30 November 2011
Except it can be hard for individuals to get a following, and even harder for people to trust what they read. Facts need to be checked and sources cited accurately. Information needs to be timely and views balanced, or opinion explicit.
Professional journalists typically receive training and have support in the form of an editor or a sub-editor who can edit text and help balance priorities, or a researcher able to help track down facts, photos and people. Larger media organizations employ staff to develop web applications for uploading video, and marketers to grow their audience.
But a new set of tools can help independent amateurs innovate, network and achieve high standards. The Citizen Media Toolkit is a great learning opportunity and provides a virtual academy of contacts and experts who are helping to define this vibrant field.
The toolkit includes institutions that offer training in new approaches to self-made reportage. Alternatively you can easily locate traditional educators that include these approaches, such as Poynter's News University. See my earlier blog for more training options.
06 November 2011
Activist @AfricaAgenda is tweeting "practical tips for building relationships with the media".
Unfortunately their website was down for repairs when this post was written, so in the spirit of sharing, here are the tips to date. Add your own ideas below and follow @AfricaAgenda for more of the same.
- Write to a journalist as if they are your friend. Use simple language.
- Treat journalists like that "first date". Show respect.
- Identify why you want to contact a journalist, before making the call.
- Follow the activities of journalists that you admire.
04 November 2011
I earlier blogged about the challenge of achieving change when you are part of a popular upswell of public opinion, such as the Occupy Wall Street protests. These rallies appear to have been largely spontaneous outbursts of dissent and dissatisfaction. As such, they lacked a clear agenda or spokesperson and struggled to get media attention or a clear political response, since their demands were unclear.
It can be hard to get a diverse group of people to agree on common messages, especially those that fit the prevailing media and political model of fact-based arguments, soundbites and instant rebuttal. As a result, media coverage of Occupy Wall Street and similar protests around the world has tended to focus on their lack of a manifesto.
But an enterprising tool may help to address this issue. New York group Digital Democracy has created AllOurIdeas, a platform to help people choose which issues to prioritize. The underlying concept is that the diverse views of a crowd can be captured and distilled into a streamlined agenda. This could help refine the messages of the protest and help direct their efforts towards some clear, specific goals. It would certainly help the news media get a grip on the issues involved and perhaps help legislators react accordingly.
Of course such an enterprise is subject to limitations. Anybody, anywhere can click on the link and express their views: not just the people protesting on the street. However, that also means it is open to all and the results will ultimately reflect the inputs of anybody motivated enough to participate. There is also the issue of how the questions were chosen, and the fact that you are asked to choose between issues that are not mutually exclusive. Some of the question pairs are intentionally provocative, as the image here shows.
Digital Democracy is calling this an open-source protest or a wiki-revolution. They propose that online tools can help develop new forms of grassroots decision-making.
It seems this model of democratic involvement is catching on. The United Nations launched a similar initiative last week, for young people to help set the new youth agenda for the Joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
27 October 2011
Youth are at particular risk of HIV infection, because they are sexually active but often lack awareness of the risks or the ways they can protect themselves. Around 3000 more young people aged 15-24 get infected with HIV every day.
CrowdOutAIDS.org is a first in the UN system and is designed to get large numbers of people to contribute ideas and share their concerns and their knowledge. UNAIDS hopes that this approach will not only ensure that its strategy is more relevant to young people, but also encourage many of them to be motivated to join in and be part of the solution.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said: "It is absolutely critical that we engage young people - not as recipients of our messages but as the actors and creators of change."
The interesting challenge for UNAIDS will be to ensure not only broad participation, but that the hopes and dreams of young people are reflected in a workable strategy that they recognise, understand and support.
Read more at UNAIDS.
C4D as the jargonists are prone to calling this field, is far more than corporate or public relations, or community-based communication. As the new website states: "It is the role of Communication for Development in empowerment processes that helps distinguish C4D from other forms of communication".
This is a reasonably young and evolving field of study and practice with relatively few specialists. A range of conferences, workshops and online forums help to keep things moving within the UN and the broader development community, but in the age of Web 2.0 it makes sense to open discussion to the wider world and be visible about specific objectives for communication for development.
Having a clear public presence may help the UN make faster progress in this area and spread the word. With knowledge mangers, communicators and specialists all contributing to an evolving agenda, hopefully more people will be encouraged to take a closer look at the opportunities for using communications in a development context.
18 October 2011
The focus of this guide is on the practicalities - in a US context - of mass gatherings, rallies and marches. It provides some interesting information about the security of mobile phones, what to do if the internet or social media networks are blocked, and the ways that photos can be used. It is best supplemented by an older but no less interesting resource, from 1973: Gene Sharp's list of 198 forms of non-violent protest - to which you can add a few digital options.
What I find missing is the bigger communication issues of public and media relations: how to get your message across and effect change.
One of fundamental constraints for the Wall Street and earlier protests such as the 'Arab Spring', Chilean student rallies and others, is that the gatherings seem to have grown organically to express general dissatisfaction rather than the defined needs of a narrow interest group. Most appear to be true, grassroots protests reflecting widespread societal discontent.
While there are some themes and specific demands emerging from the Wall Street activists, the news media was initially slow to cover these events or to lend them much credence, due in part to the diversity of issues being expressed by individual protesters and the lack of organized representation. This left some journalists struggling to make sense of the events and to gauge their importance and potential impact.
Mainstream news media are accustomed to being drip-fed information. Journalists are actively sought out by aggressive media representatives from big business, academia and major non-profit groups. Fewer journalists will have experience of popular outpourings of public opinion that are not filtered through established processes.
These days we are accustomed to seeing media-savvy protests on clearly defined issues, where everyone is waving a professionally printed sign about one of a limited set of key messages. Such events are well equipped and short-term rallies of the faithful, bussed in for a day as part of a larger campaign or political movement. Occupy Wall Street appears to reflect a groundswell of public opinion with multiple concerns. It is not fronted by a celebrity (though many are joining in), not are the concerns and demands being carefully packaged into soundbites to be repeated on demand.
The idea of holding up placards reflects an understanding that the news media - TV and photography - can have a strong influence on the visibility of your cause. What is unusual these days, is to see hand-written signs scrawled on bits of cardboard box.
Do we need the semi-professional packaging of protests now there are social networks, blogs and independent digital media to convey messages? (for a more academic review of social media and activism see Johannes Schunter's interesting blog). Occupy Wall Street and similar campaigns have used online channels to organise, share information and discuss issues. And it is clear there are disgruntled communities around the world that feel the need to gather, share and express their concerns across many issues, whether they are well organized or not.
Is it really necessary for these communities of interest to select a single figurehead? Will a trained spokesperson be more effective in winning support?
Media-centric advocates will typically construct a campaign that can deliver against defined and measurable objectives. This should ensure that the group explores ways to achieve their goals using available resources - from writing to their representatives to marching down the street with a common message writ large on clear banners. But does this mean that all groups need a narrow agenda? Do they have to agree on all the issues, propose solutions and publish a manifesto? Or can they survive on raw passion?
I have seen protests that seem to be poorly organized, with no central message and activities that are pointed not at decision-makers, but to anybody who will pay interest (or nobody in particular). But that does not diminish the power of conviction that is apparent when enough people join together. Simply meeting to unite their voice and share their worries and anger can inspire others and move issues along. In fact the diversity of a crowd can send a clear message that discontent is broadly felt in the community. Perhaps the main requirement is simply that the protest is relevant to enough people that it draws broad support and becomes visible to the media and to those in power so that they take notice and effect the necessary change.
While the messages may be muddied and sometimes competing, the Wired and Sharp guides may ultimately be enough: just get out there, and the change will follow.
How to film a revolution, and
How to advocate with video
16 October 2011
The tools are divided into the following categories:
1. Spreadsheets, for basic presentation and analysis
2. SQL, for relational databases and more
3. Data cleaning tools, for removing impurities
4. Visualization tools, for the big picture
5. Mapping software, to see where you are
6. Scripting language, to help present this information
7. Web framework, for getting it online
8. Editing tools, to write code, and more
9. Revision control, to spot mistakes and save backups
10. Document analysis tools, to handle large document sets as data, provide an interface and overcome formats like PDFs.
13 October 2011
Really Simple Reporting is a web publishing system lets anybody update a website while on location, even in remote places. They are aiming this product at development projects and donors, to encourage more active and timely reporting on activities and results.
This system means that some communications about a project don't have to be funnelled back to headquarters or through a centralised project or communications team. Instead, development professionals and others on the front line can use mobile phones or laptops to keep everyone informed; from donors and line managers, to partners, participants and even beneficiaries.
