30 November 2010

Train to do it better

Training opportunities abound in the field of communications, writing, editing, public relations, design and information management. Some are online and accessible to all. Others range from short courses to formal University degrees. Here is a quick list I did for a colleague interested in developing skills in these areas.

Links to courses mostly in the UK, listed by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders:

Another UK based society of publishers, and their courses:

A range of casual media courses in the UK:

The University of the Arts London runs a range of courses, from writing to typography:

Study writing, journalism, publishing management and more online, including free courses:

Writing and publishing studies in Canada:

Masters in Publication Management at Drexel U. in Philadelphia:

NYU is well known for its graduate degree in publishing:
NYU also does PR and corporate communications:

Yale now does a short publishing course following the closure of the Stanford course in 2010:

And here are a few courses dedicated to Communications for Development.

Masters in International Communications and Development at City University London:

Ohio University Online Training program in Communication and Development:

The College of Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Banos offers a wide range of courses from community radio and journalism to science communications:

Feel free to recommend other relevant courses in the comments below.

03 November 2010

International reports are a public good

International reports are a mainstay of international development, being used by scholars, development professionals, programming specialists and policymakers around the world to measure and compare results and to help plan and shape their activities.

Their stories and statistics offer regular fodder for media and fuel for politicians and non-governmental organizations alike. The flagship publications of major multilateral institutions are sometimes produced in partnership with private sector publishing houses, but it is hard to see anything but a multilateral institution starting such an enterprise, much less building it over years and decades for the sake of public information and the greater public good.

Only the major institutions have the necessary networks, capacity, sense of mission and political capital to gather the information required to take stock of the current state of affairs and the issues and opportunities ahead in their respective fields.

Some, like the Human Development Report published by the UN Development Programme, have strong pedigrees and solid support from influential communities of scientists, politicians and the media (though not always all at once). Others are still fledgling publications, finding their rightful place as vanguards of all that you need to know on the topic; or at least where to start your research.

The following are some of the major publications that have proven their mettle, by providing insight, data and leadership in their respective fields:

Human Development Report (UNDP)

State of World Population (sic) (UNFPA)

The State of the World’s Children (UNICEF)

UNAIDS Global Report (UNAIDS)

World Development Report (World Bank)

World Drug Report (UNODC)

World Health Report (WHO)

World Social Science Report (UNESCO)


The State of the Humanitarian System (ALNAP)

There are of course many more!

Unlike this blog, these reports are typically also available in French and Spanish, and in various other languages including Arabic, Chinese and Russian. They are usually available as a free download online. Even in this day of digital access, many can be found in print through specialist bookstores and libraries.

Some are accompanied by major databases and have regional and thematic versions and related publications to explore. Some are a good read, full of pathos and human drama. Others can be major tomes of tables and figures. Some aim for the safety of reflecting the state of play or maintaining authority on a topic. Others dare to dream of a better future and try to establish the agenda and exert pressure and influence.

Why not suggest your favourites in the comments below.

13 October 2010

Outsourcing creativity or fueling social change?

Are you familiar with crowdsourcing? Perhaps you are already doing it!
If you have used Tripadvisor.com to help you plan travel or accommodation, you are relying on the value created by crowds of users. It is a relatively new business model, to harness the creativity and knowledge of crowds, yet it is not entirely new.
'Marketing Genius' author Peter Fisk explores this and more in his new book 'Creative Genius'. The marketing function has a crucial element that is often overlooked in the rush to get new sales: researching the needs of current and potential customers.
Improvements in communications technology (the internet, mobile phones, social media applications) are creating a resurgent interest in how companies (and non-profits) can harness the inputs of crowds.
They have become a source of creative input for many enterprises; even a cost-saving method. Clothing company Threadless.com turns the buying public into a creative collaborator.
Those who create communities of interest are becoming more powerful (Facebook has more traffic than Google) as we race to engage with one-another. Crowds are becoming not just an audience, or a condiuit for spreading information, but also a source of knowledge and creativity.

But as Fisk asks, will customers demand payback for their contribution? Threadless offers discounts to people providing successful t-shirt designs. But what if crowds start to flex their influence in order to shape the news agenda? Crowdsourced input to literary works, funding for movies and now funding for photo journalism (http://bit.ly/awp5RS) can shape the world as we perceive it. If a political party or pressure group pours funds into such initiatives, will they change our minds? Can we move an organisation’s agenda? It sure beats waving placards at their doors!

Read more on 'Creative Genius'.

06 October 2010

African app developers rise to competition

East Africa continues to develop as a centre for mobile innovation, with the recent Apps4Africa competition generating interest from local software developers.

The contest was designed to stimulate interest in developing applications for smartphones, which are quickly gaining market share due to the variety of applications available. Rather than the infamous 'fart' apps that proved to be among the most popular on the iPhone, developers in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania generated ways to provide useful information, particularly for entrepreneurs and farmers.

The contest ended on 30 September and offered cash prizes and gadgets, including an iPad, for code and completed applications. Importantly, the organisers called for open-source applications, which would enable other developers to build on these efforts.

Of interest were a number of proposals for health-related apps for medical professionals and the general public, including information for expectant mothers and some directly designed to promote the Millennium Development Goals. There are clear benefits to development from providing access to mobile technology as a source of information and income, as this study from Lesotho shows. Hopefully Apps4Africa will result in even more evidence.

