Destination Local presentation at Nesta Edinburgh

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I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in a gathering organised by Nesta this week in Edinburgh.

As the video clip from the event shows, the broad theme of the event was innovation, and folk from all of Scotland and a huge range of backgrounds took part.

Nesta have funded the Greener Leith/ Broughton Spurtle /Tigatag  “Local Edge” project , which I put together as a volunteer, through their Destination Local funding programme.  It was great to be offered 5 minutes on the stage to give attendees a wee flavour of the project. Of course, it would also be nice to have something to show them too – but it’s still very early days with this at the moment.

It’s always tricky to squeeze everything you want to say into five minutes, but if you’re interested you can watch my presentation here. 

I also enjoyed chatting with folk afterwords, especially the council folk putting together Open Data projects in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

There’s more photos and video from the event here. 

Discussed in the event are some of the reviews found at

Community engagement on a shoestring and other Be Good Be Social tales

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I did a wee 20 minute chat about Greener Leith at Be Good Be Social a couple of weeks ago.

And there’s plenty more far interesting chats, from folk such as Louise MacDonald and John Popham, whom I shared a platform with on the night at the Be Good Be Social YouTube channel.

Thanks once again to the whole Be Good Be Social team for the invite and also for running such a great event.

The penguin standing for election in Pentlands

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This story first appeared on STV Edinburgh here. 

Could the city elect a penguin as Provost in May?

The election pundits say that Mike Ferrigan, also known as Professor Pongoo, a six foot penguin from planet Piper, stands little chance of getting elected as an independent councillor in May’s local council elections.

Afterall, independent candidates struggle at the best of times to compete with the better resourced election machines of the established parties. And in the Pentlands ward where he is standing, more than 40% of the electorate gave their first preference to the Conservative candidate last time.

Could an independent dressed as a penguin with strong environmental policies be a step too far for most locals?

Ferrigan thinks not. He believes that the pundits have underestimated the power of the Penguin to take votes from across the political spectrum.

He has even promised to wear the penguin costume to every full council meeting if he gets elected. He said: “I will make a pledge to wear the Penguin costume in full council meetings.

“The purpose of doing that will be to bring some lightness and humour to the affair. This may help to bring about a more consensual approach to politics within the chamber.

“Hopefully people will calm down a bit, stop being so confrontational and wagging fingers at each other, and instead they’ll have a bit of a laugh, sit around a table and discuss the common good of all as opposed to the common good of all the political parties.”

The penguin is not just a novelty. It has policies too, many of them informed by his involvement in putting together the Occupy Edinburgh manifesto requests.

These include calls for the council to do more to support the development of new co-operative enterprises and a community right to buy for surplus council assets.

Asked why he wanted to stand as an independent, Mr Ferrigan, a former member of the Scottish Greens and an active supporter of the Occupy Edinburgh movement said: “I’m disillusioned with the Greens. They’ve become establishment. But right from the mid-eighties I’ve been interested in politics, but not party politics.

“I feel that party politics has destroyed the economy, and it’s destroying the planet at a very quick rate.

“So what has motivated me to do it is to try to provide a new consensual voice.

Even though he proudly avoids carrying a mobile phone, he insists that he is committed to supporting a “bottom-up politics.” He plans to use Facebook and other social networking to hold regular online referenda to help write a “community manifesto,” and find solutions to problems in the area.

He said: “Communities should be able to make their own decisions and have their own finance available to put those decisions into action.”

He points out that he is one of only two candidates to live in the Ward and his work educating local school pupils about Climate Change means that many of the local children – and by extension their families – are already familiar with his Professor Pongoo alter ego.

His independent status, his established local profile as an environmental campaigner, and his pledge to devolve more power to local communities have come together to inspire at least some of the locals to vote for the first time ever.

His neighbours in the Currie street where he lives, certainly view him as a credible alternative to the party politicians they’ve had to choose from before.

May Higgins, who is 49, works at Heriot Watt University. She said: “I’ve never voted before because I don’t have any faith in politics whatsoever. But put it this way – he’s made me interested.

“I do believe in the community, and I want to see things done. Mike is a community person and he’s actually made me think.

“I think he’s sincere, and I think he’s a hard worker. I have known Mike in the community for a while, and I think everybody young and old can relate to him.”

Sandra Elliot Pride, 53, who lives in Currie and works at Balerno High School said: “In the past I’ve always voted Labour.

“If Professor Pongoo got in he might be able to achieve more of a voice for the people here. People are increasingly paying all their dues, and we see cuts, and we know their have to be cuts, but they seem to sometimes be slightly unfair cuts.

