I’ve just come back from a fascinating five days working with a team of young Egyptians and fellows of the Diplo Internet Governance Capacity Building Programme at the 2009 Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Amongst other things, one of the key things I was up to, working with Pete Cranston and Dejan Dincic, was training and supporting the youth team and Diplo fellows to use various digital online tools to ‘social report’ the IGF. The work was funded IKM Emergent – a project focussed on new perspectives on Knowledge Management (KM), particularly looking at ‘multiple knowledges‘.
In the process of working with a diverse international group at an incredibly diverse and complex event, we gained many insights into social reporting for multiple knowledges – and I’ve tried to unpack some of my reflections and learning below:
Social Reporting for multiple knowledges
One of the great transformations brought about by online digital media is that just about anyone can now create and share rich media to offer their own view of events or issues – and this media can be published where many of the worlds population with an Internet connection will be able to see it. As Deirdre from St Lucia pointed out, it’s not long ago that getting more than one news channel’s coverage of even major events was near impossible.
The main sessions of IGF09 were well recorded, with UN Webcasting in video or audio from every session or workshop, and live transcripts of many sessions available. Formal write-ups of each session will be available in due course. However, with social reporting our goal was not to duplicate these formal records of the event, but was to offer each participant, and particularly the youth team and Diplo fellows (henceforth referred to as ‘the social reporting team’), the chance to report on elements of the event of interest to them. And to do that, we were using simple, near-instant, online social media tools.
The idea of multiple knowledges is of course a complex one, and has many layers – but at IGF09 our core focus was on just one element – supporting the capture and sharing of different perspectives on the event from different actors in the event.
Reflection 1: Train in techniques, as well as tools
Few of the social reporting team we were working with had used twitter, online video or blogging before as a reporting tool. Before the IGF got started, Pete & Dejan ran a short afternoon’s training with some of the social reporting team, explaining how tools like Twitter worked, encouraging team members to sign up for accounts, and getting particpants to practice using Flip camera digital video recorders. They also introduced the team to the Social Reporting at the IGF handbook we had prepared.
However, whilst the handbook does offer a short introduction to the concept of social reporting itself, and mentions a few practical techniques for video interviews, it was only later in the week that we started to do more to demonstrate different techniques and to talk about ‘conceptual tools’ for creating social reporting content.
For example, the five interesting things about approach can be a very good technique to help new bloggers move away from replicating a ‘list of things that happened’ in a session, to capture a ‘list of interesting elements’ or a ‘list of controversies’ for social reporting.
It would be worth exploring in more depth the range of different techniques (and templates) that can help new (and experienced) social reporters to capture multiple knowledges in their reporting – and to explore how best to train and equip social reporters to choose and use these approaches.
Reflection Two: Let reporters choose their tools – and then build up multi-tool use
A social reporter who is comfortable with many different digital tools, and who is covering a particular conference theme, may start by sharing some insight or quotes from a session by Twitter. They may follow up by catching the panelist who the quote came from, and asking them to share more of their views in a short video interview. They may then upload that video interview, keeping a copy on their computer to edit into a later remix, and when the video is available to view online, they would use Twitter again to alert others to the fact it has been published, actively alerting (by using the @username convention) anyone who expressed an interest in the earlier twitter messages on this topic. Later in the day, when things are quieter, they may embed a screen-shot of the original tweet, and a copy of the video, into a blog post in which they draw out a key message from the video, and link to other blog posts and websites which relate to the topic under discussion.
But – getting from no use of social media tools and no experience of social reporting – to that sort of platform-hopping mixed-media reporting in just a few days is a tall order. In fact, rather than trying to get new social reporters to be platform-hopping from the start, a quick show-and-tell, or hands-on demo of the different tools available, followed by an invitation to each member of the social reporting team to choose which tools they want to explore first, or which they feel most comfortable with, seemed to generate far better results.
Reflection Three: It helps to know your audience
It’s tricky to write when you don’t know who you are writing for. It’s a lot easier to carry out a video interview when you have a sense of who might watch it. And it’s often easier to allow yourself to be present in your own reporting when you know your main audience will be a community you are part of. We all present ourselves differently to different audiences, and so to capture multiple knowleges, it can be useful for a social reporting team to think about multiple audiences.
We didn’t get much time to explore with our social reporting teams who they saw as the audience for the content they were creating, nor to think about the different spaces the content could be published or aggregated to in order to reach out to different audiences – but I have a sense this could be a valuable additional part of training and preparation for social reporting. At first we found all the reporting was talking place in English, but we encouraged our social reporters to create content in whatever language they felt most comfortable with, or that they felt was most appropriate for the content in question.
There were a number of ‘remote hubs’ following the IGF via the web cast, and participating in discussions through Skype and Webex, and in our debrief we’ve reflected on how it may be possible to pair social reporters up with geographical or thematic remote hubs – giving each reporting a strong connection with a specific audience.
Reflection Four: Quick clips cannot capture all knowledges
The Internet Governance Forum is a complex event. Not only does it deal with some complex issues (socially, technically and culturally), but it also is comprised of a vast array of actors, from governments and industry, to individuals and civil society. As a non-decision making body the spirit is neither of consensus, nor of conflict – and black and white statements of positions are rare. The presence of all different shades of opinion, and of the experience of actors from many different countries and contexts, appears to make IGF the idea place to explore multiple knowledges. Yet at the same time, the complexity of context and content makes capturing the multiple perspectives on IGF in ‘social media snippets’ a challenge.
In video reporting, the social reporters needs to have a reasonable domain-knowledge in order to be able to ask questions that illicit insights from interviewees. In quick twitter based reporting, capturing the most relevant points without reducing them to soundbites can be tricky – or can lead to only the most ‘tweetable’ and no neccessarily the most interesting or important ideas being shared. In blogging, the lack of definitive positions to ‘side with’ in writing up a session or theme can mean the social reporter needs to pick a path through many different subtlely different perspectives and to express them in text.
Reflection Five: When the event ends, then things are just getting started…
On the last day of the IGF I hastily put together this ‘Social Reporting after IGF’ handout for our teams – as we realised it was important to make sure that, for the social reporters, the end of IGF09 was not neccesarily the end of their use of social media tools to capture and share ideas. (I’ve also created a ‘Social Reporting’ group over on the Diplo Internet Governance network). Having invited many of the youth team, and the fellows from Diplo, to sign up with various online spaces, including Twitter, for the first time, we also had a reponsibility to make sure they were aware of the implications of continued use of these tools.
But ensuring new social reporters know how they can continue to use social media tools to capture content and create networks is only part of the legacy of social reporting at an event. With the creation of a significant amount of content, there is some obligation upon us to do something with it.
During the IGF we were using a public NetVibes page as an aggregator of all the content being published, but this does not act as a longer-term archive of the content, nor does it allow us much flexibility to curate and contextualise the content gathered.
So, over the coming weeks we’ll be thinking about ways to aggregate, archive and curate the content we gathered – and thinking about whether any content can continue to be used in useful ways over the coming year.
There is little point in equipping people with the skills to capture multiple knowledges, and going some of that capture, if the skills are left un-used in future, and the content captured and the knowledges it expresses disappear entirely into Internet obscurity.
I am sure there are many more reflections and learning points from other membes of the team – which they will undoubtedly share in due course.
To find out more about Practical Participation – my work focussing on Youth Participation and Social Technologies visit http://www.practicalparticipation.co.uk
And to explore social reporting more in the context of IGF – please join the Diplo Internet Governance communitie’s Social Reporting group here: http://www.diplointernetgovernance.org/group/socialreporting