August 14, 2009

Social Media Innovation Camps

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JD LasicaLast year, I was involved in discussions with several organizations — and received a grant from the Center for Social Media — to research a proposal to launch a series of Social Media Innovation Camps around the country (and eventually the world).

In the past year, Social Media Bootcamps have begun to sprout up all over, some of them from marketing organizations, others by well-known public-spirited not-for-profits like Social Media Club, which has been a pioneer in this field, and the series of Europe-based NESTA-funded Social Media Innovation Camps, with plans for a camp in Brisbane, Australia, in March 2010.

Meantime, I recently co-presented a social media workshop for 10 daily newspapers at the Knight Digital Media Center, and I’m giving (with David Cohn) a Social Media Bootcamp for ethnic media publishers at Seize the Moment at San Francisco State on Aug. 28, as well as other workshops later in the year.

With that preface, I’m reproducing here (and taking down from Zoho) a Foundation Proposal that we developed — but never sent to any foundations — so that if any interested parties happen to come across it, you can contact us for more information. I still believe the idea has a great deal of merit (though would revise the project in several areas), and that a series of traveling Social Media Innovation Camps can be especially useful to the nonprofit community.

To: Foundation(s) to be named
Applicant: Socialbrite
Organizations we’ve consulted with on this proposal:
• Center for Future Civic Media at MIT
• Society for New Communications Research
• Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at San Francisco State University
• Social Media Club
• Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University
• Center for Citizen Media
• Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts
• Center for Renaissance Journalism at San Francisco State University
• Ourmedia.org

Contact: J.D. Lasica (jd at socialbrite dot org)

Duration of project: 1 year, then self-sustaining

Description of project: Nationwide series of educational bootcamps focused on increasing civic engagement through social media. The effort is undergirded by an online community of social media mentors and a resource center for social media, online curricula and peer-to-peer learning.

Geographic area served by project: The plan targets 10 cities and communities in the United States in the first year. We intend to expand after that to Canada, Mexico and Europe after additional funding is secured from corporate sponsors.

Beneficiary groups targeted: Independent and ethnic media makers; NGOs and nonprofits seeking to take up the tools of social media; publishers of citizen media, community news and hyperlocal news sites; college and university educators; K-14 educators involved in traditional schools and in after-school programs; public broadcasters; newspapers and broadcast news organizations seeking to deploy tools that enable community participation; and citizens seeking to contribute to the community.

Methodology: Rather than invite all stakeholders to all Innovation Camps, we will initially focus on separate constituency groups. Thus, the first bootcamp would be aimed at ethnic media makers; the second would be aimed at nonprofits; a third would serve publishers of citizen and community news sites. By aggregating the output of these gatherings, we will, over time, add to and enrich our collective resource center as the project moves forward.

Executive summary

This proposal calls for the creation of an ongoing series of traveling Social Media Innovation Camps supported by an online community focused on education, collaboration and innovation around public-spirited social media. The resource center will make available learning materials freely shareable under Creative Commons licenses.

The Social Media Innovation Camps will take place 10 times in the first year in major cities around the United States. In year two, contingent on securing funding through corporate sponsorships, we will add smaller communities; target Mexico City, Toronto and London; and increase the frequency to 15 times a year.

Each camp will have two “hosts”: the project facilitator and a local social media evangelist/expert from the target community. In addition, a rotating series of trainers/mentors, drawn from a prequalified pool of workshop presenters and chiefly from the local area, will lead separate workshop tracks. The small project staff (we envision two people initially) would be paid; the workshop presenters would be paid an honorarium and expenses.

