Tag Archives: networks

#futr Day 2: FutureEverything, Manchester, May 2012

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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!

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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.
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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.

We can make buildings with walls made of water.
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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.

Top image: ‘Iceland’s open-door government’ / flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/6006269852/
Other images: all mine!

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#futr Day 1: FutureEverything, Manchester, May 2012

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It doesn’t become a conference to be too modest in its name, a little ambition goes a long way: future… everything! If it’s yet to happen this conference is interested. I’ve not been before, but I know of their work and didn’t dare pass up the chance to visit (exam marking would have to wait).

I’m going to split the event into a different blog posting for each day, though I suspect this will result in some long posts and I may abort the tactic ??? there’s a lot to write about.
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The theme of the festival (sorry, conference) was introduced as ‘future people’, discussing the ways and means by which we mix online and offline connections and communities. This has relevance to my research, so my trip funding is hopefully justified and I’m very grateful to Edinburgh Napier for supporting me. What the event organisers have attempted to do this year is take the conference out into the city, to touch the people of Manchester and make it relevant to them. As luck would have it they decided to use social media to do so ??? this kicked off with an army of Little Clay Men that spread through the city the night before, which were then tweeted by commuters, workers and lots of people who encountered them on the streets and gave them stories of their own. Quite how you evaluate whether this project met the objectives of its producers I’m not sure, but as the little men live on in people’s homes and offices perhaps their story has barely begun…

Some links:

I first sat in on a presentation from Jennifer Jones (@jennifermjones) all about #media2012 and related projects, though I’ve written about that elsewhere and I’m sure I’ll do so again, so I won’t go into detail here. The morning also welcomed a panel discussion about Mass Observation and how material should be archived in the 21st century: what impact does editing have, can it be limited, what will people be interested in in the future (we don’t know) and what part should be played by museums, archives, the BBC and Mass Observation themselves? Both of these sessions touched on themes of power and access: the relative power of mainstream broadcasters and regular citizens to tell their stories, such as those wrapped up in the Olympics as the biggest media event the world will have ever seen. Who are the gatekeepers to these media and these archives, and thence to their audiences, and what chance do citizens have of gaining a foothold to access such resources? Museums and archives can only display and hold so much material, while Facebook and other social media organisations will not be quick to open up their treasures to archivists. Meanwhile the BBC has a pretty clear idea of what its role is during these Games (and there’s more on that to come on this blog).

Moritz Stefaner spoke about his work on data visualisations, a job he has styled to give himself the title ‘Truth and Beauty Operator’. So there. He talked us through the process of creating a couple of visualisations, which look stunning and were generally accessible as sources of information. As if to reaffirm a point made by Farida Vis at #enubs12 however, Stefaner also made the point that visualisations are good for the big patterns, but not so much the data points themselves… there are other ways of representing small data in greater clarity and detail.

So how does that link to the next talk, from Caitlin O’Riordan and Ben Gallop of the BBC who talked about their work covering the London Olympics? They are wrestling with the need to cover the big events, to provide the mass moments when we all (possibly) come together, as well as enabling us to curate our own Olympic experience. The point was made that the Games are regularly catalysts for advances in media technology and practice; this year some 2,500 hours of sporting action will be available online in glorious HD. Choice phrase of the day also came from this talk when Gallop proclaimed that ‘We’ll be telling the truth about the Games’ …it’s just as well that Jennifer Jones was present to make the point that #media2012 can help them in that endeavour.

Onwards, to building communities online around a real world cultural institution, which in Richard Ayers???s case is Manchester City Football Club (@richardayers). Where Man City is viewed as a brand, as with many a football club it???s one that you don???t have to persuade people to engage with ??? there???s a fanbase who want to know more about you, but the challenge now is about granting access. Ayers discussed the comparative success of providing behind the scenes video clips, which people loved seeing, against the poorly received ???bluffers??? guide??? to supporting the club ??? this didn???t go down at all well with the fans. So an open access approach is now informing the club???s strategy, one tailored to different groups of fans responding to differing degrees of detail and complexity. A digital journey was described that may start by ???liking??? the club on Facebook, then commenting on an existing post somewhere, moving on to tweeting about the club and over time engaging more and more deeply with the online community. Each person???s place within that community is shaped by their own level of interest and knowledge, alongside the level of acceptance granted by the rest of the community: how long are your comments shot down and your contributions dismissed before you???re accepted? This is the fans organizing themselves, much as they do within the stadium itself ??? perhaps starting their journey in the family section, moving round to the most vocal sections and onwards until they sit amongst fellow veterans talking about the good/bad old days.

The discussion moved on to ask which cultural forms tend to generate tribal tendencies, from sports teams to film genres and activities such as food blogging. Where do these groups sit within the wider society and what are the implications for resource allocation to serve these sub-groups? What happens when that takes place alongside a desire to reach new markets, as Man City are trying to do in a number of places around the world? It???s partly about meeting expectations and wholly to do with being culturally sensitive, which goes back to recognising the demands of different groups of fans and what they???re after from a modern football club. Ayers finished his talk by pointing out that the executives who are funding and enabling the club???s digital investment were once players out on the pitch??? it has taken a cultural shift for some to accept digital methods and become a ???hybrid organisation???.

To round off my first day at FutureEverything I greatly enjoyed the talk by Juha van???t Zelfde on ???The City and The City???. At its heart was the idea that we are recreating ideas of what cities mean to us as citizens, inhabitants, networked communities and people figuring out how to handle shifts in what notions of private and public actions mean. Juha is behind organisations such as Non-fiction (???office for cultural innovation???) and VURB (???policy and design research concerning urban computational systems???). The talk was partly a personal reflection, whether it be the evolution of the online availability of music or the rise of geolocation on the web through smartphones. It was also a recognition that ???with all these technologies the notion of what my city is has changed??? ???we don???t lose touch with people simply because they move away from our city, instead technologies allow us to bring their experiences into our own world ??? their new home city becomes part of our lives and we exist in numerous places. To quote a couple of phrases: ???a new kind of spatiality is senseable???, because we live in ???the continuous partial everywhere???.

Juha asked what this means for the infrastructure of our cities, and what would we do now if we were to build our cities from scratch. What are the implications for individual objects, and what does it mean for whole societies and governments operating at a macro level? Do we become part of what???s happening elsewhere because of our connections and what does that mean if we want to play a part in the governance and management of those locations? Perhaps our very notions of what a ???city??? is have to change ??? ???there is another city: an informational one??? you are the city???.
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After 1,400 words on just a single day???s activity I don???t want to stretch this post out any longer in the search for connections between these speaker and my own work. Nevertheless it was pretty clear that the there are plenty of people working on the links between technology, community, networks, cultural identity, governance and the lived experience. If ever I???m to find a conference/festival that brings together real life shared experiences and the virtual community this would surely be it, and yet to what extent did the people in the room have an attachment to the event beyond the short term coming together of people and ideas? Did they have a sense of ownership over it the same way cultural festivals gather an army of supporters? Just how important were the FutureEverything coffee breaks in forging a community spirit, or were they all about old fashioned networking and working out where to eat before going to see Metropolis?

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Top image: ‘Deirdre_BlueOrange_Futr’ / flickr.com/photos/stuartchilds/6998237316 [This is the FutureEverything logo.]
Bottom image: @jennifermjones discusses London 2012 as a media spectacle [Taken by me.]

#enubs12 Day 2: Edinburgh Napier University Business School Research Conference 2012

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Day one of the Business School conference is covered here. This second post focuses on the day’s keynote from Dr Farida Vis (@flygirltwo), who took a very early train up from Manchester to be with us. I’d never met Farida before, but have followed her work for a couple of years, probably through a contact or two on Twitter… such is the way of things these days. Her Twitter page currently directs visitors to this site on Researching Social Media for more information, which is a forerunner to a book on the subject with Mike Thelwall due for early 2013. Farida also made reference to her MA module of the same name at the University of Leicester, which goes by the hashtag #ms7042.

So on to the talk, which was structured around three case studies. I don’t want to repeat Farida’s presentation because I simply wouldn’t do it justice, so here instead are some of the notes I dashed off (in no particular order):

  • There’s a need to identify ‘objects’ within social media in order to begin the process of analysing it: links, users, tags, relationships between users, etc.
  • It can be very hard to get at stable data: by its nature social media is constantly changing, being added to, deleted, archived away, taken down, etc. This makes it hard to code as well – where do you start, how do you cope with such diversity of material?
  • For Farida the key came through speaking to a colleague who had computering coding skills and could provide access to relevant APIs: suddenly lots of data was available. Depending on the site in question, researchers could now get behind the front page and gather user demographics, etc. As a result specific software has been published…

Webometric Analyst, as published by the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at University of Wolverhampton.

  • During work on the ‘Fitna’ video, focusing on YouTube research, some network analysis was also used: who commented on whose videos; who’s subscribed to whom; who is friends with whom?
  • From an ethical perspective, the relevant ethics panel may well approve such work because it’s anonymised and the data is already in the public domain (comments, tweets, etc.); yet researchers may prefer to class this as ‘semi-public’, because some of what’s being accessed is somewhat behind the scenes.
  • Data visualisations: to be taken with a pinch of salt. What does the big data graphic hide that only comes through in the little data?
  • Sometimes there are limitations to what the web will provide: only 1,000 videos are available for each YouTube query, so some creative work with filters is sometimes needed to get to expand what’s available.
  • Performing a relatively straightforward search on a social media site will often bring up unexpected results: alternative perspectives, non-mainstream stories, people using tags simply to attract traffic to unrelated work and so on.

Farida was also heavily involved in ‘Reading the Riots’, which involved a variety of academics and featured heavily in The Guardian. (I also made reference to it on my blog a few months back.) In short, Twitter made 2.6 million tweets available to The Guardian, captured during the riots that swept through some English cities in the summer of 2011; The Guardian announced this but did little with it, then engaged with researchers such as Farida when they started requesting access.
  • The research that followed demonstrated that Twitter is a key platform for breaking news, making information available quickly and often well ahead of mainstream media.
  • There was of course the accusation that Twitter and social media in general was to blame for the riots, with ensuing demands that it be shut down.
  • Other actors, such as the police in certain areas, protested that they were using social media as a means of communicating with the public.
  • The Guardian and Twitter essentially curated the data, so its capture wasn’t controlled, planned or managed by the researchers themselves.
  • There is therefore a need to recognise that the paper has an editorial line, and that Twitter also has an agenda – they are not in the habit of making this amount of data available.
  • Key research questions: which tweets fit together; which are the parent tweets and the children that follow; what was the role of ‘rumour’ in the online conversation?
  • Evidence coding: each tweet was coded by human hand three times – this took time.
  • The results include being able to visualise how rumours start, are debunked, go quiet and may then re-emerge. What makes a particular account get noticed, who is trusted?
  • Other results flag up a small set of ‘elite’ users, followed by a very, very long tail.

I urge you to have a look at more of Farida’s research and to follow her as she develops more work in the area of social media research. It’s hardly a surprise that she was very well received by the audience and everyone was happy to see some of their lunch time get eaten into during the question and answer bit. She’s also very happy to talk about her allotment. 
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Following her talk I grabbed a two minute interview with Farida which you can hear here…

(If there’s no Audioboo player displayed please refresh the page or just follow this link.)

Image: ‘Leominster Allotments’ / flickr.com/photos/knucklas09/3622383791/
(This is not, as far as I aware, Farida’s allotment.)

#enubs12 Day 1: Edinburgh Napier University Business School Research Conference 2012

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A few days ago I wrote about some of the differences between working in academia and my previous gainful employment with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe ??? I???ll continue the reflective theme to kick off this post.

Given my position at Edinburgh Napier a couple of years ago (relatively new to teaching but generally settled as a lecturer and programme leader) I was beginning to catch on that what universities hanker for is a solid research portfolio. In order to fit in with this I was going to have to build up that aspect of my contribution to the institution, regardless of the number of modules I might teach (home and abroad) or the volume of students on one of my programmes (up to 300-350 in recent years). The PhD is therefore a way for me to structure my research efforts, a focus for the sort of topics and themes I???m interested in and ultimately I hope to ???get something out of it myself???.

The opening to this year???s Business School Research Conference provided some context for this as we heard from the university???s new Vice Principal Academic and the Dean of the faculty. Between them they talked up the importance of research, with its links to the reputation, teaching, income and identity of the institution ??? this element of our work is therefore intrinsic to our status as a university. I wouldn???t argue against that, particularly as we then heard from Prof Alan Fyall of Bournemouth University, discussing the roles they play within the local economy. The benefits of having a clear contribution to make to the interests of partners and stakeholders were clear, facilitating access to key people and resources, lending authenticity and value to shared projects, and helping to contextualise local efforts in the bigger picture. Alan???s talk captured some of the goals I work towards in my teaching, demonstrating that contemporary forces and structures affect the decisions of those in industry, universities and other partners: it???s vital that students and staff recognise and can interpret the environment they???re operating within. In Bournemouth, England, this means contributing to ???Local Enterprise Partnerships??? among other things; in Edinburgh, Scotland, it will increasingly mean following the independence debates and what this will mean for the city???s access to public resources, entrepreneurial opportunities and renewed connections to the rest of the UK and the wider world.
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The conference continued with a wider range of excellent student presentations, demonstrating the wealth of talent and energy within the faculty. There was a fairly consistent theme of ???community??? across some of the work: events and collective memory; virtual communities and customer relationship management; the ability of sporting mega events to cure the ills of host communities; and my own ideas around festivals, communities of interest and social media. The speakers developed their ideas by questioning whether those in positions of relative power understood the needs of those they are working with, with implications for the level of buy-in from that community. Likewise is the community in question brought into the discussion at an early enough stage: the benefits of co-creation can easily be undermined or compromised if the ???co??? element is too much of an afterthought, or if views are not listened to. These presentations also brought home to me the relative lack of reading that I???ve done, no matter how much talking, discussing and thinking might have taken place! It was interesting to hear from a DBA student looking into social media and CRM that there is far more industry literature available in this area than there is academic. From my own work I would agree that there is still a relative dirth of material on social media, which to bring this post full circle suggests that an academic researcher must keep in touch with the industry to which her or his work is partially addressed.
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The first day of the conference rounded off with some wine, nibbles and broken legs in the Chapel, as you do. Spread over an hour or so we were treated to four ???20×20??? presentations, which variously looked at the life of a graduate teaching assistant, research while incapacitated (the broken leg), my research ideas and a grand tour through a range of research vegetables (you???ve heard of the research onion, now meet the carrot and the tomato). This idea started as something that the organising committee let me run with, but with others on board it seemed to work and I hope its gets repeated.

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Top image: ‘Community for the 21st Century’ / flickr.com/photos/choconancy/5613817067/
Bottom image: my own! (Taken ahead of the 20×20 event.)

#enubs12 Day 1: Edinburgh Napier University Business School Research Conference 2012

 

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A few days ago I wrote about some of the differences between working in academia and my previous gainful employment with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I’ll continue the reflective theme to kick off this post.

 

Given my position at Edinburgh Napier a couple of years ago (relatively new to teaching but generally settled as a lecturer and programme leader) I was beginning to catch on that what universities hanker for is a solid research portfolio. In order to fit in with this I was going to have to build up that aspect of my contribution to the institution, regardless of the number of modules I might teach (home and abroad) or the volume of students on one of my programmes (up to 300-350 in recent years). The PhD is therefore a way for me to structure my research efforts, a focus for the sort of topics and themes I’m interested in and ultimately I hope to ‘get something out of it myself’.

 

The opening to this year’s Business School Research Conference provided some context for this as we heard from the university’s new Vice Principal Academic and the Dean of the faculty. Between them they talked up the importance of research, with its links to the reputation, teaching, income and identity of the institution – this element of our work is therefore intrinsic to our status as a university. I wouldn’t argue against that, particularly as we then heard from Prof Alan Fyall of Bournemouth University, discussing the roles they play within the local economy. The benefits of having a clear contribution to make to the interests of partners and stakeholders were clear, facilitating access to key people and resources, lending authenticity and value to shared projects, and helping to contextualise local efforts in the bigger picture. Alan’s talk captured some of the goals I work towards in my teaching, demonstrating that contemporary forces and structures affect the decisions of those in industry, universities and other partners: it’s vital that students and staff recognise and can interpret the environment they’re operating within. In Bournemouth, England, this means contributing to ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’ among other things; in Edinburgh, Scotland, it will increasingly mean following the independence debates and what this will mean for the city’s access to public resources, entrepreneurial opportunities and renewed connections to the rest of the UK and the wider world.

___

 

The conference continued with a wider range of excellent student presentations, demonstrating the wealth of talent and energy within the faculty. There was a fairly consistent theme of ‘community’ across some of the work: events and collective memory; virtual communities and customer relationship management; the ability of sporting mega events to cure the ills of host communities; and my own ideas around festivals, communities of interest and social media. The speakers developed their ideas by questioning whether those in positions of relative power understood the needs of those they are working with, with implications for the level of buy-in from that community. Likewise is the community in question brought into the discussion at an early enough stage: the benefits of co-creation can easily be undermined or compromised if the ‘co’ element is too much of an afterthought, or if views are not listened to. These presentations also brought home to me the relative lack of reading that I’ve done, no matter how much talking, discussing and thinking might have taken place! It was interesting to hear from a DBA student looking into social media and CRM that there is far more industry literature available in this area than there is academic. From my own work I would agree that there is still a relative dirth of material on social media, which to bring this post full circle suggests that an academic researcher must keep in touch with the industry to which her or his work is partially addressed.

___

 

The first day of the conference rounded off with some wine, nibbles and broken legs in the Chapel, as you do. Spread over an hour or so we were treated to four ‘20×20’ presentations, which variously looked at the life of a graduate teaching assistant, research while incapacitated (the broken leg), my research ideas and a grand tour through a range of research vegetables (you’ve heard of the research onion, now meet the carrot and the tomato). This idea started as something that the organising committee let me run with, but with others on board it seemed to work and I hope its gets repeated.

 

 

[[posterous-content:pid___0]]Top image: ‘Community for the 21st Century’ / flickr.com/photos/choconancy/5613817067/
Bottom image: my own! (Taken ahead of the 20×20 event.)

 

 

Culture Hack Scotland (#chscot) and Citizen Relay (#citizenrelay): on events and projects and communities and networks

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Here are some notes on two projects I’ve recently been involved with – shame on me for not getting this onto the blog before now. On consecutive weekends I attended Culture Hack Scotland (Glasgow) and Citizen Relay training (Edinburgh).

From Culture Hack Scotland (27-28.04.2012)…

//April 27-28th//SocietyM, Glasgow//Come make stuff//#chscot

Culture Hack Scotland is a fast-paced and highly creative event that challenges designers, technologists and artists to make innovative new culture-related projects in just 24 hours.

…that about sums up the premise: get some very talented, creative folk together in an environment that breeds collaboration and experimentation, then (to some extent) let them get on with it. This is the second hack weekend in Scotland with a cultural theme, so I’d imagine the organisers were able to apply some of the lessons learned from the first running and be more ambitious. So I don’t think there was a coding workshop last time around, but charged with their inaugural success they knew they would be catering for a wider audience.

 

Then from Citizen Relay (06.05.2012)…

#CitizenRelay is a participatory project which relies on the involvement of people from across Scotland to effectively report on the untold local stories and creative ways that Scotland’s citizens are interacting with the Olympic Games.

 

…it’s another project that relies on people getting stuck in and creating work: collaboration through the kit in your pocket and the tools at your disposal. Led by staff and research students at University of the West of Scotland it taps into existing networks (through academia, etc.) in preparation for the imminent arrival of a newly applied connective tissue, soon to be sutured onto the winding roads, villages, cities and suburbs of Scotland: the Olympic torch relay is coming.

 

Three questions for this blog to address:

  • What did I do at these events and why?
  • What’s the bigger picture?
  • What could be the upshot… what happens to this work?

 

Ivory Tower Syndrome has a tendency of catching up on me from time to time: I view in awe and wonderment the folk who get on and do stuff, rather than reading, writing and talking about it. The chance to make a small contribution to these projects was too good an opportunity to pass up therefore, drawing on both some academic knowledge and expertise, as well as my former life spent working with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (managing box offices and so on). The nature of the Fringe cycle, as with many an annual event, is of course that you get to know a lot of people very well for a few weeks or months… and then you go your separate ways. It can be a powerful way of working and often breeds an intensity of effort and a willingness to get the job done that might look out of place in a ‘regular’ job. (One without quite so many trips to the pub perhaps.)

 

For me one of the biggest differences between Fringe work and entering academia has been a greater degree of autonomy, matched with more personal responsibility. Collaborative processes are not always at the heart of my job, or at least I don’t perceive them to be: if I’m not ready for a class no one is going to step in and solve that problem, but within a box office you work together to build the events on your system, refer customers to your colleagues and so on. Of course there are collaborative projects in academia, but the teams tend to be smaller and there’s less overlap of skills – each person has their own expertise, it isn’t such a ‘flat’ structure.

 

All of which leads back to those experiences of working together in order to keep the festival moving, day after day after day, living in each others’ back pockets. Until it ends. So the project we conceived and started building at Culture Hack Scotland sought to provide an online space to maintain those links, as well as retrospectively piecing together the communities of old. Thanks to the expert design prowess of @rufflemuffin (Sarah) we pieced together an interface that would allow users of the website to add their memories to a piece of Edinburgh festivals history – maybe a festival in a particular year, perhaps a venue within that festival, a show that was performed there… ultimately even individual performances would be ripe for photos, written memories, perhaps video clips and links to other sites and contributors. It’s a way of recreating the collections of administrators, performers and audiences that made the festivals hap
pen: last year, the year before and right back to the 1940s.

 

I spent over a decade of summers in one bit of the festivals or another, and loved almost every minute. Back in the olden days there was no social media to link people together once they’d drifted apart, you simply didn’t know what had happened to most folk until miraculously half of you gathered together again at the allotted time to do it all over again the following year. So there’s a community aspect to it, with its attendant social capital potential, but there’s also an archival opportunity – I have a couple of degrees in social history, so that sort of thing appeals to me. Right now where can people get their online fix of Edinburgh festival history? There’ll be a few annual reports kicking about for sure, as well as a barrel load of reviews, previews and old news from the last decade or so; but further back? Not so much. We envisaged our site being populated with some curated content: pictures, listings, perhaps some documents and the like …a unified hub for this information with the scope for constant improvement, investment and development at the hands of anyone with a connection to the festivals – ‘citizen curators’ if you will.

 

At which point I turn to Citizen Relay, with its growing band of citizen journalists, getting tooled up to hit the streets and cover the Olympic torch relay from the host communities’ perspectives. Until the training day I wasn’t aware that the project is part of the Cultural Olympiad, so to an extent officially sanctioned to go out and deliver some Games legacy whether Scotland wants it or not. There’s less of the historical archive at the heart of this project, at least not yet – this is about real time coverage of the biggest peace time event the world will have ever seen, yet one which risks remaining out of reach for most of the UK population apart from fleeting glimpses of a torch and the mediated spectacle of the competitive action. #citizenrelay will be despatching reporters and interns to all parts of Scotland as nation speaks unto nation through the catalyst of the torch relay – it’s a great project made possible thanks to the small pieces of technology so many folk carry with them every day in their pockets and bags.

 

As for the upshot of all this relay coverage, there’s a particular Scottish motivation for this work because as with everything Olympic it’s just a dress rehearsal for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Does that mean Glasgow and Scotland stand a better chance of delivering enduring legacies from its mega event after this learning experience? The trial run isn’t going to do it any harm that’s for sure. (Either way I’ll have had time to learn even more about what can be done with a humble smart phone.)

 

The Culture Hack project may well have a legacy too, beyond the bleary-eyed show and tell that ended the hack weekend. One of the contributors, Jennifer, works for Festivals Edinburgh… the perfect organisation to take this sort of idea further, give it some funding and get other partners on board. Who knows, maybe Jay (the patient programmer we worked with) will adapt it to work for mega sporting events as well as cultural celebrations.

 

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Update: now with added logo!

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Created, in the blink of an eye during Saturday lunchtime, by Dan Frydman (@danfrydman). Dan was with us in Glasgow on the Friday, then had to head back to Edinburgh. The joy of the internet meant he could keep in touch and lend his considerable talents to the project.

Networks: readings, notes and links

I’ve been soaking up quite a bit of social network literature recently as it is becoming the central theme in my PhD planning. As a focus for analysis it can often be found sharing space with discussions on social capital, yet the events literature tends to favour the latter – there is plenty of scope to consider the networks that exist around and between festivals and events.

As Christmas readies itself to claim the hearts and minds of the nation for a day or two I’m using this post to aggregate a few links, tucking them away for future reference.
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Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler’s excellent Connected (@connected_book) is required reading. Thorough, lively, full of great stories and keen to demonstrate that a better understanding of social networks may help us explain a vast array of habits, practices and cultural norms. Here are some links to their website and the book itself on Amazon.co.uk. Those with little to do over the festive season could fill some time looking through the array of videos, links and lecture slides on their site. If you’d rather some content to pick up on the go, here’s a podcast lecture from The RSA.

Speaking of The RSA, a recent post – Networking by numbers – from Gaia Marcus (@la_gaia) on the RSA site flags up a current project ‘to measure the social impact of public services and civic interventions and to allow people to see their own personal networks’. As part of an empowerment agenda the plan is to move away from traditional forms of social research, with their attendant inconsistencies and problems, towards something more personal, verifiable and up to the minute. It is a project to keep an eye on.

Moving the conversation closer to my preferred stomping ground of arts festivals, The Guardian has published a couple of pieces under the banner ‘Digital culture: hierarchy to network’: part one and part two. Written by Patrick Hussey of Arts & Business (@PatrickRiot) they feel like the very outer dermis of what he has to say, but they contain plenty of links to further work and projects. They are also a sign that the networking theme is now entering the mainstream of cultural management, gaining momentum as a topic demanding attention and resources. It also suggests some pretty solid foundations on which to build my own research in the months ahead.

Finally, with some of the most appealing images going, a post from Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) on visualising the Twitter archive of an event (in this case a conference). Some 3,000 tweets have been brought together – I must confess that I’m somewhat in the dark about this has been done, despite the guidance notes provided by Martin! (There’s much more for me to learn about this.) I do know that it’s good fun playing around with this

My recent PhD discussions and thoughts are focusing me towards trying to describe the social networks that exist around the production of a festival. The tools and the maths exist to make this possible, whether virtual or real. Where does power lie in these networks, how closely do they reflect the stakeholder maps that underpin the modern trend for partnership delivery, and what can festival producers do to support a healthy social community around their events? Taking this a step further, albeit a big step, what characteristics does a festival city like Edinburgh have – what are implications for individual events, the wider festival economy/ies and policy makers?
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Image: ‘Connected: Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives’