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#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.

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Presentation: Digital Storytelling & Major Events at Digitally Agile CLD Working Group

Last week I was invited by Martin Dewar from Youthlink Scotland to deliver the opening presentation at the Digitally Agile working group who were developing a set of standards for considering social media and digital literacies in a community learning development (CLD) setting in Scotland.

The talk argued that we should look to major events as something beyond the sport, culture and tourism opportunities and instead use them as paradigmatic  benchmark for how (mobile/digital) technology evolves and how community settings can be catalyzed for looking at alternative reporting, narratives and storytelling. It discussed some of the key learning from Citizen Relay in 2012 as a pilot for delivering a national citizen journalism initiative around a major event and moves towards the activity we have planned for the Digital Commonwealth project across the schools, community media and creative voices programmes towards the 6 week (much longer than a 7 day) baton relay across Scotland.
Thanks to the support of the rest of the project team (David, Alison and Gayle) this was also a good opportunity to talk about some of the great projects that have already been submitted and agreed on, a real move from a project that we have been pitching to actual reality that we are going to have schools on Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna researching into other Commonwealth islands and exploring the challenges of training for sporting contests on small islands or producing an online radio documentary about the John Muir trail in Kirkintilloch.
With a particular focus on discussing and critiquing the draft set of National Standards in this area of digital, the event provided the  opportunity to explore how we deliver resources, training and follow up around the 4 areas of digital storytelling that we are looking at (blogging, video, audio and social media), as well as how we motive and accredit these forms of learning through strategies such as Mozilla’s Webmaker and Open Badges.
I got to stay for the rest of the event where we got to discuss the 10 proposed standards (which include practice, policy, inclusion, literacy, evaluation, professional development, co-production, investment, ethics, resources ) in depth, looking at language, approach and how they might sit within our own practice, how they might suit future changes and what might be missing from the descriptions. It was useful from both a perspective of somebody who is part of a team producing educational resources (a handbook of digital storytelling if you may) but also to get an idea where the sector would *like* to head, that across different organisations and authority areas that we suffer from similar challenges (IT governing access for instance!) and what we could do collectively to try and influence change in this area.
For more information about the consultation, the CLD Standards people have pulled together a Storify of the content produced on the #DACLD hashtag
first sentinel session

Leaving the Sentinel: 5 things I have learned about faciliatating community-led media

Having spoken at a few conferences recently about the impact of social media and community-led media in terms of community engagement, I have been meaning to write this post for a while – especially as I’ve been talking specifically about method and approach to developing community based media outfit – and – several people have been in touch about how they might kick start a project in their area, organisation or specific-project related context.

I’ve recently concluded my year long stint at the community media development worker for the Carnegie Trust funded news agency Digital Sentinel in Wester Hailes in Edinburgh. It has been a year full of learnings, a chance to look closely at models for developing a volunteer pool who can find news and lead to community story generation – but most importantly, how do you develop and follow on from a much loved community based newspaper (which lost its funding in 2008) and replace the news source from top down established news models to shift towards a locally produced, community made news agency – made by the people, for the people. I am a hugely inspired by the work of Citizen’s Eye in Leicester, who’s editor, John Coster, has been a key role model for me in terms of thinking about encouraging people and groups to tell their own stories and to make these tools more accessible to all – especially as more and more people find themselves online and/or using a smart phone to access social media for their news and small media.

The gauntlet of CMDW now been passed on to a local Edinburgh resident and hyperlocal media producer Phyllis Stephens from the Edinburgh Reporter (so safe and expert hands then!) but as a sort of ‘exit-interview’ with myself, here are my top 5 learnings from working on and (as it emerged from idea to reality) with, the Digital Sentinel to share with those potentially interested in starting your own community led agency:

1)Identity community leaders, and empower them to tell stories- not just for the website, but about the website itself

That saying “If you want something done, ask a busy person” is never truer said when it comes to beginning to recruit volunteers for a local media project. Meeting members of a community council, those who volunteer their skills through time bank initiatives or community education practitioners/participants give a good starting point for identifying who is already active on projects in their community. Similarly, many successful community media projects are lead by just 1-2 people who drive the image and the work of the project forward, it is not just a case of building it and they will come. A turning point for me was after the first training taster session at the health agency, and speaking with John, the leader of the community council about what he had learned since beginning the Sentinel journey. Total goosebumps.

A challenge is reaching beyond those who are aware and interact with services, community advocates who know and understand what is trying to be achieve are one of your biggest assets in terms of ensuring the project has longevity.

