Mozfest : Indicators for measuring the impact of news (part two)

So; as mentioned in the last post on here I have been thinking about understanding, simply communicating, and measuring impact in news.

I’m now going to delve a bit further into this; I’m paying particular attention to citizen-interest topics, social justice in all its forms; any stories penned by campaigning journalists, activists and citizen reporters as well as those representing ‘solutions’ journalism.

Mozfest measuring news

In my last blog I got to the basic doodle above after saying that a finely layered hierarchy (a pyramid) might not be useful to us to communicate impact as it quite a blunt tool and implies that change only happens in one way – ie. by climbing to the top of the hierarchy of ‘change’.  I do however think that we can still usefully group this information – so have grouped these basic categories in a simple way that can help us focus on the ‘type’ of change we want to see as a result of our online journalism.

Lets go into this a bit further.

I think we are looking at three groups within this simple impact measurement:

First group: 

1) People read it (Measured in pageviews, click throughs etc.)

2) People comment on it (Measured in quantity and quality of exchanges, sources of comments)

3) They share it (Measured in depth, frequency and diversity of share – eg. across many networks, to non-target readerships)

This first group is important because it represents broad reach and demonstrates a base of interest and potential network emerging from readership. It can of course help inform the content creator in a live way as to how their stories are being received. It could be seen as a proxy for relevance/interest of some kind or it would be being shared, commented on or even read.The challenge here is understanding the diversity of the shares across relevant indicators (are you breaking out of the echo-chambers of opinion?) and also the response of the reader to the content. (positive or negative). So far as I know there is no simple open source tool to help citizen journalists do this to ensure they are not just ‘talking to themselves’.

Second group:

1) They do something offline (Join a meeting in local area, attend a protest etc.)

2) They fund it – probably online- (though donations, crowdfunding, subscription)

The second group represents a step towards making specific change – so to me seems like it has a different quality of engagement; it has a cost in time or money to the ‘reader’. It is a form of journalism that has somehow become directed towards a common purpose, a specific action in a more ‘hands on’ way. The challenges here are measuring how likely the individual is to ‘convert’ into an active citizen on the topic in question and go on to construct a citizen-led response. Are there ways of monitoring this conversion process through integrating relevant platforms like meetup or crowdfunding sites into citizen journalism tools or dashboards. Is there a way of promoting action beyond ‘sharing’ in a more visible way? (eg. at the minute ppl have a set of sharing buttons on articles, what about addition of ‘do something’ buttons?)

Third group:

1) Decision maker interacts/responds to it (Measured by relevant actions/statements )

This is different from the other two as it represents a response, not an action under direct control of the reader. It represents impact on specific power dynamics. If the head of the company or government or whatever you’re writing about replies or changes their policy as a result, then you know you made a difference. In some ways it is perhaps more linked to ‘group 1’ – a sense of mass movement rather than a deep/constructive citizen led movement. To my mind both types of change are required – the one that people begin to build for themselves as represented in group 2, but the one that they lobby for against power as represented in group 3. 

The challenge here is who to target, how to be heard- and how to know if you are on the fringes of being heard by those in power who you want to affect. Are there ways of measuring readership by organisation that could help activists know when they are beginning to tap into relevant social networks of those in power?

It is clear that there is scope to develop some accessible tools for citizens and journalist activists to understand and target impact more effectively. Perhaps they are already being built somewhere? Let me know if you have found some and want to share!

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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.

Hometaping : Offline and online

Sometimes you just wish you’d thought of an idea first…

In the words of the Hometaping website:

“People think that only the talented or the beautiful should be able to make music. This is bullshit. Making music is something everybody can enjoy. And everybody has something worth making a noise about.

Hometaping‘ is a big effort to help as many people as possible to record an album of their own music in one month. It is a celebration of what happens when they do.

So if you can’t sing but do anyway, you are Hometaping. If you’re crap at the guitar but it makes you happy, you are Hometaping. If your saxophone makes you smile but your neighbours wince, you are Hometaping. If you’re convinced your songs are intricate masterpieces, you are Hometaping.”

Making a s hort album and posting it online, then showing up to play at a hometaping party (whether via skype from transylvania, or live in london) should sound rather terrifying. Somehow, the hometaping ethos kinda takes the fear out of the process – and makes it well, fun, to record your own music for the first time. Its not often that online hype and offline actions marry up so perfectly, but I think the team behind hometaping have hit the right note… its easy to join in, non-scary, and not too techie – but without the online streaming and uploading then the thing wouldn’t exist.

