Screen Shot 2012-07-04 at 15.52.16

#DigitalAngus – Citizen Journalism and the Commonwealth Games

Last Saturday, I awoke at a time where most of Glasgow was going to sleep (5am!) to catch the first train to Dundee to meet my lift to Forfar for the Digital Angus conference being organised by Third Sector Lab and Angus Council around the themes of social media for community engagement.

As Angus was one of our areas where we were missing a cluster application for the Digital Commonwealth Schools’ programme, this was also an opportunity to come up and actually speak to people face to face to try and see if we could find a set of schools who would be up for joining the process.

Although the Commonwealth Games are based in Glasgow this year, there are also sporting events happening across Scotland; for instance the diving is in Edinburgh at the Commonwealth pool and the shooting is in Carnoustie (which is part of Angus) and has a lot of activity planned for around Games time – from sporting, volunteering, baton relay and educational perspective. Following on from my talk at Digital Agile CLD in Stirling earlier in the week, the fact that Angus was going to be teaming with events and activity on the run up to and during the Commonwealth Games, this would be a great opportunity to catalyse on the power of major events to encourage people to try citizen journalism or digital storytelling for the first time.

Just to change the direction of this post slightly – when I started to write it this morning, I got a tweet from Andy Dickinson about my previous blog post and we had a wee chat about the differences between citizen journalism and digital storytelling in this event context – so I pulled in a few of the tweets below as they got me thinking as I finish editing this post.


Anyway, these tweets plus writing about #digitalangus got me thinking more about the distinctions between citizen journalism (so how we defined Citizen Relay as a project, how we recruited and the type of training that we offered prior to the torch relay) and Digital Storytelling – something is used frequently that can cover quite a lot but we’ve had to nail down quite quickly in terms of producing materials, resources and recruiting volunteers for the project – Blogging, Video, Audio and Social Media as the 4 technical areas, with thematic areas and the ability to embed a community of practice within the process.

The notion of moving from formally training people to become a ‘citizen journalist’ to capture and report on what you see and/or already understand to be -so a major event is great for this as there is a lot of activity and people to capture – to actually developing a course of learning that will provide a set of skills where somebody can not only report on and be a citizen journalist during a particularly that can be used critically and ask questions about things beyond the major event itself – it is a catalyst for signing up and getting involved but what and how they learn will differ in the sense that it should last longer than the major event itself & encourage them to join a ever evolving and growing community of practice online. Building capacity in this way is an attempt to help people connect digitally using a context beyond instrumental function of say, changing to welfare system or using library computers to make a CV.

Anyway, I got a little distracted there – and it is getting late.

My session was a very quick introduction to the Digital Commonwealth project, what we have done so far and what we intend to do into the next 6 months (way!). I then did some simple introduction to making audio and video on your smartphone, focussing on some of the learning we’ve had with working with the Media Trust’s Local 360 project, Citizen’s Eye and  my own involvement with the Wester Hailes Digital Sentinel.

I even got my lovely lift Alison to volunteer to be an interviewee :-)

I managed to stay for the rest of the event, which was great – there is a Storify from the day here and there is an excellent blog post from the final speaker Kenny McDonald that summarises the day. My slides are available here.

Evernote Camera Roll 20140119 173509

Outcomes of Writing Retreat Number 2: Returning to the Ethics Form

I’m writing this blog post during the final 30 minutes of my second writers’ retreat. It has been great to be able to return to the retreat so soon after the last one in November. This time Kieran was able to join me (who is 2 weeks into his PhD, after spending the first 3 months of his enrolment completing him MSc research), which was good as it meant we didn’t ‘miss out’ on the weekend but also managed to get a lot done individually – more so if we had a working weekend at home.

My first retreat resulted in me writing over 13500 words as part of my PhD that I hadn’t touched since I began my year out. It was a pretty emotional experience for me as I was never sure if I would be able to return to it, let along to contribute to it. Over the course of 2 and a half days, I managed to turn my little piles of half written notes and false-start chapters into a format and structure in Scrivener that looked like something that could resemble a PhD, sketch out a plan for restarting and begin to make notes on my methodology. It really did feel (like one other retreater called it… an enema of the brain) and after I felt I could at least make a start at finding a route to restart, followed by completion.

This time I had a number of smaller things that I do. A couple of abstracts, one related to a work project about Digital Commonwealth, another the opportunity to submit an abstract to the Leisure Studies conference where I am on the organising committee for. For that, I wanted to begin to use my PhD research again, rather that presenting on something new. I needed to update my work so it was suitable for that audience in 2014, not recycling presentations from the last time I properly worked on my PhD.

So, I thought it might be a good opportunity to begin that dreaded ethics form that I had been avoiding since long after I returned from Vancouver. Rowena gives us 5 mins at the start of the retreat to set short (by the end of the night), medium (by the end of Saturday) and long term (by the end of the retreat) writing goals using free writing, paying attention to how many words we can write in 5 minutes (325 words if you are wondering), then we discuss these goals with our neighbour. I mentioned that it would be good to start preparing an ethics form by the end of the retreat.

The reality is that I completed a full, complete draft of an ethics form. All 8072 words of it – before lunch time today. That includes a letter of invitation, participant information sheet, consent form and a set of interview questions. I have eligibility criteria for my interviewees, I have a procedure for how I will go about doing it, I even have the theoretical underpinning and managed to contextualise and find a way of supporting my ethnographic data that I collected during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games nearly 4 years ago. It is all there. At least in draft form. But the only way I can describe it is that I now possess the practical steps that I need in order to collect the right data and use a grounded theory (I only found out that I could do that in the pub on Thursday!) to develop an understanding of what actually happening during Vancouver 2010 with regards to blogging, citizen journalism and independent media.

I also have a new title for my PhD, the last time I posted after the retreat, I wasn’t too sure about the focus – did I want to use London 2012 data, did I want to focus more on digital storytelling? – so now I have decided to look at the following, ahem:

Hacking a Digital Legacy: Uncovering the Digital Storytellers of Vancouver’s “Social Media” Olympics

I’ve managed to elaborate on this more during the process of preparing an ethics form and the necessary materials that are required to approach an ethics committee in order to carry out the research. I’m still not registered back on the PhD officially, so I am unsure what the best way to take it forward can be at this stage. All I can hope at the moment is to use my ethics forms as a opportunity to focus the next steps of thesis, collect the relevant data and work towards getting it written it up.

So, retreat number 2 down, with 3 minutes to go – including this blog post & 3 documents I needed to finish for work on Friday, that’s my total number of words for the weekend now sitting at 10401 during 11 hours of dedicated writing that is possible during the retreat. This has definitely pushed me on in terms of hitting my writing goals for the end of the month &  when I’m pretty busy at work as 2014 kicks in properly.

PhD writing

What I need to write about during January 2014

First post of 2014, a particularly important year for me as I’m working full time on a project with “Glasgow 2014″ in the job description. Eek. Secondly, 4 years after I initially collected my data from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (after a year out in 2013!) I am returning to my PhD (part time) to complete the write up and get it off my desk for good.

Just two more days (a weekend!) until I am back to work, readdressing my swelling inbox and trying not to think about just how many workshops, events and training days and materials I need to coordinate before the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Until then, I am using my precious me time to set a-side some public writing goals to help me work through the PhD deadlines (evenings and weekends only) alongside preparation for writing retreats and days of focus.

I intend to do one of these posts every month, ticking of what I managed, what I intend to do next and how much I need to do until I have finished the bloody thesis.

A reminder of my PhD focus:

I updated my PhD abstract at the last writer’s retreat, I will probably have another bash at it by the end of the month but for those who need reminding, this is what the main focus on my PhD is about:

From Vancouver 2010 to Glasgow 2014: Major events as a catalyst for community-led media production

The thesis seeks to identify and evaluate the catalytic effect of mega events on community-led media generation and citizen journalism in host city and nation environments. Major events such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games allow us to track the rise and maturity of new media platforms as institutions and organising committees adapt and react to profound changes to the media ecosystem where audiences become co-producers of the media experience. Since the growth and maturity of social media platforms and emergence of easier to access mobile and digital tools for networking and self-publication, granular narratives can emerge through alternative communication channels out-width established platforms such as newspapers, television and accredited broadcasters.

The thesis tracks these forms of independent or alternative narratives across 3 major events; the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, the Olympic Torch Relay for London 2012 and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and will demonstrate the catalytic effect of major events can have on independent/interactive/citizen-led forms of media. 

But having spent 8 hours reorganising my primary data for Vancouver 2010 (and the writing retreat was the first time I touched my PhD in a year – after 18 months intense work on the London 2012 Summer Olympics and now onto Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games). I might just still to one case study – this is a decision I need to make in the next few weeks, the xmas holidays have been brilliant for giving me some distance to actually think.

Anyway…

Personal Writing Tasks for January 2014: 

Ethics Form -> Methods Chapter:

My main focus this month is to draft a departmental ethics form for my PhD research. As it was an ethnography, I should have completed this before I went to Vancouver in 2010, however, this did not happen – and I don’t want to dwell (and I’m not sure this particular form existed or was even required when I started my PhD) – and instead I am looking to develop a strategy to complete a series of interviews with key participants who I encountered during my 6 weeks of Games time. I have collected most of my research diary, social media outputs (tweets, photos, blog posts, video) (which I guess I can call “live field notes” now, thanks by this fantastic blog post from Tricia Wang at Ethnography Matters), pdf archives from blogs and news sites, favourites and lists of videos and photographs and emails sent and received during the time I was in Vancouver – 1st of Feb to 7th of March 2010 – and inserted them into Evernote, with some basic tagging and notes to accompany them. This will form the basis of a timeline of activity, made up of media content, social media content and focused around my own experience during the Vancouver Games, with a particular focus on alternative media outlets and social media as a source for citizen generated news stories. Therefore, the interviews I will be requesting ethical approval for will be used to triangulate my primary data, giving people involved the opportunity to reflect on the experience, what were their motivations for becoming a citizen journalism and what came next?  I will be using the writer’s retreat I am attending on the 17th-19th Jan to work on this form and to develop my methods chapter some more.

#LegallyHigh

My second focus is to prepare an abstract for the Leisure Studies 2014 conference in July 2014 – which is being hosted at UWS (I’m on the organising committee). I’m working with Kieran (my partner – who is an alcohol and drugs policy researcher) to develop a paper on legal highs and mapping perceptions on social media. We collected the social data last year during a Channel 4 programme called “Legally High” and we are now about to begin the analysis. I will be coming from the methodological angle, particularly inspired by the ESRC Research Social Media Conference I had the privilege of speaking at last November. I’m into doing something with a relatively small data set, which isn’t attached to a mega event and allows me to explore some of those critical issues associated with Twitter research. The deadline for the abstract submission is at the end of the month so we’d like to have submitted pretty soon.

Work Writing Tasks for January 2014

As I blogged before Christmas, I have been working on developing educational resources for the Digital Commonwealth project, with a particular focus on how we can use Open Badges during the process. Amongst other things, my main writing task for work this month is to draft an outline for a Handbook of Digital Storytelling that focuses on social media, blogging, video and audio that our recruited trainers can use to help teach digital literacies skills to participants on the project. This needs to be outlined ahead of a Digital Storytelling Symposium that we are organising at the Big Lottery HQ on the 24th of January.

Phew.

Anyway, I’m sick as a dug and full of the cold from excessive chilling so I am going to enjoy my final two days off (after 16 full days off from work, first time since I left secondary school!) and then get cracking. Cheerio.

The drive to the retreat

Writing Retreats; or how a trip to the mountains helped me restart my PhD.

Inspired by this call to action from Jessica on collecting the stories of mental health and PhD students, and the fact I am looking forward to working on ‘it’ through the enforced Christmas annual leave that working in a University insists I take (:-D),  I thought I would give an update on my progress of trying to get back on track with my own PhD.

For long time readers, I have been a PhD student (part time, self funded) since January 2009, starting at the University of Leicester and moving back to the University of the West of Scotland in October 2009 (full time, part-funded) – where I was an undergraduate at the previously named Paisley University between 2002-2005.

I am currently coming to the end of 12 months suspension – year out – as I had to deal with a combination of burn out, running out of funding and moving back to Glasgow to be closer to friends and family – and importantly the University where I am enrolled to complete my PhD.

Defining the problem:

My PhD journey, or my PhD story – in one word – has been a struggle. If it hasn’t been a struggle for finding cash to fund it, it is the struggle of receiving enough funding to pay your only your rent and topping it up with many other short term roles across the academic and related research industries. It’s the struggle of not feeling good enough, not being able to conform to some of the bizarre processes that some academics partake in, or the struggle to get my head round what the hell the Westminster government was doing to the Higher Education system. Struggle of course come with opportunity –  I have met so many people, learnt so much, done so much, dare say achieved so much in a short period of time that is 3 years of a PhD, but also blurred lines and distractions that are unavoidable when you are looking for the next series of work to pay the bills and make up the short fall on your stipend. It is getting wrapped up in projects that are relevant to your PhD  - mine is about the Olympics, so try and avoid the attention that gives you – wanted or otherwise – in a country which is hosting a Games during your final year of funding. Obligations, opportunities, blurred lines. It was hard – I sometimes wish I did it on something more desky.

Finding the space to write, the time to give your PhD more than a quick once over between project deadlines, marking, tutorials, travelling for work, is difficult. I would (and did – but cut them out) go into the details, but I don’t need to add to the body of blogging that states how much of an isolating, exhausting heavy-going experience writing up a PhD is. I know it can be done – and I know so many inspiring people who have managed to drag themselves from the brink of drop-out to completing and moving on with their life, doing even more amazing things in the process.

My year out of my PhD as allowed me to gain enough distance from the challenges I was facing when the funding dried up – and enough space to be able to write without guilt about how I felt about having to down tools on something I was defining my entire life on.

When I suspended my PhD, I lost a large chunk of my identity that I could always lean on with it. It was my certain, it was my base point. And I was definitely  not prepared for the polarised advise that came with the suspension, but I got/am getting through it – and probably about half way through June this year, I stopped feeling angry about the reactions, circumstances – or upset like I was a failure and let people down – and that should probably give it a by and move on with my life – but actually felt that it was indeed possible to carry on and get this document finished, submitted and move the hell on.

I know it can happen because I never thought I could be at this stage where I would be able to write a blog post about restarting the PhD. This time last year, if you mentioned the work ‘PhD’ or ‘Olympics’ – I would curl into a ball and rock back and forth, my closest friends would warn people to dare not utter those words unless you wanted to change the mood of the party to black. But despite those feelings, I know now that can see a way of finishing this – and much of it was overcoming that fear of opening the document after 18 months on the virtual shelf.

Restarting the writing process:

I have been working by stealth on finding ways to write and to carry on writing, even if I am technically in limbo officially- writing doesn’t need me to be enrolled for it to happen at this stage.

A few weekends ago, I went to a Writer’s Retreat in Aberfoyle, hosted by Prof. Rowena Murray who has recently joined UWS. I found out about the retreat through some other PhD students (mainly those, who are like me are members of staff too) – and it was one of many that happen all year round.

The format usually takes place over 2 days, where I took part in over 11 hours of group writing, chunked up between 1hr-2hr blocks of working in silence as a group, with 1/2 hour/meal breaks between them. At the start of the retreat we were asked to write a short, medium and long term goal for the weekend, and to discuss it with a partner about how you were going to achieve it – the shortest goal was for the Friday evening session itself (1hr 30 mins), which after a 2 hour drive after work from Glasgow to the remote village of Gartmore near Aberfoyle, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to open my laptop, let along write something relating to my PhD. I had let that document become a demon, something that I could avoid easily – if only for my own sanity, so asking myself to tackle after a day of project work was a scary prospect.

For my short term goal, I said that I would try and rewrite my PhD abstract and to produce a revised chapter outline based on some of the notes I had been leaving myself in Evernote since I started thinking about my PhD again. The thing that surprised me the most is that I managed to do this quite quickly, and it wasn’t as painful as I thought. I thought I might want to completely change my PhD focus and move it towards the work that I have been doing recently, but after a bit of work on it, I was relatively happy with the current approach and indeed, time away from it and distance away from a media-saturated world gripped with Olympic hysteria has definitely helped me with clarity.

I don’t/didn’t have an ethics form prepared for my research, which I should have done back in 2009, so I thought if I was to complete one for the purpose of restarting, it would be easier to start from scratch than retroactively fit to the data I have – but instead, I found myself sketching out the method chapter that I have always wanted to work on – and focusing my ethics on gaining interviews from key participants that I encountered through my ethnographic data from Vancouver games time and London pre-games activity. Therefore my medium goal (what I wished to achieve by end of Saturday evening) was to take all the pieces of writing that I had and to rewrite them in order to ensure I had reviewed my previous progress and to turn the muddled mess that was my head in July 2012 into a document that I can authentically call the bloody thesis.

The final goal (by the end of the retreat) was have a document I could show at my meeting with the head of department the following Monday, a timeline for completion and compiled next steps for the next stages of writing. By the time we stopped writing on Sunday afternoon, I had written over 13200 words in 2.5 days, and had time to go for a swim, have dinner and drinks with friends and eat a lot of different types of cake. Importantly, I had found a way to unstuck the stuck, the possibility to actually open the document and start writing again.

PhD writing

Not only did I have a document I could call a thesis, a plan and the confidence to start writing again, I had unwillingly began the methods chapter – began work towards correcting the massive problem of not having a ethics form (3 years in) and could see how it would be possible to turn what I had into a PhD. The writers’ retreat was exactly what I needed in order to begin seeing myself as a writer – and gave me a safe space with other people who are pursuing writing projects to work together and support each other through some of the isolating factors of dealing with a project of this nature.

I have booked another retreat for the 17th-19th of January, and although I accept that this can’t be the only way that I will be able to work on my PhD, the technical of chunking up your day to focus on writing does help, being able to work closely with other PhD students does help and finding a way to get over the feeling of failure that comes with suspension does help. With the Christmas holidays kicking in from the 20th December this year – and this being the first year where I haven’t had to find a project to work on over the break to ensure the pressure of spending and the lack of holiday pay/steady income doesn’t result in no money come February, I am going to use the next 2 weeks to try and push up the word count on that bloody thesis document and prepare for my next burst of retreat.

My next retreat aim is to get the ethics form, rewrite the methods chapter and pursue interview request for triangulating my data that I already have from both Olympiads. Finding those days where you can dedicate your mind totally is hard, at the moment work pressures are so much that I am finding it hard to find time to sleep and eat properly, but I know that these will pass soon as we move onto a new stage of the project – in the mean time, I am going to carry on when I can, pushing the PhD document forward. It’s not perfect – and I have a long way to go, but I’m in the strongest position that I’ve been with my PhD so far and if it means that I have to wait a little longer to re-enroll, at least I’m moving in a better direction now.

Recommended reading (from Rowena’s Retreat briefing):

Murray, R (2012) It’s not a hobby: Reconceptualizing the place of writing in academic work, Higher Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-012-9591-7.

MacLeod I, Steckley L & Murray R (2011) Time is not enough: Promoting strategic engagement with writing for publication, Studies in Higher Education, 37(5): 641-54.

Moore S, Murphy M & Murray R (2010) Increasing academic output and supporting equality of career opportunity in universities: Can writers’ retreats play a role?, Journal of Faculty Development, 24(3): 21-30.

Murray R (2011) Developing a community of research practice, British Educational Research Journal, 38(5): 783-800.

Murray R & Newton M (2009) Writing retreat as structured intervention: Margin or mainstream?, Higher Education Research and Development, 28(5): 527-39.

Murray R (2013) Writing for Academic Journals, 3rd edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press-McGraw-Hill.

Murray R & Moore S (2006) The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach.  Maidenhead: Open University Press-McGraw-Hill.

#rsmconf13

Conference, Researching Social Media (Keynote): Curating a Digital Commonwealth

As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, this one-day conference on Researching Social Media was aimed at policy makers, the business community, third sector and academic researchers and paid specific attention to methods and analytical approaches.

The conference was held on Monday 4 November 2013 at The Workstation in Sheffield and hosted by the University of Sheffield.

The conference included a keynote panel of leading social science, policy and industry researchers:

  • Francesco D’Orazio (Face Research)
  • Jennifer Jones (University of the West of Scotland, freelance creative practitioner)
  • Gareth Morrell (NatCen, lead on New Social Media, New Social Science? (NSMNSS) Network)
  • Katrin Weller (Information Scientist, GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences)

The conference also included three skills labs:

  1. A comprehensive review of different tools available for social media research (led by Farida Vis, University of Sheffield);
  2. Overview of quantitative approaches (led by Mike Thelwall, University of Wolverhampton);
  3. An overview of qualitative approaches (led by Gareth Morrell and Eve Stirling, University of Sheffield).

The conference offers a timely and important overview of different critical methodological and analytical approaches for dealing with social media data in social scientific, reliable ways.

Slides from  my keynote:


Abstract:

This paper focuses on the use of social, citizen and community media as a means of opening up channels of debate and discussion and offering new spaces for critique around major sporting and cultural events.  The paper draws on a case study of a participatory arts and media project #citizenrelay, which formed a strong community of local reporters and utilised everyday digital tools and techniques to cover the arrival of the Olympic Torch Relay in Scotland in the summer of 2012. Over recent years, citizen media movements have used ubiquitous mobile devices, freely available and shareable web platforms and a do-it-yourself ethos to subvert established representations in the mainstream media. Though disparate at times, individuals and collectives are now using hybrid media environments to mobilise, organise and discuss issues pertaining to restricted media frames around mega events, and beyond into other spheres of civic importance. They have, with varying degree of success, exploited the fact that “digital infrastructures offer citizens new channels for speaking and acting together and thus lower the threshold for involvement” (Bakardjieva et al, 2012. pi). The paper will explore how these abstract ambitions and aspirations were translated into practice in the #citizenrelay project. They emphasise the importance of immediacy (of content generation and upload), connectedness (physically and virtually), locality (the origin of stories), empowerment (to become media makers) and participation (the ethos of accessibility) as features of successful citizen journalism initiatives. The paper will conclude with an introduction to the Big Lottery funded Digital Commonwealth project  that focuses on using the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as a catalyst for enhancing digital literacies and explores the challenges of visualising, amplifying and archiving a project/dataset of this scale.

The Digital Commonwealth Vision:

The ambition of the Digital Commonwealth project is to enhance the capacity of individuals and groups to use freely available mobile digital (and social) media tools and techniques to ensure their voice(s) is heard in a saturated (and often commercially) motivated media landscape.  The Digital Commonwealth project focuses on lowering the threshold for involvement for individuals and groups so that they can be empowered to exploit creative tools and technologies to tell their stories, digitally. The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games provides a unique opportunity to enable (and support) individuals and communities to explore and articulate their own stories. The Games bring attention to issues of global citizenship and identity as a focal point at this important point in Scotland’s history and the project provides a space for a conversation to take place (and be recorded) that includes individuals and communities less well represented in mainstream media narratives. The project activities delivered will develop the foundational skills, capabilities and confidence in the ‘unvoiced’ to ensure they can make a digital media contribution in the lead up to, during, and after the Games.

Research Themes in Event

New Publication: Events and Resistance

Research Themes in Event

Just a quick update to say that I’ve had an article that I co-wrote with Prof. David McGillivray published in a new book called “Research Themes for Events”  which was released a few weeks ago.

Reference: McGillivray, D. & Jones, J. (2013) Events and Resistance in: Finkel, R., McGillivray, D., McPherson, G. & Robinson, P. (eds) Research Themes for Events. CABI Publishing.