Flood relief is an SMS away

Pakistan flood victims and relief workers have been using Kenyan software to map the disaster and humanitarian needs via mobile phones, using SMS messages.

SMS is a well established tool for emergency fund raising in developed countries, but a relatively new tool for emergency response by relief agencies.

IRIN reports that 99 million of the 170 million Pakistani people have a mobile phone, compared to land-based communications that reach a limited number of people. That makes it a valuable tool in times of crisis, especially if reception holds up.

The UN praises the system and imagines the benefits if countries were to establish national schemes in advance of natural disasters, enabling mapping of needs and a faster response. With cell towers typically on higher ground and some degree of redundancy built into network systems, mobile phones should be relatively reliable during floods.

Pakistan is using a number of systems including Ushahidi, which was originally developed in Kenya to map ethnic violence (and mentioned on this blog in 2009).

Read more

16 September 2010

Guarding development

British liberal newspaper The Guardian has launched a website focused on development news and issues.
Funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the site is tracking the UN millennium development goals and takes content from a variety of sources, including the excellent Inter Press Service. Expect opinion columns, feedback forums and advocacy campaigns around hot development topics.
Read all about it.

27 August 2010

Looking at data in new ways

Lately I have been working with colleagues to find out how to express data in new ways; to get attention while remaining accurate and providing insight - telling a story. I am working with some pretty clever data specialists and for a moment there I presumed my inputs would be limited. Yet it has proven to be a true team effort. And here is infographics wiz David McCandless, with a new book on Amazon and a video on TED, telling us that until a year ago he was a writer and has no training in design. Inspiring!
See more: http://bit.ly/91KXFQ

27 July 2010

Yes Men still fix the world, through p2p sharing

Embracing the priates, the maverick duo Yes Men have released an edited version of their PR stunt video in an effort to stir the pot of controversey even harder, it seems.

"The Yes Men are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, a culture jamming activist-duo raising awareness around social problems caused by corporations. Operating under the mission statement of telling the truth and exposing lies, they practice a concept they call "identity correction", in which they impersonate entities that they dislike -- some would call it social engineering on a grand scale! From their offices in Milwaukee, they create and maintain fake websites similar to ones they intend to spoof, which have successfully lead to numerous interview, conference, and TV talk show invitations. These occasions are then used to expose, through parody and surreal humour, the dark motivations of our multinational world."
Download the movie via bittorrent here: http://vodo.net/yesmen

11 February 2010

Huddle adds web conferencing

Huddle, the collaborative workspace company, has added web conferencing to its mix.
Huddle offers services that allow people to collaborate on documents, manage projects and create a focus around materials and processes. This helps to reduce the flow of email and keep track of who is doing what and when. There is an ad-supported service without charge which is fine for personal use, but you might want to consider the personal and corporate plans if you want to use it more frequently or to engage with clients or partners. See: Huddle.net

01 February 2010

Video no longer reliable?

Video has been among the most reliable media for communications, but are recent spoofs changing that?

TV has long been a powerful medium. Because videos often show somebody talking, they are very believable and have usually been taken at face value. There downside has traditionally been limited access, with politicians and other 'newsworthy individuals being hand-picked by TV journalists, and aggressive editing and selective quoting leading to a soundbite culture and a limited focus on simple messages.

YouTube and other video sites promised to change that by enabling individuals and, increasingly, organizations to make statements to the world directly.

The documentary film 'The Yes Men Fix the World" celebrates the exploits of a pair of spoofers who use fake media releases, websites, speeches and, increasingly, video, to fool the news media and to shame companies and politicians about sensitive issues.

The Yes Men continue to make a splash, most recently creating a fake website for the Davos World Economic Forum. http://www.we-forum.org

Of interest here is the use of fake video, splicing real footage with alternative soundtracks of famous figures such as Queen Elizabeth II and the French and German prime ministers. Gaining particular fame - or infamy - is the fake interview with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as a follow-up to the fake statements at COP15.

It will be interesting to see if this approach becomes popular among other activists, and thus how it might impact on communications, including the use of video. As desktop editing tools increase in sophistication, such 'disinformation' devices might expand. This may lead to new devices to authenticate videos and other materials, but also create an even more skeptical public.

27 January 2010

Communicators help with Haiti crisis

Communicators are among those responding to the crisis in Haiti following the 12 January earthquake. The Internews network is running a campaign called 'information saves lives' to raise funds to rebuild domestic media in Haiti. Internews is working with local media to assess their needs and acting as a link between providers of aid and local media.

Internews is a founding member of the Inter-Agency Group on Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) that includes UNOCHA, agencies such as the Red Cross and Save the Children, and other media assistance providers such as the BBC World Service Trust and the Reuters Thomson Foundation. UNOCHA has charged Internews as the lead agency on the ground to coordinate CDAC members’ humanitarian information and media assistance activities in Haiti.

Internews is producing a radio programme, Nouvelles-Utiles (News You Can Use), which is re-broadcast by local media, many of whom lost personnel and equipment in the earthquake. The programmes are available here, in Creole:

Elsewhere, the UN Mission for Stabilisation in Haiti (MINUSTAH), flew in tonnes of equipment to establish a radio network broadcasting in Creole and French to keep people informed, help them locate aid and essential services and start to recover their lives. The broadcasts are available here: