On Wednesday Alison Sayer from (Halas Homes) and I spent the afternoon in a research seminar at the University of Birmingham. The Barrow Cadbury Trust have funded the Third Sector Research Centre to undertake exploration and research around Community Action and Social Media. The project started a few months ago, when Kevin Harris from Local Level (he blogs here) reviewed literature on the topic and carried out telephone interviews with people who do work with community groups and social media.
Questions being asked through the research are:
- How/do social media generate, extend, develop or sustain community action in communities of place/interest? (This is the overall research question.)
- What social media are being used at a community level and how?
- Why and to do what?
- What is the impact and outcomes of social media use?
If you have any examples which can help to answer these questions please do get in touch with Kevin Harris (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll be sharing some experiences here which might go some small way to responding to the research questions, and also examples from other places. (They will all go in a category called community action and social media so that you can find them easily.)
Though the research team themselves weren’t using social media during the seminar, that clearly that didn’t stop those of us who enjoy social reporting, involving people outside the room, and picking up on discussion points through a backchannel. We used the hashtag #CASM, and Pauline Roche kindly curated an archive of the twitter discussion on Storify. Slides from the seminar were circulated after the session via email with participants, I’ve shared a copy here.
At this point I confess to a feeling of immense frustration. There are amazing people across the country who have incredible experience-based knowledge in relation to communities and community development, and the analysis of power which comes with that. They even write brilliant books about things like networking approaches to community development. However they haven’t really jumped in when it comes to social media. This leads to barriers in them understanding stories and examples from people like Steph Clarke who use social media in highly skilled and adept ways to facilitate positive connections and action and build cohesion in their own communities. I am convinced that understanding can only be real when you have built up some experience of using social media. Otherwise it’s like trying to understand what it’s like to swim without ever getting in the water.
Anyway, here’s my first example from Dudley of community action being driven through social media. Karl Denning is a guide dog owner from Dudley who campaigns for equality and raises awareness about behaviours which make day to day life difficult and even dangerous for partially sighted people. Karl came along to a Dudley Social Media Surgery in 2013, when he learned some tips and tricks to use Twitter more effectively (he’s on twitter as @KarlDenning). He returned to the next surgery for help to set up a new blog on WordPress, and then again later in 2014 to find out how to use Instagram. Below is a video made and shared on YouTube by Dudley Police and Karl, raising awareness of inconsiderate parking. It’s had over 3,500 views. I have no idea what the impact and outcomes of this are, but it has made me more thoughtful about where and how I park. The video relates to a wider effort by Karl to raise awareness which taps in to the hashtag #inconsiderateparking. Do take a look at the video, if only to watch how tentatively the police officer passes the car, which helps you empathise with how scary this is.
Photo credit: Photo from research seminar taken by Gooweon Jeong, shared via @thirdsectorrc twitter account