Digital Commonwealth – A great Digital Storytelling Project

On Friday, the video below arrived. It’s the documentary film about the Digital Commonwealth project. If you missed it, Digital Commonwealth was a Big Lottery-funded initiative, led by the University of West of Scotland designed to use the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow as a hook to get ordinary people to use digital technologies to tell their own stories.

It was a wonderful mix of different approaches and work with different cohorts, ranging from songwriting and dance performances with primary school children, to video-making with pensioners’ groups. I was privileged to play a role, delivering some digital storytelling sessions to community groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayrshire.

As Jennifer Jones, the Project Manager said to me, this video is probably the best tool for explaining what digital storytelling is about. I certainly don’t disagree.

Stand up for positive uses of the internet

This morning’s edition of the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 was guest-edited by the musician, Tracey Thorn. There were two sections of the programme which were about how the internet can help vulnerable teenagers find support online. There were some great, inspiring stories, but, both of the items were topped and tailed by negative comments from the programme presenters suggesting that this kind of thing is a rarity on the internet, amongst a sea of trolls and threats.

We can’t allow the mainstream media to go unchallenged when it pedals this line, partly out of self-interest as the web eats away at its audiences. There are millions of positive interactions every day online, many of which go ignored by TV, Radio and Newspapers. Just look at all the offers of free Christmas Dinners for those who would otherwise spend Christmas alone, as only one example. The web is a powerful force for social good, and the media cannot be allowed to get away with suggesting otherwise.

The possible advantages of the age of no privacy. In Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby…..

Young people are all over the internet. Facebooking, Instagramming, Snapchatting, and Vineing their way to a digital future. Some are making fortunes out of 6 second videos; others are getting themselves into trouble, sharing things that really shouldn’t be in public spaces, and which may come back to haunt them in the future careers and relationships. Gradually, many of them are waking up to the implications of permanent loss of privacy, and they are moving away from openness towards more private platforms like Whatsapp, and from permanence, towards more temporary media such as Snapchat.

That is the picture that many people have of today’s youth. But, it is by no means a universal truth. Is it true, for instance, of the 1400 (at least) children abused in Rotherham? Or of those abused in similar circumstances in Rochdale, Oxford, Derby, and who knows elsewhere? Were they sharing images and videos of where they were all the time? Were they raving on Facebook about their new “boyfriends”? Were they posting pictures on Instagram of the men they were spending time with? I’m pretty sure the answers to all these questions is “no”.

We worry, rightly, about how some young people seem to disregard the notion of personal privacy; and there are serious, legitimate, concerns about this, particularly with regard to vulnerable children. But, could it not be said that there is sometimes a positive side to reductions in privacy? I know, from my point of view, that I am glad that my children grew up in the era of mobile phones when they could contact me wherever they were. And I have been concerned over some of the things they have shared on social media. But, after all, what was purely playground high jinks to most of us, is now public for all the world to see.

It is evident that the testimonies of some of those abused by the likes of Jimmy Savile have encouraged others to come forward with their own stories. I was someone who had well-founded suspicions of Savile, based on what people who had experienced his presence had told me, but like so many others, I had no evidence. I cannot believe he would have got away with his abuse if his victims had been able to share their stories on social media.  So, I won’t stand for the argument that loss of privacy is a trend to be deplored 100%. Sometimes privacy can be a cloak which allows evil people to get away with abuse.

Using Social Media to tell the other side of the story

Reading this post this morning, on the important role that social media has played in social uprisings in Ukraine and Venezuela , made me think once again about the important opportunities which are missed by so many in the UK to tell the stories the mainstream media are not interested in.

When you are in a crisis situation like that faced by people in the Ukraine, and all the big media tools are in the hands of those you are struggling against, you can now turn to social media to get your story out. We have seen this happening during the Arab Spring and in places like Syria.

