Testing out some new ideas on social media for community action – and learning as I go
Some of you will have seen the news reports such as this one. Some of you will have seen the full details of what I’m standing for and why my campaign is going to be very different – for a start I’m not campaigning for votes! (See here).
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the direction I want to take my life and career down. Hence taking time about rebranding and re-theming everything. (It’s not just procrastination!) Although I’ve done a reasonable amount of work in a public policy field, I’m moving my focus away from what happens in Whitehall and Westminster and towards community action with social media. The costs of keeping up with what’s going on in London, along with my personal frustrations with traditional politics means that I’m not getting as much satisfaction as I would like from it. That’s not to say I’m closing that avenue off. Rather I’m embarking on an exploration and learning journey, the likes of which I’ve not really done before.
An introduction to social media for social action
I’m collaborating with my friend Ceri Jones have put together a draft scheme of work for a term of evening classes that will help support much of the community work that we both do. This ties in with what I’ve got in my Manifesto for Cambridge. Part of this focus is a geographical one. I reached the natural limits of what I could achieve as a community activist with my existing approach. Also, I felt that my ‘offer’ was becoming dated and spread too thin. While many of the concepts still apply, the world has moved on at such a pace that the case studies I’ve been familiar with are now obsolete. Yet for Cambridge the challenges remain and progress has been slow. One of the reasons for standing for election was to do something radical and unexpected to support increasing the tempo of improvements throughout the city.
Learning new skills
This matters because I’m getting to the stage where I feel that my existing technical knowledge is becoming obsolete, while at the same time I want to collaborate on trying out new things – in particular coding and digital video. At the same time I want to refresh the training videos. I’ll keep the same concepts, but given the pace of change, 18 months/2 years is a nice point for a refresh.
Concepts to test in the election and in the aftermath
The first is getting a baseline for digital democracy. I’ve launched a very basic web page for the main purpose of the election (see here). The purpose is to get a feel for people’s appetite for using social media to engage with local parties in the run up to local council elections, based primarily on social media sharing. What I have found out already is that while social media makes sharing easy, it doesn’t automatically mean that people will share it – no matter how ‘good’ we might think it is for them.
The ‘social’ in social media for social action is based very much on trust. Just posting something on ‘popular’ websites – even ones well-read won’t guarantee click-throughs or people becoming active. Even having a locally high-profile start for the campaign did not bring much traffic for the digital democracy campaign. The Cambridge News placed their online article in the top 3 articles on the day, and placed the printed article on Page 3.
The second is to what extent we can use social media to reach out to communities that might otherwise be less engaged in local democracy. At the same time I want to see to what extent we can encourage people that do not use the internet or social media regularly to start using it in a local democracy context.
At the moment, it feels like I’m starting from a base that is far lower than I thought it was – which is a sobering experience in itself.
Food for thought.