The goals of the Innovation Camps and online support community are:

1. To foster wider adoption of public-spirited social media by making these tools more easily accessible to publishers of all ages and income levels (both citizen publishers and online news organizations)
2. To identify innovative technologies and practices in the field of social media that advance the public interest
3. To spotlight the technologies (including social media, social networking tools, open source content management systems, widgets, etc.) and best practices for both professional journalists and citizen publishers
4. To provide NGOs, local community groups and citizen publishers with a basic citizen media website built on an open source platform
5. To provide NGOs, local community groups, citizen publishers and new media managers with an online community to support their efforts
6. To encourage local media collaboration
7. To plant the seed of knowledge that camp participants will spread throughout their community after the camp concludes.

This initiative starts with the following set of assumptions:

• that the growth in civic and social media is a positive development for society
• that civic and social media initiatives should serve a wide array of public interests: community and “citizen media” publications, Web 2.0 start-ups, civic organizations and other alternative news sources as well as traditional outlets such as newspapers and broadcast news
• that local media companies are not the sole owners of civic media initiatives but should be stakeholders in such efforts
• that the output of such initiatives should accrue to the public’s benefit rather than to a company’s bottom line
• that the knowledge to use these tools is not contained or owned by any individual or group and therefore should be shared widely and freely.

With this starting point in mind, we believe that an ongoing series of Social Media Innovation Camps will:

• introduce civic media to an entirely new set of stakeholders
• broaden the impact of civic media upon our democratic institutions
• funnel the best practices and case studies highlighted by national organizations to the local context
• help existing news organizations sustain community journalism efforts through adoption of participatory media strategies
• give disenfranchised citizens a voice in their community and a platform upon which to be heard
• recontextualize civic media and drive wider adoption of the concept.

Definitions

The kind of user-empowering media outlined here is now a broadly understood notion, though it has gone by several names: civic media, public media, community media, participatory media, democratic media. Some of the terms, such as civic media, have been constrained to some extent by past practices in which local newspapers took control of the term to promote a local agenda.

We use the broad term “social media” here because that is what the public calls this phenomenon – by a very wide margin, as a Google search shows – and this effort needs is primarily aimed at the public rather than academics or news professionals. (The term “civic media” draws 81,300 results; “social media” has 19 million results.) While we use the terms civic media and social media somewhat interchangeably throughout this document, we are referring to a single idea: developing and utilizing knowledge and skills to increase civic engagement and enhance the public good.

The following needs to be underscored: this initiative will be highlighting tools and practices being used to advance society’s well-being. In this project, we use social media as shorthand to refer to the use of social media tools – blogs, video, podcasts, social networks, RSS feeds, wikis, social bookmarking, forums, open APIs and the like – for the public good.

In the end, the actions, not the labels, are what is important. The Social Media Innovation Camps will focus on any form of communication that strengthens the social bonds within a community or creates a strong sense of civic engagement among people. Not every forum post or Twitter tweet will advance the public good, of course, but on the whole the promulgation of democratic media forms will ensure that all citizens have a voice and the means to hear all voices.

Project details

Currently, discussions to promote civic media occur at fixed locations, such as MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media or the J-Lab at American University, or in random and fleeting posts in the blogosphere. Instead of sponsoring one or two conferences on the topic in a year, we would bring insight into the use of democratic media to several regions across the country, helping to spread the benefits of public-spirited social media organically and at the grassroots level. A traveling series of Innovation Camps would represent a sustained effort that engenders cross-pollination across fields and brings discussion of these topics to local communities.

We see the immediate beneficiaries of Social Media Innovation Camps as follows:

• Civic and community organizations, which often have no new media team but do have volunteers who are willing to embrace simple, accessible civic publishing solutions that empower their members to accomplish more.
• Ethnic, independent and community media-makers seeking to reach their audiences through new tools.
• NGOs and nonprofits looking to adopt social media tools that serve the public interest.
• New media staffs at news organizations, which face the daunting task of keeping up with developments in the field while pushing their parent media companies to embrace their digital destinies with an understaffed, resource-deficient team
• Citizen publishers at community publications, who are often unaware of free resources and tools available to them
• Staff and volunteers at public broadcast stations, who seek to fulfill a civic mission but are constrained by budget shortfalls and program limitations.
• Educators teaching students in primary, secondary and colleges who need to get up to speed on the tools being used by their students. In addition, trainers working at after-school programs that are geared toward the community involvement of students.

At present, it’s difficult for professional journalists and citizen publishers to keep track of the dizzying array of Web 2.0 and civic media tools coming into the marketplace that can help enrich the news experience and strengthen community organizations’ ties to their members. The era of the empowered user is just beginning, and media publications have been slow to introduce participatory media concepts into the newsroom, while nonprofits and small community organizations have felt ill-equipped to do so. A nationwide series of Social Media Innovation Camps would help address both problems and serve as a model for peer learning and information sharing.

Are the interests of these sometimes competing groups mutually exclusive? We think not. We believe news professionals have begun to see the importance of providing readers with tools for conversation and citizen journalism. While some members of the public wish to route around the traditional media, others are receptive to turning news publications into true community forums. Bringing these people into the same room is the first step toward understanding and, perhaps, collaboration. Alternatively, there could be occasions where a private workshop is held for a newspaper’s executive and new media managers, and a public camp is held for the community.

In addition, the online community of social media innovators and mentors will help sustain community efforts and citizen media publications that rely on social media tools and techniques. We look at this as a grassroots ecosystem that requires a lightweight framework (in the form of bootcamps, online resources and a community of mentors) to provide a rich knowledge base and valuable support center.

Once this initial series of camps proves successful, additional funding will be identified to expand the program to additional cities. We will tap resources from the private sector and educational community to make this program financially sustainable on an ongoing basis beyond the group of initial communities supported.

How it would work

We see the Innovation Camps as taking the best elements of both structured workshops and unstructured BarCamp-style “unconferences” where participants set the agenda.

Wikipedia defines BarCamp this way: “BarCamp is an international network of user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants.” The first BarCamp was held in Silicon Valley in 2005. Since then, BarCamps have been held in more than 350 cities around the world. A BarCamp might best be described as an “unconference” where people gather with little advance planning, session leaders tack up proposed sessions on a whiteboard and participants decide which sessions suit their interests. Anyone can initiate a BarCamp, using the BarCamp wiki. While loosely structured, the gatherings adhere to a strict set of rules. Wikipedia adds: “Everyone is also asked to share information and experiences of the event, both live and after the fact, via public web channels including (but not limited to) blogging, photo sharing, social bookmarking, wiki-ing, and IRC. This open encouragement to share everything about the event is in deliberate contrast to the ‘off the record by default’ and ‘no recordings’ rules at many private invite-only participant driven conferences.”

Similarly, PodCamps — the first one was held in Boston in September 2006 — are unconferences focused on the new media community.

Innovation Camps will borrow from the BarCamp/PodCamp model, relying heavily on the ethos of participation and openness. But we believe BarCamps and PodCamps have organizational shortcomings. Innovation Camps will provide a different approach in several key respects:

• We will offer more structure to the workshops.
• We will offer richer training tools and a vetted community of trainers and mentors.
• And, significantly, we will offer a platform that encourages sustained, ongoing discussion and collaboration in the weeks and months after a camp ends. It is this lack of organization and follow-through that is one of the key shortcomings of BarCamps and PodCamps.

Innovation Camps will include general sessions and breakout tracks, with “trainers” leading track sessions while participating informally as members of the audience in other sessions. The host and community members would create a pool of experts to draw upon for each camp. Trainers/mentors will include:

• Social media and new media trainers
• Journalists and developers from online news organizations
• Executives, technologists and thought leaders from the private sector, chiefly Web 2.0 companies and start-ups
• Key members of the academic community, including K-12 educators and college professors fluent in social media
• Local citizen media leaders who will be key to furthering the spread of this knowledge after the workshop is over.

Each party listed above brings different strengths to the table: executives and technologists from Web 2.0 start-ups have a wide grasp of the Web 2.0 tools and platforms that could be leveraged in a community context; traditional media and online news executives and programmers have the ability to explore how these tools could be harnessed for bringing together the community and enlightening the public; educators could demonstrate some of the cutting-edge work being done in the classroom, analyze the successes and failures of disparate experiments, and help capture, organize and archive relevant materials.

We envision these camps not as academic sessions but as lively, interactive workshops where people learn by doing. In keeping with the principle of conversation and interaction, participants (not “attendees”) would be encouraged to share their own learnings and techniques.

Operational costs

This initiative will incur the following expenses:

• a full-time host/organizer (salary, travel, lodging at camps)
• a full-time or part-time assistant/coordinator (salary, travel, lodging at camps)
• stipends for locally based volunteer trainers
• a contract developer to prototype and build the community blog, wiki and resource center
• modest expenses for snacks and beverages

Venue costs will be waived as a condition of holding the camp; in most cases we will partner with local media organizations, nonprofits or universities to host the camps at little or no cost. There may be occasions where it makes sense to hold a camp at the beginning or end of a national conference to solicit participation both by speakers and attendees. In addition, no office or equipment costs are anticipated.

We may experiment with charging a modest registration fee for some events, although the default would be to have them open and free to attract as many participants as possible. We believe we can defray costs associated with holding local Innovation Camps by generating sponsorships from local media companies, technology companies and other sponsors who could offer scholarships.

In general, two to four trainers (including the host) will be regular staples of the camps to provide cohesion and continuity to the program; the speakers will rotate in from a master list of Social Media Innovation Mentors from around the country that the host/organizer will develop in tandem with the local hosts, with trainers (social media specialists, journalists, academics, technologists) speaking at nearby camps depending on proximity and availability, and participants (not passive audience members) attending from traditional news organizations, broadcast stations, community and civic organizations, nonprofits and businesses. Drawing from local trainers/mentors will help keep travel expenses reasonably low. This project will be run on a shoestring budget.

After the initial year, costs will drop as the community mentoring site will have been built and more Innovation Camps are held modeled on successful forerunners. Unlike many new media and civic media projects, the community will provide a good deal of the mindshare and creative energy in this endeavor, and rather than a one-year training initiative we see a path to ongoing sustainability through corporate sponsorships.

The camps

The Innovation Camps will be composed of a daylong series of training workshops generally with one or two tracks. We will encourage participants to register in advance. Camps could range anywhere from 20 to 300 people, and we will have to devise the venue logistics accordingly. At the outset, we will target about 50 people attending on average.

The organizer/host, with the input of an advisory board or trainers, will devise a curriculum that would have standing components as well as fresh components relating to the particular region or venue after soliciting input from participants to help set the agenda. In Philadelphia, for example, participants could vote in a wiki to hold one track on community publications and a second track on social media tools for the classroom. A camp in Oklahoma City might have one track that focuses on improving the local news organizations’ community engagement and a second track on nonprofits setting up their own social news sites.

We will borrow some of the best practices of the BarCamps but do it in the form of concurrent tracks. Topics might include:

• Introduction to key civic media concepts
• How blogging can increase civic engagement
• Making money and increasing influence through social media
• How to set up a group blog
• Effective use of video
• Podcasting essentials
• Videoblogging & videocasting
• RSS feeds
• The importance of tagging
• Social bookmarking (del.icio.us, ma.gnolia, etc.)
• Social news sites (Digg, Reddit, Furl, Newsvine)
• Social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr)
• Best practices in search and reearch
• How to use monitoring services to listen and stay up to date
• Legal rights and responsibilities
• Wikis for collaboration
• Getting and producing better interviews
• Participatory media success stories
• Best practices in emerging public media, with a handout
• Metrics of success: How to gauge the success of a civic media campaign or long-term strategy

Trainers will jump in and out of topics depending on their level of expertise in a particular area. A local attorney, for instance, might speak to the legal issues that citizen publications need to be aware of. Handouts highlighting the trainers’ background and services will be permitted, but commercial overtures during the camps prohibited.

