In September we trained a group of citizens to use Flip cameras, so that they would be able to record events as part of Birmingham Local Democracy Week website. We documented this over at the Local Democracy Week website, and last week we sat down with some of them for a chat about how it all went and what they were able to capture.
One of the most striking things which came out of the conversation was how many of the active citizens interviewed think that what they do is unremarkable. But some of the stories which came out of this, like Claire Spencer’s interview with Local Hearts Award winner Luke McClean, show how dedicated so many people are to improving their communities.
Claire also noted that for people unfamiliar being with filmed, they would need to first be put at ease – this is where the conversations off camera can feed into what’s eventually recorded. There were other interview experiences too, including Glyn Selwyn’s chat with MP for Selly Oak Steve McCabe. There are active citizens who want to have conversations with MPs and councillors, and the group thought that carrying a Flip camera was likely to get them more intimate access.
For Glyn, with a training background in professional media, this meant unlearning the rules he’d previously learned – being lo-fi and “shot on sight” instead of edited, the immediacy of the medium and the flexibility of social media allows everyone to be a media outlet. Anarchic and uncontrived, this is how the process was described by Glyn, who was delighted that there’s a clear story running through his videos about litter problems in the Bournbrook area of Selly Oak. Ben McPhillips went further by saying that the videos don’t have to be perfect because they aren’t supposed to be polished film-making, which really takes the pressure off.
Dario Silvestro, above, talked about his own experience of using the Flips for Voice is Power, Birmingham’s Children and Young People’s Parliament. He commented on the instant messages that are able to be captured, getting to the heart of what people have to say, and says that the cameras have been used to record thoughts at training events and a conference on domestic abuse, calling the stories “raw and powerful”.
It’s so simple to add video content to sites such as Posterous, and this is what Dario has done with ViP’s video footage, making short clips for instant engagement and giving young people cameras so that they can make videos for their peers. Without much need for extensive training, the simplicity of the process is what makes it so easy and effective a tool to use, says Dario.
As well as the immediacy, Yvonne Wager said that videos give a sense of context missing from still photos, which helps to reflect what’s going on in the local area. One of the key messages which came out of the session was that active citizens and hyperlocal blogs are filling a gap by doing this and writing about the issues which matter to local people. Social media sites such as Posterous are cleaner, faster, elegant and allow total control, and can be updated via email, while council workers struggle to get flashy but big websites updated.
As Karen Caine pointed out, one really important use of videos is that they can be used as evidence, with real people acting as witnesses by talking about issues which concern them; these can then be showed to decision-makers and in doing so they become powerful tools – they don’t necessarily even have to be used online but can be used in other ways and for other opportunities.
There were some issues raised too – especially the large file sizes of videos recorded on the HD Flip (we always recommend that you buy the standard definition Flip), which made uploading difficult, while the people who work for councils found that they were unable to install the FlipShare software on their work computers. Many of the group found it a learning process, figuring out what might be the best approach (whether to describe what’s happening or simply ask questions), how to balance sound, and how much to talk when interviewing.
The group also wondered if there is scope for training public sector workers how to use this technology to get messages out to the public and communities quickly, especially when updating official websites can be difficult and time-consuming.
Ben and Claire also noted that people they’d interviewed were apprehensive about the recordings being made public, which points to the need for a debate about what is ‘public’. There were some suggestions that there needs to be a cultural shift or breaking down of ‘traditional’ mindsets if people are to understand the process and be willing to become part of it, but also recognition that there’s sometimes a tension when these moments in time are then published online.
Everyone agreed that the Flip looks friendlier than a phone, and is simple to teach people how to use, even technophobes. People can see the value of it – organisations and neighbourhood forums are purchasing cameras to document meetings, and Dario has bought cameras for use with ViP while Karen has used them to show people doing their jobs and capturing the value of what they do.
The kind of training and social media surgeries run by Podnosh equip the network of people and organisations with the skills so that they in turn can share the message wider. And that’s what all this should be about.