Maybe I’ll add to the post in the coming days, but for now I’m just glad to have been part of this project to trace the London 2012 Olympic Torch as it travelled around Scotland. I spent Wednesday 13 June covering a patch of central/south Edinburgh and speaking to people about what they were doing, what the Olympics and the Torch mean to them and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I have as many issues with the Olympics as the next events-focused academic (have a look at Games Monitor for more perhaps), but you don’t find many bigger foci for media coverage, popular engagement and community involvement across an entire country. There’s a powerful argument that says the Torch Relay is the only direct contact most of the biggest Olympic sponsors (you and me) will get with the event. By getting out into Scottish communities, from Glasgow to Tomintoul to Stonehaven, Citizen Relay has given those people a voice and a chance to share their experiences.
As a model for community and citizen journalism this is an engaging, exciting and sustainable* way of using free media tools and the hardware that many of us carry around with us. You can do a heck of a lot with a mobile phone these days, then get it out into the world far quicker than the mainstream media. Where will this go next? Who will take up the idea and run with it?
*Sustainable up to the point where those driving the minibus around the country begin to doubt their own ability to continue!
Last night I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen with my friend Richard playing at Desert Island Discs, the popular BBC Radio 4 show currently hosted by Kirsty Young. I put together a list of eight tracks on an iTunes playlist, plugged an iPod into my lovely Bowers & Wilkins speakers and we set about playing the music and discussing life. In a few weeks we’ll reconvene and it will be Richard’s turn to choose the tracks, while I ask him searching questions.
Here’s my track listing:
Crowded House | Distant Sun
Sugababes | Overload
Ian Dury and The Blockheads | You’ll See Glimpses
The Cinematic Orchestra | The Awakening of a Woman (Burnout)
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds | More News from Nowhere
Bonobo | Nothing Owed (live version)
Gruff Rhys | Skylon!
Keith Jarrett | Part II C (The Koln Concert)
I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of these tracks which you will hopefully be able to access at the end of this link. (Sadly I couldn’t find the Keith Jarrett track, but how appropriate that someone should post the album cover to Flickr as the piece of music they would take with them.)
If I had to save just one of them, it would be the Gruff Rhys. On a desert island I might just have enough time to learn all the words to what is an epic tale of modern life.
My chosen book, alongside the King James Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare (that everyone gets) would be a great big book of architecture – full of pictures and analysis of the work contained therein. This sort of thing…
Then to the luxury, for which I selected a proper pair of running shoes. The island hopefully giving me the time and space to have a serious stab at getting fit, running along the beach at low tide and through the lush forests in splendid isolation.
Edinburgh Napier University, my employer, hosts an annual conference for academic and professional services staff – an opportunity to get people together, focus on chosen themes and discuss ways of integrating them into our teaching and learning. Technology is a recurring topic, as was the case on Friday 15 June with the title ‘Enhancing, extending and empowering student learning within online environments’. The conference site is here, with the ‘3E Benchmark Framework’ which underpins the university’s efforts in this area here (available for wider use under a CC licence).
My job, somewhat self appointed, was to encourage the use of social media as a means of discussing and capturing what happened on the day. When pitching the idea before the event I wrote…
In my head there would perhaps be three types of contributors:
Those ‘on the team’ who are deliberately setting out to capture the event
Those ‘interested parties’ who come to the pre-conference meet-up to see if they can bring something to it
Those ‘existing users’ who will be doing something like this anyway, but can be encouraged to add their contributions to the main body of work (through hashtags, etc.)
…with the first and third of those ideas eventually coming to fruition. A core of people attended the event knowing that we were going to use social media and were kitted up to contribute. For some that was a Twitter account on a smart phone, while others (notably two volunteers from our Masters in Event Management) were purposefully taking still photos and video footage for later use. As hoped for, there was also a large enough pool of type three ‘existing users’ who quickly started using the conference hashtag and got stuck into the debate online – expectations are such among some conference delegates that they will only wait so long to be told how to engage in that conversation before finding their own solution, so it was important that #enconf was publicised early and regularly. There was half a plan to have a pre-conference gathering of all those interested in using social media, where appropriate tools could be discussed, but in the end this didn’t happen and probably wasn’t necessary.
