Monthly Archives: June 2009

Browse like a sheep – ACE Winter Series presentation

List of participants favourite interactive websites from Virtual networks and digital forums session session

In the list of websites in the photo above you’ll find the curious saying ‘browse like a sheep’. Doug, a tutor at WelTech, didn’t share a favourite, interactive website during our round of introductions. Instead he described his appetite for websites in these omnivorous terms.

I was reassured to see that people still surf the net: that aimless, time-wasting wandering, leading from one site to another. One person honestly admitted he found himself delving into real estate in Findland, then was exploring visa rules for New Zealanders in Scandavia and elsewere. This all started at the Sanson Community Website.

Among the 20 or so participants at the “Virtual networks and digital forums” session – one of 12 in the ACE (Adult and Community Education) Winter Series – there was lots of enthusiasm for the Internet. David Barrow (NZFVWO communications manager) and I talked through the highs and lows of everything from venerable blogs to rapid fire twitter bon mots.

Conversation really fired up when we talked about some of the social changes brought about by the ubiquity of new technologies, including cellphones. Face-to-face exchanges are seen as becoming rarer for economic and environmental reasons so we’ll have less contact with people further afield. This has good and bad sides of course, but there was there was mention of a sadness at the idea that people may actual meet up less.

Leaving the best to last, David talked about how CommunityCentral is providing a friendly platform for people working in community groups to interact. It will mostly be about work and professional interests, but we’re trying to make it easy for people to bump into each other.

Some of the questions that came up included:

  • How to add a photo to your Facebook profile?
  • What steps can you take to make sure your children are safe online?
  • Can you hide personal details, like your birthday, in Facebook?
  • How do you set up a Group in Facebook?

I hope people swapped numbers as some individual tuition on Facebook was offered. I won’t attempt to answer these questions. To find resources on child safety online see New Zealand-based Netsafe, including the fabulous Hectors world cartoons.

For the full list of websites listed by participants and the slides see the “Winter Series presentation”.

Our cup runneth over – social media barcamp

Get 40 communicators in a room and try and stop them talking. At the ideasshop social media barcamp yesterday things ran over time because the conversation did overfloweth.

The format was simple: 16 slots for people to run impromptu 20 minute sessions about something they’ve learnt about social media or to raise burning questions. After a slow start the board was full of a range of topics. Participants included communications people from government agencies, businesses and NGOs, a few Massey University students, plus freelancers like me. There was a firm rule that nobody use the afternoon for solicitation.

I talked about a dilemma that CommunityCentral faces – we want people to come to our platform, but there is heaps of competition (from things like Google Groups, Yahoo groups, etc) which is much slicker.

The response was very clear:  the uniqueness of CommunityCentral being a local platform, aimed at a very distinct audience is its real strength. People who sign up are not dealing with a huge multinational corporate who are completely disinterested in what each organisation is actually doing (unless of course it’s illicit or objectionable). Instead people are coming to a platform aimed at everyone involved in tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations in Aotearoa. It’s localness could mean you’ll actually come across people you know.

This perspective from communications people entirely removed from the project underlines a key promotional angle. We’re local, we’re friendly, we’re just like you. It’s good timing to hear this. We’re on the final stretch preparing two additional features for public release, namely private workspaces and discussion networks. The countdown is on.

I picked up on efforts by a few ngos to use social media:

  • two Massey University students helped create a video for Parkinsons NZ and upload it to YouTube
  • Wellington SPCA have included a blog on their visually attractive website – just for news at this stage, but turning on comments is being considered
  • Living Every Moment is an online campaign run by Hospice NZ to encourage people to create and send a “moment” to a special person.

The willingness to share between communicators was neat. I’m hoping Emma will organise another camp out.

On a parting note, I’ll rise to Emma’s challenge that we embody being good communicators and unashamedly plug the companies that gave away some promotional stuff for a ‘goody bag’ each participant received. Hat’s off to teza juiced teas, wagamama, service printers, trilogy and dusted and delicious catering.

Award for excellence in community directories

Found Directory logoI’d like to bestow my inaugural Award for excellence in community directories today. This is a personal award and doesn’t attract a cash or even in-kind prize. Just my gratitude.