“The people who are being affected are perhaps less well off and there are less well off people in this area. It’s a vibrant area, and it’s not regarded as a disadvantaged area, but there are people who live in this area who are hidden disadvantaged.”

Rebecca Doig, is a 29 year old teacher who lives in Currie. She was keeping a watchful eye on her two children in a local Playpark. She said: “My husband has been going on about the Penguin ever since he put a leaflet through the door.

“I suppose he’s standing on Green issues and they are really important. I might put him as my third choice, but I think my husband will probably vote for him because he’s a penguin.”

“I think the novelty thing will work. He’s got a memorable name and a memorable logo. At a local election, people don’t know very much, so that might work. He could get in, you never know. Stranger things have certainly happened and I imagine that the turnout will be really low.

“I think he’s fairly well thought of locally because he does a lot of work in the schools and things like that. He goes in and does talks with them, and he goes to libraries too. People locally probably do know him quite well.”

The environmental message that Mr Ferrigan is basing his campaign on seems to resonate well with young families in the area. Neal Beaton, 30, lives with his family in the ward. He said: “I think his ideas are very good. Renewables are quite a current issue.

“I think it’s always hard for an independent to get in, but people might be a bit disillusioned with the Tories and the Libdems. There’s always a possibility he might slip through.

“I think some people here might think that being represented by a penguin is a bit beneath them. But it’s happened before hasn’t it? It’s always fun – and there have been monkeys elected before in England.”

The older generation of Pentlands residents are perhaps less convinced of Mr Ferrigan’s election bid. Local James Anderson, 79, who is retired, said: “My priority is keeping the council tax low.

“I don’t think Mr Ferrigan has got a chance, but he’s got as much right to be in the parliament as the rest of the rogues.”

To win a place in the Chambers, Professor Pongoo must win support throughout the Pentlands ward, which spans a varied demographic from Wester Hailes in the east to Balerno in the west.

To do this, he’s adopted another tactic that some of the other parties may struggle to follow. He’s producing three different leaflets, and using his local knowledge is highlighting policies that he thinks will appeal to the different communities.

Local residents will have a chance to quiz Professor Pongoo, along with the other five candidates standing in Pentlands Ward at a Hustings event on the 3rd of May.

More information on the event is available on the specially set-up Hustings website.

A full listing of all the candidates standing in the city is available here.

A quick tour around the North Edinburgh cycle paths

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This video is a product of a litany of silly things, the first of which was thinking that I should try to make any music at all, let alone one with a children’s Bontempi Keyboard that is out of tune with itself.

The second silly thing involved cycling for as long as I could around the North Edinburgh cycle paths no handed with my phone so I could video the trip.

I’ve been wanting to do something similar to this for literally years, and if it weren’t for copyright, and a lack of talent the sound track would be Four Tet and the filming would be less shoogly and better put together.

If I could work out how to put it on the Innertube Map then I would. But I can’t work out how to post video to multiple “stops.” Perhaps Tom Allan could assist?

So farewell then, Guardian Edinburgh blog


The Guardian Edinburgh blog is to be wound up this month, and that, as they say is that. Late to the wake that I am, Ali George has inspired me to add my two cents, to all the other two cents that have been written about the impact that the service had.

The recipe seemed deceptively simple. Get a talented journalist the tools to do decent multi-media journalism,  a brief to work with people in a way that they feel most comfortable, whether that’s photos, or audio, or film or the written word, and combine it with that brand and off you go with a flying start to shake the torpid local media scene up.

From the perspective of someone who had been running what some considered a “hyperlocal” site in the city before the Guardian came to town, it was a breath of fresh air. Here was a service that not only linked out to the source of their stories – it actively celebrated the source of those stories. A minor revolution to someone who had got into the habit of seeing at least one of the stories in the Greener Leith weekly email appear subsequently in the local rag, without so much as a link on the web version of the story.

At that time, I never really thought it mattered that much for Greener Leith, whether the Evening News linked to us or not. Afterall, as a charity, focussed on improving the local neighbourhood, I was grateful that the organisation was getting publicity. Any publicity. I still am. Any disgruntlment I felt, I mentally filed under “bloggers vanity,” and tried to ignore it.

But the extra traffic, and the search engine ranking improvements, and the credibilitiy (at least in some circles!) that all those links from the Guardian to our little website have helped me, and others, to understand what you might call ‘media power,’ and how it works. Links have a value, website visitors have a value, and by promoting and colloborating on stories both websites were arguably more successful for it.  Because of this, The Guardian has, in a way, directly supported the development of Greener Leith in a way which no other large media organisation has. I’m certainly tremendously grateful for this.

