Monthly Archives: February 2007

Fun family photos

Couch fun family photo promotionThe Fun family photos promotion the Families Commission ran at the International Cultural Festival in Auckland on 26 February was a real hoot. During the course of the day we took over 250 photos of different familes, friends and other permutations of bodies and faces.

I was part of the team cajoling festival goers, handing out secret codes, and answering queries about the Families Commission. We are trialling the photo promotion at a couple of events to boost Couch members amongst demographic groups that are currently under-represented. The promotion is next appearing at the Pasifika festival in Auckland on 10 March.

Since posting each photo privately on The Couch, about a third of people who we snapped have visited the website to collect their photo. If the website statistics are reliable, most of the people who visited actually signed up to become a Couch member.

Some people turned away when we said it was an Internet only promotion. This felt uncomfortable as it goes against the inclusive nature of community engagement work. My motto is never turn anyone away. Others scratched their heads and then decided to get a photo taken when they thought of a friend who had Internet access, or were open to the suggestion of going to a public library or somewhere else where public Internet access is available.

After trialling the promotion at two events we’ll consider whether we use it again in the future. Having seen the excitment, trepidation and delight in the faces of those who participated, I vote for using the promotion again. But as we’ll have to consider this in the hard, cool light of day based on facts and figures, I’m not sure which way we’ll go.

Organic gardening in Ngaio and Hampstead

Over the last few weeks I’ve been enjoying a new blog on the Guardian website about an organic allotment a group of Observer Magazine staff have started working on. They’re starting from scratch at a negelected allotment in Hampstead, London. As photos and videos on the blog show, they started with a pretty messy site but they’re slowly transforming it.

In the latest entry we hear about delivery of “perfectly rotted down two-year-old cow manure loaded with biodynamic preparations and thrumming with life to pass onto our soil and crops”. And there are pictures too (see below).

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Considering the state of my so-called compost heap I’m suffering from humus envy big time. The Observer crew seem to be racing ahead at a fast rate.

The pace of growth seems is something of a contrast to approach to organic gardening espoused by local seed raiser and man of the land Dave Treadwell. Earlier today Dave shared his knowledge and philosophy through an organic gardening course I went on (thanks to Mandy for a very thoughtful christmas present).

A big lesson I picked up was on the need to spend time observing your garden. Sit back and notice what is going on. When removing the vermicast when worms have finished their munching, Dave said go and have a cuppa to allow the worms to flee. He said it takes about seven years to really understand the microclimates and ecological niches in a garden.

Dave sells his organic seeds by mail order. As a source of seeds selected to thrive in local conditions and having visisted where the crops are grown in Ngaio, I’m pretty keen to buy seeds from him in the future. The seed catalogue along with some tips can be found on the ecoseeds website.

It was good to get practical experience in my own backyard because I can’t see myself visiting the Observer Magazine allotment in the next wee while. I’ll still be checking the blog regularly though.

Applause for The Couch

It’s gratifying when people notice that you’re doing good work. Last week David Hume, a consultant working for the State Services Commission, said The Couch is “a leading example of online participation in New Zealand”.

David is part of a team promoting efforts by government agencies to use the Internet for citizen participation. You can read more about the participation strand of the e-government strategy at www.e.govt.nz. Or if you’re keen, you can hear David’s comments as a panel member in something called a Karajoz Great Blend – a seminar of sorts which is not actually called something as unhip as a seminar – on digital democracy hosted by commentator Russell Brown (see his story “Back when I worked in the arms industry … “ to find out more about the blend, blending, blenders, etc). The audio is available on the Scoop website.

Anyway I didn’t mean to get tangled up in big picture stuff. I want to write about The Couch. It’s been a quite a while since I started managing the website, in May 2006 to be exact, and until now I haven’t got around to writing anything about it.

The Families Commission Komihana a Whanau lauched the consultation website in April 2006 to give people opportunities to tell the Commission what they think about issues relating to family life. Every four to six weeks we run online polls on a range of topics, from parenting to living with disabilities. Information gathered feeds into policy development, identification of hot topics for families, and ongoing advocacy.

We’ve been successful at attracting a large membership. It’s still growing with 2,700 members on board, and people are active with 81% of members having participated in at least one poll. I’m not sure exactly how many people read the results, which we try to publish within a month of polls closing, but the numbers are probably not as high as those who complete polls.

An often neglected aspect of consultation websites is promotion, but the Commission is working very hard to make sure a cross section of New Zealand families join up. Attracting new members from under-represented demographic groups is a key thrust of the marketing. Hence our presence at selected events around the country (more on this soon).

When we don’t have our heads in the administration of the website, we’re looking ahead to how we can build on what has been achieved in the last ten months. With a field as new as online participation, constant refinement and enhancements need to be made. An evaluation of members’ views using an online poll is scheduled to begin next month. The results will give us an idea of whether our plans are on track.

That’s enough for now given I finished work hours ago. There’s much more to say about The Couch so I plan to write something again soon.

Rubber soon hitting road for e-Rider

e-Rider february workshop participantsOn Monday the Wellington Regional 2020 Communications Trust ran a workshop to test ideas for delivering a new ICT advice and support service for community and voluntary organisations in the Wellington region (the participants are pictured here). Our facilitator, and Trust chairperson, Erina Papp managed to boil the whole two hour workshop into a single question: what’s your level of comfort with the concept proposed? After a few ums, ahs and careful qualifications, the community organisation representatives each independently ranked the concept as seven or eight.

Having been investigating the concept of a e-Rider since September 2005 it was a huge relief that people were comfortable with the approach proposed. Of course, the rating was only final piece of feedback following a productive (and tiring) workshop.

Over the next ten days or so we’re doing further testing to give us a sound basis on which to determine the exact mix of services we’ll offer, the structure, any charges and what personnel we need. Our aim is to launch the service by the middle of the year.

We’ve known for a long time that community and voluntary organisations have been struggling to get adequate ICT advice. Since around the year 2000 actually. Several research projects and the 2003 Connecting Communities conference have nailed down what the need is. Since receiving funding we’ve been able to engage someone to undertake a feasibility study to quantify what gaps organisations have and what they’d like to see. Sandra McDonald agreed to undertake the prepare a feasibility study and business plan for us in December 2006. Thanks to the her thoroughness and a rigorous approach, we’ve been facing up to the hard questions.

As well as trying to work out the exact mix of services and how we can meet expecations, we’ve been grappling with how to provide a service that will survive in the long-term when we know resources are scarce (actually IT budgets are generally non-existent). Organisations are generally not funded for the full-costs of running services or working in communities. This has to change, but our service can’t wait for funders to recognise all the infrastructure costs associated with running an organisation. So, it looks like a education is required alongside delivery of services.

Fortunately, we have funding to enable the service to run as a pilot to test ideas (with the bulk of funds coming from the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund). Massey University are on board as evaluators, WCC is a partner, and a range of local and not-so local organisations are contributring too. The commitment of the London Advisory Service Allliance to publishing lessons from their circuit rider projects is very valuable, and New Zealand pioneers of delivering IT advisory services to not-for-profits, Social Services Waikato, have been generous with their insights and time.

Following the workshop I really get the feeling things are coming together. Come the end of March we will have completed a business plan, and then we’ll be on to recuiting an e-Rider (or e-Riders) and launching the service. Keep an eye of the Wellington e-Rider project website for relevant advertisements.

Save the internet


Often when I read about some trend in the USA, or elsewhere overseas, I wonder if the same sort of thing is happening in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Save the Internet clip, which you can link to on YouTube above, is about a campaign by citizens in the USA to resist corporate efforts to control the Internet.

AT&T, TimeWarner and other corporations are lobbying for legislation in the United States that would overturn the founding principal of an open and free the Internet. Currently the core principle for governing the Internet is network neutrality, or “net neutrality” for short. Net neutrality means all webpages, email and electronic exchanges are treated equally. The Internet is just a pipe that allows data to flow.

However, some of these big corporations want to be able to decide which web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all. Save the Internet say the corporations “want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors.”

Now, I’ve got a couple of questions: will decisions in the USA impact on NZers ability to surf freely? And secondly, are the dominant telecommunications companies in New Zealand seeking similar lucrative amendments to the rules that govern our internet space?

I’m going to do a bit of digging around to try and find out what I can. So expect an update soon.

BTW: What got me started on this? Well, most weeks I listen to Laura Flanders on her incendiary weekly radio programme RadioNation, which is a godsend for keeping in perspective what happens in the USA (ie there’s lots of good folks working for a just planet). On her 17 January 2007 show she broadcast live from the third National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis Tennessee. Amongst her interviewees was Jeff Chester whose book Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy exposes the industry’s “vision” for our digital future, where the promise of the new media is made subservient to a narrow, self-serving agenda. Jeff is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, which is spearheading campaigns and research to preserve the openness and diversity of the Internet.