Mozfest : measuring the impact of news

A couple of weekends ago the glorious Mozfest happened in Ravensbourne college right next to the  02 dome in London. If you haven’t been before you should, (to Mozfest I mean). You’ll find awesome people and atmosphere, something tech related for everyone to get involved in from all the makers activities to the open badges work, and an array of surprisingly nice crustless sandwiches. All well and good I hear you say – but what hsa this to do with news? Well, the Mozfest folks look at journalism as one of their areas for development – and this is my personal area of interest – I beelined it up to the top floor to find out more.

Why is measuring impact of news so important?

We could answer this in a number of different ways. In a way, at the heart of it this is about power and learning. If you control media (or you control your own consumption of media) then in a way you reduce diversity of opinion and stories you are exposed to ; and you could argue that reduced exposure to alternative viewpoints therefore reduces learning and collective understanding. We now use so few sources, increasingly so few websites to get our news -in effect tailoring our own customised ‘agreement’ channels to view our online world. We can easily create our own lens to view the world, one which provides little challenge to our own views and assumptions about the world. Its easy and perhaps more comfortable to live in a news echo chamber, or perhaps to block out the ‘news’ from our online experiences completely. When in theory there is more content available then ever this poses a big challenge particularly to campaigning journalists bloggers and citizen reporters. Aspirations are including but not limited to the following:
1. How to be read by a lot of people (understandably where a lot of focus goes but possibly as important I think are the following three…)

2. How to be read by diverse groups whose opinions you want to shift

3. How to be read and responded to by decision makers who can affect change

4. How to inspire direct action-taking by readers.

The journalism fellowship folk from Knight Mozilla there were working on many related questions, one of which was around what ‘impact’ actually looks like and how we go about helping many diverse and often under resourced journalists operating in widely ranging circumstances to define and to measure impact.

We started with a pyramid sketch on the day:

pyramid news impact

with the intention of giving a hierarchical value to measurable indicators. Pyramids are unhelpful in the long run but can be a good place to start visualising value and frequency as they tend to expose what doesn’t really work in a hierarchical approach – you read more thoughts on it here from Jessica Soberman – noting that as ever the reality is more complex. The challenge is to know to know which combination of variables are important/valuable, at which frequency under which circumstances- so, after our initial pyramids were created I went back to drawing board after meeting and tried boiling down to this crude set of first level definitions that can be combined and drilled into to suit multiple purposes.

Mozfest measuring news

Mozfest measuring news

Where to go from here? We need to add some more specific, measurable indicators and ways of easily tracking them in a dashboard to assign value or weight to the article and try and help journalists target their work more effectively.

I am going to try writing those up next so if you have any thoughts please drop me a note or add a comment below.

Empowering people, and seeing something differently by mapping abandoned spaces

derelict abandoned buildings in detroit urban decay community empowerment

Credit: Luca and Vita : derelict abandoned buildings in detroit urban decay community empowerment

Creative commons images of abandoned houses in USA: Luca and Vita

Vacant buildings are a growing problem in many areas that have been hit hard by the economic downturn. Not only do these empty spaces look forbidding and gloomy, their presence can actually attract crime and vandalism, and kick off a spiral of decline which drives down house values in the neighbourhood, and is hard to break out of. I came across a neat project that is running in Louisville, Kentucky which is aiming to use these vacant spaces a catalyst for change instead of allowing their empty presence to begin causing more problems.

They are doing this in a low-tech but effective way – primarily through community conversations out on ‘front porches’ and using this up to date local knowledge to make more accurate maps of vacant lots than local government does. I’m really interested in two aspects of this:

1) this idea that local people can create better quality data than local government >Question: Where else is this true and how can it apply in other contexts? (Think Kaizen service improvement/Nissan but at the street level in municipalites of all kinds)

2) making this information visible and visual has empowered people to see potential and opportunities where before they only saw problems. Question: >what other ‘visualisations’ can lead to positive empowerment and action?

The very interesting Kibera project which I’ve mentioned before went a step further than Kentucky with its mapping work, in that it actually worked with local people to do GPS tagging and make new local information visible and shareable using an online map. this in turn enabled people to find opportunities for improvement within that shareable, visual resource, much like the Kentucky project and others.

Clear and visually appealing maps combined with GPS and community conversations could offer much more value and opportunity to do the following things:

  1. generate new possibilities, where before people felt weighed down by problems
  2. build local resilience by strengthening social networks/ increasing social capital
  3. create high quality, transparent evidence for change campaigns
  4. help maintain local economic value systems (see @WillPerrin on this in Guardian , though I think it could go further than this.)

