Community Media Discusion - Community Reporting Model

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I’m working with Professor Edward Cartwright of De Montfort University to develop a community reporting model that can be used to help people make sense of AI and what it means to live in a smart city. We did some work with the Alan Turing Institute last year about Leicester as a Smart City, where we trained community reporters to explore and share their experiences of living in a world that is increasingly facilitated by data. We asked them to speak with people they know and to gather stories about their experiences. We particularly wanted to show how different people have different perspectives based on their community identity, their social status and their understanding of how technology is being used in ways that are not necessarily visible to them.

The idea is to develop a toolkit that can be used to help support public engagement and to encourage democratic participation in the process of systems design and development. The difference is that the community reporters do this from the bottom upwards, and they collect and share stories and testimony from within their communities that can be shared with other people so we can better understand what our different expectations about these forms of technology might be, and how they fit – or don’t fit – into our lived experiences.

I’m looking for some feedback and input to the model, so I’m sure it makes sense to those people who have done this in their community media work and practice. The idea is to describe an autocatalytic process, in other words, something that is self-generating, which keeps itself growing and developing, and maintains a sense of balance without having to add additional resources or information from the outside. Community sensemaking and storytelling is something we do naturally, as part of our social interactions, so I want to understand this process and think through what we can learn from coming together to tell and share our stories, as we face new challenges and uncertainties, and as we have new tools to hand for sharing our insights and our thoughts.

I’ve identified a couple of practical requirements that I think would be useful, so my next piece of work is to find examples and gather some resources of where these can be shown to work in practice. They include:

  • Materials and Activities – what resources do we need?
  • Engagement Strategy – what approach to working with other people should we adopt?
  • Training Materials – what do people need to know and be able to do?
  • Evaluation Processes – how do we know we are doing something useful?
  • Resources and Support – what understanding and help do we need from others?
  • Improvement Processes – what are we learning and how are we growing?

Community reporting can be defined both as a process for collecting and distributing stories, and by the type of stories that are shared themselves. The purpose of community reporting is not to set out to expose people, or to uncover hidden truths as a mass media journalist would. Instead, community reporting is about sharing the things that are often overlooked in our communities, but which matter to people as they go about doing things in their neighbourhoods.[1] Community reporting is also about giving the people who are often overlooked a voice so that they can see themselves in the media, and thereby play a positive role in their community should they wish to.

Community reporters don’t have to act like professional journalists with expert skills. While it’s important to be accurate and fair, the sense that we are using media and stories to connect and support one another is more important when it comes to being an effective community reporter. Community reporting is a way for a community to talk about itself. It’s a way for people to interact and keep each other updated on their personal news and what’s going on in their neighbourhood or network. What separates community reporting from some of the negative aspects of social media, though, is that community reporting isn’t really interested in people’s opinions, or their willingness to share those views. Instead, community reporting, when done well, is a space for people to communicate their experiences and to tell their stories.

Community reporters are accountable to the community that they serve. The stories that community reporters share can be deeply personal, or they can be related to what happens collectively when we come together. Storytelling is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to help build a sense of social identity. Storytelling helps us to explain and describe the challenges of social change, and stories help us to create a safe and respectful space where people can share and be heard.

Community reporters often need to think like facilitators and listeners first, who can relate to the feelings that people have for their families, neighbours and the people they get on, or who are like us, who share a common sense of identity. Stories are the glue that hold people together as a society. There are over three-hundred and fifty-thousand people living in Leicester, that means there are over three-hundred and fifty-thousand stories to be told, memories to be shared, feelings to be expressed, and joy to be celebrated.

If you had to put a list of training resources together to form a toolkit, what would you include?