2)Free and accessible tools, use what is in your pocket

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Using a Samsung Galaxy Tab for digital storytelling

There are a range of specialist tools available to make and share media for the web. You can get bespoke cameras, apps and addons which a community group can purchase to help produce and share stories on their website – however – this can often be a difficult position to administrate, who looks after the kit, who gets to use it, what gets bought when starting up. It’s horses for courses, particularly as we live in a personalised, networked environment online – no one twitter or facebook feed is the same, depending on what and who we subscribe to – so sharing tips and techniques is key before a decision on kit and training of that kit is made. The Media Trust Local 360 is a great resource for getting recommendations of what might work for you.

If you are wanting to get out there and begin to tell stories, you are better to ask people to reach into your pocket and see what you have. A larger screened, app-based smartphone is slowly but surely becoming the default mobile phone that is available for those purchasing a new device. Similarly, tablet purchase and use are becoming more and more accessible with an apparent 1000% increase in sales at Christmas last year.
The trick is to tap into what you have got, before you start a shopping list of desirable kit. Reflect on the fact that access to broadband and/or wifi, digital literacy demands and cost of  the technology will also come into play, so it is advised to work with devices and scenarios that people can understand and are already embedded within – and support your volunteers to get confident in that – before dazzling with more expensive and more experienced kit. A pen and piece of paper is enough to get you started.
All that is happening is shifting the perception of the consumption to the production of online media, something that many do not realise they are already doing when they take a photo, write a status update or create a short video for the web – as a user of a social media platform, you are a content creator.

3)Cutting edge of mundane, not all community news needs to follow a News model

My core thesis for all my research and project management interests is that events are the perfect catalyst for media content generation and can be used for working towards longevity and self-production in a community media setting. Take a community fun run.

Sentinel reporters at the Wester Hailes Fun Run in July

Even if you’ve never attended a fun run in your life, you know what happens, what its aims are and you know that there will be news factored into the process – a starting call, individual and group causes being championed for fundraising or personal goals, the process and suspense of the run, the audience cheering on their relatives, colleagues and friends, data and stats of results – and of course, the winners.

The irony now is that an event that a whole type of community would come out to support, lacks coverage and support from existing media sources. Individuals may take pictures to share with friends, others might tweet that they are attending – but in terms of a coherent story, many local events and personal experiences are generally ignored by over-stretched local media who have a specific agenda to fill.
This is where a community media news outfit can come in, setting up a space to share and collect stories, interviews with participants and special guests and of course capturing the winners of the event as they cross the finish line.

Use these events to stimulate interest in your news outfit, allow volunteers to practice capturing and reporting in a safe environment, explore ethics and style – but most importantly, soak up the environment and have fun, these events will make the harder, more political and ethically diverse stuff easier to report.

This is what we did with #citizenrelay (citizen journalists, covering the Olympic torch relay in Scotland) and is at the heart of Digital Commonwealth (the Big Lottery funded project I’m coordinating at UWS), which will be recruiting and training people to tell their stories as a creative response to the Commonwealth Games in 2014 – the bigger the event, the more opportunity to connect people locally (or in our case, nationally and internationally) using the same catalyst of activity (Glasgow 2014 across Scotland – Baton relay particularly) – the skills developed to cover these larger events can then be used to tell stories closer to home.

When we say “cutting edge of mundane” (a phrase I borrow from John Coster), we mean that the story of the canal swans having cygnets, or a local member of the community finding a canary can be much more enjoyable to read than yet another report of a stabbing or criticism about a particular group of people that the mainstream media seem to enjoy picking on.

4)Face to face is key, it makes the digital better

A community news agency should not just provide a ‘taken for granted’ news service for the community but instead find ways to encourage people who have news to report on themselves rather than reporting for them – the only way that it can be truly sustainable is to spread the skills beyond a core set of ‘reporters’.
I’ve recently wrote a blog post for the Digital Commonwealth site on the benefits of a “Community Media Cafe” for bringing people together to co-produce the news gathering, training and networking experiences. It is often a complaint that it is very difficult to know about what other people are doing in your local area or similar field, a coordinated drop-in or regular time to come together to chat and listen to others who you may be able to help or be able to help you. Face to face time is a precious resource, but also the backbone to a locally produced digital resource.
Those moments where you can give people the space and structure to share information face to face are worth a million direct mail newsletters. What I learnt over the years working with Citizen’s Eye around the London 2012 Olympics is that the most important thing about community media is people, not the content itself – a website itself cannot communicate the richness of seeing people learn and begin to produce the media that represents their community, not having those stories told for them.

5)Many hands make light work, do what you enjoy and it feels less like work

A question I was often asked was about the process of using volunteers and ensuring that the project can be managed and administered within the community itself. The fact that a project of this scale does require a lot of coordination, recruiting volunteers, finding stories and developing a database of contacts – it does need core funding to be able to do this. It exists outside of any particular organisation, with the hope it becomes its own entity in the future – but with that will come challenges down the line, governance, growth and ownership will come into play. In terms of community media training, if you are working with volunteers who want to learn more about digital storytelling or producing community media for their area, discover what their passion is and let them run with it.

Everyone will have a role in shaping the future of their community media outlet, and not all need to be the citizen journalist – some people are good at finding and telling stories, others are loaded with local knowledge and history – more so, as the web because easier to access and use, you will discover a local tech champion who can help with website input or design, or others who are running local web based campaigns using hashtags and the interaction between the on and offline environment. The important learning is to support people to do the things they love, to feel that they are as much as important part of the project as those who already have the skills to write articles or build websites. Many hands, light work.

Conclusions

So that’s it, my time with the Sentinel is over. Following the official launch in October, It makes me smile, that there is now an active and fledgling community news website that the Wester Hailes community can now see and call the Digital Sentinel.

From idea, dream or desire being discussed at working group meetings to tangible thing that you can access, see and interact with, and now with local, on-the-ground support, I look forward to following the project from a distance and being able to connect it to other community media projects through the Digital Commonwealth intitative.

P.S. I spoke about this a few weeks ago the Neighbourhood Watch’s Community e-ngagement event at the Crowne Plaza. Below is a video of my talk and a short interview post-talk where I manically and red-faced give some tips on the use of citizen journalism for community engagement. Enjoy!


Project: Introducing the Digital Common-wealth

So, big changes. Since January 2013,  I have been employed part time (2 days a week) at the University of the West of Scotland as a Research Assistant. Through this, I was lucky to lead on the development of the Big Lottery Fund’s Celebrate website, the Interface funded #digitalburns project (working with the Robert Burns Federation) and supported a number of shorter term projects (such as social media training for local authorities and research assistance) within the Department of Creative and Cultural Industries.

My contract ended at the end of August – and during this contract time, a full-time role came up within the department for a project coordinator on the Big Lottery Funded “Digital Common-wealth” intitative around the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. I spent most of July preparing, researching and applying for it – and a few weeks ago I found out that I got it(!) meaning as of last Monday, I am now working full-time at the University of West of Scotland. An achievement I am immensely proud of and a project that I am incredibly excited to be part of. I am looking forward to being able to pick up from some of the legacy of #citizenrelay but also to see a project of this scale from start to finish, something you do not often get the chance to on short-term contracts.

It is early days at the moment, but I am now hoping that with a greater degree of stability and routine that I can now look into returning to my PhD part-time in the new year – especially as my new role will be situated within the mega-event,  community development and citizen media arena – and gives me the opportunity to update some of the work I already have. I am ready to return and just get it written now.

Anyway, loads to be getting on with – currently developing the brand, website and infrastructure of the project ahead of a launch in October. Stay tuned for more ‘formal’ information – but for those interested in the informal, development discussions, we are using the hashtag #DigCW2014 to wax lyrical about future plans, how big a task the project is and sharing ideas on twitter.

For more information on the ethos of the project, please do check out David McGillivray’s blog post on announcement of the project funding.

Token slides shot.

Presentation: CILIPS 2013 Annual Conference: Social Media for Community Engagement

After their annual gathering in October 2012, I was invited to return and speak to delegates at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Scotland (CILIPS) Annual Conference in Dundee on the 3rd and 4th of June. I’ve had a good working relationship with CILIPS over the last year, working closely (and enjoying cakes.. whilst plotting hard of course) with Cathy, their director – doing several social media workshops for them at events and taking over some of the web work in the office before they hired their new web and policy officer, Sean McNamara.

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Dundee at 5am from my hotel room.

This time I was asked to speak to a larger audience at their annual conference (I expected a workshop of 20 odd in October, and ended up with standing room only and librarians sitting crossed legged at my feet :-) ) and to focus on practical case studies where I have used social media for elements of community engagement – such as citizen journalism projects, peer-to-peer support and digital inclusion projects.

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Speaking in the ‘big room’.

It was the largest room I’ve presented to in a very long time, certainly since I took time out from my PhD, so it was good to get flung back into the deep-end in terms of presenting work to larger audiences. It was also good to be able to use the presentation as an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between library and information services and the projects I’ve been working on in the last year since #citizenrelay.

As I’ve done something around social media before, I was keen not only to review some of the underlying principles that I had discussed previously in the libraries conference context – but also to ensure that I had time to talk about some of the living, breathing examples that were happening at the moment. I’m often introduced as the person who is going to talk about the new fangle technologies, like social media and the internet is a new thing that needs to be considered – which is ironic really when the first group of people I followed when I started using twitter “properly” in 2008 (been a user since Jan 2007) were librarians.

Similarly, pretty much all of the speakers at this year’s event had online and social media activity embedded as part of what they were talking about, rather than an optional extra tacked on at the end. Therefore, I took time to emphasis the evolution of the online environment and the empheral nature of online services as tools become more ubiquitous, get bought up, chewed up and re-appropriated. We just need to think about the fact that O’Reilly’s (often over-used) definition of “Web 2.0″ is approaching its 10th anniversary!

With reference to social media surgeries, citizen journalism, community new channels and projects such as Our Digital Planet, I emphasised that some of the best projects that incorporate the use of social media as those which focus on developing a critical practice around the tools, especially when they challenge existing ways of working and that often social media as a community engagement tool tends to amplify existing activity – be in an event, an organisation or peer-to-peer learning activity – rather than starting from scratch, or isolating it within a vacuum.

I’ve embedded the prezi from the presentation below for more information:

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Workshop: Social Media for Community Engagement, Fife Rights Forum (2nd May)

Last week Third Sector Lab’s Ross McCulloch and I were invited through to Kirkcaldy to host some workshops at the Fife Rights Forum event.

About FRF:

Fife Rights Forum is the partnership organisation for Fife’s advice and rights groups. Responsible for co-ordinating the strategic development of advice, rights and financial inclusion work in Fife, Fife Rights Forum strives to support the delivery of high quality advice, rights and financial inclusion services to the people of Fife by:

Promoting co-operation, information-sharing and joint-working across the sector
Sharing and promoting good practice in advice provision
Supporting the design, delivery and review of advice, rights and financial inclusion services
Liaising with other partnerships and networks to promote integrated, quality service delivery
Encouraging community involvement and engagement through effective client/agency interactions

Fife Rights Forum has more than 300 members and holds quarterly meetings to network, exchange information and discuss topical issues within the advice, rights and financial inclusion sector. The work of the Forum is guided by the FRF Partnership and is supported by the FRF Co-ordinator.

Below is the slides and notes from the workshop that I delivered based on some of the case studies that I’ve been working on in my role as a Community Media Development Worker at WHALE Arts Agency in Wester Hailes and through ongoing research/projects at the University of the West of Scotland.

Social Media for Community Engagement:

Abstract:

The increasing ubiquitous nature of social media and growth of emerging mobile technologies such as smart phones and tablet computing make it increasingly easier for people to access and produce their own media content in the form of digital storytelling. Using a variety of case studies, this workshop will focus on the importance of immediacy (of content generation and upload), connectedness (physically and virtually), locality (as the origin of stories), empowerment (to become media makers) and participation (the ethos of accessibility) as features of successful community engagement initiatives using social media.

Three case studies – talked about the 3 recent projects that I’ve been working on.

  • #citizenrelay (networked)
  • #digitalsentinel (hyper-local)
  • #celebrateitscot (national)

Describe the technical changes, from community newspapers/forums to a more fluid, networked approach (hashtags to pull together content, rather than the curation of the website by one or two people)

one to many -> many to many

Immediacy

  • content generation and upload, using mobile tools that are already connected to the internet so that you can find the story, capture it and get it online and reduces the time spent actually doing the technical parts of the content generation.

(use examples of #citizenrelay and the digital sentinel – perhaps even show videos from citizen’s eye as an example of the whys and the whats.)

  • the important qualities is capturing interesting story telling in a non-evasive manner.
  • Demonstrate how easy it is to do by interviewing a person and getting them to upload content?

Locality

  • Talk about local identity and how themes cut across location and topic (bedroom tax)
    • Citizen journalism (explanation)
      • ‘cutting edge of mundane’
  • You do not need to feel that you have to comment on the ‘big’ stories that the mainstream media focus on. It is about story telling (show the video from the homeless demostration – but also of the services)

Empowerment

  • Taking control of the message and developing an understanding of how media is made.
  • Show the video of John talking about the digital sentinel and how empowered he feels about the process. Breaking down some basic techniques so they can get over the fear of how the technology works and focus more constructing it back together. We have a basic understanding of video and the written word.

Participation

  • Meeting spaces, places to come together to work together (offline just as important as the online to keep the momentum going)
  • storytelling, why you are doing something and what prompts a person to tell stories about their community? needs a motivation
  • Make it accessible, it does not need to be big and fancy.
  • needs to be a purpose for the community, recruitment can be a challenge if project isn’t communicated successfully. Although organic, need to have some leadership.