Social reporting: Lessons from the Rights and Climate Conference

Here, finally the lessons from the social reporting experience we had at the Rights and Climate Conference in Oslo last October. Our objective was to create a live account of the conference, so people could access and search all materials (including power points, videos and photos). A second objective was to allow interested people who could not attend in person to comment and ask questions.

Why?

  • Reporting from the conference is much faster. The summaries of the presentations were usually posted within 30 minutes following the sessions and included links to the power points and other related material.
  • The blog is much richer than many of the traditional conference reports, you usually get several months after an event. In addition to the sessions summaries, all the presentations and related briefs and other materials, the blog contains links to related news, short interviews, commentaries from people who could not attend the conference, and photos from the event.
  • Unlike traditional reports this format allows people to participate and shape the outcome of the conference and it allows people who are not there to participate.

What?

  • Sessions summaries and commentary were posted directly on the blog, which also become the central place linking to all other content;
  • We also posted running commentary, questions, and information (including logistical information) for participants;
  • Presentations were posted on Slideshare;
  • Photos were posted on Flickr;
  • We posted videos to Blip.tv;
  • News were tagged and bookmarked on Delicious; we posted our own press releases on the blog and broadcasted them in other media outlets.

Lessons:

1. We had too little wo(man) power. Our conference had about 100 participants and we were two to blog the sessions. We had help to take pictures and conduct a few interviews, but had to take care of a lot of the small things like collecting an uploading the presentations which is very time-consuming. Those who live-blog or summarize the sessions should not have to do anything else!
Here are the things that need to be done:

  • Live-blog or summarize the sessions;
  • Conduct interviews;
  • Collect quotes;
  • Take pictures;
  • Collect and post presentations;
  • Collect and post photos and videos;
  • Search and tag relevant news stories.

Depending on the size of the event one person can obviously take care of a couple of these. To minimize the amount of people you need to hire, you can train some participants beforehand. We would have liked to involve participants more, but ended up doing many of these things ourselves. One essential thing is to make it easy for participants to contribute (e.g. email in comments), but you can also integrate with the conventional reporting and use note takers to post to the blog.

2. Start discussion on the blog and other media before the conference (2-3 weeks) and help people to already contribute. Prior to the conference, we only used the blog for logistics, but not for content.

3. A good internet connection is crucial to upload all the materials and to allow participants to contribute.

4. Be aware

  • Is the blog open or closed? this will influence how much participants will be willing to share; sensitive subjects will not be discussed if participants feel their commentary is not private.
  • Rights to content (photos, ppts): make sure you have the rights to display all the content.
  • New tools can be dominated by few people who use them. Just as with offline conferences (or maybe even more so), you need to support the voices that would normally not be heard. This relates to peoples comfort level, but also to their skills (computer literacy), and to their connectivity.

Additional ideas for the next conference:

This list comes from our own discussion following the conference but also contains many useful ideas, I picked up from a talk by Chris Addison:

  • Build a participants wall; take pictures as people arrive and post them on a wall;
  • Create Conference proceedings from blog (cut and paste);
  • Ask participants to interview each other (need to have a few (cheap) cameras on hand for this);
  • Get non-F2F attendees to send in questions/ comments/ expectations before the event;
  • Integrate twitter as it is very easy to post and conversations develop easily. If you work with twitter make sure you define a unique tag (or hashtag) for your conference so others can follow the related updates more easily.
  • Use wikis or online whitepads (e.g. etherpad) for working groups. Some of these will allow remote participants to contribute so they can not only follow the discussions but also add comments and questions.
  • Communicate your conference tag to participants so that can use it for other services, such as Flickr or social bookmarking (e.g. delicious)
  • Use tools such as http://www.coveritlife.com for live-blogging.

Also from Chris’ presentation here are a couple of conference reporting styles. You will most likely use a mix of these:

  1. Central reporting – contractual;
  2. Facilitated reporting with guidance: a few selected participants and organizers will be responsible for reporting;
  3. Social reporting/ commentary: always happening, e.g. Back-to-Office-Reports; just need to find ways to tap these sources of information and commentary about your conference;
  4. Integrated content production – need training to build literacy otherwise a few are likely to dominate.

Technical lessons:
The Rights and Climate Conference blog is hosted on wordpress.com, which had a couple of limitations for our purposes: the statistics are not good enough as you cannot see a geographical breakdown; people new to the platform had to get used to menus and interface, and wp.com does not allow emailing in posts, which makes it more difficult for non-tech participants to contribute.
For my part, I used ecto (a blog editor) to post my updates, since I was afraid that I would lose content blogging on the web-interface in the event of connection problems. Using ecto worked well for me, but it might also not be the solution for everyone. I do like Windows Live Writer for computers running windows.

Other Examples:

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5 Responses

  1. This is so useful! Thanks for taking the time to write this up. :)

  2. Hey Megan, good to hear that this is useful. Feel free to add any other things I might have forgotten.

  3. Hi Stephan Thanks for adding so many ideas to social reporting practice! I’ll take some into my rough guide http://srtoolbox.wikispaces.com/ if I may. You might be interested in use of a Ning network for the National Digital Inclusion conference here http://net.digitalengagement.org where we had the luxury of an anchor person (Dave Briggs) to do video edit and uploads, and about eight reporters on video, blogging, Twitter.
    My feeling after that is that it is fairly easy to generate content, but much more difficult to help participants engage, and to curate and make sense.
    It would be interesting (if they were willing) for speakers/facilitators to revisit material after the event and provide further reflections, commentary.

  4. Hi, thanks for this, I will be able to use the lessons. I like the idea of a participant wall. My question is how to find the right balance between investing in social reporting and the impact. If you don’t take care, everything is online, but no-one bothers to read because life events are still protected space. After them normal life goes on..

    At apf-dairy.ning.com we are now trying to engage participants in conversations before the event. We hope to discuss during the event how to continue- in that way we hope to build some ownership of the social media.

  5. David, great source that wiki. Thanks for the pointer, and yes please share what you find useful here.

    Joitske, I have also found that embedding meetings and conferences into the normal life of participants is very difficult. I’ll look forward to your lessons from using Ning. In another workshop, we tried that with facebook, but probably did not invest too much time in the pre-conference activities, so it did not really take of.

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