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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The mobile revolution starts now?

In spite of the recent hype surrounding the iPhone and Gphone, I have serious doubts that mobile phones will become the primary access point to the web anytime soon. According to a recent study by the Pew & American Life Project, 58% of adult Americans have used a mobile phone or PDA for what they call “non-voice data activities” such as texting, emailing, taking a picture, looking up map directions or recording a video. Other than clumsily orchestrating the occasional text message, I fall squarely on the short end of such technophilia when it comes to using mobile phones. In short: I use it to stay in touch with family and friends and won’t bat an eyelash about ever leaving my cell at home when I go out. I never have used my mobile to access the web, and here’s the kicker- I wouldn’t even know how to

But this post is intended to be less of a confessional than an exploration of the question: When and how will the so-called “mobile revolution” take shape, particularly in the context of the developing world? Christian Kreutz recently addressed this question in his blog, focusing on mobile use in the collaborative web of wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, etc., citing the argument that the mobile phone already is more useful in developing countries than the personal computer for accessing the web. This argument seems well justified by the fact that there are now more than 3 billion mobile phones in use worldwide and the fastest growing markets for mobile subscribers are found in the developing world. But Kreutz also wonders “why so little has been developed in order to interact and collaborate via the mobile phone in the social web.”

Kreutz’s concerns are well justified. At development conferences, one commonly hears about the impending mobile revolution for sharing web-based information and how such technologies will allow poor people in developing countries to “leapfrog” many of the communication barriers experienced in the North. Yet aside from the occasional story of people in rural Africa receiving RSS feeds or reporting on election results from their mobile phones, I suspect that the vast majority of citizens of the developing world will suffer from the same lack of knowledge about how to get the information they’re looking for delivered to their mobile phones (the “pull”) as many here in the developing world still do. And getting them to “push” information from their mobile phones to the collaborative web may lie even further off on the horizon.

In sum: having the proper tool is no guarantee that information will be widely exchanged among citizens of the developed and developing world. Now that new tools offer the possibility of more and more citizens of the developing world to receive timely information that they can use toward bettering their life conditions (e.g., market prices, drought and flood warnings, educational content, etc.), it is up to the development communities to work with these partners to make sure that they know where to find it and how to take ownership of it themselves.