Partly as a consequence of those links, Greener Leith  now has the audience, influence, and ambition (and the stats to prove it) to promote our content and our approach to grant funders and other people. The Guardian Edinburgh blog (along with all the Talk About Local folk) undoubtedly played a role in helping us to see the value in our content, and building that value.

I can’t tease out quite how much The Guardian Edinburgh blog has helped Greener Leith. But, the stats are interesting. According to Google Analytics, in the last 12 months, the five top traffic sources to the Greener Leith site are:

  1. Google (search)
  2. Direct (i.e people typing the address into their browser)
  3. Twitter
  4. Facebook
  5. The Guardian

But there’s more to it than traffic stats. Although I don’t get to see him often enough, I got to meet, work with and develop some fun ideas with Tom, the first Guardian Beat Blogger for Edinburgh. And whilst, I never have had a chance to spend the same amount of time with the Mike who followed in his footsteps, they both did an incredible job – and both contributed to projects like Edinbuzz. As Tom says – that is an ongoing legacy in itself that is to be celebrated. In fact, now that I work for STV Local, I realise just how incredible a job they’ve done.

Five years ago, when Greener Leith started, it was viewed in some quarters as a seditious act to post the papers for local community meetings online, with commentry to try to explain what they meant. But the local news scene is different in Edinburgh now. For noteworthy council meetings in the city chambers, it is not uncommon to have three people live tweeting the proceedings. Sometimes even local councillors join in from the floor. Sometimes, these days, the Guardian Beat Blogger may not be amongst those tweeting.

The Guardian undoubtedly helped to raise some folk’s aspirations for, and understanding of, what local news could be at a city-wide level. For the first time it seemed some people at least (how inclusive was it really?), could take part in the process of producing news about their city underneath an established brand, which felt less mediated by a giant, mysterious editorial beast with unknown motives.

Perhaps more importantly in my view, there was another voice, with a Guardian set of news values, interpreting what was going on in the city chambers, and other city institutions in a sustained way. Perhaps these are a few of the reasons why there’s been such an outcry at the decision to fold the service.

And looking to the future in Edinburgh, the city-wide independent sites like the Edinburgh Spotlight and the Edinburgh Reporter will keep evolving in their own ways,  building their own audiences, and perhaps revenue streams. There’s a new independent start-up poised to launch, the Evening News are rumoured to be planning a relaunch of their website and of course there’s STV Edinburgh, where I work now. Unsurprisingly, STV Local is a service that I hope will be able to more than fill some of the gaps that will be left in local people’s RSS readers. So whilst the Guardian will be missed – and it has undeniably influenced many websites in the city – it is by no means the end of good quality local news in the city. Today there seems to be more of that than ever, and more opportunity for local groups to be heard too.

At the end of the day it’s just particularly rubbish, for Mike, Sarah, and the beat bloggers in other places that the Guardian did not see fit to spend time figuring out how to make it all financially viable, and investing in that important part of the equation properly. They are good people, and it’s surprising that the Guardian don’t want to keep them.

Yeah it was an experiment, but we liked it.

Talk About Local 2011: Reflections


Recently I attended my 2nd Talk About Local unconference. This time in Cardiff. Last year I attended the unconference in Leeds too, and having just re-read the post I wrote about that experience, it’s clear that they Leeds event had a huge effect on me. There I learnt about reader surveys, and social media surgeries, and remarkably I managed to put some of that learning into action. For example, you can read a quick summary of the results of our Greener Leith Readers Survey in this post, and I managed to get a wee bit of funding to run a programme of Social Media Surgeries in Edinburgh – even if I haven’t been able to get to as many of them as I wanted to myself. At lot seems to have happened in Edinburgh in between Talk About Local conferences – even our local council website went from totally rubbish to award winning. So perhaps there’s more chance we’ll be seeing it indexed as part of the Openly Local project too?

This year, I must confess I didn’t feel like I learned quite so much, but perhaps that’s because the whole hyperlocal thing is maturing a bit. On the one hand, there’s a whole load of established, and very impressive, local news sites, and on the other hand there’s also a lot of interest in what one might call ‘neighbourhood action’ sites, which have a slightly different focus – and probably less of an commercial aim.

On the more commercial side of hyperlocal, the established independent news websites, like the Ventor Blog or Blog Preston, are all still doing things in ways that might raise eyebrows in some media circles.  For example, I was amused to learn that the Ventor blog team have simply started reprinting press releases from the Police and other emergency services, even giving them the byline – instead of wasting time chopping the releases around to make them look as though they’d written them themselves, which is generally the convention.

However, there also seemed to be more interest from bigger media companies in TAL. I was there this time with my new STV Local hat on, but there were other folk there from media businesses large and small, some making money, some not, some still looking towards the future for profits, but nevertheless, it seemed to me that there was less ‘us and them’ and more simply a gradual transition between independent citizen journalists on the one hand, through to the likes of the efforts by the Trinity Mirror, STV and the Guardian. I wasn’t aware of the experimental collaboration between the Birmingham Mail and local bloggers that is “Your Communities,” and it was interesting to meet people with some experience of it.

The first session I went to looked at the ‘Hyperlocal City’ and I came away more convinced than ever that there are still a whole lot of opportunities presented by media convergence of online. The process of blending both traditional broadcast media, and print media, into an SEO friendly, easily digestible format that people can consume anywhere they want still has a long way to go, and probably presents as much of a challenge to broadcasters as it does to print media companies. We had an interesting chat for example on why there seems to be such a divide between the community radio sector and the hyperlocal blogging scene. Similarly, it was interesting to consider what local TV might mean in an environment where Welsh language TV might be significantly cut. Can the web replace an established dedicated broadcast channel?


There also seemed to be a bit of regrettable consensus that commercially based sites were going to have to figure out how to work with Facebook, as so much on-line now happens on that site, however frustrating some people may find it.  At the Facebook “show and tell” session it was pretty much agreed that all sites would need to integrate the “like” button at the very least – and that a Facebook page is probably a must. For any serious site that produces a lot of content, there is a big question as to how much of that content you feed into the Facebook beast – and how much you keep as an incentive to get people out of Facebook.

I didn’t get the feeling that anyone has figured that out, although my personal view is that most people and organisations are naturally protective of their content. In my experience, Facebook seems to reward sites with more traffic, the more stuff they put into it. That said, partly because I’ve integrated the Greener Leith main site with a Ning based social network, I still don’t feel like I’ve found a useful way to use some of the more advanced Facebook Social Plug-ins – and there’s probably scope to do more with them. And of course, from a Hyperlocal point of view – there was some uneasiness about what Facebook plan to do with their Place pages. Will they be a threat or a benefit to other hyperlocal media sites?

There was also some a bit of interesting chat about what content works on Facebook. For example, S4C reported that they get huge engagement by simply posting the weather forecast every morning on their Facebook page.

Remarkably, someone posted an example of a hyperlocal business that seemed to be entirely based around selling status updates on a Facebook page. A sort of local Groupon, which seemed to use Facebook to distribute the offers. Frustratingly, I can’t find it now, so if anyone reading knows the links, I’d like to know it. I’d also like to know if that sort of thing breaks the terms and conditions of Facebook!

Ultimately, it seems to me that Facebook at best presents an opportunity to build a community and and longer lasting  relationship with readers. It seems worth considering how you can strengthen that relationship both within facebook, as well as finding ways to engage directly with your content. For example, at Greener Leith, we’ve had pretty good results from using the MailChimp Facebook plug-in that allows people to sign-up for our weekly email news letter from within Facebook.

Community Development Sites

I also attended the hyperlocal for community development session. There was a lot of interest in how we can go use web tools to go ‘beyond’ Fix my street to a more involved level of engagement. There were lot’s of points I felt I could’ve made but didn’t as I didn’t want to drone on for ever at this session, as that wouldn’t be very nice. However, if you can’t drone on, on your own blog, where can you? So here’s some points I wanted to make at the session, if we’d had all day to discuss these things:

1. Good community development requires a clear, well designed community engagement process. 

If you want to use the web to be “a community organiser,” don’t waste time learning CSS, HTML or PHP. First learn how to become a post-it note ninja, and learn how to facilitate stuff like this in the real world, if you don’t know it already. Social media and the web can be powerful tools to augment and amplify a community development process. The web tools don’t replace it: they’re really a labour saving device!

2. Building a website isn’t enough if no-one knows it’s there.

Unless you have a massive marketing budget (and this is the voluntary sector so chances are you won’t), then it may take a long, long, time (i.e years) to establish your hyperlocal website with an audience that is sufficient for you to treat it as a community engagement tool that has a value in itself.

However, by understanding the demographics of the website you run in as much detail as you can then you can design a practical engagement process to “fill in the gaps.” Don’t just ask how you can engage the people on your website – you also need to ask how you can engage with the people who aren’t using your website – and how you can design an engagement process that works both on and offline.

3. Can you remain objective?

There was a lot of chat at the Talk About Local session about who sets the agenda, and setting winnable goals. The fact is, that your agenda will probably be influenced by you, whoever funds you, and whoever writes and participates on the website – or a combination of both. It helps if you have a clear statement of values, aims and objectives – particularly if you have a lot of different people writing for your website.

Although it’s very easy to set-up a blog as an individual ‘active citizen’ without any need or thought of constitutions, bank accounts, AGM’s and so forth, you should give people a clear idea how decisions will ultimately be made about the content and tone of the site. Will you elect a management committee, for example? Or is your word as ‘owner of the site’ final? Is it profit making, political, or non-profit?

4. What will you do if it works?

This is of course a nice problem to have. However, you should be aware the combination of one or more successful participatory processes, combined with the transparency, accessibility and reach of a popular website means that there’s a chance that some people,  perhaps those more used to thinking in terms of representative democracy, or ‘statutory roles’ might feel somewhat aggrieved by the potential influence your website may appear to wield. The papers will be interested in it. Politicians will be interested in it. There’s also a chance that others will try to claim ownership, or draw different conclusions that you did from a non-partisan process. Or you may be drawn into something that you hadn’t anticipated.

It’s worth thinking about how you can work with those people at an early stage, how you will answer if someone asks you what right you have to speak on behalf of the neighbourhood you work in and what you will do if someone seeks to co-opt the site you’ve set-up to serve their own interests.

5. Just recording and documenting things is a community development outcome

After a while, a local neighbourhood site can become a bit of an archive of community campaigns, and action. This in itself is hugely valuable, and helps to encourage even more positive action. So for example, whilst it might seem strange at the time, to take millions of photos of even the smallest community event, in a years time on Flickr, they will seem really inspirational. And hopefully not just to you.

6. Monitor what you do.

Measure what you do. Work out how many unique visitors you have, and where they come from. Use tools like Klout to show that you’re not just tweeting into the ether. If you invest in building your audience, and you can show that what you do works, then you can use this information to support grant applications. Like this. 

7. Some practical tools

Whilst lot’s of people already know of these tools, I thought I ought to pull them together as there seemed to be a few folk in the session who would be interested. Where possible I’ve added links to a practical Greener Leith example:

  • Scribd is a great way to embed documents on-line, and to make them accessible and shareable. Greener Leith has only recently started using it.
  • Slideshare is also good for sharing presentations. Powerpoint is often the medium of choice for the professionals at poorly attended public meetings. You can ensure that many more people see the presentation by putting it online, and embedding it in a blog post with some commentary about what it really means.
  • Google Documents is amazing. Spend time with it. Learn how to combine Google Forms, Google Spreadsheets and Map-a-list. Learn how to embed the various bits in your website. Now, you’ve got a secure, free, flexible survey tool that maps where survey respondents live in (nearly) real-time. At Greener Leith we used that set-up as part of our ‘alternative budget consultation,’ with the full results shared with all local councilors. However, there are undoubtedly millions of other cool uses out there and I’d love to hear about other examples.
  • Uservoice is also a tool with amazing potential for group decision making junkies, even if it was originally designed as a customer service forum. It may be a bit intimidating for some people who are not familiar with the interface. We used it to ‘crowd source’ green travel ideas for the neighbourhood. You can see them here.
  • All the My Society stuff. Fix My Street, Write to them, What do they know? etc Are all amazing, and because they produce RSS feeds you can use them to generate content relevant to your area. Similarly, Openly Local provides feeds for many local councils – but sadly not Edinburgh.   My Society provide instructions on how to add a Google map that shows local Fix My Street reports to your blog in this blog post. 
  • Whilst we’re on the topic of clever maps. You might want to check out ZeeMaps as a means of building rich content maps. You can even use the service to crowd source maps too. On Greener Leith I used it to build a neighbourhood story map.
  • Storify has immense potential for participative ‘story telling.’ Thus far, Greener Leith has only used it once, to collate lot’s of tweets from a public meeting, but I thought Michael MacLeod’s use of it when he asked on Twitter What Does Edinburgh Smell like? shows the interesting uses this tool could be put to in a community engagement context.

All in all a great conference once again. Kudos to all involved in organising it – and the next question is: Will Edinburgh be the venue for the first McTAL 2012?

Edinbuzz Social Media Surgeries

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It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve at last got dates, a flyer and a website all going on for the first ever set of Social Media Surgeries in Edinburgh – or is that Scotland? It’s been a busy few days – but I have to say I’ve been totally over awed by all the marvelous, generous, interesting social media experts out there who are coming forwards to volunteer as surgeons for this.

If you know a community group who would benefit from taking part in a surgery please do pass this flyer along to them. Its free!

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