As part of a website writing project I’ve been working on I’ve scoured the country for online community directories. The aim is to provide a way for people to find lists of local  organisations. A few print publications sneaked in as our goal was to help people make connections, rather sticking to a web only rule.

My final count was 41 with one or two others under development. We’ve got the country almost covered – yes from Kaitaia to Gore (but not Invercargill or Riversdale, unless someone knows of directories for these parts).

Regardless of the ease of search, reliability of contact details, scope and visual design they’re almost all being listed.

Ahem, that’s the preamble, I will now open the envelope to find out which directory deserves a round of applause…. ta-daaa: Found Directory.

This directory proudly demonstrates the health of the community in the Nelson/ Tasman region, with clubs and groups listed from across the spectrum including culture, art, sport, recreation or welfare.

What’s so good about the Found Directory:

  • Attractive design and usable navigation
  • Multiple search options: list by subject and geography plus search
  • Large number of listings
  • User friendly for organisations signing up
  • Events calendar is actually active
  • Discrete hosts who are not shouting you down.

Found Directory sets a standard for other directories to rise to. I’ll be passing on my feedback to Volunteer Nelson, who manage the website, and all those involved. I’m hoping by the time the next awards are granted there will be more excellent directories in the running.

Social innovation campers have green ideas

Most of the activist and grassroots community organising I’ve been part of has struggled with some of the basics. It was something that took up a surprising amount of effort. Where are going to meet? Are there enough chairs? Can we make a cuppa after the meeting?

I don’t remember a time we ever had chardonnay served as we neared the end of a session.

So it was slightly to my disbelief when 4 o’clock chimed at a gathering of keen social innovators on Saturday that drinks appeared. The panoramic view over Wellington harbour, with yachts bobbling, was made even more alluring.

This gathering kick started a process for “anyone in NZ with a great idea to use the web for social good [to] find the support they need to make it a reality”.  The basic premise is to match people with ideas and knowledge of social needs and opportunities, with doers (in this case the room was dominated by people from the web industry) and investors.

A few more meet-ups are being organised in preparation for a weekend camp in November. In the months  leading up to the camp, the main focus is on generating and selecting ideas (based on pressing needs) which are then rapidly developed by teams. A support package is then offered to a few projects to help them get off their feet. The NZ process is modelled on highly successful camps run in UK.

It’s one of the initiatives of the new NZ Centre for Social Innovation which is bringing together business, community, academia, government and anyone else interested in social entrepreneurism.

The top ideas from Saturday were:

  • “10,000 Micro Exporters” – Leveraging the overseas market knowledge of Kiwis returning home and migrants to create new niche opportunities for micro-exporting (and importing)
  • “Community Gardens” – Hyper-local communities, based around community gardens, connecting and sharing food, skills and assistance assisted by a web tool
  • “Alternative Energy” – An idea for the development of a community grid.

(See “SI Camp Meet-Up, Saturday 6 June, Wellington – Off to A Great Start!”)

Of all the ideas that came up during a well facilitated afternoon, community gardening is the one which holds some promise of fundamental change. It contains within it a seed of many things, such as:

  • a shift away from dependence on a globalised market economy
  • a way of creating and sustaining relationships between neighbours
  • emphasing a quality of life based on what we do not what we consume.

And so much more.

As the idea of promoting self-organising neighbourhoods itself is not new (and in particular I recall Ted Trainor’s concept of a radical conserver society) there is a lot of prior knowledge and experience to inject into a social innovation context. Learning from the past and also what is already being done has got to be the place to start.

Some other aspects of the conversation on Saturday didn’t work for me. The framing of social problems was one. Rather than focusing on individuals who are excluded by structural inequalities (ie people who experience the consequences of an unfair society), I’d describe things in terms of our collective responsibility to ensure even one has fair life chances and how systemic barriers fail many people. To avoid the very real danger of paternalism, I’d ask people experiencing the worst in an unjust and unfair society to speak for themselves.

The SICAMP meet-up was a stimulating place for creating ideas in a cossetted environment. If we’re able to turn our minds to productively fine-tuning ideas, without scrabbling around for basic facilities, this could gain some real traction. The past being a poor predictor of the future I can’t hazard a guess where this will go. Instead, I’ll draw on the wisdom of our elders: watch this space.