But, in Britain, this is still not happening to any significant extent. While the mainstream media uses its power to stigmatise and berate communities in programme like Benefits Street, we still see people with leadership roles in disadvantaged communities in the UK (and I am talking mainly about paid professionals here) shying away from using the tools we all have at our disposal to tell the other side of the story. Most of them will have multimedia storytelling devices (otherwise known as smartphones) in their pockets, but they don’t seem to want to use them to unleash the power of that storytelling. Is it that they don’t want to, they don’t know how to, or they are hidebound by health and safety and data protection rules from doing so?

It’s really not that hard, and I am getting increasingly frustrated about how many people are failing to realise this potential.

Here’s me talking about how I this can be done. Get in touch if you want to know more

Introducing the WOW Bus

OK, this is a working title for a project I am working on, and I need your help.

Our Digital Planet - Bristol

If you follow my work, you’ll be familiar with Our Digital Planet, the touring exhibition, which visits, city centres, engages people through images of internet use, and then coaxes them to get online. Now, I’m working on a project (working title, the WOW Bus) which will do something similar, but fully mobile; able to go anywhere.

The project is at funding application stage. I am working in partnership with a largeish organisation which is putting a chunk of its own resources in and applying, with me, for funding to make the project happen. The plan is for the organisation to use the bus with its own clients, and for myself and others to use it at other times.

I am really excited about this. This needs to be done quickly, and I need to explore a range of options. Which is why I am asking for your support.

I believe in being ambitious. Maybe we’ll have to scale things down, but I’d like this to be a combination of Eastella’s Brilliant Bus, the John Lennon Bus, Peabody Trust’s Digivan, and New York City Housing Authority’s Digital Vans. We want it to create a buzz when it arrives in an area. It will flood the surrounding environment with free wifi and inspire people to explore the digital world. It will be the WOW Bus, because it will be a mobile Window on the World, but also, because people will say “wow!” when they see it.

We are going to explore all options, including buying and equipping a new vehicle. But, I know there are all sorts of vehicles out there which could, with a little tweaking and adaptation, become the WOW Bus at much lower cost. If you have such a vehicle, or know of one, please get in touch. If you can help in any way, drop me a line at or tweet me at @johnpopham.

Please help to make the WOW Bus a reality.

New York City Housing Authority Digital Van from

National Smartphone Recycling Scheme

More evidence from Leeds Social Media Surgery last night of the need for a National Smartphone Recycling Scheme.

My “patient” was someone who had been charged by her employer with communicating with young people, but was struggling to do so effectively. All the different methods I explored with her would have involved using a mobile phone of some kind, preferably a smartphone. The barrier we kept coming across was that her “work” phone was an ancient non-smart phone, which even struggles to send text messages, and she had been unable to persuade her employer that she needed a decent tool to do her job. She has a personal smartphone, but is understandably reluctant to use that for work purposes. Even using the Whatsapp application to send free messages was ruled out because it would have meant revealing her private phone number.

Organisations of this kind that fail to see the benefits of deploying smartphones are sending people like my “patient” out to do their jobs with both hands tied behind their backs. A low-cost source of recycled phones might start to chip away at this reluctance.

Hide and Seek World Record in Huddersfield!

So, they did it! On 3rd July 2011, the members and staff of the Young Batley Centre Sunday Youth Club smashed the previous world record for the biggest game of Hide and Seek by getting 406 people to register and take part on a gloriously sunny afternoon in Beaumont Park, Huddersfield.

It will be some time before the official confirmation of a World Record can be obtained from the Guinness Book of Records, but we know that will come.

I was fortunate to be there to capture the action on camera

Hide and Seek World Record Attempt – Huddersfield, 3rd July 2011

This Sunday (3rd July) sees an attempt on the world record for the most people in one Hide & Seek game being attempted in Beaumont Park, Huddersfield.

The attempt kicks off at 12 noon at Beaumont Park, so, come along if you want to be part of history. I intend to be there doing various bits of social media stuff. Depending on what connectivity is like, I might even attempt a bit of live streaming.

Kerrie Clark and Peter Scott of the Young Batley Centre are leading the attempt, and I met them today to ask what’s behind it all: