite for registration. Those gave us easy ways to promote, sell tickets and provide updates.

But what else? I was looking around for a social networking system to add to the main site when Steve asked me to step in for him and do a presentation at Geekyoto. I mentioned this to the audience, and Gavin Bell came up with a recommendation for Crowdvine. A few emails and a call to Tony Stubblebine in California confirmed it would do what we needed.

A Twitter account was essential because that’s where a lot of our participants would be chatting. Once that was in place I felt we were ready to go. Steve had lined up Channel 4 execs and some main speakers for pre-event videos and the buzz was building. It seemed that we just needed to keep feeding the blog, facilitating Crowdvine, building the programme, and all would be well.

(At this point I should say I still don’t understand quite how the organising team of Safiya Ahmed, working with Steve, Jess Tyrrell, Sam Beinhacker, Lizzie Ostrom and their colleagues at Gemination managed to create the programme. People were pitching ideas, Steve was calling his contacts, spaces in the school were being juggled. Somehow it ended up like this on the day. That was in addition to getting marquees erected, and the 19th century school building rigged for internal video relays. Quite amazing. I had the easy job).

Then less than a week before the event I heard via Paul Henderson about media production specialist Richard Jolly doing some webcasting at Belfast Barcamp with lightweight kit and Mogulus. I doubted if we could do anything in the time available … but Richard jumped at the chance to come over to 2gether08 and cover two of the main rooms. In one he had to set up his own kit, in the other his broadcast experience enabled him to link up with the A/V production team.

Result: live webcasts during the two days of the Festival, and an archive of content.

Here’s my reflection on the people and tools we needed to make all this work.

The participants. It was possible to create a rapid online buzz around 2gether08 because most people were very capable online, and many knew each other. Different media tribes maybe, but plenty of cross-overs. We trusted that if we provided linked flexible physical and virtual places, then they would make it work … and they did.

The organising team. Steve brought together a group of people who could work with creative chaos: a mix of some essential structure, and a lot working with opportunities as they arose. As well as the core team, we had champions for each of the main topic areas. Was there a project manager? I’m still not sure …

The partners. As you can see from the logos on the website we had over 20 partners who helped promote the event, develop sessions and recommend contributors.

A social reporter. I would say this wouldn’t I …. but just as someone has to host the event and make sure all the pieces come together, so it is necessary to do the same online. Whoever does that – and whatever you call them – has to create some content, facilitate others, configure and join up the tools.

The technical team. Duncan Arrow and colleagues at Ruralnet were brilliant in their rapid response to requests for tweaks to the blog, and other advice.

Internal communications. Steve set up a space on the Policy Unplugged Basecamp site for team messaging and documents, and also an “ideas farm” where people could pitch their proposals for sessions.

Registration. We used Eventbrite which does the job of selling tickets, keeping track of who is coming, and sending them updates.

Facebook. Creating a group or page is great way to invite a lot of people to the show, and ask them to invite their friends. However, it isn’t particularly useful for building a community, so you need other tools.

The main website. We used a WordPress blog with a magazine theme, customised by Duncan Arrow as we went along. We were able to post video easily, and pull in feeds from Crowdvine and Twitter as you can see on the home page. We created some static pages for About, the Schedule etc, and linked to the Crowdvine networking site. We gave all main contributors the opportunity to blog, and a few did. However, it is probably unrealistic to expect busy people to create well-crafted content on a blog. If they are bloggers they’ll prefer to use their own, if they aren’t it can be a big step to use a new system and produce something in an appropriate style.

Social networking. Crowdvine seemed to work well for participants. Although people had to register there as well as with Eventbrite, it was pretty simple. Once participants had filled in a profile and answered simple questions, the system created a cloud of tags to help people find others with similar interests. They could link to friends, indicate they wanted to meet, create blog posts or comment, and build a personal schedule for the event. We left registration open, so we did get some non-paying participants. We hope they’ll be keen to sign up for the full show next year. A number of people said they felt that by using Crowdvine they were at the event before it started.

Twitter. I created a 2gether08 account and used that to send out updates. We asked anyone tweeting about the event to include “2gether08” in their message, and then used Twitter search to pull these together. We were then able to feed all messages into the blog.

Video. I used a tape digicam with tripod and (mostly) external mic to do main interviews before the event – like this one of Matt Locke. One the day I used a small Sanyo Xacti – as in this interview with Tom Watson MP. I also used a Nokia N82 phone and Qik to stream video instantly to the web – examples here and here. By creating an event page we were able to capture video produced by other Qikkers (thanks to Lloyd Davis, Paul Henderson, Darragh Doyle, Jason Hall). Video could be seen there, and also embedded in the blog. I’m a big fan of Qik. The only limitation is the quality of audio possible from a phone.

Webcasting. Richard Jolly did an extraordinary job at very short notice which meant that people could follow the main 2gether08 sessions online, and chat simultaneously using the Mogulus channel. This produced yet more Twittering, and “wish I were there” messages. Afterwards we had a stack of tapes and disks, which my son Dan edited and posted to blip.tv. I’m still in process of captioning and sorting out thumbnails. (I should add that Dan acts as my personal tech support team – every social reporter needs one).

In retrospect, did we need all the tools? Probably, because they all fulfilled different functions. Could it be done with one comprehensive website? I don’t know, but will be investigating further with Jess Tyrrell. Jess and the Germination team had to cope with the back-end of integrating different tools, and that wasn’t easy. Jess told me:

From where I’m looking, I think that both Crowdvine and Eventbrite have their limitations – principally that Eventbrite is quite difficult on the list segmentation – it doesn’t do very well in getting us a comprehensive list of attendees broken down into ticket types as well as being able to list guests (we had problems with both 2gether and SHINE), and Crowdvine’s integration with our main site was frustrating – mainly that we had to duplicate the list of speakers on the main site to show the extent of the programme which didn’t come across as well as we needed it to on Crowdvine.  It meant A LOT more work and duplication – something that really an integrated system should get rid of by amalgamating information.

Jess pointed me at http://www.amiando.com, which will be one of the systems I’ll be looking at. I’m not sure yet how effective this or other integrated systems will be an on the blogging and social networking.

What does it cost? Not as much as you might think on the technical side, because many of the tools are free. However, I did find I was spending more time than anticipated before the event, and I’m sure others in the team did too. Probably our faults to an extend, as we got caught up in the excitement … but I would be wary of taking on a similar job without the reasonable time budget and technical support that we had for 2gether08. Video, in particular, is time-consuming if you have to set up the interview and then edit, compress, upload and create a blog post.

What didn’t work? I thought we might do a “backstage” blog as well as the main one, where the organising team could give participants a foretaste of the event. There are a few items there, but we were all too busy, and one blog was enough. As I’ve mentioned above, it proved unrealistic to expect speakers and partners to blog about their contributions before the event. However, people were very happy to give video interviews, and I think they were worth the time and effort.

I’m really grateful to Darragh and others who did some additional social reporting on the day, and next time around I would spend more time in planning how we could best operate as a reporting team. I think that in order to cover an event really well you need three or four people. I spent a lot of time on the day looking for interviews and processing video, which meant I couldn’t attend many sessions. It might be possible to encourage participants to create more online on the day … but that can be a distraction from the real business of listening and talking and being, ahem, 2gether.

What’s next? I know Steve is abuzz with ideas for more 2gethering, and I hope to play a part. Otherwise I’m looking for other clients who want to enhance their events with some social reporting, and maybe learn how to do some of it themselves.

I’m really conscious that what I’m calling social reporting is a generalist mashup of skills that others are deploying in greater depth as community managers, facilitators, technology stewards and bloggers. So mostly I’ll be looking out for other people in the business who are prepared to share their experience of these new roles … like Nick Booth, David Briggs, Steve Bridger, Steve Dale, Lloyd Davis, Darragh Doyle, Jemima Gibbons, Ed Mitchell, Bev Trayner, and Tim Davies who has produced some excellent one-sheet guides to some of the tools we used at 2gether08. Do you know any other social reporters?

Main online tools for 2gether08

Blog items about the event

Social reporting