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Amplify: local campaigning in a digital world

May 31, 2013

How do you get the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to live on £53 per week? How do you get the first non-white President elected to the highest office in the Western world? And how do you get 1.6 billion people to watch a lesser known K-Pop star prance about on an imaginary horse?

For better or for worse, the internet has become an integral part of our planet’s collective conscience.

But what about closer to home? How do we get a question posed to Boris on the impact of housing benefit changes? How do we get people across the country to rate retailers’ displays of lads’ mags? And how can free or low-cost web tools help us do this?

The internet is clearly good at raising awareness of and campaigning on big global issues – it’s not called the World Wide Web for nothing. But it’s becoming apparent that ‘local’ issues can be tackled through the same means.

DA campaigns

For our Digital Activism project, we worked with six small organisations to look at the role web tools could play in local campaigning; giving people a voice, helping them spread important messages and mobilising new audiences.

We found that, understandably, campaigners want and need to engage a wide range of people to strengthen the campaign and raise its profile. Free and low-cost web tools can help campaigners do this.

The benefits of a wide network of supporters was particularly evident for Shahida, our campaigner behind Shelve It! in Birmingham.

Shahida is the founder of the Women’s Networking Hub. This network of over 1,000 women from across the West Midlands and beyond hadn’t really been called on to campaign on an issue so far, so Shelve It! was new territory for Shahida. But the feminist angle and a large network meant there was a ready-made support base.

The request was simple; people were called on to rate retailers’ displays of lads’ mags – are they out of view and reach of children? – and share them on a porn map.

Although the focus for Shelve It! was local, the global nature of web tools like Twitter meant that anyone anywhere could get involved. Lads’ mags being displayed in reach and view of children wasn’t just a concern to people in Birmingham, and Shelve

It! provided a channel for people to share frustrations and highlight retailers who flaunted the objectification of women, wherever they were. Retailer ratings didn’t just come from the West Midlands where the campaign was focused, but from as far afield as Edinburgh, Durham and London. Shelve It! was being driven by people across the country, not just Shahida in Birmingham.

Critics would argue that such activities are “clicktivism”. That we’re replacing placards with hashtags and protests with browsing. Does it really mean as much?

For Shelve It!, definitely. Online collaboration helped give different people a voice and spread the message wider than Shahida initially hoped and strived for, strengthening the campaign.

In addition, online activism can amplify an issue to those who can make change. While reaching individuals to get involved and share ratings wasn’t too difficult for Shelve it! for Hackney CAB Crowdmap, it was a slightly different matter.

The Hackney CAB Crowdmap campaigner, Catherine, wanted to engage local people facing difficulties due to the new housing benefit cap. But with many of these people struggling to get by, what was the likelihood they would have internet access, never mind join an online campaign to share their stories?

Catherine made the most of offline opportunities to gather stories via CAB Advisors and added them to the Crowdmap and social media profiles herself to make sure everyone could be heard.

But what difference would that make on its own?

Catherine wanted to reinforce these stories so looked at how many properties in Hackney were available on one day. Only 14 properties – or one per cent of available Hackney housing – were available to people on housing benefit. The findings seemed to be a hook. Patrick Butler shared the results on his Guardian Cuts Blog, and Darren Johnson AM used it to pose a question to Boris Johnson at Mayor’s Question Time.

While the outcome from the question wasn’t necessarily ground-breaking – Boris wanted to see more evidence from across London – it proved one thing. That web tools, some offline activity, and sharing voices can help amplify a campaign to people in power. It also helped show others the importance of this kind of activism; it prompted other CABs and support organisations to look at similar activities in their areas. Perhaps Boris would listen then.

Our campaigners didn’t see these web activities as “clicktivism”, but instead saw the potential of using web tools to connect with their communities and increase their involvement in campaigning.

