Birmingham Social Media Surgeries – taking stock.

Later this month a group of enthusiasts will get together to run another one of Birmingham’s Social Media Surgeries.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The original idea was just one as a practical contribution to Blog Action Day, set up by volunteers and run by volunteers.

So far we’ve done five, (I counted wrong before!)  three at BVSC and Two at Fazeley Studios.  The results:

  • At least 60 people from probably 50 organisations – helped.  That’s based on numbers for 3 surgeries, because for two of them we were so busy we all forgot to record who was there and where they were from.
  • At least 33 volunteer surgeons involved, many of them repeat offenders.  They probably average about 5 hours of effort each, plus the organisers,  means a minimum of 175 hours of high quality, highly skilled voluntary effort.
  • Since that first evening – a number of sites have been set up or emerged. For example:

    Birmingham’s Jubilee Debt Campaign came out of that first night and Audrey and Duncan Miller have kept on using it, because they prefer it to their old site.

    Court Lane Allotments blog popped up shortly after the first surgery.

    Birmingham City University Student’s Union is already planning to develop surgeries of their own, inspired in part by their visit to ours.

    The Digbeth Trust is switching it’s web platforms to use more social media after being helped to appreciate the benefits as a surgery patient on a couple of occasions.

    Some have become serial bloggers:

    City Centre Neighbourhood Forum was set up by Karen and Geoff Caine, spurring Geoff on to create Canal Scene a brilliant combination of a blog with Google maps – (Geoff can you switch comments on for me please!)

    The Ramblers locally is now using this blog to explain how they’re getting people walking in  the city and Mohini, who works for them, has already started a blog about Mangoes!

    Other place based sites pop up.

    Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum has started with this site and already begun connecting with other very local sites.

    East Yardley Neighbourhood Forum (nearby) has also begun the process of shifting their website onto a more social platform.

    Tony at has been along looking for advice on how else they can use the web whilst John Heaven, from well established, also got some great advice on what they can do next.

    These are just some examples, I’m pretty sure there is stuff I’ve forgotten or don’t know about.

    Some people didn’t want to plunge straight into using social media for a charity, their neighbourhood or work and so we have helped create at least half a dozen personal blogs. Some have fallen silent, others are used with great passion.

    This video helps show how much people enjoy the surgeries, and that they are not always the folk you most expect:

    We don’t expect it to stick first time and we encourage people to come back. When they book for the second time, it is their comments that encourage us.

    They include the very practical: “So useful last time, need a little more help with developing the blog lay out,” and “just a matter of fine tuning my site to send it public” or “thanks to the brilliant advice and support we got last time it inspired us to put our website up (just), and we’ll be along to discuss building on our social support!”.

    Notice the language. These people feel like they own these bits of the web. In the past efforts like this have been more likely to lead to moribund pages on communal portals.

    Sometimes people come back already comfortable with the basics and hungry to understand  more technical aspects of how the social web encourages conversation: We want to “extend our blog skills to improve how we use trackback and linking” or: “placing of images within text. What are pingbacks?”.

    Over time they are encouraged to use video, host images in more social places, perhaps even experiment with twitter.

    Aspirations vary.  Some want to “promote our government funded service to the local community.”  Others “as a fundraiser for this organisation , I really need to know how to use social networking sites, develop a blog for former members and to learn about keeping a website up to date. Not all at once!”

    “Not all at once” is important. The one to one (or almost) surgeries mean that people learn what they need as and when they need it.  It is also less intimidating for anyone to go from learner to teacher, so the number of potential volunteer surgeons grows all the time.

    It ain’t broken really.

    I’ve been thinking of ways to change or improve what we do, but mostly people don’t want us to meddle:

    May 2009 Birmingham Social Media Surgery – feedback from Podnosh on Vimeo.

    To the best of my counting,  so far 33 different people have been volunteer surgeons. Some have been at every event, others have come to one and helped hand out tea.  They are not all from Birmingham, Paul Henderson has come from Warwickshire,  Paul Webster Yorkshire (yes, Yorkshire on 2 evenings) Philip Oakley, Kate Spragg, Kasper Sorensen and Simon Howes wend their way from different spots in the Black Country.

    I am going to try and name everyone, because no blogger will shrink from being thrown a link and each deserves credit and thanks.  Rob Annable, Pete Ashton (the orginator of the surgery concept), Jon Bounds (huge levels of effort) Karen Caine and Geoff Caine (who began as patients, set up a blog then became surgeons).  Abby Corfan, Joanna Geary and Nicky Getgood have helped alongside Julia Gilbert (also a passionate organisational helper), Anthony Herron (I think), Jon Hickman and Neil Houston.  Also on the list, and remember these are all volunteers, is Chris Ivens,  Webby award winner Stef Lewandowski, Andy Mabbett and another learner turned surgeon Leonardo Morgado.

    So more than half way through we can add father John Mostyn and son John Henry Mostyn, then Stuart Parker, Antonio Roberts, Danny Smith and Mark Steadman.  That leaves ‘just’ Chris UnittBenjamin Whitehouse, Simon Whitehouse (another who turned up thinking he was there to learn and has been teaching ever since) and finally (apart from the people I’ve inevitably forgotten) Gavin Wray – charmingly popular with the ladies.

    Diane at Fazeley Studios has worked as a volunteer receptionist for us and Candy Passmore at BVSC gave us immediate and generous help with a venue and  support for the first three surgeries.  Digital Birmingham and Be Birmingham have also given us great support by passing the dates around to their networks and encouraging active citizens to come.

    What do the surgeons have in common?

    As far as I can tell nothing more than a desire to help and a belief that social media can advance community groups and community activity.

    We are also all connected to each other through various online and real world networks formed or nurtured in Birmingham over the last couple of years, some further back than that. Without those networks being both online and real world we may not have got to know each other well enough to be happy to collaborate like this.

    What keeps people coming back to give their time?  My guess is that most found that being a surgeon helped them learn faster and learn more.  They also care about Birmingham as a place. It can be exhilarating.  In fact, it  makes me feel great.

    Why else would we do it?