Two main goals were set: to enable/facilitate an online discussion on the day; then find a way to capture this for future reference and dissemination to those who attended, and those who didn’t. Twitter was the basis of on-the-day discussion, with folk tweeting photos, links, questions and comments – this worked well. Capturing the day also used Flickr and YouTube to host the material from our students, with Storify acting as the basis of the final record of the day (as inspired by work like this from David McGillivray).
A quick note on Storify to finish this post, quoting from their site: ‘Storify lets you curate social networks to build social stories, bringing together media scattered across the Web into a coherent narrative. We are building the story layer above social networks, to amplify the voices that matter and create a new media format that is interactive, dynamic and social’. It’s a doddle to use, enabling you to drag in pictures, tweets, videos and more into the order you desire. You can add text to help set the scene, guide the narrative and link topics together. And as with so much of social media these days it’s very difficult to come up with something that doesn’t look good.
I was flicking between Twitter and Storify throughout the day, curating the story as I went which meant I had plenty to show the delegates during the closing plenary – hopefully some could see the value in the project as an ongoing resource. So here it is:
Day two of FutureEverything dawned after the long round trip to Preston where I was staying. I’ve written up the first day, over the course of about 1,500 words here. As for day two you can read the organisers’ own thoughts here. But to the business of the day…
It was an honour and privilege to hear Birgitta Jónsdóttir MP (Iceland) open the day’s proceedings. She can be found @birgittaj, her site is here, there’s also Wikipedia and you can see her Prezi presentation here. Birgitta led with a call to arms, that ‘The Future is You’ and we have the internet as a tool for profound social change. Much of her keynote address focused on democracy and a need to remake it, upgrade it and start defragmenting the system. But what is democracy? Is it enough to vote; what other forms of engagement exist and why do people choose to use them? What are politicians for and how do we deal with the powerful lobbyists who essentially write the all important first drafts of legislation? What to do with a system that supports the 1%…?
What we do is reclaim democracy, recognise that we are the many and they are the few, we are the system and our representatives should be us (not professional politicians). The challenge is to create a constitution written by the people, for the people, as they’ve done in Iceland (that’s right, they crowdsourced their constitution). Where there is a system error you defrag and zero the system: install a new operating system for society, politics and economics.
During times of crisis governments will seize the opportunity to install restrictive laws and to shore up their power and control – witness the erosion of online rights through ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and CISPA in the US (with implications for citizens around the world); see also the ‘EU Data Retention Directive’. But see also Birgitta successfully suing the US State Department, a victory won during the period of the conference. (This brought a cheer.) There’s a direct link between online rights and offline freedoms: if the former is eroded the latter will also suffer. So we need to engage, to co-create the world we want to live in and WAKE UP!
As if one role model wasn’t enough we were also treated to a talk from Juliana Rotich (@afromusing), the driving force behind Ushahidi.com. I’ve used this site as a reference point over the past couple of years when talking about crisis or ‘ambush’ events, whether it’s here on the blog or in class. I think much can be learnt from the ways crises are managed that can be applied to planned events – perhaps the biggest operational difference being that for the former all the effort and resource is deployed during and after the event, for the latter it’s during and beforehand. What can we learn about the tools that are used, the relationships between partners and stakeholders, the impact on host communities and their engagement in the process? Ushahidi is a mapping service that takes information from users through a wide variety of technologies and presents the results to help and tell the stories of citizens – often those caught up in natural disasters, state oppression and other crises. Juliana asked what would inspire us, as individuals, to contribute to a community? Maps help answer that question by providing context and demonstrating connections, brought alive through mobile technologies (SMS, apps, web, etc.) used by regular people to submit information. Ushahidi (meaning ‘witness’ in Swahili) was created in the furnace of post-election violence in Kenya, 2008 – but this was a situation that simply wasn’t being reflected in the mainstream media. 21st century technologies made possible the realisation that these problems weren’t localised and that citizens had the means by which to connect with each other.
The Ushahidi platform has been used in c20,000 places, from Kenya to Liberia, to the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes. It’s also being deployed to map particular concerns and themes, from peak oil to opinions across a country to reports of violence against women. The software has been open sourced, and that’s at the heart of its popularity as a tool. It encourages contributions, both to its code and of course to each project that’s created wherever it may be around the world, aggregating data as it goes. Have a look at the way it’s being used to map the Occupy movement in the US: map.occupy.net. Likewise Al-Jazeera used it to reflect Ugandan responses to the Kony 2012 video that swept the world.
I had a question for Juliana: did she have examples of Ushahidi being used in conjunction with planned events, such as London 2012? She mentioned election coverage, but there was little in evidence of cultural events. Of course she then made the point that if I wanted it to be used to cover the London Olympics I had better grab the code and get on with it…
Kieran Kirkland spoke next, from his post at the Nominet Trust (‘social investment for social change’). He championed the ability, more likely the need, to support small scale innovation in order to make things happen: encouraging collaboration and engagement in ways that big organisations often fail to achieve. Big companies and big charities come with baggage – procedures, accountability mechanisms, numerous stakeholders, helpful board members and so on. But if a small organisation achieves a breakthrough, how is that scaled up? Here Kirkland took an interesting step by asking the audience what they had in mind when discussing the idea of increasing ‘scale’: the answers ranged from greater geographical spread, longer time periods (‘endurance’), great community engagement, the need for back end support and overall user growth. As a tactic it certainly opened up the discussion, which was then brought round to policy: if technology can enable growth in scale it can also act as the bridge between citizens and policy, through the collection and use of data. The potential is there for evidence based policy through that data.
A panel discussion was held to reflect upon the recent project ‘The Space’: thespace.org. Arts Council England and the BBC are behind this project, though it’s still a pilot at the moment and has no marketing budget – please head over to have a look and boost their pageviews. The panel included Ed Vaizey MP (Minister for Culture and Creative Industries) and folk from the other key stakeholders. The themes discussed included the perceived need to break down barriers between artistic genres, bringing stakeholders together in order that they might support the digital economy (that was Vaizey’s line). There was also recognition that digital output can lead to deeper engagement with a piece of work (or artist) by its existing fans, but not necessarily do much to expand an audience. From a technical perspective Mo McRoberts (BBC and @nevali) put the emphasis on The Space as a broadcaster in a box: a virtual do-everything piece of work in the same mould as Television Centre – a platform that one day will be a toolkit artists can pick up and reappropriate.
The third highlight of my day was of course the appearance of Dr Farida Vis (@flygirltwo) on the main stage, merely two days after presenting at an Edinburgh Napier research conference that I’ve covered here. Farida reflected on eight years of research into social media and how the data just keeps getting bigger – how do you deal with 2.6 million tweets, as provided by Twitter and The Guardian for the ‘Reading the Riots’ project? You make friends with computer scientists, who can build you tools and help you get stuck into the data, and you engage with journalists who want to tell these sorts of stories as well. (It’s apt that Farida shared a Q&A session with Bilal Randeree (@bilalr) from Al-Jazeera, who had been discussing the role of social media in the Arab Spring.) Did social media cause the riots across England in the summer of 2011? No, they didn’t. Social media ≠ social change, causality has not been proven. But it had a part to play and Dr Vis was happy to announce that the team behind the research had just received funding to make available the tools used to analyse and manage all those tweets and all those data. What’s more the work has recently won a data journalism award. Farida has posted her slides on Slideshare here, where they sit alongside other presentations on her profile page.
Finally, as the day drew to a close, Carlo Ratti of the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory discussed ‘Future Cities’. Now that cities are wired up to provide us with a lot of information we can start closing the loop on ‘sensing’ and ‘actuating’ through the use of data: gathering the data and doing something with it. As a society we can now track trash to watch what happens to it, where it goes, how long it takes to reach its final destination. We can capture the metadata in photographs to tell what’s happening at a given time and a given place. We can do stuff with that data: visualise it, share it, change behaviors.
Way back at the beginning of my day one post I made the point that FutureEverything is part conference (held at the excellent Museum Of Science and Industry) and part festival, with live performance taking place through the city. The visual arts exhibition rounded off my first day, at the bottom are some dimly photos that really don’t do it justice.