Category: Miscellaneous

Growing the civic conversation online – a platform for healthier local democracy and healthier communities.

Austin Rodriguez and Lewis O-Rourke

Bit by bit we’ve been doing something strategic in Birmingham.   Every social media surgery that happens in the city helps in a number of ways:

  • Provides new skills to individual active citizens
  • Creates a place where people can meet each other
  • Helps community groups and the public sector use the web to talk to each other
  • Grows the civic conversation online.

This last one has been the strategic part.

I think that growing the civic conversation online is an important part of building new platforms in neighbourhoods. It helps traditional civic activity work better and new civic models emerge.

This is based on a simple assumption that if more civically minded people are using the web to talk to each other in a community it will be easier for politicians, public servants and other citizens to share ideas, information  and collaborate or campaign.  Of course people can and will use the web to talk about brangelina – but with the surgeries we target those already involved in or wishing to do something consciously civic.

We’ve taken this a step further in the last two or three years. A normal social media surgery is run by volunteers for volunteers – the free help is available to active citizens, local charities and community groups.

With funding from three of  the different quadrants of the Birmingham Community Safety Partnership  and some other initiatives  (thank you) we have run surgeries which involve public servants too. This means that they come to a surgery to get help on why and how to use social media. More than that though they learn alongside local community groups and active citizens. At times they are teaching each other – strengthening understanding and relationships.

We also used the effort to help spread live streaming of meetingscreate alternatives to traditional ward cttes and give public services tools to think about the stages of engaging online.

We sent out a survey to people who’ve used the social media surgeries in Birmingham. 35 people replied, about 10 per cent of those involved. They were a mixture of volunteers, third sector workers, public servants and at least one councillor.

The Survey

social media and public sector
does learning about social media influence how you think about your work

A third of people said what they had learned had influence how they think about their work ‘a lot’ – three quarters replied either 4 or 5 to that question.

One comment from a worker in a charity supporting charities said

“If I hadn’t started using social media  to build relationships I doubt I’d still be employed in my organisation, and I doubt my organisation would be doing some of the brilliant work it is doing. It’s enabled both me and my organisation to be pro-active in a rapidly changing and challenging context”

Do you use social media to build relationships in your work?
Do you use social media to build relationships in your work?
can you make (civic) things happen because you use social media ?
can you make (civic) things happen because you use social media ?

65% of people felt better able to make things happen because they are using social media. This is a core point. Growing the civic conversation is not just about more blither – it’s about more action.

Would it help your work if more community groups and active citizens were using the internet
Would it help your work if more community groups and active citizens were using the internet

Developing these skills in community groups and active citizens was also seen as a fresh opportunity by at least 77% of those who replied.  They know that the online civic conversation can help them get things done – so helping more people get involved ought to help that more.

have you seen the online conversation grow?
have you seen the online conversation grow?

More than 85 % felt they has seen the online civic conversation grow since getting involved with the social media surgery.  You would expect that to be the case for most people, simply being exposed to new people and new places where civic things get discussed would have that effect. But it is still encouraging to see that they have a wider civic conversation to take part in.

So Birmingham – you’ve already started a strategic investment in building a critical platform for civic change.   Persistence is paying off. Some more?  And what next? Which other new platforms are worth building?

If you’re not Birmingham, other places understand this and we can help you.  We introduced Dudley CVS to the why and wherefores and they have been running surgeries for years – indeed it was Lorna Prescott who told me that what were doing was platform building (sometimes it takes others to spot the obvious).

The benefits of story telling – or why you should spend your training budget on stories.

21-century-report-4-pg-report_pdf

 

I had planned to blog a little more about #Beingthestory – the wonderful event staged by Jude Habib last week.  I thought I would describe more of the astonishing stories I heard that day but instead I want to try and organise some thoughts.

Being told stories or telling stories often seems a little nebulous.

