Practice what you preach (sub-title: I’ve got Cancer)

For more than 10 years now I have been advocating and practising the use of Digital Storytelling for social good. I have worked with professionals in the public and voluntary sectors and businesses to help them tell the stories of the differences they make to individuals and communities, and I have worked with people who have turned their lives around and changed track. I passionately believe that these approaches can be effective in making the world a better place, gaining support for effective approaches, and helping people find solidarity from others in similar situations. I have been a particular champion of people telling the stories of how they deal with certain health conditions so others can learn the lessons they have.

So, it would be hypocritical of me not to practice what I preach wouldn’t it? Well I think it would, and that’s why I am here telling you that last Friday (February 28th 2020) I was told that I have cancer. I was told in a very reassuring manner, and I was immediately told that the doctors think that it is extremely likely that I will fully recover from it, but, nevertheless, I was told something that nobody wants to hear. I have a cancerous tumour in my left armpit. A small lump that I noticed some time ago recently started growing rapidly, and then it started causing me pain, which has got more acute by the week. So, last Friday, I found myself sat in front of a cancer specialist at St. James’s Hospital in Leeds as he told me something that I had been expecting to hear after a series of tests of differing natures. I was expecting it by then because I don’t think you get to meet cancer specialists face-to-face if you are going to be told that you don’t have cancer and have never had it.

The doctor set out the treatment options, which were basically a choice between an operation to remove the tumour followed by a course of radiotherapy; or a course of radiotherapy followed by the operation. I asked what the difference would be, and was told that the former would be the option that got rid of the pain I am experiencing the quickest, but the latter offers the best likelihood of retaining as much of the function of my arm as possible. I chose the latter because my left arm is important to me, especially as I am left-handed.

So, on the 19th March I start a course of radiotherapy. This will involve me attending St. James’s Hospital for an hour-or-so every week day for 5 and a half weeks. Following that, there needs to be a four weeks’ resting period before I can have the operation. After that, the doctor has every confidence that I will be free of cancer.

So, it’s as simple as that really. Of course, nothing is ever certain, but I have faith in the NHS, and I really have no choice to be optimistic about the future. I have some short term pain and inconvenience to endure, and then it will all be back to normal. That’s how I am viewing it, any way.

The biggest immediate issues, are 1) the pain, which can be pretty intense at times, but the doctors have been prescribing increasingly powerful painkillers, which are more or less managing it now; and 2) the inconvenience and disruption of having to spend part of every week day for 5½ weeks in a hospital more than 20 miles away from where I live.

I’ll take those inconveniences, however, if it means that the cancer is dealt with. I’d like to mention that my family, particularly my wife, Portia, have been immensely supportive, and that all this is much easier to deal with knowing that I have their support.

Work-wise, I am going to carry on working through this, so if you, or anyone you know, has a need for digital storytelling, video, live-streaming, or social media support services, please get in touch. It is ironic that I was in too much pain a few days ago to attend a meeting about setting up a support mechanism for self-employed people unable to work (this was before my pain meds were increased). I have no choice but to carry on working, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Since my diagnosis I have live-streamed a two-day conference, as well as live-streaming an evening event in London, jumping on the sleeper train to Glasgow, and delivering a digital inclusion workshop in that Scottish city the next day. I am still capable of working to full capacity and will continue to do so.

And, I will be digital storytelling my way through the process of dealing with my cancer. I hope that, by doing so, I will be able to be of some help to those going through similar challenges.

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What a long trip to Cornwall taught me about the need for online access to events

Last week I was in Cornwall. A long way from home for me. I was there because I was delivering some Digital Inclusion training to the staff of Coastline Housing on behalf of the Chartered Institute of Housing. Cornwall is somewhere I have visited a handful of times for professional reasons over my working career, and I have also been there for holidays 3 or 4 times. Distance is a relative thing. Cornwall is a long way to travel for me, living in West Yorkshire, but it may not be so far for you wherever you are reading this. The geography of Britain means that the North of England can feel a long way from the seat of power in London, but, in the North of England, at least we have the advantage of some relatively fast connections to get to London and elsewhere (don’t get me started on HS2, though). Cornwall, on the other hand, is a peninsula. I was reminded during one of the sessions I ran, that Redruth, where we were, is 3 hours away from Bristol. So, you might travel to Bristol and think you are in the South West of England, but you can keep going for another 3 to 4 hours and still not fall into the sea. To get there, I took a train to Leeds, then spent 6 and-a-half hours on another train to Plymouth, and then another 90 minutes on a train from Plymouth to Redruth. If you live in Redruth and want to visit London, it will take you 5 hours on the train. It’s a long way from London, the Midlands, or the North of England to Plymouth, but the train gets there relatively quickly. Once the train leaves Plymouth and heads over the River Tamar into Cornwall it moves a lot more slowly and stops at every little rural station.

I could have flown to Cornwall, it takes not much more than an hour to fly from Manchester to Newquay. But Newquay is still quite a long way from Redruth and the logistics of getting from one place to the other proved difficult. So, after considering all the options, I decided to treat the challenge of spending nearly 9 hours (each way) on trains as an opportunity to get some work done. And I resolved not to complain about it, reasoning that this was an everyday occurrence for the people I was travelling to work with. But, during one of the sessions that I ran in Redruth, participants talked about how their geographic location hinders them; how they find it hard to get to conferences and events; and one particular story about a good practice visit to the North of England involving two hire cars and a plane journey. So, it seems, that even living day-to-day in a “remote” location doesn’t mean you can take the travel difficulties in your stride. In fact it probably means that you just don’t have access to a lot of opportunities that others take for granted.

None of this will come as any surprise to anyone who lives and works in a rural area, or somewhere else at distance from the main sources of population. It is a real issue. And yet it is an issue to which we have the solution. But it is a solution which is still not being used anywhere near as widely and effectively as it could be. Scroll back to earlier in the same week, I was in London (yes that place, the centre of power in Britain) live-streaming the Patients’ Association AGM (video below). That organisation commissioned me because they wanted to take their first steps towards ensuring that their business is accessible by their members wherever they are in the country. In an era when we have the ability to reach beyond the rooms we are in and invite others to join our discussions, why are so many organisations still resistant? This is a genuine question. I’ve been live-streaming events for close on ten years now but there are still too many organisations who don’t want to open up their events in this way. Not only that, but it’s very evident that if you live-stream an event in the evening or at a weekend you get a lot more engagement. And I think that is because people don’t feel able to watch live-streams while sat at their desk in the office. It’s not true that engaging with an event through a screen is the same as being in the room, but it is a good option if you can’t be there. I think people erect unnecessary barriers to engagement with events online, and I think we need to break down those barriers. I’ve long believed that the ability to reach out to anywhere in the world using the internet should change the way we work. In the context of organisations such as the Patients’ Association, their mission is to involve people in influencing how health services are delivered, and that is more effectively done if they are reaching out to members wherever they are.

So I believe that we need to drive a big culture change. The first is in organisations who need to see that involving people who are not in the room is a major aid to their work. Beyond that, climate change means that we need to reduce the need to travel to events, and we can lower travel and accommodation budgets. Now I know that a lot of organisations make some or all of their income from running events, but I also believe that there will always be people who want to be in the room, and if live-streaming an event proves to depress numbers attending, then incentives should be offered to attendees.

The second element of culture change is that organisations should be encouraging their staff to seek out and watch live streams of events as alternatives to attending them. And sitting at your desk watching a live-streamed event should be seen as a perfectly legitimate thing to be doing.

And finally, we need to break down the reluctance that many people seem to have in engaging with live-streamed events. People are quite happy to watch “X-Factor”, “Strictly Come Dancing” and “The Great British Bakeoff” on TV and get immersed in the action, but they treat not being in the room at a conference as meaning it is not worth bothering with. Now, there may be a challenge here to event organisers to make their events more engaging, but that would benefit those in the room as much as it would those watching online.

Put yourself in the shoes of people living or working in areas where travel to most events is difficult or impossible. They are missing out on so many opportunities that the rest of us take for granted. And I speak as someone who regularly complains that events being held in London makes them inaccessible to those of us in the North of England. We owe it to those people to open up those events to remote participation. I want to go further than live streaming. I want to have rooms full of people in different parts of the country interacting with each other and providing active input into events. There are so many possibilities but we are being held back from realising their potential. So I am looking for partners to help me develop a comprehensive service to make crucial events in the public and non-profit sectors truly open and interactive. Contact me if you want to be part of this.

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If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

 

27,000 people at a Local Authority Committee Meeting?

At the recent #NotWestminster event I asked if any local authorities were streaming meetings via Facebook. No one present knew of any, and quite a few people there expressed doubts that doing so would be a good idea as they would be fearful of the kind of comments that would come in during meetings.

And then, yesterday, my attention was drawn to a Facebook Live stream of Luton Council’s Development Control meeting, which was actually being done by the local BBC radio station, BBC Three Counties.

Now, this meeting was very high profile, as the main item on the agenda was a proposed development which included the building of a new stadium for Luton Town Football Club. But, nevertheless, it illustrates my point that this is something that local authorities should consider, as the level of engagement during the meeting would be higher than if they continue to stream via self-contained platforms.

Yesterday’s meeting was broadcast in two halves.

Part one is here. At the time of writing this, this video has had more than 19,000 views and attracted 1,655 comments.

Part two is here. At the time of writing this, this video has had more than 27,000 views and attracted 2,936 comments.

Now I know this meeting is a special case. But I still contend that using Facebook Live to stream Council meetings has to be tried as a way of engaging the public in council business. I can help you do this. If you’d like my help, please get in touch.

After all, there aren’t many Council committee rooms that could accommodate 27,000 members of the public.

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If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

Live Streaming as a Fund-Raising Technique?

I don’t want to draw attention to it, so no links, but, did you know that the so-called “Yellow Vests” who have been protesting in pursuit of their aim of a “No Deal” Brexit in London and elsewhere in the UK have been live video streaming all their activities and using their live streams to solicit donations to their cause? As I understand it they have been raising substantial sums for their cause this way, and effectively funding themselves to spend their time on the streets of Westminster and other cities rather than doing another job.

This makes me think. Could we use this technique for a socially useful purposes? What do you think? Any ideas?

On a, slightly un-related note. I came across this video of a live-streaming “factory” in China. This is basically a large house where young women live and work shifts live streaming themselves. As I understand it there is nothing necessarily sexual in this, they effectively offer themselves as friends to lonely people, mainly young men, who are sitting at home in their bedrooms with no one else to talk to. And they make a living out of it. What do you think of this?

While you are here, can I please ask you to take a minute to subscribe to my YouTube Channel here

If you would like to support me to do more of my work in using Digital Storytelling, social media, and video for social good, please consider making a regular contribution via Patreon or perhaps, just buy me a coffee here

 

Engagement Through Live Streaming

I first started live video streaming events in 2010. Have experimented with live streaming as a fun exercise, I was prompted to take it up on a serious basis when a former employer complained about the cost of live streaming an event and I offered to do it for them at a much lower price.

Over the years I have evolved my practice, changed the way I do things, and improved the quality of the output. And I have also operated through a period when live streaming has become mainstream, and a thing that lots of people think they can do. This has resulted in a proliferation of live streams, some of which have been OK in quality, but many more of which have been blurry video with indistinct and/or echoey sound. It takes a lot of effort and some additional equipment to produce a live stream which people are likely to want to watch all the way through, and you can certainly forget it if the sound is poor.

One of the big game-changers on the live-streaming front has been the advent of Facebook Live. In many respects, Facebook Live is just another video platform, but something that makes it unique is that, for those organisations which have built communities on Facebook, whether through Groups or Pages, it adds an opportunity directly to address that community and engage them in events and other work.

Just recently I have live streamed two events for Rethink Mental Illness (formerly the Schizophrenia Foundation). The first event was a panel discussion to mark National Schizophrenia day. To date, the live video has been watched by more than 10,000 people. You can see this one here. And then, yesterday, I live streamed Rethink’s Members’ Day in Sheffield. Only a day later, the video from the morning session has had more than 3,500 views, and the afternoon workshop has over 4,400 views.

And in September, as part of Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria’s Digital Transformation Programme, I live streamed a Patient Participation Group Meeting for Library House Surgery in Chorley. I think it is safe to say that everyone involved was bowled over by the fact that more than 500 people watched this meeting on the night, and that, within 48 hours that figure had gone up to more than 2,000. This is for a group that regularly attracts an attendance of fewer than 15 people.

To me, these projects have provided powerful evidence of the power of live streaming for social good organisations to engage people in their work. But I think one of the most prominent lessons is the use of live streaming to build on communities already built up on Facebook. Both Rethink Mental Illness and Library House Surgery already had thriving, interactive Facebook communities, and that greatly increased the reach of their live videos. Rethink were able to draw a wide audience into their events, and, for Library House Surgery, the live video drew people in to participate in development of their services who would not otherwise attend meetings.

The public and third sectors are populated with organisations which have missions to engage members or the wider public in their work. Social media and live video streaming, separately or combined together, have amazing potential to draw people into events and other aspects of an organisation’s work. But the live streaming has to be done well. Broadcasting low quality video, particularly if the sound is difficult to hear, could put people off rather than engage them.

I have a mission to use video and social media to help organisations engage with their client groups. One of my specialisms is high quality, but low-priced, live video streaming. I would love to work with more organisations to use live video to engage large audiences in their work. Please get in touch if you would like me to work with you.

Live-streaming a Patient Participation Group

I am very excited that this Thursday I will be undertaking what I reckon must be a world-first; I’ll be live streaming a Patient Participation Group (PPG). From 6:45pm, the Library House Surgery PPG in Chorley, Lancashire will be live streamed on the surgery’s Facebook Page. I have long been an advocate for live streaming as a means to involve people in the work of public agencies, and I am very pleased to be part of this groundbreaking opportunity to open up the PPG to those who cannot attend meetings.

I am happy to be working with Healthier Lancashire & South Cumbria and Redmoor Health on this initiative.  For any organisations who want to do something similar to engage wider audiences in their work, please get in touch.

Here’s my YouTube video trailing the event.

Thanks for reading.

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Why I do Digital Storytelling

This is a brief post about why Digital Storytelling is so important to me.

I believe the world needs to change so that there are more opportunities for people to improve their lives, so that organisations are more responsive to people’s needs, and so that power structures are more representative of the diversity of society.

Every day I come across examples of great initiatives which are contributing to these objectives, but all too often they exist in isolation from each other and from policy and power mechanisms which could translate them into coherent social movements.

As an example, I have only today seen someone from a major organisation revealing in a tweet that they have only just become aware that Britain has a Housing Crisis.

The digital storytelling I do aims to shine a light on people and organisations doing great work to make the world a better place. The most powerful stories of all are those which enable the people who benefit from such work to describe and demonstrate the difference it has made to them.

Here are some examples:

Most people think that social care is in terminal crisis. While no one could deny there are huge problems, every day millions of people work to deliver the best care they can in challenging circumstances.

Policy makers have for years believed that Britain’s South Asian communities did not want professional social care organisations interfering in their family relationships. Probing beneath the surface can reveal the truth.

All too many people believe that a diagnosis of dementia is a death sentence. Events like the North Wales Dementia Meetups prove that people can continue to live fulfilling lives with the condition.

It is not true that older people don’t use technology. Some get great benefits from it, but most don’t. Here are some of those who do use it to enhance their lives.

And sometimes it’s all about having fun.

 

I’d love to help as many people as possible to use this kind of storytelling in their work. If I can help you, please get in touch

The Antidote to Poverty Porn TV

Last night I was at a great event at Salford University launching the “Fair Press for Tenants” guide for journalists, produced by Benefit to Society a collective of organisations which has come together to promote positive images of tenants to counter the negativity which often features in mainstream media. Their message is music to my ears as it is a theme I have been focusing on for the best part of the past 5 years.

It was a great event, and there were some wonderful people there. I think the guide is great, but, as I pointed out in the discussion, journalists are not the only people who need to be focused on with this message. Certain politicians have been cheerleaders in stigmatising social housing tenants, and the people who make programmes like “Benefits Street”, “How to Get a Council House”, “On Benefits and Proud”, and “Skint” are generally not journalists, nor are the programme commissioners at organisations like Channel 4 and Channel 5 who decide they should be made.

It was particularly interesting to hear from Eric Smith about the experiences of living in Wythenshawe, South Manchester when “Shameless” was being made, and the impact that had on outsider’s perceptions of the area. After the event some of us had a discussion about whether we could make our own programmes which are the antidote to poverty porn TV. I am definitely up for that if we can raise the resources. Who’s in?

When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”?

When did we allow the Public Sector to become “other”? I’ve just read yet another article about people doing things for themselves rather than leaving it to the “impersonal” public sector. All power to them, but why the contrast?. We have allowed the media and certain politicians to paint public organisations as being separate from the public, and, it has to be said, a certain kind of management culture and jobsworthiness kind of fosters that within a lot of civic organisations.

But, we should remember that public organisations ARE us. The public funds them through various kinds of taxes, and we elect politicians to oversee them. The public sector represents people’s desire to act collectively to get things done that we cannot achieve on our own. But still there are those who would like us to forget that. This is the reason I have formed the Civic Story Factory to unlock the stories of people doing great work on our behalf.