I think that too many campaigns or initiatives that use the web end up getting bogged down in making the tech too complex or the messages too official. You can learn alot from hometaping no matter what kind of community project you’re trying to run.

In fact, I liked the whole concept so much that I bought the company! Well, no, I didn’t but I did ask Basil, one of the people who set up hometaping to tell me (and all of you) a bit more about what it is.

Alice: Hello! Thanks for agreeing to tell me a bit more about hometaping…! The first question really has to be…..what is it?

Basil: We started out with the idea that making music is basically a pretty fun thing to do, if you want to do it. But that it can also be quite scary and quite difficult, especially if you’re worried that you’re going to sound rubbish. (Which you probably won’t.) So we wanted to create an environment where a lot of people were all making music in a specific period of time, which would hopefully make you feel like you were part of this community of ‘hometapers’ and hopefully make it a bit less scary.

Alice: So, where did the idea come from?

Basil: The idea of a group of people all undertaking a similar endeavour in a month has been around for a while. NaNoWriMo is probably the grandpa, where people try to write a novel in a month. RPM Challenge and NaSoAlMo ask people to do an album in a month, too. Pete (one of the four of us working on this project, along with Charlie, Josh and me) participated in NaSoAlMo and thought that it would be fun to set up a similar project but with a slightly different emphasis. So he told us the idea over breakfast and then we set it up.

Alice: How has it been received by people?

Basil: Well we had a lot of completed albums this year. They are absolutely brilliant. So that’s the main thing. But people also blogged and tweeted and YouTubed their process throughout the month, and then, best of all, people played live at the party at the end of the month, and dialled in to play live over Skype from all over the world (including Transylvania – awesome). So we were really happy with the response.

Alice: Why do you think it has it captured people’s imagination?

Basil: I think there is something quite nice about hearing music that was not made by popstars, and instead was made by friends, or by people you imagine are a bit like you. So maybe people liked that. And I think it’s quite nice that it’s not a competition. I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask them.

Alice:  Did you have a favourite this year?

Basil: It’s all brilliant. Some of it is witty, some is incredibly well-produced, some people have amazing feats of instrumentation, some people have mind-bogglingly good voices. Pete said that the idea that there is only a small number of people who can make good music has been destroyed by the sample of music up on the Hometaping website. I think that’s true. I’m currently listening to marigold and tmcw a lot recently. But it’s all brilliant.

Alice: Do you think that there’s room for a hmtpng regular get together, or do you see it as a one-off thing only?

Basil: I think it makes it quite special doing a big party once a year. But it’s always nice to to meet up in the pub now and then. Should we do that? I’m up for it.

Alice: Lastly, do you have any tips for potential hometapers out there?

Basil: Don’t worry about being rubbish, because you won’t be. And don’t worry about what people might think. They’ll almost certainly think you’re awesome. And tell your friends about it and get them to do it too. That makes it more fun.

Fun and Funding – Youth Funding Network

I spent a great evening yesterday with the Youth Funding Network who have a very simple idea for raising funds and gathering volunteers for a variety of different charities. I was invited along by Liz from Otesha (A v.cool youth led sustainability charity involving bicycles, theatre and educational projects!) who is one of the organisers.

A subterranean den of philanthropy - Fairy lights provided by YTFN!


We turned up at a mysteriously quiet location in a bar in Hackney to find a basement packed with people looking for drinks, conversation, cupcakes and an opportunity to donate and/or volunteer for charities.

The whole event is run very simply and effectively. It involves paying £10 on the door in exchange for a voucher and simple info-pack outlining the three charities who will pitch for funds from the crowd that evening. Drinks and cupcakes are first on the menu, followed by pitching from the three featured charities. Then, the pitching itself begins – with everyone having a £10 minimum donation (the door entry fee) to put forward to the charity of their choice.