I'm not sure it replaces detailed evaluations and the thick, data-filled reports that Akvo refers to disparagingly in its promotional literature, but if it helps people communicate in a more dynamic and personable way, it could be very powerful. One powerful argument is that it could help local partners to simplify the reporting process, if these communications were considered sufficient for a multitude of donors and partners. The ability to geo-tag photos and reports and to link to data where necessary are among the many features that could be developed by the development community, due to the open-source basis of this product.
Any form of self-publishing needs clear corporate guidelines and standards, so that field staff are equipped and actively supported in communicating directly. Therefore, adopting this system will need thoughtful planning and the support of headquarters. However the results promise to be more meaningful and well organized than, say, a Facebook page. Development organisations and donors would do well to be wary of adding a new burden to otherwise busy front-line workers and volunteers, though many will doubtless relish the chance to share their experiences directly and to help shape public understanding and appreciation for the results they achieve.
10 October 2011
There are many styles to choose from and creative minds are searching for new ways to help tell complex stories more easily. Some efforts fall woefully short: simply bundling facts and figures together with artwork is not as effective as a well thought out figure or storyboard. Ideally, the graphic, poster or animation will contain the minimum information needed to convey its message, put things in perspective and perhaps even entertain and 'wow' the audience.
The Guardian, UK has blogged about this and uses infographics extensively in its award-winning datablog. I'm a fan of their contributor David McCandless of Information is Beautiful. He has helped pioneer this field despite - or perhaps because of - being self-taught.
Such is the popularity of infographics that some job applicants are even adopting them as the basis for job applications or CVs. Commentators continue to debate this approach, but Vizualize.me has even helped automate the process.
Here are some places to find interesting infographics. Suggest others in the comments below!
Fast Company daily infographics
The 5 best tools for making slick infographics
10 ways to report data better
Big data for development
How Mobile Phones Could Bring Public Services to People in Developing Countries.
While there is nothing unusual here, it is good to see Paz moving the agenda forward. Next step: finding help in making it happen!
Read more: http://to.pbs.org/pRTa8G
05 October 2011
Apart from the basics (e.g. how to use #hashtags), it proposes categories for tweets as 'substantive' (e.g. those that convey information and a useful link), conversational ('this is what I am doing right now') and 'middle ground' (a bit of both).
I like the fact that it goes beyond being a corporate policy and actively explores ways that staff can use Twitter, including growing their audience and using it alongside teaching and research activities. Part of the LSE 'Impact of Social Sciences Project', the guide provides links to further resources such as staff already using Twitter, by faculty, and research into the use of Twitter and social media in science and higher learning.
03 October 2011
Is investment in communications the missing link in development?
Though he gives his pitch with passion, I am unconvinced that the marketing of development programming is so easily compared with the budgets of for-profit Hollywood blockbusters.When the returns are tangible and bankable, perhaps that will change.
26 September 2011
G+ hangouts, Skype group video calling for six, Fring for four.
Group video seems to be all the rage.
Options now include Paltalk, which offers 10 streams in a group video chat (the host needs to install the application). Spreecast will soon launch with four video streams and unlimited voyeurs.
There are plenty of established operators, though the results are a bit of a mixed bag.
Sifonr is a web app that allows you to create an instant video chat room without registration. The room can be public or private.
Tokbox offers up to 20 video streams but requires an account for each participant. It offers an API (application programming interface) so the tool can be integrated into your own website. The charity platform Causes has used Tokbox to enable fundraisers to record a video message to increase the impact of their appeals.
TinyChat is a busy site with multiple casual chat sessions underway. Observers need to register or sign in with Twitter or Facebook, but you can also participate in up to 12 chats at a time. The content is peer to peer and unmoderated, so may be unsuitable for minors.
Some services simply provide the same tools as others and represent an alternative, but little more. For example, VPhonet is a Polish competitor to Skype offering video conferencing via an application that requires a download.
Judging from recent activity, this sector is only going to get busier.
16 September 2011
Dave Algoso of SmartAid and author of development blog Find What Works has a short survey that will take you only a few minutes to complete so bloggers can learn more about their audiences and make improvements. The results will be shared so that bloggers and readers alike can benefit from the analysis.
Please take the survey and also please a link to your own development or aid-related blog!
(with thanks to Ian Thorpe for blogging about this).
12 September 2011
How many journalists die?
The Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial currently lists 35 journalist deaths in 2011, including those due to accidents such as a recent airplane crash in Australia. The Committee to Protect Journalists has recorded 54 killed so far in 2011, of which roughly half have the motives confirmed. Details of each case are available. The International News Safety Institute lists 70 deaths in 2011, including both journalists and media staff.
Whatever the exact number, it is very high.
Not just reporters
Journalists often travel with producers, translators, sound recordists, camera operators and other personnel, all of whom share the risks. The victims include not only the individuals killed or maimed, but also their families, friends and even the institutions they work for. Ultimately, the risk is to a free and democratic society in which truth and knowledge prevail and corruption and evil can be unveiled and brought to justice.
What can be done?
UNESCO is calling for a UN Plan of Action to guarantee journalists the right to fully exercise their profession and the right to freedom of expression. It has called together governments, NGOs and institutions to debate the issues and support the plan of action.
Further information on these issues is available from the freedom of expression NGO, Article19.
05 September 2011
The companies on stage were mostly past, present and potential clients of Euro RSCG and primarily from industrialised countries. Presentations were by the likes of OPEC Fund, Shell, a Shell-backed NGO, Barclays Bank and HP.
The advertising industry recognises this as a tremendous idea by Euro RSCG to bring commercial interests together with 'key influencers' and to befriend future role models and affluent consumers. One commentator described it is a "wonderful client schmoozing opportunity" - for the organizers (http://bit.ly/ncwebP).
Many of the corporate representatives seemed to appreciate the chance to promote their credentials to 'tomorrow's leaders' and spent their allocated time in transparent sales mode. Lest they query the merits of being lectured to by corporate types for several days - in between bouts of hospitality - co-founder Kate Robertson told delegates that if they wanted to change the world they world they needed to deal with such companies and the issues they represented. But was this the way to do it? More than one delegate was heard to grumble that they felt like collateral in a commercial enterprise.
Does anybody doubt that this is a one-way avenue for corporations to flex their influence? Sure, there is a series of polls, white papers and a forum for comments, but delegates - many sponsored by companies such as Nike, Pepsico and McDonalds - were given very limited opportunity to ask questions from the floor. Beyond the boat cruise mid-way through the opening day, there did not seem to be a structured way for youth to meet one-another; debate with delegates; run their own agenda-setting discussions. There were limited presentations by youth(ful) luminaries and minimal opportunities for discussion and feedback. After two years on the job, the organizers seem more adept at promotion than execution.
With a slick communications operation spanning social media (http://bit.ly/nQq8Ty), OYW has even appointed global ambassadors as youthful sales people, as seen in this Euro RSCG 'prosumer report' (http://bit.ly/pCxyyy). OYW would do well to put youth to the fore. Its current public face is far from youthful (http://bit.ly/qNcYyL) and betrays thinking that is very business 1.0 .
All is not lost. Euro RSCG is determined to maintain this brand year-round, and is using its 'news room' http://www.oneyoungnewsroom.com/ as well as social networking and news media to keep things spinning. Let the chatter continue!
13 August 2011
How Can Philanthropy and Technology Co-evolve for Development? A Review of the “Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development” Report
Philanthropists, nonprofits, and the development sector as a whole cannot underestimate the role they have to play in understanding and using technology for development. But they must also be informed about the implications of its use. This is one of the key messages I garnered from the lengthy but interesting and provocative Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development report, recently published by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Global Business Network. Engaging the imagination, it puts forward four global scenarios, with an accompanying fictional case study, that describe how philanthropy and technology may co-evolve for development. I’ve summarized the report and its main points for you as an easy introduction to this important topic.
12 August 2011
04 July 2011
If you are interested in knowledge management and how it can contribute to development, why not take a look at the social network KM for Development (KM4Dev). This is a community of international development practitioners who are interested in knowledge management and knowledge sharing issues. Includes a bunch of networks and communities of interest, such as the UN's own group for KM people, KM4Dev-UN.
30 June 2011
Whether by mass SMS campaigns or face-to-face conversation, getting information to beneficiaries can be critical to their survival. Technology offers new tools. But old questions remain: are they getting the message and how well do we listen?
This Red Cross report provides a first-hand look at communications in emergencies.
SEATED AT HER desk at the IFRC base camp in Port-au-Prince, Sharon Reader brings up a Google map of Haiti on her laptop computer. Scattered over the map are tiny blue markers representing cell phone towers. She selects a group with her cursor, then types a message in Creole and hits “send”. In less than an hour, nearly 24,000 people in the northern town of Port-de-Paix receive an SMS from the Haitian Red Cross Society reminding them to wash their hands thoroughly with soap to protect against cholera.
