Social Reporters Network Proposal

Submitted to the Ministry of Justice's Building Democracy project - unsuccessful but archived here for wider use by anyone who would like to come to Burslem.

Title: Social Reporters Network

Description: To organise a Social Reporters Network gathering that focuses on developing connectivity and engagement in deprived areas of the UK.

  1. What will your project do?

Social reporters gather the 'stuff' that's all around in ways that connect and build. They can be volunteers - bloggers, community activists, committee members looking after a website - or professionals, employed by such diverse organisations as newspapers, government offices, charities or businesses. Social Reporters have an authentic voice, knowing that their work can be seen across platforms, linked by a host of tools that they themselves use to widen their understanding of the world. The role is still being developed, drawing interest from a range of people exploring the field, and a network is emerging. It is self-defining and open. With greater reach into the communities of Britain, this network could make a transformative contribution to UK democracy.

Our project will be to develop and lead an event, gathering leading social reporters in the heart of a regeneration area in order to further develop and define the role and work on the development of tools and resources too be taken into the most voiceless areas of the UK.

The two-day gathering will take place in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, a hospitable town with a globally significant heritage that is far removed from the everyday reality of most working professionals. We will combine active fieldwork with conversations, presentations and opportunities to share existing work from a number of different disciplines that fall under the banner of social reporting.

Using a wiki and tagging tools, participants will develop a common resource bank and workshop content in order to deliver a training session for community activists who have themselves volunteered to become social reporters for their organisations. This central resource bank can be further propagated and supported with workshop sessions at other gathering points across the country. They will be equipped at the end to offer training within communities in the use of social media. Some will be able to build this in to their ordinary work or enhance their prospect for freelance or grant-funded work, others for whom this is not appropriate (for example people who are employed in another field but using social media tools) will be asked if they can deliver a workshop in a disconnected area local to them as a contribution to the community.

The uniqueness of the gathering will be this challenge: How can we develop bridges between the powerless and the powerful? The location will take participants out of the comfortable, modern spheres that normally mark such gatherings and remind people of the barriers to digital participation in order to find effective ways of overcoming them. We will take a creative approach to the gathering and seek to use tools like the Conversation Muse project to create deep connections between participants. We will keep the Building Democracy objectives high on the agenda and the gathering will be able to make use of many of the ideas developed for the call, many of which are extensions of the existing work of social enterprises or ideas that could be developed further in a collaborative atmosphere.

We know that there is no shortage of free tools that can be used to improve democracy and connectivity within communities and from/to government. We have seen the effects of these tools being used by people in deprived area in other countries or in small, isolated projects in the UK. The problem we see is that these tools are not used by large numbers of people due to a lack of confidence, knowledge or time. Whilst this is a widespread issue, it is the voiceless communities that suffer the highest levels of disconnection and poverty. We only hear about these communities at times when there is a flashpoint, normally the result of years of simmering tension and low-level conflict by people who cannot make their voices heard in centres of power.

We also know that there are growing numbers of people working in this field on different types of projects. While Social Reporters are naturally more able to share and build ideas online, the need identified in exploring this project was itself a need to meet up and connect. Therefore the focus of the proposed project has shifted a little to recognise the fact that a gathering would best bring together the most successful working practices and tools. We also didn't want to replicate many other conferences and meetups that are being organised as these can also be linked in to this project. We felt there was a need to fund time and travel to a gathering as many of the people doing exciting work in this field are doing so without any financial backing and so are disconnected from the real-life interactions that add richness to our virtual realms.

  1. What will the benefits be?

What will the benefits be?
- a central network of digital leaders who have shared an experience of learning
- clusters of supportive volunteer networks who will build new online communities and assist in connecting online and offline spheres of conversation, ideas and concerns.
- a development in collaborative working between social reporters and further definition of the concept itself, sparking new projects and raising their awareness of community work in voiceless areas
- a strong resource bank of tools and websites from the grassroots to government level, linked to existing resource banks or tools
- greater presence of community groups from disconnected areas on the internet that can be listened to by policy makers and political representatives.

  1. Who will you target?

For the gathering, we will bring together those people who have expressed an interest in running the workshops, particularly those for whom the workshops will overlap with what they are doing and social reporters who want to increase their work in disconnected areas. We will fully fund 35 places to ensure participation by people for whom cost might be a barrier as well as open it up more widely, aiming to bring together around 70 social reporter leaders. We will aim to ensure we have a mixture of practitioners in different fields.

The developed workshops themselves will be offered to people who are already active in their communities and who are interested in widening participation - the natural reporters - but may have little or no experience of using the internet. This will be done via grassroots networks, organisations such as residents groups or local libraries.

  1. How long will your project run?

The funded element of the project will be over two days, but I expect the follow-on activities to be trackable for much longer.

We would be aiming for around 70 trained social reporting leaders to be delivering workshops to 700 people as an immediate follow-on to the funded gathering. However, the developed methodology will, we hope, have a much wider impact and result in training for far more people in the use of social technology.

  1. Is your idea linked to a particular town or region?

The gathering will bring together people from across the country to Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. The area has some of the highest pockets of deprivation in the UK and hugely important issues of segregation, voicelessness, worklessness etc. This makes is a good area to give a realistic case study for other similar areas in the country. We expect the impact to be national.

  1. Are there similar or related engagement programmes? If so, how will your project complement these?

This project complements all the projects that seek to build engagement by building a stronger network and an openly accessible toolkit. There are so many tools and sites out there at the moment that can be usefully capitalised upon without building fresh ones, but a gathering will help people to see how their ideas connect and complement each other.

  1. An explanation of how you will work in partnership with others (if applicable). Please make sure you have their permission.

The initial project will bring together people from a very diverse set of backgrounds from civil servants to community activists, all of whom have been using social reporting tools and might be defined as a Social Reporter.

The proposal has had a great deal of support from others in emerging online networks. A call on the Building Democracy website, Unltd website, Twitter and the Social Reporters blog has attracted interest from a very varied group of people working in the field. The idea has also been added to the Chain Reaction site. On the Social Reporters proposal on the Building Democracy site I have had offers of support from VisionOnTV, David Wilcox of the Social Reporters blog, William Perrin who runs project in Kings Cross and Peter Anderson of Local Eyes. Also on the Social Reporters blog a number of commenters have identified areas of potential overlap or crossover, see

If this project went ahead, everybody who has expressed an interest will be invited to join a steering group to develop the gathering programme. This will form the basis of the ongoing Social Reporter Network and everybody taking part in workshops will also be invited to this network.

  1. What kind of assistance would you like from others?

The project will need involvement from other journalists, social enterprises working in the media and people who are taking on social reporting roles in government.

I will require assistance from the Ministry or another lead organisation as my social enterprise is currently not a full-time occupation and will not be able to take on the full administration of the project. There are local organisations I have worked in partnership with before who may be able to take on this role if we take it further.

  1. What will happen with your project once the Innovation Fund grant is complete?

The project will lead to a developed online network which will be taken forward by participants. I expect it to lead to many further knock-on projects, commissions from local partners to deliver the workshops and volunteer activity in furthering the Social Reporters Network.

  1. How will you share the results of your project? For example, you may publish a guide for others to replicate your project.

- full social reporting of the gathering itself in order that people can participate online during and after the event. Tools to be used include Twitter, Blogger/Wordpress, Wikidot, video and audio sites.
- toolkit and resource bank on a wiki for further development and replication of the workshop anywhere

  1. Anticipated project costs. Please provide a detailed breakdown.

Anticipated project costs. Please provide a detailed breakdown.
Fully funded places for 35 people: hotel, food and travel to Burslem (150pp budgeted for - thought to be a realistic estimate since we will be booking in advance and in bulk) - �£5250
Room hire for two days �£600
Budget for facilitators / speakers �£3,000 (no formal approaches have yet been made but thought to be a reasonable cost)
Materials �£300
Coffee, refreshments, lunch for self-funding participants (�£30/head) �£1050
Wiki, social reporting tools, Social Network group tools FREE
Internet access at venue FREE

TOTAL �£10,350

Please note: This budget does not include a central administrator for the event which will include supporting participation by the steering group and finalising content for the day with the facilitators.

  1. Any other sources of funding for your project.

None. Participants will be taking forward fully developed workshop plans and will need to determine how they take these forward as projects. Examples of suitable funding would be a local council paying a social reporter as contractor to deliver a workshop at a local library, or an organisation putting a proposal in to a grant funder for a project.

We are likely to make use of technology over the weekend and sponsorship will be sought for this as well as participants using/demonstrating their own technology.

  1. Any additional information you would like to supply.

This project has generated a lot of enthusiasm nationally and the key elements the response has shown are:
1. there are a lot of people working to develop engagement, particularly in deprived places, already
2. there is a lack of time to fully develop a network - much of this will be taken forward voluntarily but there is a need for the central network to be developed for people to join

Finally, there is a danger that for all the undoubtedly positive developments happening in the world, the digital divide with grow wider and those left out will have no idea how to engage in this new world. The transformative results of personal engagement with the web is well-proven across the world and online engagement can very quickly lead to citizens becoming empowered to work more effectively in democratic systems.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License