There was a huge amount of energy and interest in the room, and everyone who attended got a buzz from connecting with and supporting charities in a very personal way. Additionally, a match funding round backed by particular audience members helped to really push up the value of the donations made on the night, so all the charities benefitted still further from the event…Imagine what the results of 10,000 such events would mean to local communities…

Of course this isn’t the answer to the cashflow issues and sustainable income stream building that small startup charities are currently being faced with. However, there was something very encouraging to see so many people pitching in their donation in person, making a direct connection with the charities  themselves. These participants were more than happy to take a chance on providing some seed funding which will enable great new ideas to get off the ground at speed, with little bureaucracy.

I spent my ££s on the Hackney Pirates – check out their site here!

Apps4Good : Mobile apps for social good

I heard about the work that CDI Europe (Centre for Digital Inclusion), have been doing with their AppsforGood project and was v.excited to go along to the launch event a couple of months ago.

It was great to see groups of young people being supported to create their own mobile apps to create a range of useful and hopefully sustainable services, and at the same time gaining skills and confidence to talk about technology and entrepeneurship.

My personal favourite was ‘stop and search’ an app for young people to use and give feedback on stop and search actions carried out by the police.

Check all of the ideas out for yourself.

Read about it in the Times Online.

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.

Audit of Political Engagement : Duty to Involve

The Hansard Society published its latest Audit of Political Engagement on April 1st. Makes for a fascinating read considering how much energy has gone into meeting NI4.

(NI4: National Indicator4 is a benchmark by which local authorities are judged on how empowered people feel at a local level.)

I have highlighted some of the most interesting parts from a public engagement perspective here below in green.

Perceived influence over decision-making at the local and national levels
An overwhelming majority of the public feel they have ‘not very much influence’ or ‘no influence at all’ over decision-making in both their local area (73%) and the country as a whole (85%). However, more people feel they have an influence in their local area than in the country as a whole (25% versus 14%).


So it seems as if there is a swing towards local influence rather than national, yet still the positive results are very low overall showing that the public at large still feel disengaged from the policy decisions that affect their lives.

Reasons for not feeling influential in decision-making
The most commonly cited reasons for not feeling influential in decision-making point to a belief that politicians and the political system overlook the public’s views. The top two answers, ‘nobody listens to what I have to say’ (29%) and ‘decisions are made without talking to the people’ (20%) convey a strong feeling among the public that they are ignored by decision-makers. Other popularly cited reasons include ‘the system doesn’t allow for me to have an influence’ (19%) and ‘politicians are just out for themselves’ (17%).

So, we have more opportunties than ever before to be listened to through a variety of initiatives at local and national levels – yet still people feel as if their input is not taken into account, that decisions will be made without them.

Desire to be involved in decision-making
Half the public do not actually want to be involved in decision-making in their local area. Even more – 55% – do not wish to be involved in decision-making in the country as a whole.

This is really the most interesting one for me – about half of us just don’t want to be involved… why is this – I have a number of ideas:

1) because we feel like we’re not being listened to by those in power as mentioned above.

2) We’re too busy and tired to get involved anyway, we have better things to do with our time (see below.)

3) The formats for engagement that exist require alot of time and effort for people to participate in them effectively-in other words, traditional methods are still letting us down.

4) The effects of ‘consultation fatigue’ or cynicism increase owing to many meaningless consultation tickbox exercises. These create a vicious circle, bringing down the standards and reputation of public involvement across the board, and reaffirming people’s feelings of not being listened to.


Barriers to participation among potential participants
People who do not currently feel that they have an influence in decision-making – but who say they would like to be involved – were asked what factors, if any, prevent them from doing so. Nearly half (40%) cite lack of time as the main reason.

Let’s have a quick dose of realism to finish off – it seems like we basically have better things to do with our time! The experience of public involvement at national or local level should be a pleasure, not a pain – it is just one of many activities and commitments that competes for attention in people’s lives. Too often, still, it is an uninspiring experience for those who do actually turn up at the town hall.

The Duty to Involve (which requires local government to involve citizens in decision making as a matter of course) has just come into play as of April 1st. I just hope that it leads to higher quality, more considered consultation and involvement – not just MORE consultation and involvement. If this is the case, then we should expect to see even worse results in these areas in next year’s audit.

So – if we want people to engage with services, with local decision making and with policy formulation then we are going to have to try a damn sight harder to make those processess better; making them more

1) Genuine

2) Open and Inviting

3)Enjoyable

4) Responsive (ie. tell people what happened afterwards.)

I am sure there are a few more to add to this… any ideas?