We are now at a time when a significant enough number of people could* be potential contributors and analysts of this information, developing new possibilities and insights where before we just saw problems.

Please send me more information on any work you’re doing that crosses over with this. I’m really interested to hear about variations in approach, and also whether you think an online interactive platform PLUS a  lower level of offline work would be even more effective than the intensive offline work alone.

 *Am I right? Perhaps true of some communities more than others, but are those the ones who would benefit most?

 (Thanks to @fastcompany for highlighting Louisville story. )

The Power of The Visible : Open up for Social change

Imagine this; a driver is stopped on a provincial road in India. They are asked to pay a ‘fine’ for some unspecified infringement of the road traffic laws. The men asking are dressed in police uniform and one seems to be carrying a weapon. They’d like the fine to be paid right now, in cash please. Much is left implied and unsaid as each party searches the other’s eyes for an understanding of the real nature of this transaction. The driver pays the ‘fine’ and is permitted to carry on travelling down the road. The driver is pissed off, but hey, this is normal – and its just the way things work round here – and what can one pissed off driver do about this stuff anyway?

Well, there is something that people can do now, they can speak out, and make these hidden transactions, the ‘bribe economy’ visible through initiatives like the India-based www.ipaidabribe.com . The site enables people affected by bribery to write about their experiences in public and to track the incidence of bribery in an open and transparent way, it aims “to tackle corruption by harnessing the collective energy of citizens.”

You can report on the nature, number, pattern, types, location, frequency and values of the bribes made, and the  reports add up to provide a snapshot of bribes occurring across any given city. They make formerly covert activities visible so that individuals who are sick of corrupt practice can build a stronger case for change, together, from the ground up.

And this idea of making things visible as a form of power and a force for legitimacy of experience can be brought to other contexts. One of the most powerful online tools out there is the interactive map. Geography and place bring things to life for people, and if you are not on the map then you’re not part of the ‘visible’ geography – you are part of a hidden world with little legitimacy as a home and a place to live. This is the case for many slum dwellings.

Take the example of Kibera in Kenya – Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on the map until November 2009, when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community.

Map Kibera has now grown into a complete interactive community information project with the additon of Voice of Kibera – a portal for citizen reporting and community advocacy which has the map at its heart.

The Map of Kibera “has steadily emerged as a powerful tool for not just locating place, but also for influencing the social, political & economic spheres in Kibera and beyond.”

What else that is hidden or covert can be made visible through social media to make a real-world change? If you’re intersted in reading more check out this blog from Giulio Quaggiotto who works on Knowledge Management at UNDP Europe and CIS. There is much more that can be done through using these online tools to make a real-world difference.

Groupon for public services or social good?

Groupon : An awesome name for an awesome idea…

First of all, it does what it says: It is a ‘coupon’ for groups. People join up to the groupon site and get sent special offers by email Eg. a half price holiday or spa visit. If a certain number of them ‘group-on’ to the offer by signing up in principle to pay for the product/service then the company will provide the product/service at a hugely discounted rate.

The Groupon concept has some great features which could be applied to a public service or social context. I thought I’d write a just a few up below for you to think about.  I was wondering if anyone had come across similar incentive schemes or group buying in the public/social sector that I should take a look at?

Peer referral

The idea that you need to get a group of people around the offer before it goes ahead means that peer referral is strongly incentivised. This enables the groupon concept to grow virally and reach deeply into friendship or interest networks.

If you applied this to public services you could reach people that public services can find it difficult to reach in order to promote take-up of training or healthcare offers.

Targeting niche markets

You could use groupon to match user groups with very specific needs with tailored/bespoke offers made up of both financial and NON financial benefits. For example, those living with long term conditions in a particular geographic area might form a group to network AND buy support services at discounted rates. Those with rare conditions who feel isolated can be matched with others to purchase discounted specialist treatments that they need AND to provide peer support.

Pipeline for ‘new social services’ 

Services like Cool2Care http://www.cool2care.co.uk/ which provide specialist carers to families with disabled children could stand to gain through being able to better understand and plan for demand for the service by creating a pipeline of demand when people sign up to take on their offer. Personal budgets could be spent on this type of care OR cautious investors could be attracted to make investment once the provider has been able to demonstrate a strong market for their service.

