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Social Reporting – Experience from the DLGN f2f

March 23, 2011 | bit-wartung | SDC Networks |

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Tobias SommerBy Tobias Sommer

From March 7 – 11, SDC’s Decentralization & Local Governance Network (DLGN) held a face-to-face event in Sarajevo, with more than 70 network members from all around the world participating to share experiences, learn from each other, discuss and elaborate new recommendations and foster the social cohesion within the network. The event was documented on a social reporting live blog
, with a strong emphasis on video as the primary reporting medium. This article is the first of two where we want to share with you the experiences we made with social reporting. I will focus on the video aspect in this post, whereas the next one will be a more general analysis of the concept and economics of social reporting.

From a knowledge management perspective, video is a very promising medium whose full potential we are only slowly starting to fully appreciate and utilize. This reluctant development is mainly due to the fact that most people still think of video as something that only professionals can produce with professional equipment. But since even mobile phones can record high definition movies, and user-friendly and affordable video software is available for every major operating system, most people have all the necessary tools at hand and only need to start learning to use them.

So why should they? What can video do that text cannot?

  • Video can add authenticity, emotion and personality to a message. This is particularly important in the context of a global organization where people collaborate electronically, often without knowing each other in person.
  • Videos are attractive to watch and more likely to keep people’s attention than text, and with today’s Web 2.0 technologies they can easily be distributed on a global scale. Thus, an online video is much more likely to be consulted and has a significantly wider audience than a written report standing on some archive’s bookshelf.
  • At an event, video reporting can trigger and support participatory and social dynamics and evoke ownership in participants for the report as well as the event or topic per se.

Our intention with video reporting at the DLGN f2f was twofold: We wanted to produce an alternative reporting that was less heavy on text (product idea), and at the same time we wanted to use the opportunity to teach participants who were interested how to use video in their work (training idea). This dual aim resulted in the following set-up: The evening before the actual f2f meeting started, we held an introductory course on the basics of video reporting with 12 participants of the event who had registered for the video training. During the week, these participants were designated to be video reporters, and each one was to ‘direct’ one video clip of 2-3 minutes about one specific topic or workshop. To ensure quality, consistency and completeness of the reporting, a list of priority videos had been elaborated with the head of the network from which our video reporters could choose one. During the entire production process they were personally supported by one of our three video coaches.

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One of our video reporters in action. (Photo: Adrian Gnägi)

KEY INSIGHTS

This combination of video training and direct application for social reporting was a first-time experience for almost everyone involved. This allowed us to draw some valuable insights.

On a methodological and organizational level, we have learnt the following:

  • Participation is key, but it does not just happen automatically. The participatory dynamic that characterizes a successful social reporting can be expected to need some start-up help. People initially tend to be a bit reluctant when they hear that they might be asked for an interview on camera or a short text contribution after a long day of workshops and discussions. Our experience was that the final ‘ignition spark’ for the social dynamic was when they first found themselves on the blog, be it as video directors, text contributors or interviewees in a video. After that, the ‘social reporting buzz’ had really been launched and people started bringing in content they wanted to publish on the blog.
    But to make it to this point, two things are crucial: First, the social reporting team needs to be well organized and have tasks and responsibilities clearly assigned to make sure the first wave of content is taken care of by team members. In our case we had three video coaches, one person responsible for text and photos, and one taking care of overall coordination, blog publishing and administration. Secondly, the results of the reporting should be regularly shown and promoted in the plenary to stimulate social inclusion and encourage people to get involved. We did this by showing motivational videos each morning and a 10-minute slideshow on the third afternoon.
  • With the participatory video training idea comes a small trade-off in product quality, but its worth it. When people who have never before made a video are given a 2.5 hour crash course and then go out to document an event on video, one cannot expect highly polished, professional looking footage. So should one, for the sake of quality, vote for hiring a dedicated professional video team that does all the videos on its own? No. Video reporters who are at the same time normal participants have proven to be great messengers for social reporting and true catalyzers of the participatory dynamic. Furthermore, their thematic involvement makes them great observers and interviewers.
  • Content-wise there is still room for improvement, as getting short and concise statements from people on camera is largely a matter of routine. When an interviewee gives a 10-minute in-depth discourse covering a topic in all its tedious details, the attention-span advantage video has over text is quickly lost. On the reporter’s side, coming prepared for an interview and asking the right questions plays a key role, but so does the interviewee’s experience and routine in giving video statements. This is a learning process for everyone involved.
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Regularly showing the reporting results to participants is one key to launching the participatory dynamic. (Photo: Adrian Gnägi)

On the practical and technical level, it is all about keeping production efforts and technical problems on a minimum level. Here are some key factors to achieve this.

  • If you have to train beginners in video reporting, the training should primarily focus on enabling people to capture videos of usable quality. Editing and cutting can still be taught after the filming, but having good footage can be a real timesaver in production. Good audio quality has proven to be more important than good image quality: while bad images can easily be adjusted or replaced, noisy audio tracks are impossible to save – and the relevant content is almost always on the audio track. (We provided our video reporters with a pocket checklist with the most important things to think of on the set.)
  • Our original intention was that people should film with their own recording devices so they would learn to produce videos with what they have at their fingertips, be it a camcorder or a smart phone. Eventually we ended up filming only with relatively modern gear because most smart phones and digital photo cameras that were older than one or two years did a poor job on audio recording. Being prepared for this with a few extra cameras proved to be very valuable.
  • Make sure you have a well-equipped reporting room available where you can produce videos and meet up with your team. Video software tends to be very demanding of CPU power, so high-performance computers for video production can be a real relief and safe you quite a few nerves during the video-cutting night shifts. On the software side there are plenty of video programs available, and the specific choice is a finally matter of taste. We recommend spending a little more than nothing and getting a program like Adobe Premiere Elements (our pick), Magix Video or Final Cut Express with a semiprofessional timeline interface. Make sure you know your way around the software well ahead of the event and double-check if it is compatible with the hardware you will have on-site.
  • When it comes to choosing publishing platforms, your options are also manifold. We worked with a WordPress blog and set up a YouTube account to upload our videos. Both platforms are free, reliable, easy to use and reduce the technical aspects of video/web publishing to a minimum. This has proven to work very well. Many social reporters also make intense use of social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook to spread their reporting to a wider audience.

Video coach Hynek Bures has summarized his lessons learnt in form of a short video.

So much for the first and video-focused part of our experience capitalization on social reporting. We hope by now we have interested you enough to head over to www.dlgn-f2f2011.ch and have a look at the result of our reporting.

For further reading on the subject, have a look at ICT-FM’s hot-off-the-press Social Reporting from Conferences, Workshops and Other Events – A practical guide for organisers that very closely mirrors our own experience.

 

Comments to“Social Reporting – Experience from the DLGN f2f”


  1. Riff Fullan says:

    An interesting and good summary of the reality of social reporting in a real context….I am convinced of the potential of video to be more accessible to more people than more traditional modes of event reporting. I also think it presents opportunities for participants to be engaged in a different way (as reporter), which is usually quite exciting and motivating.

    I think it is also important to be clear about what kinds of output you are producing. A series of blog posts, tweets, photos and videos provided by a variety of people is not the same as a formal report, but they are much more immediate, much more able to capture the atmosphere of the moment, and – if approached in a thoughtful manner – can generate some very useful insights in easily digestible forms. I think over time the sponsors of various events will not only accept but welcome these kinds of outputs, looking past the relatively small aspects of sound or visual ‘flaw’s and appreciating the real added value to be had.

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