We will continually underscore the peer to peer, participatory nature of the camps, and so the output from participants will also prove invaluable. New insights, case studies and best practices will be captured, organized in the resource center and carried over to the next camp.

As with BarCamps, PodCamps and other unconferences, the information shared in the camps will be produced as media (audio/video/text) to be distributed online.  There is the potential to partner with a streaming video company like UStream.tv to also live-stream the camps into people’s homes or remote viewing locations for people unable to attend.

After a number of Innovation Camps are held, the goal is to have them become self-replicating, as BarCamps are, so that groups of participants in various localities could hold their own lightweight camps without the need for the project staff to appear in person or to provide much assistance.

A citizen media site in a box

Social Media Innovation Camps will not be limited to training and learning. We want to put the right tools and resources into the hands of potential civic media publishers.

With that goal in mind, in October 2008 we approached Acquia, a Boston company that offers support services for Drupal sites. Drupal is considered the top open-source content management system and publishing platform powering citizen media sites.

In principle, Acquia agreed to the following relationship:

Before every Innovation Camp, we will offer registrants the opportunity to create their own citizen media site on the Drupal platform. Upon registering, a person who opts in will receive an email directing them to their new citizen media site installation.

The Drupal-Acquia partnership underlines the relationship between open source solutions and civic media goals. The Innovation Camps project staff, working with Acquia, will offer camp participants a free instantiation (setup) of Drupal, hosted by Acquia. During the camp and afterward, NGOs, community-based organizations (CBOs) and citizen publishers could configure the modules to reflect their site’s mission and membership. The publishers could transfer the installation to their own servers or continue to have Acquia host the site for a small fee; additional support and services would also be offered at discounted rates.

We will offer camp participants a similar option to create a WordPress blog.

Because we are agnostic with regard to technology and publishing platforms, we will offer discussions around the benefits and drawbacks of various publishing platforms, including Joomla, Ruby on Rails and TypePad.

The Innovation Camps, then, are not just about learning but about community building. Organizations and individuals who want to participate in community publishing will be offered a robust out-of-the-box publishing solution that they could build upon.

Follow-ups and actionable items

We believe that one of the major shortcomings of many one-off training and education workshops is that they miss an opportunity for sustained progress on community issues because at the conclusion the attendees disperse, never to see each other again. There’s no opportunity for follow-up, much less follow-through.

For all of our Innovation Camps, we will do the following:

• offer the public more information about each of the participants, their affiliation and their projects in the workshop wiki in the days before the camp begins, with pointers to new or ongoing community initiatives and local resources such as mailing lists;

• set aside some time at the conclusion of the workshop for local participants to discuss action items and recommendations on the best ways to keep the conversation going;

• ask the participants at registration whether they are willing to share their contact information and with whom, through a tiered system that filters queries.

Mentors network and resource center

Through this initiative, we will attract and build a community of Social Media Innovation Mentors. The trainers/mentors network will evolve into a knowledge base around innovative uses of social media. This community will serve as the common ground upon which engaged citizens can connect with one another, access new knowledge, share their lessons learned and find both the intellectual and emotional support they need to be successful.

We will build a group blog on WordPress, an open source platform, to allow mentors to post entries (or cross-post from their own blog), to interact with each other and the public, to highlight their backgrounds and to share resources.

We will build the Social Media Resource Center as a knowledge gateway – a combination of wikis, downloadable how-to documents and resource pages that make it easy to share, process and filter relevant information related to social media tools, platforms and successful social media initiatives. There is a plethora of information around civic and social media projects but no directory that pulls it together.

The Resource Center will include:

• Learning modules with annotations and pointers to relevant resources, social media learning centers (including kcnn.org, j-lab, poynter, newsu, etc.), interesting developments, key figures, etc.
• A mentors network, as described above, with social media experts, trainers and educators providing profile information, contact information and availability.
• A Best Practices section with summaries of social media/civic media case studies.
• Slide shows, videos, presentations and training materials that are used in the Innovation Camps, both for reference purposes and for access by camp participants.

The wiki and website will highlight useful social media tools and resources while also making them easy to understand and access. And, importantly, the output from such a site should be open sourced and made available under a Creative Commons license.

We would like to explore building in functionality (similar to eventful.com) that would let readers in a city request a Social Media Innovation Camp be held in their community. We could provide (a) tools that let them set up their own Innovation Barcamp, and (b) access to our mentors database (for those mentors who opt in) to see if local or regional trainers want to take part.

Timeline

Phase 1: Creation of wiki for registration, planning and development of initial Innovation Camp.

Phase 2: Hold initial Innovation Camp with small number of vetted trainers, experts and mentors. We will .

Phase 3: Build-out of a group blog on WordPress and a content management system for fielding queries and requests. Planning and execution of second and third camps.

Phase 4: Build-out of an online resource center based on content from participants and mentors.

Some of these phases will overlap. The initial segments of all four phases will be completed within six months of project launch.

Partnerships

We believe it’s important not to run Social Media Innovation Camps as a siloed operation but to tie it into successful ventures in this field wherever possible. Thus, this initiative has the following backing:

• The Society for New Communications Research, a global nonprofit 501(c)(3) think tank dedicated to the advanced study of the latest developments in new media. SNCR puts on two or more conferences a year in varied locations. SNCR is interested in hosting an Innovation Camp in conjunction with one of their events.

• The Center for Future Civic Media at MIT will evangelize the Innovation Camps and offer a venue to host one or more camps at minimal cost.

• San Francisco State University will evangelize the Innovation Camps and offer a venue to host one or more camps at no cost.

Information silos and the unconference model

An ongoing series of locally focused Social Media Innovation Camps and a public resource center would be an exercise in breaking down information silos and reaping the whirlwind of knowledge sharing. Academics say they face challenges in taking innovation in the classroom and transferring it to real-world venues, such as online news operations. Online news managers tip their hands that they have trouble keeping up with the latest developments driving the social media revolution. And too many tech start-up CEOs think of journalism as an outdated notion.

But there are voices seeking out collaboration and common cause. At a recent Aspen Institute roundtable on mobile technology and civic engagement, Katrin Verclas, founder and editor of MobileActive.org, pointed out that the mobile space was rife with innovative experiments. “Some really interesting things are happening, but no one is aggregating the knowledge. The lessons learned sit in innovation silos. You need to start silo busting – that’s how innovation spreads, by sharing and picking through these little pockets of good stuff.”

In Silicon Valley and among technology geeks, the “good stuff” is partly spread through camps. Starting with BarCamp and extending to newer gatherings like DevCamp, the “unconference” phenomenon has spread, with makeshift gatherings springing up from Seattle to Bangalore. It’s time for news people and social media adherents to tap into this wellspring of energy and creativity.

Opportunities for cross-pollination abound. In May 2008 at NetSquared, a nonprofit gathering held at Cisco in San Jose, J.D. Lasica interviewed the CEO of YourMapper.com, a small start-up in Louisville, Ky., dedicated to the proposition that public records should be accessible by the public. Lasica wrote about YourMapper:

The young start-up hopes to make a business in part by helping the public gain public access to public records. The company has already licensed its mapping technology to at least one news publication.

Central to YourMapper’s plan is an open API (application programming interface), which can prove incredibly powerful when paired with the proper datasets. The site’s founder even waged a months-long battle with Kentucky officials wielding only the Freedom of Information Act before the state attorney general came down on his side.

News organizations ought to get behind this effort by releasing their own open API to public records in their communities. Now, here’s the important twist: Instead of just making the data available internally, for its staff to analyze and reinterpret, news publications ought to bring readers and users into such efforts.

This is a perfect example of small group of civic-minded non-journalist technologists who are eager to work with either local newspapers or community organizations to help ferret out all kinds of public data and recontextualize it in interesting, newsworthy, public-spirited ways.

We believe that breaking down some of these information silos will benefit the public sphere by introducing elements of start-up culture — which extols experimentation, accepts failure and rewards out-of-the-box thinking — to newsrooms and community enterprises across the country. No current social  media initiative takes this approach.

Our hope is that success will breed imitation. The principles and routines of the unconference are simple to replicate, but by funding a set of high-profile Social Media Innovation Camps, and recording the results, we can model the benefits of this approach.

Workshop trainers and community mentors

We expect that we will eventually have hundreds of experts in the social media field volunteer to serve as workshop trainers. Toward that end, we envision a well-structured Social Media Mentors Network, perhaps leveraging participants’ profile data on Linked-In. The database will detail a short bio, photo, areas of specialty and contact information for workshop trainers. Mentors will have the ability to opt in or opt out of receiving queries from interested members of the public, from corporations looking to bring in social media experts for special events or from nonprofits and NGOs or CBOs looking to invite experts to speak at conferences and workshops.

We have not begun an outreach effort to scores of civic media and social media pioneers in different areas of the country, but the following individuals are the kind of people we would target as Innovation Camp mentors with the expectation that they would participate as a trainer at least once a year. This list should not be read as a commitment by these individuals but rather to give you a flavor of the cross-disciplinary approach we envision:

[list of prospective mentors withheld from public view]

Project team

This initiative was developed with input from the following individuals and organizations:

• J.D. Lasica, Founder, Ourmedia.org
• Jessica Clark, Director, Future of Public Media Project, Center for Social Media, American University
• Ellen Hume, Research Director, Center for Future Civic Media, MIT
• Persephone Miel, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School
• Bill Densmore, Director, Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts
• Gerald Eisman, Director, Institute for Civic and Community Engagement, San Francisco State University
• Chris Heuer, Founder, Social Media Club

The idea for this initiative was born at NewsTools2008 at Yahoo! headquarters in April 2008 during a breakout session with Geneva Overholser, the incoming director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, that tackled journalism, technology and the public interest. Some 20 high-level new media representatives, technologists and academics discussed the need to connect local communities with innovations taking place (or ready to take place) in the emerging media world. The conversation began with the observation that gatherings like NewsTools were valuable for high-level conversations, but that this “think tank” approach was ultimately less valuable than a framework that emphasized action and continuity.

The participants agreed that:

• Results from such an effort should be open sourced.

• The goal should be to advance journalism and the public interest without regard for whether such efforts support existing media business models.

• Experiments, prototypes and case studies in different fields should be reviewed, aggregated and shared openly.

We believe that an ongoing series of Social Media Innovation Camps would serve that function and bring about a wider adoption of social media that advance the public interest.

Budget

Will be shared at foundation’s request.

Training projects

The notion of increasing civic engagement through social media is not a new one, but it has taken on widely differing forms depending on which constituency is being targeted. The kind of user-empowering media envisioned in this project is now widely understood, though it has gone by several names: civic media, public media, community media, participatory media, democratic media.

Naturally, the kind of workshops and skills training taking place in this space depends on who’s doing the training. We’ve found that the training falls into three distinct groupings:

Grouping 1: New media training

This grouping emphasizes new media, multimedia and citizen journalism workshops put on by media organizations, universities and institutes. It should be noted that the vast majority of these workshops focus chiefly on journalism rather than social media or grassroots media tools.

These include such noteworthy efforts as:

• The Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts has organized a number of participatory events since 2006, including “New Pamphleteers/New Reporters: Convening Entrepreneurs Who Combine Journalism, Democracy, Place and Blogs,” co-sponsored by the Minnesota Journalism Center, June 4-6, 2008, in Minneapolis; “Journalism That Matters – Silicon Valley: NewsTools2008,” a concept-design mashup for journalists, technologists and entrepreneurs, co-sponsored and held at Yahoo! in Sunnyvale, Calif., on April 30-May 3, 2008; the interactive seminar “The New(s) England Revolution: From Politics to Courtroom to Classroom,” held April 7, 2007, at the Univ. of Mass. Lowell, and “Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy,” to be held Dec. 3-5, 2008, in Columbia, Mo.

• The Knight Digital Media Center, housed jointly at University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism, and the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, focuses chiefly on multimedia and new media training rather than social or civic media. In addition, a rich set of resources for citizen journalists is offered through the Knight Digital Media Center.

• The National Press Club holds occasional professional development events such as this one on social media.

• The J-Lab in the past has conducted Citizen Media Summits in the past with an emphasis on the success stories of hyperlocal community sites.

• The MIT Media Lab has included tracks on citizen journalism in some of its public conferences, such as the Future of Civic Media gathering in May 2008.

While the Poynter Institute teaches journalism education, leadership and online, multimedia, reporting and other skills, we could find no sessions devoted to social media. Similarly, the Committee of Concerned Journalists offers Traveling Curriculum Modules, but none focus on social media or civic media. The Online News Association holds workshops in advance of its annual conference but these cater to online journalism and new media interests. The Associated Press Managing Editors Association Foundation offers NewsTrain regional training workshops and the Online Journalism Credibility Project, a project to test innovative and model approaches in online news.

Grouping 2: Grassroots media training

These are social media and civic media workshops that occur in varied locations by various hosting institutions — specifically, one-off bootcamps, BarCamps, PodCamps and unconferences put on by grassroots organizations, nonprofits, public media advocates and individuals. Unlike Grouping 1, which are professionally run conferences with a primary focus on journalism and multimedia training, these workshops span a wide range of topcis and constituencies and come closest to the Innovation Camps model we envision.

• Global Voices conducts an annual Citizen Media Summit, most recently June 27-28, 2008, in Budapest, Hungary.

• Individuals have organized scores of PodCamps and BarCamps, such as the Public Media Camp in Santa Cruz in November 2008 geared toward public media consituencies. As cited above, we believe these gatherings are valuable but often lack a cohesive framework, a reliable set of expert trainers and mentors, a curriculum that participants can take away and a follow-through apparatus that enables participants to communicate and collaborate with each other after the sessions end.

Social Media Club regularly holds social media workshops in locations around the world.

Netsquared occasionally holds workshops and webinars for nonprofits that center on social media tools.

• The organization Oneworld.net holds workshops around the world on a wide variety of subjects, such as computer training, journalism, social justice and many other topics.

Grouping 3: Corporate social media

The past year has seen a large increase in the number of social media workshops focusing on social marketing and enterprise strategies put on by event planners, consultants and marketing firms. For the most part, these efforts train attendees how to use collaborative tools but generally do not focus on the civic engagement or public good aspects of social media.

• The Society for New Communication Research offers one-day workshops in social media by experts in the field as part of its twice-a-year conferences. SNCR conferences are attended by marketing and PR professionals, advertising and corporate communications managers and journalists.

• One-off workshops and conferences around business uses of social media are on the rise, such as the Social Summit 2008 (Nov. 8, 2008, in Oakland, Calif.)

In addition, there are many social media marketing and search engine optimization training workshops and webinars, but such ventures are not centered around civic media and thus fall outside the scope of this study.

As social media evolves to become an even larger part of the media landscape, we believe there’s an opportunity for foundations and corporations to play a greater role in helping to train the key stakeholders creating the media hubs of the 21st century. The first step toward that vision is to train the trainers through an ongoing series of Social Media Innovation Camps that serve the public interest.JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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