When faced with a choice of spending training budget people want to know what the “learning outcomes are”.  Likewise with comms spending, or even spending on organisation change, people will often want to know specifically what they will get for their money.  (Ironic in the latter case)

We have worked for years helping people tell their stories and helping them use story telling to achieve more. Obviously stories help them attract attention to what they do and build the case for their cause, but it goes further. So perhaps I should have a stab at outlining why it is worth spending organisational money on stories?

Stories are a work skill. We may need to win the argument that story telling is as valid a work skill as project managment – but it is. Perhaps if we have a training programme called “Princess and the Pea 2″ – we could charge thousands for it.   The work on 21st Century Public Servant includes storyteller as a quality to be identified and nurtured in public service.  It’s worth investing in how you do it and how well you do it.  Listening to others do it helps you develop that skill.

Stories encourage creativity.  At least Einstein thought they did – he is quoted as saying

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

It helps you to see things from another perspective. If you want to improve what you do story telling can help.  Perhaps the people you do it for can tell you what it means for them or what they experience.  Perhaps you telling a story will jog your thinking away from process and back to what that process means.   Listening to people tell stories from another world altogether helps freshen up our thinking.  I also think it helps us find new analogies for our own work. (Think the wonderful TedxBrum or TED in general)

It can help you get to the nub of things.  There were a lot of tears and smiles and laughter on Friday.  Emma Lawton told us (beautifully I may say) of her experience of being diagnosed with Parkinsons aged 29.  You’d think the nub of the story was just that, the shock of it and the battle with it. It was the opposite: how she shrugged it off, how she shifted gear in her life and moved on. How Parkinson’s had given her many of the best things in her world.  We knew what mattered most by the tears of pride that welled up in her fathers eyes (and mine) as he listened to her tell that part of the story. Listening to how you feel as you hear a story helps you get to what matters. Once you know what matters it’s easier to decide what is the best thing to do next.

If you’re going to change you need to stop and listen first.  So you may as well listen to stories – they’re a darn site more interesting than reports.  (That doesn’t mean you don’t need numbers or other forms of structured thinking – but do stories)

why story telling helps organisations

“Empathy creates radical disruption”.   This expression leaped of the stage at all of us when used by the astonishing team of Samiya and Naveed Parvez. They are using product design, medicine and 3D printing to create a service which means that disabled children can be measured for and receive their Orthotics (limb/muscle/torso supports)  in just one week. They start with listening to the people they want to help.  Everything they do flows from that. If conventions conflict with what makes sense, they ignore them, go round them, disregard them.

Stories help you appreciate you’re not alone.  When people tell stories they often mention the mundane or are brave enough to talk about the things that professional language tends to exclude – like doubts and insecurities. Recognising them in each other can help boost confidence. Punk Pop Poet Brigitte Aphrodite helped us see that on Friday.

 

These are just a few thoughts. I think they need to be more concrete. Please feel free to make them even clearer for the people who write the cheques.

Other posts on #beingthestory.

Gemma Pettman: “If you believe in a story keep on telling it.”

Madeleine Sugden “Empathy and the power of stories

Comms2point) “A mother whose son was stabbed to death just reminded of the power of storytelling

Claire Bridge  Storytelling: why I am all ears

 

A dog called Guinness and some thoughts on stories and social good #beingthestory

beingthestory

I’ve spent today in London at #beingthestory – a days of stories brought together by Jude Habib from Sound Delivery. Thank you Jude.

Here are some thoughts on stories picked up today (this doesn;t cover the whole day – I’m still digesting other bits)

Telling someone’s story helps make them real.

Lawyers tell stories – judges and juries listen to them.  That’s one thing I learned from Sue James who works for the law centre in Hammersmith and Fulham. She tells other people’s stories for a legal living.  

When trying to stop someone losing their home she needs the judge to understand the story. She told us that telling someone’s story helps make them real.   

One client lost his wife, then his son died. “His life fell away”.  The one anchor in his life was his pet, a dog called Guinness.   Because he didn’t walk the dog and the dog crapped everywhere the landlord wanted him evicted.  To keep her client in his home Sue had to do two things: tell his story to make him real and get his dog walked.  

It got me thinking how helping people is only one thing that organisations should concentrate on – telling their story is just as important if we are to make their world real to the system. (It’s something we’ve helped with in the past – indeed it’s how the impact app helps – collects the stories for you to tell.)

Telling stories is the way to break a taboo

Mandy Thomas silenced the room with her story of domestic abuse. She had been advising the team from The Archers, including the actress Louiza Patikas, who plays Helen in the Radio 4 drama.

she cried when we met, she’s had to live and breathe this story line – I’m proud of the Archers team. This is no longer a taboo subject.

mandy-thomas-domestic-violence-bookMandy’s abuser was sentenced to 15 years but after he was released form prison her son died – he killed himself.  Her abuser ignored the conditions placed on his release and continued to pursue the family.  “He was“, she said,  “playing the system because they let him play.”  Stories can help remind the peiople in the system why they need to behave differently.

One last thought from Mandy: “a listening ear can save a life” . Her book You Can’t Run is here.

To make stories stick make them visceral.

Clare Patey is an artist who started The Empathy Museum (alongside Kitty Ross).  She quoted Barack Obama on the  “empathy deficit”

Clare says empathy is a skill – we can learn it.   If we do this we can combat hyper individualism – the “me, me, me” culture.  “The internet decreases our friendship circles and surrounds us with people who share our values”

In their work they have taken empathy very literally. A mile in your shoes gives people the opportunity to walk for twenty minutes – wearing someone elses shoes and listening to them talking through an mp3 player. It makes story telling and story listening physical – visceral.  It makes it have more impact.

That’s not quite all

I’ve more to digest/share on this, more and even wilder stories were told  – but I just wanted to start whist it was fresh.

Craftivism and Social Media Surgeries. Being there.

During the Making For Change project I mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to listen to Sarah Corbett give a talk on Craftivism. Sarah  is the founder of the Craftivist Collective, a social enterprise which uses the techniques of craftivism to engage people in social justice issues, so she was perfect for the #MakingForChange project.

The Craftivist Collective’s approach to activism is more low key, respectful and more targeted approach than that of traditional activism.

To give you an example when the group were protesting in favour of the living wage for staff at Marks and Spencer’s they didn’t rock up to the head office waving placards shouting and stamping their feet. Instead they were took a more subtle approach, holding craft sessions or “stitch ins” outside branches of M&S.

They encouraged people to turn up to their session wearing Marks & Spencer’s clothing and to then to sit peacefully and stitch nice messages on M&S handkerchiefs encouraging the adoption of the living wage, that would then be gifted to all members of Marks and Spencer board.

This low key, quiet protest worked to engage the community. Shoppers, instead of having to shuffle around loud placard waving, intimidating protesters stopped to ask questions, “Why were a group of seemingly well dressed people sitting on the High Street sewing?”. Their interest was piqued, they were intrigued and a conversation was started.

This was only one of the projects Sarah talked about, and they were as equally as interesting, but in all of them the message that Sarah kept coming back to was the importance of being there.

Being there.

By being there with other craftivists – wherever there may be – and engaging in crafts gave people the space, time and freedom to talk about the things that mattered to them in a gentle way. By being there at protests and behaving non threateningly but intriguingly, passersby were engaging and we able to spread the message of the issues that mattered to them.

And being there is a message the we sell both for and at Social Media Surgeries.

When people approach us wanting to set up a Social Media Surgery for their town or neighbourhood it’s one of the first pieces of advice we give. “Just be there”. Find a space, start small, have zero expectations, but be there. You may only have 1 or 2 people come for help, but if you weren’t there you couldn’t help.

And when people come to us for help and support at surgeries, be it at our paid training sessions with councils, housing associations or charities, or at volunteer run surgeries with volunteers, third sector orgs or the solo community activist the message is the same “be there”. Who is your audience? Where is your audience? Find them and be there. Share your stories news and ideas, both good and bad. Write for them, engage with them, but be there. Because if your not there telling your story to your audience, no one else will.