Planning for the word count and pagination is very important, because somebody needs time and possibly money to write the words, and they usually need to be edited, proof-read and translated.
The number of pages is important for the designer doing the layout and for the printer ordering paper. It will affect the cost of freight and even have an impact on readers (will they take a small document seriously; will they be willing to read and even carry a larger document?).
Most people start with an idea of how many pages they want, and they might have an example in mind. It is worth checking that example (e.g. another organization's report or last year's report) because the layout and the use of graphics and other elements will affect the number of words on the page and the overall length of the document.
The text is only a small part of telling a story. How many images will there be? Does this text need a table of data or a graph? Will the layout use pullquotes or other emphasis text alongside? Will there be a case study, example, anecdote, or sidebar story alongside?
The layout is highly influential on the overall length of a document. A scholarly book which is basically page after page of text will have a very high average word count. A corporate annual report will have a moderate number of words, accompanied by figures and other illustrations, while a sales brochure will likely have more images and fewer words. Importantly, the use of 'white space' or empty space on the page can have a remarkable impact on the overall number of pages as well as making the document much easier to read. Wide margins above, below and beside the text, large spaces between paragraphs and even generous white space between lines can make it easier to read even the smallest text.
Editorial elements such as headings, sub-headings, emphasis text (e.g. in the margin alongside the text) can all help readers get through a document quickly and pick up the main points. They also usually add to the number of pages required (but can also cut down the number of words you need to write).
Other things chewing up pages include the use of spacing pages or interstitials, such as photo pages, quotes and chapter openings. Count on having fewer average words per page if the document is short: these anciallary pages will occupy a larger proportion of the space.
If you are starting with a set amoung of text and trying to calculate how many pages you need to house them, remember that you can play with the layout and eliminate elements in order to keep the pagination down. You can add or remove graphical elements, adjust the layout (e.g .width of margins), the font size, line spacing (leading) and even the font and font spacing (kerning) in order to squeeze more words on the page, if needed. But please remember to make it easy to read!
When budgeting for proofreading and translation, you have to include pull-quotes and similar items that might fit within the margins and thus do not affect the number of pages, but can add e.g. 5% to the word count. You also need to calculate tables and figures which of course contain words that need to be checked and translated, can add a further 10-15% (and occupy e.g. 50% of all the pages). Note that a French or Spanish translation can be up to 20% longer than the English original.
As if that was not complicated enough, the style of language can have a dramatic impact on the length of each word and thus the overall pagination. A document with longer, complex words (e.g. scholarly texts) can have fewer words per page than a plain-speaking document. One way to manage this is to calculate and specify the number of characters per page (including spaces).
27 May 2011
This is a simple tool to create flatplans (layout diagrams). You can register all members of the team, from editorial to design, and use it to track the status of each page and individual elements (stories, pictures), make comments, flag issues, etc. I got positive feedback especially from the design side that found it very helpful in understanding our intentions for the publication. It is relatively new so may add features over time. It is also free.
This is an online proofing tool aimed at designers who use it as an interface with their clients. From a client perspective, it provides tools similar to PDF markup. You can see the entire flatplan, leave comments and corrections and proof individual pages and review their history. You can also export pages or the entire document to PDF at any time. All members of the team can be involved, from authors (if you dare) to proofreaders. Different levels of authority let you consolidate and approve corrections and comments, and ultimately sign off the pages.
I use MS Project for planning, but it would be nice to have an online, dynamic and collaborative alternative. There are a lot of choices (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_project_management_software). Can you recommend one and for what reason(s)?
12 April 2011
04 April 2011
IDG News Service — African mobile-phone users are increasingly turning to their devices for functions beyond making calls, said speakers at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology panel discussion on Friday.
In a continent with limited infrastructure, phones serve as income boosters, a teaching tool and wallets, according to speakers during a session at the Africa 2.0 forum.
The predominance of pre-paid phones in Africa means that "air time is exactly equivalent to cash," said Nathan Eagle, CEO of Txt Eagle, a company he started in 2008 that aims to help mobile-phone users in developing nations earn income with their handsets.
With Africans spending 10 percent of their yearly income on air time, Eagle said the question becomes: "How can we think of the phone as a mechanism to compensate people?"