Just a few ideas to explore…be interested to hear your thoughts.

Climate Change : Local deliberation on a global issue

Last week I was in Edmonton, Canada discussing how to go about setting up a province-wide public deliberation on Climate Change. There are a number of significant challenges around taking forward a regional deliberation on climate change and this is particularly true in Alberta – a province with a thriving economy based on its rich natural resources.

In this post I want to look at just one of those challenges – a question which can be transferred to any regional or local deliberation on climate change:

How can a localised deliberation effectively address what is a shared and global issue?

Just before arriving  in Alberta I read a recently published US Government scientific report which outlines ten key findings on climate change. These findings are bold for a US focused climate change document, and with Obama at the helm, we can expect to see more where this came from;

Ten Key Findings from the recent US Global Change Research Programme report:

  1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
  2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and projected to grow.
  3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
  4. Climate change will stress water resources
  5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
  6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
  7. Risks to human health will increase.
  8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
  9. Thresholds have already been crossed and have lead to large – and in some cases, irreversible – changes.
  10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

However, these points are not country or region-specific, and we all know that even decisive action from the mighty USofA cannot address climate change on its own. Climate change is a shared and global concern, involving and affecting all nations and citizens, particularly those from key areas of growth and vulnerability such as India, China, Africa and Brazil.

In Canada, the Albertan economy has benefited enormously from the extraction of natural resources in the North of the province, making it one of the most dramatic Canadian economic success stories of recent years. However environmentalists and sustainability experts consider the oil extraction industry in general and the Athabascan oil sands in particular to be disastrous for the environment.

Yet does now seem as if there is now a real chance for meaningful dialogue and deliberation at this point in time more than any other. A number of influential factors have recently shifted, providing a clear opportunity for progress on climate issues in Alberta for the following reasons:

  • It is becoming clear that ‘business as usual’ extraction of resources cannot continue, partly in light of the current economic climate and partly due to increasing global pressure to curb emissions
  • The USA, Canada’s most influential neighbour  is taking a strong lead on environmental issues as reflected in proposed initiatives such as Cap-and-Trade
  • The scientific evidence base connecting human action to climate change is becoming more compelling, the messaging is more mainstream, and public concern seems to be on the increase in key countries including Canada.
  • Influentials are changing their attitudes; indeed one of the authors of the Albertan economic success story, ex-premier, Peter Lougheed, is now looking to re-write the ending by slowing down development and taking a more measured approach to extraction. Although this might not be the answer that green advocacy groups such as the Pembina Institute are looking for – it is perhaps indicative of a rising sea-change in attitudes towards the environment from both political and business leaders.

All the same, due to the significant economic interests that the energy industry brings to Alberta,  it will still be challenging to create a truly open and meaningful deliberative dialogue on environmental and energy issues in the province. What is more, if the shared and global nature of the  issue is not addressed adequately as part of any local deliberation there are a number of serious resultant risks in any such regional process:

1) Potential participants do not engage with the proposed citizen engagement process in the first place as they feel it cannot make a difference. The lack of acknowledgment of the global context of the climate project may leave individuals feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the issue.

2) Participants, once engaged, feel powerless to affect real change, and feel that their contributions are without significant meaning given the scale of the task in hand. Whatever initiatives or actions are proposed at a regional level at the end of an engagement process are seen to be just a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the true scale of the problem.

3)    Participants do not fully engage with and understand the wider context of the challenge of climate change and sustainability and end up making recommendations based solely on the regional experience (This is not to say that say, the Albertan context is not important and special, but it is not and should not be considered to be the full story.) No region can solve the problems alone.

4)    The benefits and lessons learned through an experimental  deliberative engagement project are not disseminated to benefit or inspire others. This process of communication and ‘reporting out’ could make a significant impact on the way in which climate change is addressed by citizens and decision makers across the globe, as examples of best practice are sought out increasingly by provincial leaders  unsure as to how to proceed on climate change.

How can we address these issues?

I believe that there are a number of factors to consider when planning a regional deliberation on a shared global issue such as climate change. Firstly there is a need to address the scale of the issue in a way which feels empowering, not overwhelming. Humanising climate change and encouraging connections is important to help ensure that potential participants do not feel that they are experiencing and solving the problem in geographic isolation. Connection can help to provide a sense of global perspective and of being part of a larger community.

Secondly, deliberation cannot be confined to linking concerns with discussion –  there needs to be a further connection between deliberation and action. In other words, participants should feel that they are not acting independently, but that their decisions and ideas should be coordinated or  linked in some way across regional boundaries in order to be more effective in addressing the issues.

Finally; learning from any regional deliberation is well-disseminated in order to inspire others to participate in planning their own regional or local deliberations.

Below, I have outlined just a few potential ideas to address the four risks listed above. Ideas below correspond to points above.

1) A global network of interested organisations should be grown around the project and clearly signposted so that participants and decision makers feel, and are, part of a larger more powerful international network of deliberation working to advance the issues in a productive way.

2) Participants could be enabled to connect at some point in the deliberations with citizens in other countries, whether directly over the web or asynchronously through video reports and forums. Twinning of global towns and cities based on a commitment to progress on environmental and economic issues could be facilitated to encourage global dialogue and understanding.

3)    Deliberations should necessarily have some global context and framing, and should not be concerned solely with regional issues. Information and materials provided should have an inspiring global dimension and not focus solely upon the region in which the deliberation is located.

4)    All processes should be designed with replication and transferability in mind. Materials should be produced under the creative commons license for distribution. Translation should be encouraged and made available where appropriate. Regional pilots such as the Alberta project should be seen as innovators, leading the way – but  should also acknowledge that they cannot ‘solve’ the problems alone.

In conclusion, climate change is a global problem requiring an understanding of some part of the complex systems behind the issue before a meaningful and empowering deliberation can take place. I believe that locally focused dialogue and action has a very important role to play in finding a solution, but that any meaningful deliberation relating to policy change must address the global context. Finding the balance between local-global is the key in terms of framing the issues, motivating participation, and for more informed and impactful policy input.

Blogging Ideas : Pakistani Spectator

A -kind of- festive post for you before the holiday season kicks off for real… I read a few international blogs through the excellent global voices and one of the active ones is the Pakistani Spectator. Ghazala Khan does a regular series of interviews with bloggers from all over the place and it was my turn last week: 

Would you please tell us something about you and your site?

I write about public involvement in decision making. This is actually takes in quite a wide range of different issues, from the tension between different modes of governance and electoral systems to how individuals collaborate on decision making in their own communities, both locally and online. I blog here.

    Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?

I think everyone learns as they write more frequently – it forces you to order your thoughts in a structured format and to try and imagine how others might understand your meaning. Having said that, I feel that the most important thing is to get out from behind the keyboard and monitor and to speak with a whole range of different people to gain inspiration whenever possible. That’s where you find opportunities to grow as an individual and as a member of several wider communities.

    I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?

My favourite recent post was an interview with an Obama supporter on London bridge – I took a quick photo of him with my camera phone and it came out so well – really capturing the enthusiasm and spirit of the moment. I was affected by the belief of an individual that genuine change can come from those at the top rather than the cynicism that is often expressed towards decision makers in the UK.

    What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?

I use RSS feeds to keep up to date – attempt to keep my netvibes page which pulls all of those feeds together in good order. Then of course, I read and comment when I have some spare time.

    What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?

In politics, it has to be the Obama campaign in terms of excitement and the interplay between online connection and offline action. This was a very powerful mix and am very glad to see this strong emphasis on online tools continuing. See obamacto for an interesting take on what should happen next!

    Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?

I do think that new technology can make people feel more personally connected than ever before, and more able to respond quickly and easily to causes or issues that they are interested in. Not only this, I think that it can supplement our existing networks in new ways which are only just beginning to be realised.

    What do you think sets Your site apart from others?

It focuses on public participation and involvement from a personal perspective. I work for an organistion called http://www.involve.org.uk which is based in the UK – this enables me to look at public engagement and participation from a more analytical viewpoint during the day – then my blog covers the aspect I feel is often not covered so well – what do these ideas and projects mean for real people in their working and home lives?

    If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?

Critical optimism!

What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?

I’m not sure on this one – life is a journey and I’m usually looking forwards not back!

    If you could pick a travel destination, anywhere in the world, with no worries about how it’s paid for – what would your top 3 choices be?

I like this question – I’d go to Tierra del Fuego to see lava pouring into the sea, then drop by Venezuela to see the Angel Falls, and then maybe to Dongtan to see the eco city… in a year or two.

   What is your favorite book and why?

I don’t have a favourite – I love reading and lots of books have strong meaning for me – one would be ….read the rest here

Enjoy the holidays! 

(Yes, I know the life is a journey line is a bit Forest Gump –  is tough not to be able to edit your words after you write them…!)

Us Now: Ebbsfleet and Ed Miliband

I went to see Us Now at the RSA last night… a documentary by Ivo Gormley and Banyak film that looks at web collaboration type stuff through some real stories about online/offline communities, and a few interviews. It got me thinking:

People right across the world are connecting in all kinds of ways on the web right now without any great institution or medium to support this in a traditional top-down sense. What is more, they are then getting things done – whether that’s about big online projects that use collective wisdom like Wikipedia or Linux, or whether its facilitating personal meetings and connections like mumsnet coffee mornings or couchsurfing.

This is useful, and interaction with a larger whole means something to individuals who take part. Big-little, global-local, public-personal. This is an important landscape feature of online collaboration.

Wikipedia is now my first point of reference when I want to know something, its part of my personal web toolkit, and through it I’m tapping into the  thoughts and knowledge of people from across the world who feel confident enough and who have time to contribute to building that vast resource for free. A wise collective.

The couchsurfer‘s story in UsNow illustrated a more personal side of connectedness – for the surfer, the experience served to put a friendly face onto a blank and unknown cityscape, a way of providing a connection through shared affirmation and a sense of trust induced in part through online reputational systems. Basically, a guy he’d never met cooked him dinner and let him sleep on the couch – and this was all OK.

We know this right? But then, the film takes us to the story of Ebbsfleet football club, and into the world of Ed Miliband and this is where it gets interesting. At Ebbsfleet we see the story of players being picked online by fans, photos are dropped into position online by various enthusiastic supporters. The manager, the expert, then has to pick the team that the fans choose for him. In the film – Ebbsfleet wins the match – they’re all going to Wembley – and fans speak of being part of that victory – ‘we’ did it, ‘we’re going to Wembley etc. But Ebbsfleet don’t do this anymore – they’ve gone back to being expert-controlled with the manager, the expert, taking the decisions for the good of the team and the fans.

Then we see an image of Ed Miliband’s head being gently dropped onto a ‘pick your cabinet’ webpage…hmmmm. Not a great way to construct a cabinet I think… This is followed by a wicked moment of confusion captured on the film that shows a much more human side of an MP – for once, the ‘answers’ aren’t all there… but of course, this was then followed up with an official statement of ‘solution’. I’d much rather it wasn’t.*

When those with traditional expertise don’t know what to do, when a public mandate for change is required, when decisions are at stake that can be based on the real, lived experience of people who know the area, service, attitudes best – those kind of situations are crying out for a more participatory approach. This is going to happen with or without government going along with it – but it would be so much better to have radical system change happen willingly and with optimism rather than reluctantly, through backlash and disenchantment, cynicism, loss of trust in decision makers etc.

Ed’s head in hands moment of bewilderment illustrates the institutional tensions and personal, inner conflict that go to work when we start transposing user generated participatory ideas onto existing, top down ‘representative’ (failing) democratic systems. Yes, there will be leading participatory disruptors that impact on the way government takes decisions, but the question is whether it would be better to transform and decentralise current systems of governance to enable a more equitable distribution of power. I reckon that more votes were made on disgruntled feelings, hairstyle and humour in the London mayoral elections than on policy issues. There’s potential to make a bad system worse…

In Us Now Paul Miller points that there is a misconception that decision makers and those with power make – that people are thick, therefore they shouldn’t be involved in making decision on important things. This problem of perception works at a number levels – decision makers don’t give enough credit to public wisdom and intelligence, the press consistently portray the public as being respondent, passive and powerless rather than active and influential, and people themselves do not feel able to influence decisions in their communities. These three have worked together to ensure that many citizens remain as passive consumers. Now, take the mass media image out of the picture, and instead put in place a new kind of reflection of a citizen – that seen through web 2.0 collaboration and connectedness – a far more attractive and empowering form of citizenship emerges, and its one that does not fit with current outmoded democratic systems.

It is clear that there is a place for two broad based kinds of expertise in this participatory future and for Ebbsfleet as much as Parliament. One form of which taps into public wisdom, one which uses the skills of learned specialist individuals. We need to work out how the two interconnect – where the system needs to change, (pretty much everywhere, especially in terms of repersentative politics), where power ought to lie, and what people everywhere will do for themselves next.

Now, I’m not sure how that’ll all pan out – so might go and ask someone else what they think…

 *see comment below

**Update: Check out what someone else thought at confusedofcalcutta where JP Rangaswami, who chaired the event writes it up.