Tales from Notwestminster

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Friday and Saturday saw two days of “Democracy Geeks” getting together in the town where I live, Huddersfield. This is the third year that Notwestminster has happened and the event just goes from strength-to-strength.

Technically, Friday and Saturday were separate events, with Friday being the Democracy Experiments Day, and Saturday being the main event. But there were enough people present at both days to make it feel that they were completely connected, and a Pechakucha evening on the Friday night, also brought some other new voices into the picture.

Friday

So, on Friday, we split into groups to work on particular challenges. I joined the group led by Helen Cammack which was looking at how local authorities could work with community groups as a conduit to public involvement and consultation. After some discussion, we agreed that it would make sense to use Helen’s interests.me platform combined with Kathryn Corrick‘s Represent to develop an online consultation mechanism via which community groups could collectively input to council policy. Helen and Kathryn went away to work on this, while the rest of the group worked on our complementary idea, which was to put together a video news bulletin on forthcoming council business which could be shown at community group meetings.

The idea was to to create a user-friendly package, summarising the business the council was due to deal with in the next month which groups could then discuss and respond to. Thanks to Spencer Wilson who joined the group briefly to help us identify where we could find guides to up-coming business from Kirklees Council.

The video we came with up is below. This is a kind of proof-of-concept. It’s a bit rough and ready, but, I think a fairly good effort given that we basically did it all, including choosing the topics, writing scripts for the section, filming it, and doing a basic edit in half an hour. I finished editing it on Saturday. I’d be really interested in feedback on this concept. I firmly believe that reports and papers are not the way to communicate council business to the public, and I think this idea has merit. What do you think?

And here is the prototype consultation tool that Karen and Helen came up with https://app.represent.me/collections/4680/kcorrick/34/what-do-you-think-about-social-care/questions/3248/what-does-social-care-mean-most-to-you/ I think we’ve got something here.

After a brief break during which I walked the dogs, Friday evening saw a democracy-themed Pechakucha evening. There were some very inspiring talks, and a number of people who had never done a talk before in that format did a great job in grappling with it.  During the evening I launched the Civic Story Factory. More of that later.

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Saturday

We reassembled on Saturday morning, with a fair number of new people. The day kicked off with some Lightning Talks, and I was particularly pleased to see the in-coming Chief Executive of Kirklees Council (she started the job two days later), Jacqui Gedman delivering the first talk, and thus endorsing the Notwestminster approach.

Most of my focus on the Saturday was on the workshop I was running “Introducing the Civic Story Factory”, which launched my new social enterprise dedicated to unlocking the stories of great work done in the non-profit and public sectors. You can find notes of the session (largely compiled by the wonderful Louisa Thomson) here. I passionately believe that we need to tell the stories of what goes into delivering great public services to counter the negative propaganda put out by the mainstream media. The Civic Story Factory will help people to tell their stories and tell some of the best stories itself. Find out more about it here.

We had a great discussion in the Workshop and the actions we committed ourselves to were:

  • Further developing the concept of video summaries of up-coming council business as piloted in Friday’s session
  • Encouraging and facilitating the production of decision-summary videos following council meetings
  • Documenting the benefits to the village of Bradwell Parish Council‘s support for the village’s Annual Carnival.

If you’d like to work with us on making any of this happen, please get in touch.

Notwestminster 2017 was a great couple of days. Keep an eye on the site to see how the other experiments are progressing, and, if you haven’t made it to a Notwestminster event yet, don’t miss out on the next one!

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Thanks to @LDBytes (particularly Diane) for some of the images used in this post

My vision for local, interactive, engaging TV

Merry Christmas. Just in case I don’t see you here again before the big day.

This is a vision. It won’t be popular with a lot of people. And even more will see it as impractical. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained…

I was an early adopter of Cable TV. In the early days of Cable TV in the UK we were promised community-oriented, local programming. It never materialised.

When Jeremy Hunt was Culture Secretary he proposed and funded local TV stations in a number of cities around the country. This would have been a great idea 15 years earlier when Cable TV was in its infancy in the UK. By the time it was introduced the internet, YouTube and cheap live streaming had happened. Jeremy Hunt’s local TV stations still exist, in large part, but they are hidebound by being tied to traditional production methods and expensive studio operations. This makes no sense at all in the second decade of the 21st Century. And those “local” TV stations cover the footprint of TV transmitters, which bear no relation to actual communities. They are far too big. Nobody relates to them.

In this decade there are a large number of people who make a living, some a very good living indeed, out of making YouTube videos. These tend to be “lifestyle”-oriented videos, largely aimed at young people.

My vision is of local, and I mean really local, internet-based “TV” operations using a mix of live and recorded video to keep people in touch with, and active in, their local communities. And these operations will be on the internet, using smartphones and cheap cameras to make their videos. As far as possible, they will encourage and train community members to produce and disseminate their own video content.

Legbourne Annual Fete 2012

I firmly believe that TV is one of the scourges of our age; encouraging people to be inactive, passive consumers of content, products, ideas and world views. For those who have fully embraced the world wide web it is truly an antidote to this, encouraging us to be more proactive, questioning, seeking out information, and creating content. And yes, I still believe this, despite the publicity about whether we all live in our own self-reinforcing social media bubble and about fake news. Making the video content people watch online, engaging, interactive, and relevant to their everyday lives could be transformative. I saw how people’s attention can be grabbed by material which is direct interest to them and their communities when I ran a Digital Christmas Party in Urmston.

This is a big ambition. But all good ideas start from a small base. Who wants to help me make it happen? Please get in touch.

The Christmas Advert for Social Good?

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It’s that time of year again when the retailers are releasing their Christmas adverts, their intention being to tug at your heartstrings to persuade you to spend your hard-earned money with them rather than their rivals. And, for the last few years at least, they’ve been crafting them in ways designed to ensure that lots of people want to share them via social media.

All this effort, all this time, all this money put into making us want to buy things. Wouldn’t it be great if similar resources could be put into persuading people to be kind to each other, to help those in need, and to build a better society. Could you do it. Could you tell your story, the story of the good work you do, and of how you are making lives better, in the style of a Christmas advert? Go on, have a go!

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

PS.

Sorry about the creepy video

 

Love, Care and Happiness: Telling The Story of Great Social Care

2016-09-20-13-45-21As you may know I’ve been doing some work with Calderdale Council‘s Adult Social Care service to tell the story of how Social Care is being delivered in the district in very trying times.

There can be no denying that Social Care is suffering due to the twin pressures of budget tightening and increasing demand. In many areas this is resulting in collapse of services which are buckling under the pressure. And yet, wherever I go in Calderdale, people keep telling me that things are different, that difficulties are being overcome, and that good quality social care is being made to work. As far as I can tell, this is being achieved by a combination of imaginative and flexible commissioning by the Council and managers and staff of providers who are prepared to go the extra mile. And, in the main, they do this because they care. A good friend of mine, Mike Chitty, once said to me “people can’t be paid to care”. I think he is absolutely right, but it is also true, in some cases, at least, that caring professions attract caring people, i.e. people with heightened degrees of empathy and a mission to help their fellow humans. Could it be that there are more of these kinds of people in Calderdale than elsewhere? I suggest this is unlikely, but from my experience, they do seem to be harnessing more of such people’s talents and enthusiasms in pursuit of common goals.

And I think it is vital that we tell the story of how this is all happening so others can learn from it. As I often say – if people doing good work shy away from telling their story (often shrugging and saying “I’m just doing my job”), they leave the way open for others to distort what they do (look at TV programmes like “Benefits Street”, “On Benefits and Proud”, etc.).

So, here is the video diary I shot after visiting Valley View Care Home in Halifax. This is where I started expounding my view that the ultimate aim of social care providers is to ensure the happiness of the people they care for, and that, thus, Social Care is the Happiness Business.

And then I met Mark Coup, Owner of Welcome Independent Living, based in Hebden Bridge, who told me some great stories about how his staff go beyond the call of duty to show they care.

At the end of a day when I had flitted around the District visiting providers and advocates in Halifax and Todmorden, I paused before getting back on the train to record this video diary in which I, a bit off the cuff, tried to sum up what I had seen and what I thought summed up a great Social Care provider. I think the basic agreements are Love, Care and Happiness.

And so, here is the video I was making, which kind of sums all this up in the words of those running great social care organisations, and some of the self-advocates who work with Lead the Way, and the Council.

If you’ve got a great social good story to tell, and would like me to help you tell it, please get in touch.

 

Don’t Let Them Tell You The Web is Isolating

Carnegie UK Trust has produced a great piece of work on Digital Participation and Social Justice in Scotland, you can find it here. It a fantastic report, not least because it is short and to the point. It is focused on Scotland, but those of us who work in digital inclusion can see that it applies equally to the other countries of the UK; or anywhere else really.

It is important because it is evidence. And, for me, one of the most striking factors about it is that it demonstrates how people who use the internet are better connected, healthier and more prosperous. The “better connected” thing is worth thinking about. I am really fed up of people who keep telling me that the web and social media are isolating us, making us lose our communication skills, making us stop talking to our friends. When the reality is that its effect is the exact opposite of all those accusations. It brings people together, helps us find new friends, and helps us communicate in new ways. Here is the evidence.

So the next time someone tells you the web is isolating, and they’re the kind of person who wants to see a report before changing their opinion, show them this one.

Why I Never Believe in Stereotypes

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

The view from my Belfast AirBnB appartment

Last week, I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. My first ever visit to either, despite my maternal grandparents being Irish. I really wish I had gone before, I had a great time in both Belfast and Dublin, both when exploring the cities and when working. The work bit was delivering a couple of workshops on “Engaging Tenants Through Social Media” for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). I met some really lovely people at the workshops, and I hope to be back to see some of them again soon.

This post is about stories, you probably thought it might be. I stayed in places I found through AirBnB in both cities. My host in Belfast was a really lovely man. He told me he was born in India and had lived in Belfast for the past 8 years. When I asked him how he found it, he said “this is the calmest and most peaceful place I have ever lived in”.

That phrase really struck me, because, I would like to bet that most people who have never been to Northern Ireland, but who, like me, grew up while the “Troubles” were at their height, would probably think that “calm” and “peaceful” would be the last adjectives anyone would think of to describe Belfast. But, the reality is that the city has been pretty much peaceful since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

What this said to me is that you should never judge a place until you have experienced it. I believe that about people and organisations too. That’s why I am committed to helping people tell their own stories, and advise that they don’t let others do it for them.

I found Belfast to be a lovely city in my brief stay there, and I can’t wait to go back. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you it’s a grim, troubled place.

The story of my trip to Belfast and Dublin can be found here.

The Big Fidh

The EU Referendum – proof of the power of storytelling

I’m banging on about storytelling again. Because I believe a momentous decision has just been made because slightly over half of the UK adult population believed a story. That story might be true. It might not. I very much doubt that all of it is true. Much of it might have its roots in truth. But….

You see, the Leave Campaign bus had a slogan on the side which said “We send £350m a week to the EU: Let’s spend that money on the NHS”. Nigel Farage made a speech in front of a poster saying “Let’s spend money on the NHS; not Brussels”. This morning he has said that nobody promised the EU money would be spent on the NHS. You see, not all stories are true. But some of them are powerful enough to make people believe in them.

I watched a TV programme recently about the guy who debunked Yuri Geller and several evangelical Faith Healers. Even though their methods were publicly shown to be fake, after a brief glitch in their popularity, most went on to resume their careers. People wanted to believe that what they were doing was real more than they wanted to believe the facts. The story won out over the reality.

So, in the face of myths, we have to tell the real story and we have to get people to want to believe the reality more than they want to believe the myth. People believe that all social housing tenants are cheating scroungers because of “Benefits Street” and the like. They believe that having any kind of ambition in life is setting yourself up for a fall because that is a recurring motif in TV Soap Operas.

So, some of the stories we have to tell, in ways that that engage people, are:

  • Social housing is necessary for social cohesion and a balanced society;
  • Some people need benefits because they can’t work either permanently or temporarily;
  • Collective community actions can improve people’s lives;
  • Some people can and should be able to improve their own health and wellbeing if given support and access to resources;
  • WIthout immigration our economy would collapse;
  • Ethnic and social diversity is a social good and enhances all of our lives
  • Older age is not “God’s Waiting Room”.

And those of us who believe in these ideas, or work in organisations whose existence depends on them, need to tell these stories ourselves. All the evidence suggests that no one else is going to do it for us.

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

Why You Should Use Digital to Tell Stories

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It’s about 3 years now since I first started calling myself a Digital Storyteller. I was far from the first to do so, but I’ve come across very few people who work largely in the non-profit sectors who do so. Most of the others who have adopted the title have been journalists or marketeers. My own evolution came about through a gradual realisation that the people I was training in using social media in the public and voluntary sectors were often failing to put their new skills into practice mainly because they thought they didn’t have a story to tell. So, I shifted my emphasis away from the physical mastery of the tools and towards helping people to find the stories they were going to use those tools to tell.

The non-profit sectors are still not taking full advantage, however, of the opportunities digital tools now give us to tell our stories. If you look at how the big brands do it, it is clear that they have always told stories, whether it be via TV advertising or otherwise, about why they should be part of your lives. It’s how good marketing works. And consider politicians. Their key aim is to tell a story about how they see everyone’s future, and to get voters to buy into that story enough to want to vote for them.

The past six years have been a struggle for many non-profit organisations, with Government-led austerity meaning that funding has been declining while, often, workloads have been expanding. But the cuts have not fallen evenly across the board, with some sectors being protected, and others even being successful in getting planned cuts reversed. This is because these sectors and organisations have greater public support. Like the brands, the public buys into their stories. On the other hand, the mainstream media has often been cheerleading moves to downgrade and cut funding to some sectors, by producing reality TV programmes which degrade and stereotype the people they support. Thus programmes such as “Benefits Street”, “Skint”, and “On Benefits and Proud” all contribute to the story in the public’s mind that certain groups are undeserving of public support and thus taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on services that cater for them. Another case in point is how the EU Referendum debate has been dominated by issue of immigration. This has become the story to the exclusion of most of the remainder of the multitude of issues which the EU deals with.

But the fact is that, when the people actually understand what non-profit services do, their support for it increases. I often point to the case of Dave Throup, the Environment Agency Officer, who gathered a cult following on social media, at the same time that the Agency he worked for was getting a kicking in the media for failing to save the country from floods. This occurred because Dave was telling the story of the great work he was doing on the front line by tweeting about it. It is much easier to love passionate individuals, working hard to help people, than it is to embrace faceless, corporate entities like the Environment Agency. This is why it is so important for non-profit organisations (by which I mean public, voluntary and social enterprise organisations) to tell their stories. And there are three stories we should all be telling:

  • Our personal stories: who we are, what we do, and (crucially) why we do what we do;
  • Our organisational stories: the history of the organisation, its role in society, how it does what it does; and
  • Our client stories: how what we do makes people’s lives better.

All of these insights into what organisations do can be vital in contributing to public perceptions of what we do. But perhaps the most important is the latter element. It is obviously in an individual’s interest to promote what they do, and in that of an organisation to present the best possible image. But, as the best brands have discovered, customer testimonials are the most powerful stories as they don’t have vested interests in being positive about the goods and services they receive. Client stories, therefore, need to be front and central of any digital storytelling strategy.

Social media has become central to millions of people’s lives. This trend shows no signs of abating, in fact, as demographics previously resistant to it recognise its value, it is reaching into new areas of society all the time. And people using social media are increasingly getting the majority of their news and information online. The big brands are all there competing for attention, and telling their stories to the world. But still, far too many non-profit organisations are leaving the field clear for mainstream media organisations and politicians to tell negative stories about what they do. Can you afford to let this situation continue? I think not.

If you would like me to help you with your organisation’s Digital Storytelling strategy, please get in touch.

#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.

 

Unlocking important stories

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Yesterday I ran my 4th Digital Storytelling session with the Riverside Group. The first three sessions were with Marketing and Communications staff in Liverpool. Yesterday I worked with a group of managers who are closer to the frontline at their North East Office in Gateshead.

As I often find,  in this workshop as in others, people frequently preface their remarks with disclaimers along the lines of “I’ve got nothing to say”, or “no one is going to be interested in my story”. And you’d be surprised how often they then go on to prove themselves wrong. My point is that everyone is unique and every individual has something to say which will be of interest to somebody.

The latter part of yesterday’s session focused on getting participants to have their first stab at making a video with their smartphones. Again, people were very self-deprecating about their prospects, “I’m not at all creative” being the most common complaint. And then they all went away and made really good films.

Everyone has a story in them. Often it is just case of giving them the confidence to express it.

I made some of these points in my Social Media Masterclass at the CIH Scotland Conference in Edinburgh last week. And here is a video interview I did at that session. If you’d like me to help your colleagues unlock their stories, please get in touch.