On Speaking to folk, Community Media Cafes, Challenges and Reflections

It’s been a busy two weeks.

Last week, I gave 2 presentations at 2 events, a workshop on Citizen Journalism and Major Events (introduction to the Digital Commonwealth project) for the Social Media for Social Good conference on the 3rd of December and a workshop on Social Media as a Consultation Tool on the Annual General Meeting for Glasgow Society for the Voluntary Sector.

This week, I have attended (or hosted) four community media cafes for Digital Commonwealth across Scotland (Easterhouse, Govan, Central Aberdeen and North Edinburgh) – I have two more to go before Christmas (Craigmillar and central Edinburgh) next week and a further 3 to arrange across Ayrshire at the start of January (Irvine, Ardrossan and East Ayrshire). That’s a grand total of 16 cafes in 3 months, about 4 subject areas and across four regions of Scotland.

By the end of January (24th to be precise), we will be arranging a community media meet up/symposium for practitioners at the Big Lottery Fund headquarters in Glasgow to address the key issues associated with digital storytelling, managing community media projects and response to ethical community based media. I will be updating the Digital Commonwealth website with more details of this in the coming weeks.

I have spoke about and to a lot of people about Digital Commonwealth over the last few weeks which include those who represent agencies, those who are deeply embedded in the activity of their local community and those who live and breath community media as the livelihood and their existence.

It has been roller coaster of emotion, ranging from sheer hyper inspiration when you discover and dig into the media that has been produced by individuals and organisations, to the (sometimes successful, sometimes difficult) tension that comes with explaining and pitching the project to groups involved.

The community media cafe model was a device to try and open up and speak to as many people as possible in an informal way, where they can also learn something along the way about 1 of the 4 media tools we are using (audio, video, blogging and social media). As we are working with a number of different partners & groups in the project areas, the form in they have take have been very different. Some have been workshop based, some have been in cafes, some have felt like a sit down lecture and others have been hands on. We wanted to experiment in this space – so in terms of controlling the format, it was balancing act.

Juggling the finding the people, with the right location, with the right venue, with the right approach with the expectations of each set of people you encounter – from the trainer, to the volunteers to those who have discovered the sessions on the train, – and keeping it within the tight timeframe we have – has been a real eye opener.

The project its is a national, multi-faceted project that aims to generate a citizens’ creative response to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games – but it was never intended to just be about the Games. It’s about providing access digital literacies. It’s about connecting the dots between existing organisations. It’s about providing, generating an archiving a digital space for stories that would not be heard otherwise and for networking stories from existing social media users and community media organisations.

The Games are a catalyst for developing digital storytelling skills, its a massive media event – and will produce a mass of media about Glasgow and Scotland  – it (as a context) is a safe place to learn digital skills because you can be descriptive  or you can be thematic.

The digital skill demands, the learning resources and the workshop processes that we are currently developed to deliver these skills to schools and community groups who decide to participate will be paramount – as will how we communicate the process and encourage people to use and develop those in their own personal contexts, as well as connecting to the wider project.

So learnings? Next steps?

I’ve learned that it is impossible to meet all expectations of everybody that you meet. There are going to be people who understand the vision, contribute and see opportunity in a project of this scale – and they’ll be others who don’t see any value at all, even after you spend more time focussing down on the reasons and the purpose of using the resources of major events at a catalyst.

This can feel pretty deflating, especially as it can be impossible to judge the experience and understanding of the audience in the 2 hours that you have with them- but I also understanding (mainly from my PhD research) that the tension of ‘alternative’ narratives and media forms are difficult to communicate without practice because they are not the established ‘mainstream’ understanding of major events are mediated. This can be broken down further into finding appropriate ways in which to advertise the project successful, to deliver content whilst also working towards the next stages of opportunities for formal training for those who wish to commit.

It perhaps might be easier for me to just concentrate of those who specifically have a commonwealth related or funded project already, and exclusively offer training to them as the buy-in is already present – but that would be the same as offering social media training to people who found the event through twitter or facebook already. If we are to genuinely focus on digital literacy and widening access and awareness to digital storytelling tools, then it needs to reach beyond pre-existing and obvious channels and networks.

Painful and messy, especially for my own mental health which is taking an absolute beating at the moment – I am not a target driven sales person with a hardened skin, I struggle saying no when it comes to wanting to help out-width the project scope –  but I hope such challenge will be it will be worth it as we move into the next stages, recruiting a core group of people who will become trainers, who will become participants and will be given the opportunity to learn how to use the Internet for digital storytelling purposes, that contribute to the Digital Commonwealth archive but can be transferred into whatever context they desire.

The team are currently working on a loosely titled ‘Handbook of Digital Storytelling’ that we can use to prepare our training resources from – and to situate our desire for Open Badges around. It is an exercise in pulling together what people need to know to participate in the project (as a trainer, a teacher, a participant) but also putting to words the best practice of delivering digital storytelling and social media training which isn’t just reinventing the technical handbook for whatever branded service is popular at the moment. Platforms change, but a confident user of the Internet adapts.

One more week to go!