David Wilcox, who has been doing social reporting with John Popham as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change programme, asked me to write something about our ideas and experience for the Social Reporters blog. Here’s what i came up with….
People power change is what we do at Urban Forum. Supporting communities to play a leading role in what happens within their communities. We believe that improved local outcomes must be based on citizen’s own vision for their area and that with a bit of support and some creative thinking a huge amount can be achieved. That does not, in our view, mean that communities should be abandoned by the state – far from it. Even with the spending cuts in the public sector, it’s worth reminding ourselves that we still spend a huge amount of public money in the UK. If we can align resources to be more responsive to local needs and ambitions public bodies can play a hugely important enabling role and support co-design and co-production.
Urban Forum is also very interested in social reporting and as an evidence-based organisation we see knowledge as one of the most important assets for ourselves and for communities. However knowledge comes in many different forms and resides in different places. We, like many organisations conducting research, have traditionally relied on distilling the findings from surveys, interviews and focus groups and presenting them in reports. Whilst we might feel we present this information in a more accessible way than most, we still tend to do it in a fairly traditional way. With the technological advances of recent years and the explosion of social media and multimedia use, we feel the time is right to find new ways to conduct research and present evidence.
‘Community Sector Tales’ is our first foray into the world of digital curation. We’re are inviting our members to share their experience and views of life in the local community sector today, with their photos, videoclips, audio, drawings and written words. We’re using the hashtag #VCSTales to curate content from across the web. We then plan to use this to create a montage of content depicting the community sector today, which we also plan to use in a report that the Office for Civil Society have commissioned us to produce on Big Society and the community sector.
Here’s a taster from Chorlton Good Neighbours – Pumpkin pie, and spotted dick for pudding
With Urban Forum’s 900 members engaged in such a wide range of exciting and valuable People Powered Change, we think these stories and images will help build connections and inspire us to learn and share across the sector. We all know how powerful a picture can be, so it seems appropriate to start incorporating this into how we work.
We hope that our experience – and that of the many visual artists, storytellers, social reporters and other people and organisations using creative ways to present information – can help others to explore these ways of working. Perhaps Big Lottery Fund might like to think about accepting evaluation reports in the form of a video or photos? Or there might be ways they could help people powered groups to gain skills and confidence to begin using these approaches? If we start by accepting the benefits of using more visual ways of presenting information, then ideas about the ways to support them will, I suspect, flow quite naturally. First we need to overcome some cultural biases about the value of pictures and stories – a theme I picked up in a recent blog.
I’ll leave the final word to the Nobel-winning scientist Peter Debye: ‘I can only think in pictures…..it’s all visual’.