What I need to write about during February 2014

This is my second post of 2014 that checks in with my writing goals and sets some new ones for the month. As I’m working full time at the moment, it can be quite difficult to be disciplined with my own writing, as especially (I hope!) to have some good news in terms of where restarting my PhD is concerned, so I’m going to make sure I write a small update every month so I can keep tabbed on the process and keep pushing things forward.

Last month I wanted to sharpen my PhD focus,  start to look at my ‘missing’ ethics form and prepare an abstract with Kieran for the Leisure Studies conference in July. Thanks to a writing retreat half way through January, I not only managed to address the ethics form – I completed a full draft (10000 words!), participant information sheets, letters, consent and draft interviews questions and have submitted it to the committee to get approval to interview bloggers and citizen journalists about their perceptions of the Vancouver Winter Olympics as a follow up to the ethnographic data from 2010.

I’ve already wrote about this, but I  am super proud of this achievement as it really has pushed me on in terms of seeing a light at the end of this very long PhD tunnel.

The updated title of my PhD is: Hacking a Virtual Legacy: Uncovering the Digital Storytellers’ of Vancouver’s Social Media Olympics. 

So my goal for February is to turn these 10000 words, along with notes and other materials I have, into a draft of my methodology chapter. I have blocked out this Saturday for a writing day, hoping to fit 6-7 hours of focussed work in. I’m in limbo at the moment so this an exercise is something I can work on quite autonomously until I’ve received feedback.

Kieran is going to be the first author on the Leisure Studies paper as it has taken a focus much closer to his area of perceptions of recreational drug users so he led on the abstract, where I’m going to write about the methodology and twitter data gathering (something I’ve been keen to write formally about) and to help explore some of the ethical issues around topic areas such as drugs and social media. We have split reading duties here – I’ve invested in some new books (such as Fuchs’ “Social Media: A Critical Introduction“) and looking at the opportunities and challenges of using open tools to manage social data in this way.

I’m going to work on my own abstract relating to my updated PhD work for the Leisure Studies conference as I’m part of the steering committee (there has been over 70 abstracts submitted on the first call for papers!) – I need to have this completed in the next few days ideally, so this is a sooner rather than later goal.

Finally, as we work through February towards the first series of community media and digital storytelling workshops as part of my Digital Commonwealth role, I am going to be working on adapting the resources that my colleagues have been working on for a Buddypress platform used for the Schools’ programme and then ‘remixing’ the resources on Mozilla’s Webmaker to take them from a schools to a community learning/adult education environment. The planning stages will dominate my February.

Project: #digitalsentinel, towards the launch!

It has been a while since I have updated on the Digital Sentinel, a community news agency being developed in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh – and a lot has happened in the last few months. The project is currently funded by the Carnegie Trust Neighbourhood News’ programme and my role of community media development worker has been focused on getting the website, volunteers and content creators ready for a formal launch of the news site in October 2013.

I’m keen to give an update on my own website as a few people have contacted me about the process behind the Digital Sentinel and sometimes it is good to just lay out some of the key activity that has happened over the last few months to give a idea of exactly how much has been achieved by the team in this time.

It is great to be able to list a number of key mile-stones that we have reached since beginning work with the Carnegie Trust and others.

We have ran 4 sets of training workshops for Digital Sentinel reporters – one in the afternoon, one in the evening since July. There is one left before the launch – as well as additional support session from the Media Trust around media ethics and sustainable community journalism.

As part of training, the Digital Sentinel team have covered a number of events on behalf of other organisations. We have attended the AHRC Connected Communities conference at Herriot Watt, captured resident opinion on the Fountationbridge re-developments, amplifed the Wester Hailes fun run and covered the move of the Wester Hailes Health Agency to the new Healthy Living Centre.

The Digital Sentinel has a light web presence on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. These sites has been used to host training content which includes video interviews between reporters &  video interviews with local workers and activists, photographs from events that reporters have attended, and more significantly, the live-tweeting of a community council open meeting regarding the public transport access to the new Healthy Living centre.

We are now working to develop the final design for the website (which will be launched in October) and are considering the governance structure and ethical media policy for covering particular events. This will include news, digital storytelling, event-based reporting and creative responses.

Although the Digital Sentinel is an online channel predominantly, and much of the content will be produced using mobile devices, there are discussions relating to access in terms of technology and in terms of literacies. These will  be developed over the coming months to provide creative solutions so that the Sentinel can be accessed and contributed to by as many local residents as possible.

Furthermore, as our current wave of Digital Sentinel reporters become more confident using these tools in a community journalism, the day to day running of the website and communication channels will begin to be taken over by residents (sooner rather than later) so that the Digital Sentinel can start to develop as the hub for all things Wester Hailes related.

Onwards to towards the launch, I am going to leave you with one of my favourite videos from the project development. Enjoy! :-)

Event: Everyday Growing Cultures, Sheffield (23rd July)

I was invited by Farida to give a social media masterclass to PhD students at the University of Sheffield ahead of attending and covering the “Everyday Growing Cultures” event based her research around open data and allotments.

Below is the Storify record from the social media content generated throughout the day.

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.


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.


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:


Workshop: 6 things learned during social media training for Renfrewshire Council

Over the last six months, Gayle McPherson and I have been doing some work with Renfrewshire Council (the local authority that our campus of the University of West of Scotland sits within) around social media for event evaluation and have recently concluded introductory training for council employees. It was delivered as part of a larger evaluation report of the Paisley Spree Festival which ran in October 2012 (and is ongoing). The prezi above is what we used for the training sessions that happened at the end of March, with a follow on session this week.

I’ve done a few social media training sessions now which cross between higher education, 3rd sector, libraries and information management now but this is my first that has encountered directly the challenges and opportunities that local government employees face when using social media within their day to day work practice. Most of my experiences working with local authorities has been from the fringe, through working with librarians, some of the #localgov chat on twitter and engagement through community journalism projects.

The results from the evaluation of the Spree will be available once published, however I wanted to write a quick blog post reflecting on some of the key points that emerged during the sessions that we delivered to Renfrewshire employees.

Thinking about social media and local authorities:

Support and empower “digital champions”: I know that expression sounds totally lame (cringing as type) but bare with me. Having worked on a few projects now that have perhaps included volunteers from other sectors (such as the library or public services), through chatting and sharing similar stories, what emerges are tales of the struggle to convince their managers that social media or indeed, ‘trying something new using the internet’ is a good thing for their role/department/organisation.

Many success stories within an organisation have emerged when people have taken initiative to do their own thing, often eating into time outside of working hours, often bending the rules, often using their own devices and generally spending time experimenting with alternative ways of doing the same task more effectively. Especially if there are firewalls in place preventing the use of social media on the premises.

These are the people that should be supported (and therefore empowered) to become ‘champions’ within the organisation (who can then go on and support others ‘in-house’) rather expecting an entire workforce to want to take up this ‘social media’ thing in one go. This can often be met with criticism and turns the process from an exciting one to something that that is seen as a chore or an additional task onto top of already busy work schedules. It is much better to capitalise on enthusiasm and let it spread rather than shutting it down dead out of fear (rather than the managing) of risk. This is because it…

The Internet cannot be ignored: This should be an obvious one – but even in 2013, increasingly hearing more stories about the layers of reporting that is required before an employee is allowed to set up social media accounts for the department or event they are organising or managing – then there is still every chance that particular services are not allowed to be used, even thought there is evidence of a core audience of service users present on them. I’m not saying that controlling the message is necessary a bad thing, but as the information flow only increases, allowing for decentralisation across departments (or even to an individual level) means that the central communication team are much more likely to be provided with up to date information “from the horses mouth” and the message can spread and be more targeted to appropriate networks. It’s ok to have multiple accounts for different services, that’s the beautiful of the platform – and these can be monitored just as effectively as requests to share individual stories.

Start small, deliver them well: One of the common issues when embedding social media within an organisation such as a university or a local authority is overcoming the fear of it becoming a massive task, often delegated to a specific job, often within corporate communications. It is positive to hear that  steps are being taken to try out new things, often with a reporting procedure attached. This is all good news and allows for records to be kept of progress. I guess the best advice I can give is baby steps. Small projects, delivered well – often as pilots, are much better than trying to take on every network, every platform, every new fangled technology. Success means becoming the ‘cutting edge of mundane’ – the process will become so seamless you’ll wonder whatever the fuss was about.

Archives can be used to develop wider case studies: Using tools like Storify to archive content produced by audiences and service users allow for employees to pull together case studies of user populations around their particular job role. These can remain private and simple enough to pull together, contextualise in order to hold together a report and as a referencing system for a particular event or context. I love using the 7652151178_3013804323_o

Never mind the 2012(tm) bollocks. 2013. Bring it on!

The closest I got to London 2012 in the end.

Only 4 days late, but at least the year hasn’t quite been broken in yet!

After re-reading my ‘End of Year‘ 2011 post, I started to draft this post on the 27th of December. It’s only been now I’ve been able to return to it after moving house during the holidays and hibernating through the usual obligations of the festive period. I’ve been re-reading a lot of things I’ve written online over the last 3 years, especially in the run-up and during the actual suspension of my PhD at the end of October. The benefit of keeping a blog, even if it doesn’t strictly feel like ‘PhD’ or research related chat or reflects an academic or work-related self-promotional tone, has been a real confidence boost (when I’ve really needed it) and a way of reminding myself of the things I have done or the frame of mind I was at a particular period in my life. Even if I didn’t want to admit it or even recognise it at the time. So, a personal reflection of 2012? Why not.

Don’t get me wrong, suspending the PhD – it was a big decision, and I guess I would like to think it was a decision that defined the year. But it wasn’t. It was pragmatic. And it wouldn’t be a reflection of 2012 if I didn’t write about that first.

It was partly financial, but not because I was skint or lacking in relevant work contracts but when funding runs out, it is a case of deciding to go part-time and attempting to less work that pays more (ha! lucky for some) or suspending until into a better situation with accommodation, debt repayments and gaining a steadier income comes my way. Having moved back to Glasgow quite hastily in May and found myself living under a friend’s stairs up until a few days ago, it’s only been now that we are in a new flat that I’ve been able to dig out paperwork and begin to assess the real financial damage of the events of 2012. With this in mind, it has not been a good time to let the precious clock of PhD time tick away when I know there was a particular hierarchy of need that had to be addressed before I could return to the luxury of being able to focus on a task such as completing the write up of a PhD.

It was partly subject related, having got too personally involved in the public critique of the Olympic Games through the torch relay and the #citizenrelay and moving far away from my initial research interests of alternative media, new media and citizen journalism and how specific communities engage socially and politically online. So less about the Olympics and Olympic Studies (a bizarre space that I do want to engage in any further at this stage in time – thank god 2012(tm) is over), more about mega events (or even events in general) can be used as a catalyst for community engagement using citizen-led media and the emerging research methods (using social media) to measure value and impact of this. However, in short, I am a person who loves reading. Who loves writing. And when I’m not reading and I’m not writing – and feeling guilty because I am not doing either. We have a problem. Furthermore, the first day I went to the Mitchell Library after suspending my PhD, I inhaled the first two books I picked up in one go. Story books. The stuff you feel guilty reading because it isn’t something relating to PhD research. Being registered on a PhD, without any passion or spirit to read or write is simply a ticking time-bomb to fail in the long term. I have no regrets as I am picking my reading speed up again through library books and reclaiming my attention span which was at the stage where a 10 minute youtube video required too much concentration.

And finally, what I am realising now, that I am so far removed from the initial PhD project about Vancouver 2010, with such a filmsy and unloved background of literature and absolutely no passion or enthusiasm to correct it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of ‘stuff’ written in various folders and documents labelled PhD. I have 4 folders of organised work, reading notes and annotated bibliographies, but to attempt and rewrite a backdated version of my life wouldn’t work. I went to Vancouver without a body of literature or a detailed methodology. Now, with a couple of research projects under my belt, I can’t think how I can cram that mess into a document that would resemble (and pass as) a PhD – however, there has been plenty of bang of its buck in terms of how that trip influenced projects between 2010 and now. It cannot be separated – but it itself isn’t the PhD. I know in myself, if I have to backdate and rewrite work from that time, there are a few things and learning outcomes that would be much easier to write about and be a PhD that I would want to spend two years part-time writing up. Things change, people change – and I could argue that I’ve been staring the wrong dataset in the face for so long that I’ve missed the point of a PhD being an exam I have to pass and defend. It’s not as if I want to rip it all up and start again in a entirely new field, I have a lot of writing and research that I can work with, I just need to shift the focus back into what interests and gets me excited and fits into my current work practices. I know that I can do this – and I won’t be any means starting from scratch – but it will hopefully be a project that will not only be something I will enjoy doing, but can be situated within a research area I feel part of and want to contribute to.

So, with that said, a lot of good things have happened in the last few months (moved into a new flat which is probably the nicest place I’ve ever stayed ever and new opportunities emerging from existing projects) the PhD is back on my whiteboard in the form of produced an updated PhD proposal to be submitted alongside a new restart date of January 2014. This not only gives me a year off the clock to sort out finances and concentrate on my career, but also the chance to refocus without the pressure of things like the REF and other administration processes that would have became more important that the research I would have to write up in the first place.

And as much as I said that the PhD suspension shouldn’t define the outcome of 2012 – it was and had became the main focus of my life and the decisions I was making, much of which I talked about the original blog post. A lot went on, I had to keep going and things had to give or be let slip. I achieved a lot of things in 2012, but I also let a lot people down and had to selfishly say ‘no’ to things that I would have properly managed to achieve if I was working to the same levels and intensity that I was at the start of the year. What I have learned this year is about expectations. I know that I am capable of being a workaholic to the point that the first weekend I gave myself off when I moved back to Glasgow, I made myself sick with the anxiety of just downing tools in favour of night out. I also know that when left to my own devices & with sole ownership of my own income, I can be a terrible jake-bag that could find myself on a different night out, with different friends, every night of the week in a city like Glasgow – and I have been good at justifying this, especially related to the amount of time spent over the last 5 years simply not having close friends near me or having little access to the money I was earning myself. But it’s time to reign that in again.

It’s early days now – but with the new flat (which we kind of symbolically moved into on Hogmanay of all days) and being somewhere where I actually want to spend time in, to live in, as a home rather than use a place to crash between work and play, will make a huge difference. 2012’s lesson has been about the importance of having a base – especially if you intend to work in a transient, multi-locational and contextual environment. I spent the first 6 months of 2012 travelling for work. It was getting to the stage that in one week I was in Leicester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London – working on projects whilst I was on the trains into between and sleeping in a different city every night. Now, that level and intensity of travelling still excites me, and I need to go further than the UK – but I had reached the point where I didn’t know what end of the country I was living at. I always wanted to move back to Scotland when I could. But with the people around you conditioning you with the idea that moving back to your hometown was a ‘good’ idea to save money and ‘do the PhD’, it wasn’t long before I was going to implode. It is very clear in my mind now that I could never go back to live in Ayr, no matter the circumstances, because it is just not where I belong and in all honesty? I’m not afraid of offending people when I say that I hate the place.

That’s why this flat is important. It is a base, pure and simple. But it is more than a place to store things, it is a home and it will be a home for as long as we need it to be or until the next adventure. Unlike at the end of 2011, where I was looking towards of future of completing the PhD and getting onto the next stage or level of my career, the conclusion of 2012 has got me thinking a lot more about the smaller things. It doesn’t matter how seemingly productive I appear or the extent in which I jeopardise my own health or mindset in order to pursue a career in existing academia, or even the process of self-medication to cope with the pressures of such, when projects become obligations and the fear of not keeping up with yourself are greater than your love of what your doing. To be honest, I could list a million things I’ve managed to achieve this year, but I also almost ran right off the treadmill, and I was very close to cracking up – and would have done if I didn’t scream ‘stop’ and found myself back in Glasgow, surrounded by people I really needed at the time.

So yeah, 2013?

With the philosophy of doing less things better, I have 12 months to 1) fall back in love with my PhD and hone down the new topic, 2) develop my self-employed career to the stage it has a coherent identity and set of services that I can confidently offer, manage and deliver (and who knows, perhaps be able to employ people as well) as well as delivering on the current contracts I have at the moment, writing them up as case studies (perhaps even forming the basis of academic research project) 3), work closely with academics at UWS and others on projects relating to social media, information management and a community media project towards Glasgow 2014 – and publish at least 2 academic journal articles, 4) sort out finances & think more carefully about what I spend my money on and, importantly, 5) to go on holiday, somewhere abroad – for longer than a weekend (at LEAST 2 weeks) and eventually find a way to travel, for leisure preferably but wouldn’t turn down opportunity to work at the same time.

And with that said, with basic levels of need in place and with the Olympic circus finally out of town, I can now get my head back into being more politically active, especially in Scottish politics and staying more on top of things going on in general. If anything, 2012 has been about surviving more than anything else for me. Social Media has been important, of course, but I’ve thought a lot about how its use has changed for me. And with that, and practice for writing a long document (such as a PhD ;-)), I intend to attempt to write a social media-y ‘how-to’ book this year. Not for any other reason than somebody convinced me that I could do it – and I think it would be fun but challenging thing to do. Why the hell not?