While our campaigns didn’t see a law introduced to display lads’ mags out of reach and view of children – yet – or reverse the housing benefit changes – yet – they did set in motion wider activities around the issues. Our campaigners explored new

territory, created new personal and organisational links, and brought a voice to communities who felt unheard. Along the way, they also got the issues brought to the forefront by people with power.

Our report – Amplify: Local campaigning in a digital world – outlines the learning above, alongside other lessons, from our Digital Activism project.  The report shares five key tips for local online activists:

  • Decide who to engage and what you want them to do.
  • Collaborate.
  • Keep content accessible and up-to-date.
  • Maintain momentum.
  • Target influencers to amplify your message.

We hope this inspires others to campaign online on issues that matter to them.

Our Digital Activism work with these six communities has now ended, but you can still support the campaigns by visiting their websites and joining them on Facebook and Twitter.

And for those of you who claim puzzlement at the lesser-known K-Pop star”, wonder no more.

Campaigns update

March 19, 2013

Sorry for the unreasonably long silence from us there. I can’t quite believe how long it’s been since the last blog post. But, things have been continuing for Digital Activism. Our campaigners have made great progress since the last post. New websites have been made, social networking activities have been under way and a wide range of people have been getting involved. And we’re now busy writing it all up into a toolkit for others to (hopefully) be inspired to do similar. 

Here’s a very quick round up of our campaigners’ hard work so far. Please do take a look at what they’re doing and feel free to get involved, share with your networks and join them on Twitter and Facebook. Why not even rate your retailer and add it to the Shelve It! Porn Map, wherever you are…

Action Peckham (Southwark)

We have been very busy working with Ahmed at Southwark Organisers to develop a website and use social media and text messaging to engage people in Peckham. Ahmed had no experience of administrating a website – Action Peckham – let alone making one, but has developed a great little website to share local people’s thoughts, opinions and wants for their neighbourhood. He’s also started learning how to use his Facebook page to share information with people.

Hackney CAB Crowdmap

Hackney CAB Crowdmap has been hampered somewhat recently due to resources, but work does continue and campaign research and findings have been shared in numerous reports and papers, including London Councils and Consumer Focus. Other CABs and advice organisations have also been inspired and are looking at similar ways to map problems with the benefit cap pilots. The problems faced with benefit changes are not going away in a hurry and a lot of organisations are already applying  lessons learned from Hackney CAB Crowdmap. (Facebook: Hackney CAB Crowdmap, Twitter: @HCABCrowdmap)

Holloway Against Debt

In Holloway, workshops were held in the run up to Christmas to help people save or make money. Local people got involved in making Christmas presents and learning how to use eBay to sell their stuff and Freecycle to get free stuff. Since then, a Money Talk was held with David Barclay from London Citizens to find out what older women users of Holloway Neighbourhood Group thought of money and financial institutions in Holloway. More plans are being made to follow this up and link up with other organisations concerned with debt locally.

Leeds: A City for All Ages 

In Leeds, older people have been getting involved in capturing their experiences and opinions on the accessibility of Leeds on video through training with the Media Trust’s Adam Perry. And two older people got involved in the council’s Age Audit, adding their voices (through video) into research into accessibility by the council. (Twitter: @LeedsOPF)

Mothers Against Gangs

In September we started working with Mothers Against Gangs, a great group of women in Harrow who are supporting families with children on the cusp of joining gangs or getting involved in gang activities. We’ve been working with them to get a website up and running and looking at how social media and web tools can support get their message wider. (Facebook: Mothers Against Gangs, Twitter: @Mothers_Against)

Shelve It! 


The Shelve It! Porn Map

Shelve It! was launched in September last year and so far it’s had a great response. People in Birmingham and the West Midlands (not to mention Lancashire, Yorkshire, the North East and London to name but a few) have been rating their retailers’ displays of lads’ mags. Do they sell porn or lads’ mags? Are they in view of children? Can children reach them? 58 retailers have been added to the Shelve It! Porn Map and shared on social networking sites so far to name and shame irresponsible retailers and celebrate responsible retailers – which it appears there aren’t that many of. (Facebook: Shelve It! Birmingham, Twitter: @shelve_it)


But it won’t all stop there. While we’re now wrapping up the Digital Activism project, we’re hopeful that our campaigners will continue to campaign on the issues they’ve made great progress with so far. Keep an eye on them and please help them out.

Digital Activism Update

August 31, 2012

It’s been a while since we last blogged – three months to be exact – but it hasn’t been as relaxed on the work front. The projects we’re supporting as part of Digital Activism are moving along and, after the naturally quieter summer period, initial plans are starting to be realised.

Here is a brief update of how we’re supporting the Digital Activism communities to campaign and lobby for change through online tools.

We’re getting ready to launch a campaign with the Women’s Networking Hub in Birmingham to tackle the problematic displaying of lads’ mags in retailers. Shortly afterwards we will be starting a campaign, again with the Women’s Networking Hub, to raise awareness and capture the real picture of domestic violence in Birmingham.

In Leeds we’re planning our work with several older people on Leeds: A City for All Ages kicked off by May’s flashdance. We’re hoping to hit the streets of Leeds in October to start exploring the accessibility of Leeds and get the older people blogging using the written word, video or photography.

Closer to home, in Holloway progress is being made with a campaign to highlight alternatives to debt and high interest lenders, while promoting the local credit union. Interest in the Hackney CAB Crowdmap continues, with other CABs in London looking at running similar campaigns, and plans for more research into the availability of rental properties in London. While in Southwark we’re supporting the Southwark Organisers to develop websites and other communication tools to support strong, independent and active communities in a few areas of Southwark.

We also have a potential sixth community we will be starting work with soon, so should have more plans to share in the coming weeks. And, of course, we’ll share the campaigns, tools and learning as the work continues.


Shared Spaces: a tale of two grapevines

May 31, 2012

To mark the release of the final report from the Local 2.0 project (which you can download here), Diane Sims, who led on the project for Kirklees Council, has written a guest blog post about her work.

You can follow Diane on Twitter: @72prufrocks

Shared Spaces: A tale of two grapevines

A little over two years ago, I became one of the guardians of a scruffy patch of mud that was to grow into our community allotment. We inherited an expanse of horrible clay soil, punctuated by couch grass roots and shards of glass, plus the remains of two glasshouses – a precarious A-frame and something that had been knocked together from old window panes and was full of brambles.

We discovered that there was something else in that old greenhouse, a grapevine. It was the only thing growing on the site when we arrived, so that’s what we started with. A small bunch of novice gardeners grew small bunches of grapes that year (something that we never expected to be able to do), whilst struggling to grow allegedly-easy crops like potatoes. In the process, we learnt from our mistakes and we learnt from each other. We grew friendships, confidence and ideas.

Around the same time, I began working with the Young Foundation on the Local 2.0 project. We wanted to find out how we can use technology on a very local level to help connect people and find new ways of getting things done in our neighbourhoods. Our aim in Kirklees was to create shared spaces where residents, community organisations, councillors and frontline workers can all contribute what they know.

We worked with Newsome Ward Community Forum, a network of community groups supporting residents across a large ward in Huddersfield. At the beginning of the project, the group asked us to use technology in a way that would encourage people to get involved in their community. They wanted online activity to lead to offline participation. They also asked for us to make sure we included everyone. One resident told me: “this social media stuff is all very well, but what about those of us who struggle with email?” These two requests gave us a very clear direction.

We started some drop-in sessions where people could get together to help each other with all kinds of technology. People who had never used the internet came along to learn some basic computing skills, whilst those who were already using a computer brought along specific questions or practical tasks that they needed a bit of support with. Residents helped to run these sessions and got to know each other at the same time. And we got to hear about the ways that local groups are already communicating, so we could start to see how new technologies might fit in with that.

As with the allotment, we started with what was already there. We helped local groups and activists to create online content in whatever way suited them. This gave everyone freedom over their own information, and it helped us to see how different technologies can be used. For example:

•    Growing Newsome now have a text message mailing list for the community allotment, using a Huddersfield-made texting system called Thumbprint. We use it to let people know when there’s someone at the allotment, so that people can join in. Richard had his own allotment plot once but was driven away by vandals, so it took a lot for him to come back and work on the same site again. He suffers from depression and used to feel pressured when people called to ask him to come along. Phoning around everyone also took up a lot of time, which meant that sometimes not everyone got the information. Now, everyone gets the same text message – it’s quick and direct, and no-one is singled out.

•    A resident from a nearby sheltered housing complex came along to our drop-in sessions. He could only stay for half an hour each week, as he had to get back home to give his wife her medication. After meeting him, we applied for funding to get computers and wi-fi access set up at the sheltered housing scheme, along with other equipment which the residents wanted to try. David, a young man with learning disabilities, used the new laptop to run his own informal computer surgery in the lounge.

It’s not always the most obvious social media tools like facebook and twitter that appeal to people. It’s easy to overlook things like texting, which in Newsome has proved an important way of keeping people connected. Unless you start with each individual and find out their skills and interests, it’s also easy to overlook what each person can contribute. Running a computer surgery would be quite overwhelming for most people, so you might not expect a resident with learning disabilities to be able to do so much to help his neighbours. We didn’t expect the grapevine to grow either, but it did.

Later in the project, we began to join up all the content that local residents had already put online: blogs, photographs, text messages, calendars, videos and audio recordings. We created Newsome Grapevine, which weaves all these contributions together into a web site for the area, and sends information out by email, text and twitter to let others know what’s going on. The site isn’t something separate from the neighbourhood – it’s part of the community activity that goes on every day, and everyone has a share in it.

Reflecting on Local 2.0, we realised that together we’ve discovered some key aspects of this ‘shared spaces’ approach. We’re now keen for other communities to benefit from this understanding. We want to help people to learn about all the different tools they can use, but also to appreciate what they already have and to think about how technology fits in with that. So I’ve worked with Andrew Wilson from Thumbprint Co-operative to write a guide for community groups and activists in Kirklees.

We’ve called it ‘Shared Spaces: How to use all sorts of technology to help get things done in your neighbourhood.’  We’re interested to see what people make of it.

What we’ve also learnt is that the same things don’t necessarily work year on year. The rainy Spring this year has thrown our seed planting into disarray, so some of our crops are delayed. Some of the residents at the sheltered housing complex have passed away. Other residents are grieving or experiencing a deterioration in their own physical or mental health. The once popular Wii is now sitting unused in the lounge, the usual gang of four unable to play. What interested people last year may no longer be relevant – and we have to accept that. We are also welcoming new people to our community all the time, with their own circumstances, skills and ideas.

A new growing season is a bit like starting all over again. I used to feel daunted by the empty expanses of earth, with nothing growing there. But I’ve realised that the ground is full of the time that we’ve put into it through our work together – and because we’ve worked to prepare the ground, we can get things growing again more quickly. Having tried a few things, we’re better equipped to choose what to put where. We can also try new things because we know that we’re surrounded by people who will help us to figure it out.

My hope is that people in Newsome now feel the same way about using technology. We have learnt to recognise opportunities where technology can fit in with what we’re already doing. We grow lettuce in the gaps between our onions, and we take photographs everywhere we go. Sometimes we get mud on our cameras, but at least we don’t miss anything.

Diane Sims, Web Development Team, Kirklees Council.

Leeds Older People’s Forum Flashdance

May 25, 2012

Thursday 17th May was the day that the long awaited Leeds Older People’s Forum Flashdance took place. Despite the weather being cold and grey with some drizzle added in for good measure, visiting Leeds as a first-time day-tripper from London was made easy by the warm welcome from the local Age UK centre and the older people taking part.

The Leeds Older People Forum had worked so hard to make sure that the event passed without a hitch. Everyone involved was buzzing with excitement at the prospect of taking Leeds by surprise, and they were not disappointed! Smiles and laughter all round showed that this event meant more than just communicating a message of making Leeds a city for all ages. It was about doing something out of the ordinary and coming together with other people who care.

We Like to Boogie!

Lynne described how she hadn’t been able to visit the city centre for years. She said that using a wheelchair and living on her own were big barriers to her getting out and about in town. Being involved in the Flashdance gave her the encouragement to travel in, and is a clear example of why Leeds must pay more attention to making the city centre more accessible.

But a more accessible city isn’t just about making the city suitable for older people. It is about making it easier for everyone to travel into and move about the city with ease. This includes making it easier for families with pushchairs and young children to meet together, especially if they do not have access to a car. It is also about helping to support local shops and businesses by ensuring people can pop into the city centre and spend their money there.

Older people in Leeds do not want to be neglected. They want to continue to use the city they grew up shopping, meeting and working in. They love that it is a city that young people and students can come to, learn in and enjoy, but they want a share of the exciting new spaces being developed.

Many of the dancers explained how their confidence had grown and how they enjoy life to the full now that they have interesting things to try in their free time. Despite their concerns about accessibility, the flashdancers were keen to chat about how much they loved Leeds. Their passion for the city they live in translated into their excitement about being involved in the campaign.

The flashdance showed that older people need not be tucked up indoors, and that there is little to stop older people in Leeds doing this either. Getting a message out about making a city accessible is so much more powerful by demonstrating that older people can take on challenges we usually expect from younger people.

The flashmob trend shows that creativity and spontaneity can produce a big impact by using social media tools to spread the message quickly and easily. The success of the flashdance on the day was recognised by the likes of Gransnet supporting and retweeting the flashdance. The determination of a group of 60 older people in Leeds has reached out to thousands more people and all we can wonder is what they will be up to next. Watch this space…

And, if you want to learn how to do the Leeds Older People’s Forum Flashdance then click here for a tutorial video!


Post by Claire Bradnam, intern on the Building Local Activism project

Hackney CAB Crowdmap launched

May 4, 2012

We have been working with Hackney Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) as part of our Digital Activism work for some time now.

When we started working with Catherine – a Social Policy Volunteer – at the CAB, she had set up a Crowdmap – a free web tool that allows you to crowdsource information and see it on a map and timeline – to start mapping the impact of the changes to housing benefit in Hackney.

But what are the changes and why map the impact?

From April 2011 onwards, a number of different changes to housing benefit have been coming into effect. These include: reducing the number of properties available to rent locally, removing the rate for self-contained accommodation, and capping the total amount available for a family.

Hackney CAB has seen an increasing number of people affected by these changes over recent months, with some residents facing housing benefit shortfalls, rent arrears, overcrowding, threatened eviction, and even homelessness.

The national newspapers have recently been reporting that a number of London boroughs are looking to re-locate many residents to other parts of the country where private rented accommodation is cheaper; whether it’s from Croydon to Hull or from Newham to Stoke, to name but two examples. But as yet, no one seems to have a completely clear picture of just how the changes are actually affecting claimants. And this is what Catherine and the team at Hackney CAB want to find out.

What does this mean for Hackney?

Initially, CAB Social Policy volunteers were capturing anonymised information from CAB advisers and inputting brief, unidentifiable data onto the Crowdmap to show cases. However, the team has been keen to ensure that as more and more Hackney residents are affected by the changes to housing benefit, they are able to quickly and easily share their own story and access support, while educating a wider audience on the issue.

And so, the Hackney CAB Crowdmap website was born and launched on Monday, sharing information on the changes and the impact on Hackney, and where people can access support. And, of course, allowing people to map the effect the changes are having on them.

What’s next?

It’s all very well having a website, but we need to ensure that people are willing and able to share their story. So we will be leafleting around Hackney to highlight the changes, direct residents to the website, and encourage people to help raise awareness by sharing information on how the changes are affecting them.

We will also be looking at text messaging and postal options to ensure those who aren’t online can still share their story, and will be assessing the availability of rented properties in Hackney to find out just how easy it is for people in receipt of housing benefit in Hackney to find a place to live.

We will keep you up to date with the work as it progresses.

In the meantime, you can of course keep an eye on the Hackney CAB Crowdmap website, ‘like’ the campaign on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

Our work with Women on this special International Women’s Day

March 8, 2012

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, happy International Women’s Day.

Today is a day to celebrate women and the amazing contribution we make to society. And there are many of them. Today’s Guardian website is sharing an inspirational list of the ‘Top 100 women’. Women who have led countries, broken through glass ceilings and even been in space”.

Among the ‘Top 100’ are 20 women activists and campaigners. They include Franny Armstrong, founder of the 10:10 campaign to reduce the developed world’s carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010, and Director of The Age of Stupid, a film which follows a man living alone in a devastated 2055, watching archive footage and asking “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?”. The 10:10 campaign has seen huge success, with thousands of businesses and institutions – including central government – pledging to cut their carbon emissions by 10 per cent. 10:10 is now active in more than 40 countries.

Also among them is civil servant Lisa Robinson who took a stand against 30 drunken male Cardiff City fans and a train driver in response to sexist abuse she was experiencing on a train. After failing to persuade the driver to stop the train and call the police twice, Lisa climbed on to the tracks and refused to move. She later told the BBC This is my community, this is my village. Women and families should be able to travel on the train in peace and quiet and go about their business without being bullied like that”. Women like Lisa are continuing to join the Hollaback campaign to end street harassment.

An inspirational campaigner from further afield is Kenyan born Professor Wangari Maathai. Wangari was Africa’s first female Nobel peace prize-winner and the first east African woman to hold a doctorate. She faced discrimination in the job market for being too ambitious for a woman. That ambition led her to start the Green Belt Movement in 1977, encouraging village women to plant trees to prevent deforestation and provide them with fuel. By March 2011 Kenyan women had planted 45 million trees. Wangari found herself jailed for calling a judge incompetent, and for protesting against President Daniel Arap Moi’s government. In 2002 she won a seat in parliament with 98% of the vote and founded the Mazingira Green Party of Kenya.


But what have these inspirational women to do with Digital Social Innovation?

Well, we’ve been working with Women’s Networking Hub in Birmingham as part of the Digital Activism project for a few months now. The Hub was founded and is coordinated by a very ambitious and inspirational local Birmingham woman – Shahida Choudhry – who wants to ensure that women in Birmingham and the West Midlands can come together and are empowered to take action of the issues that matter to them.

Within our work with the Women’s Networking Hub we have set ourselves a few aims:

  • create a dynamic website which brings women together, allowing them to campaign on issues that matter to them;
  • support women to run campaigns on issues that matter to them and to mobilise other women to join them;
  • use web tools to support women’s participation in campaigning; and
  • widen participation in the Hub, especially to underrepresented groups.

The Hub won a digital makeover from the Universities of Coventry and Nottingham, meaning the first aim is well underway, and the new website is due shortly. Shahida is keen for this to be a place where members can access campaigning resources, start and share their campaigns and invite others to join them, and build networks. Overall, Shahida sees the importance of an open and sage space where women from all backgrounds can come together, feel empowered and able to be themselves, and have a voice.

We’ll also soon be supporting some of the 1000 members to develop and deliver campaigns on the issues they feel strongly about.We recently asked members “what’s your problem?”, inviting them to submit their campaign ideas. And we had a great response; 18 women told us they had a problem with domestic violence, lads mags, sexual exploitation, inequalities in employment and opportunities, rape culture, and sexual stereotyping, amongst other issues.

We are now working with Shahida to support a few of the women to tackle these problems, and help them to look at how social media can help them do so. We hope to update you on the campaigns shortly.