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:

Conference Blog: Rights, Forests and Climate Change

The program I work for, CAPRi, is supporting the Rights and Resources Initiative and the Rainforest Network Norway in the organization of an international conference on rights, forests and climate change in Oslo next week.

To give our network members, who cannot participate in person, a chance to hear and be heard we created a conference blog at www.rightsandclimate.org. The blog will thus not only serve as the knowledge repository where we post background information, presentations, sessions summaries, short interviews etc., but we hope that it will generate a side discussion as well.

The conference blogs Climate and Health Challenge Dialogue (great idea to post arguments in the form of short quotes) and Taking Action for the World’s Poor and Hungry People (thanks to Pete for sharing his experience in running that blog) helped a lot in preparing this event. An invaluable tip by Beth Kanter is to use a blogging software to be less vulnerable to failing connections.

Let us know if you have any other tips, dos or donts for us and if you are interested in the topic make sure you check out the conference blog and leave comment.

Changing Lives: Making Research Real

Our colleague Christina Lakatos just shared an interesting initiative of DfID Research and the InterPress Service (IPS) to better communicate development research findings.

The main page of Changing Lives explains:

Research findings may be widely published in scientific journals, peer-reviewed and academically admired — but are they filtering through to the public, and bringing about tangible improvements to everyday life?

In partnership with http://www.research4development.info, IPS is seeking to answer these questions, enliven the debate about research, and help to ensure that it does indeed change lives.

You can read the stories here.

Project Management 2.0: It’s not about the tools

Looks like flooding our colleagues with information about new ways of working together is showing effect. More and more of them are asking for help to improve the way they share information and to take down the email and network drive silos we have been building up over the years.

Several projects are trying to deal with this at the institute level (Pete has written about the intranet project), but there are also a few research teams that are trying to find new approaches and tools to best match their needs. One of these teams is on a good way of changing how they work and communicate with one another. This group identified three factors that have been crucial for their success so far: (1) early on in the process the group reached an agreement about the need for change, (2) everyone was asked to be involved in identifying the new way of communicating, and (3) they have a team leader who is committed to this new way and who forces everyone to come along.

In other words, creating the demand for our support put us right in the middle of a number of change processes. What an opportunity, but now what?

For one, I had to learn that it is counterproductive to start talking about tools right away, even though it is easy (and thus very tempting). Focusing on tools gives the impression that there are easy fixes without ever addressing the underlying communication problems of the group. Rather, we have learned to try and encourage conversations with and within these teams to help them find out what they need to change to communicate more effectively with each other by asking how they typically share information, if they feel that they get all the information they need, and what bottlenecks they have encountered when communicating within their team.

With more and more groups not working at the same place at the same time, part of the answer to improve team collaboration and communication will lie in adopting new (web 2.0) tools, but for some groups the answer might simply be to meet regularly.

As you can imagine these are not easy processes to go through, in particular if the team leaders do not fully buy into them, and it is quite a challenge to try and support these processes. We are learning as we are going but would love to hear about others’ experiences. Have you been there and want to share the experience? Any specific advice on how to guide these processes? What are good ways to help teams to identify their communication bottlenecks?

Blogging Good Practices

After promoting blogs and blogging in IFPRI for a while now there seems to be growing interest by staff to try it out. To guide them in planning their blogging endeavors our colleagues asked us about dos and donts of blogging. I started digging in my bookmarks and reader posts to see if I could find a post that sums it all up. I did find a lot of information, but nothing I could just forward to people, so I put together below list of tips. I shared this internally, and I thought it would be worthwhile posting here too.

Do you agree? Did I forget anything? Are there other posts and resources I should point my colleagues to?

One can create blogs for different purposes, and the following tips might not make sense for all possible applications (e.g. closed blog for personal reflection, or archiving for mailing lists), but those blog authors, who want to reach old and new audiences and engage with their readers might want consider them. At the end of this post you can find a list of all the posts I took the ideas from and a couple of blogs that are good starting points to read more.

Writing in the blogosphere is definitely more casual than writing scholarly papers, but also here the number one rule is to give credit to the ideas, quotes and pointers you got from other people. The main way to do that is to link to the original, but you can also name people and thank them in your post. Other tips include:

  • Link to relevant content: It not only gives credit to other’s work but also helps your readers to delve deeper if they want to.
  • Make it easy for people to find what they are interested in: Tag your posts, use categories and add a search box to your blog
  • Be open and embrace critique: If you are not sure about something, say so. Readers are much more likely to engage if they feel that you are interested in real conversation and in learning from and with them and do not just want to broadcast your ideas. That includes dealing with critical comments in the same way you deal with praise. Never delete comments unless they are clearly spam.
  • Ask questions: Questions in your post engage your readers. It helps them to respond with comments or on their own blogs.
  • Watch your language: What you are writing is on the internet for anyone to see, and the internet is a web of connections. So talking badly about colleagues, the own organization or even competitors will come back to haunt you.
  • Only post material when you have the proper permissions: Publications, photos, videos and other materials may be copyrighted. Sharing them on a public website is in those cases not allowed without permission from the person or organization holding the copyright.
  • Search for related blogs in your area and comment: Commenting on others work shows them that you care about their ideas and work and makes them aware that you exist. There is so much going on on the web, that you have to go where your potential readers are to show them you exist.

The posts that I drew on are Tips from a New Blogger, 9 Lessons for Would-be Bloggers, My Blogging Advice to Connect with your Readers, and Weblog Ethics. Good starting points for further reading are ProBlogger, and Beth’s Blog.

Are we already practicing web 3.0?

I just finished reading an article about web 3.0 on ReadWrite Web where web 3.0 is defined as being “about feeding you the information that you want, when you want it (in the proper context).”

Web 2.0 made it much easier to share and search information, but it also led to information overload for many users. Following the above definition, web 3.0 will be about personalization and recommendation. While it would be great if this really became possible technically soon, I am wondering if many of us are not already practicing web 3.0 as knowledge brokers in our respective niches.

I, for example, play the role of a filter and aggregator of information within CAPRi: After searching, receiving and digesting all the information that might be relevant to our network (i.e. a lot of futzing) I filter it down to the bits and pieces I feel are important to share. It seems that people are appreciating my work, but for this system to work, I have to have credibility and people need to trust my judgment.

Will semantic tools and their algorithms ever be trusted in the same way we trust our friends, colleagues or a blog we love to read? Will there be the continuing need for a person’s involvement? What does this mean for outreach of research and others who create new information?

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