Communities

One word that has come up a lot in the last few days are discussions about communities.

Whether is it ‘affected communities’, or ‘community leaders’ or ‘rebuilding communities’ and it has made me wonder about what the meaning of the word is.

build community

whizchickonabun@flickr

Also in terms of the work I do, I think about the word and the way it is used in the personalisation agenda about ‘building community capacity’. The government uses community in terms of the ‘big society’, volunteering, giving power to communities, but they don’t really explain exactly what this means excepting the idea that ‘community’ is somehow a Good Thing. Strong communities are good.

So what is a ‘community’?

This is the definition given on Dictionary.com.

1.a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.

2.a locality inhabited by such a group.

3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the )

The first two definitions base the term on a geographical location. Your community is the people who inhabit the world around you. The community might be all the people who live within this local area or it might be people of a specific cultural/historical heritage who live within this local area.

I wonder if the idea of splitting apart ‘community’ on the basis of cultural heritage is helpful sometimes.

What is clear is that the meaning of community is very different in Tottenham from  how it is in Chipping Norton.

The word is used in the context of building communities ‘online’. Obviously that comes under the third part of the definition. A community exists within a forum or even within readers of a blog. A community can be a Facebook group or a Twitter stream. We can belong to a range of communities. Some communities though, take more effort to join and be a part of than others.

Some communities we are born into by virtue of location and/or culture and history.

Some communities we move into through geographic location.

Some communities we actively choose to join.

The government talk about community as if it is the answer to every solution but I wonder how they feel the answers will come in areas where communities are not as cohesive as they know and are used to or not as homogenous in nature.

This is a part of the detachment I feel of the government from the people who are governed.  Cameron’s ‘community’ doesn’t feel and look like my ‘community’.

My community has different needs and concerns. My community doesn’t have the resources, either in time or money that his community does.

What gives some communities more ‘value’ than others? That’s the question that I ask myself frequently. When government leaders seek out ‘community leaders’ do they prescribe value to the communities on the basis of the loudest voices or the largest numbers?

Are those who are isolated or who don’t have families or voices detached from any kind of community? I suspect they are and sometimes people don’t want to be a part of a community.

Community is always seen in terms of being a good thing, but the people involved in the riots and mass destruction across London as well as other cities, they were part of a community too. Why is community always positive? Perhaps because the experiences of those who ‘rule’ is that they come from communities, yes, that word again, where there is hope and aspiration. Communities can drag people down as well as pull people up and when we talk about ‘community building, we can’t ignore the uglier aspects of some communities.

As Cameron talks of ‘pockets of sick society’, I think we know where he is pointing the finger.  He is pointing the finger at ‘other communities’. He is pointing the finger away from himself and people like him. This is not his problem because this is not his community. Are those ‘pockets’ communities within themselves? It seems to me that they are and there needs to be a recognition that community is far broader in scope than the ‘let’s all help each other’ model.

The sooner we broaden communities and build communities across economic and cultural lines the more we improve society. If we, like the Prime Minister states, see this as a problem with ‘pockets of a sick society’ we isolate and abandon those elements and detach them from our own more mainstream society.

That is dangerous.

The sickness of society is that there are ‘pockets’ within it.  This is not simply about poverty. This is about the difference between building exclusive and inclusive societies and yes, communities.

Communities have to reach out and build bridges across them. We have to build more inclusion. We have to take responsibility and those that wish to push us into communities have to understand better the way the networks are interdependent.

My community is hurting. The only way I can see to rebuild it is to involve myself in it.

If anything indicates that there is a role for more macro social work. A role for community work  but an inclusive type of community that doesn’t self-select and is able to reach out to those who might not naturally seek to be a part.

I have felt fear this week, in a way I haven’t felt fear before. I’ve also felt anger and sadness. Now, I’m trying to find hope and I have and I will.

But I still despair of the politicians who purport to ‘lead’ us and the desperate isolation and detachment I feel between my world and the world I see and the worlds in which they move.

Community has a better hope of existing when some of the barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are challenged and broken down.

That’s the real challenge for communities in these days ahead of us and we can no longer leave it in the hands of detached politicians who live in their own privileged communities.

We need to build. As the world moves on to the next News story, those of us left need to hold our attention on those around us and see what we might not have seen if we didn’t choose to look.

So what does community mean for you? Is it a useful word or has its lost it’s use through overused dullness?

I’d be interested in the responses because it’s been vexing my mind for a while.

Old Media, New Media and the Social Echo Chambers

News of the World

Image via Wikipedia

I’m off on a bit of a tangent today and I apologise to my social work readers for that, but sometimes a story happens that causes me to think more widely about the implications on a societal scale.

So in the wake of the death of the News of the World, I was left with a few residual thoughts about the transitioning between traditional media sources and the so-called ‘new’ media and the role and interplay between them.

I have been feeling for a few months if not more that the ‘internet’ – blogs and twitter predominantly, create their own ‘echo chamber’ effect where it is easy to become caught up in a competition of ‘page hits’ and ‘followers’ where you might gain an overinflated idea of the influence that can be welded by a blog or a tweet or by one particular ‘voice’ over another.

I occasionally boast about my ‘hits’ or ‘numbers of posts’ because I’m human and I indulge myself but I know that out of an audience of the average ‘man in the street’, my online life, perhaps because I separate it through a different (anonymous) identity has no bearing or interest to people in the ‘real world’.

I am sure some communities, professions and cultures are more likely to ‘connect’ than others. Journalists for example, would be foolish not to build their voices through different channels. Social Workers, less so but it remains a fine way of building conversations through unconventional means to promote the identity of the profession and to challenge poor press coverage.

Twitter especially, with regards to counting followers – can become a self-referential and meaningless circle of assumed influence if it is not used and reflected on. Yes, I have many followers but much more important is WHO those people are rather than the numbers. Similarly with this site my ‘hits’ keep going up but if that’s made up with people who find me by an ‘I hate social workers’ search or because they want information about ‘dangerous hamsters’ (incidentally, one of my highest search terms (!)) it shouldn’t be the cause of a celebration at this wonderful ‘break-out’ opportunity to ‘influence’.

Twitter for me, started as an alternative to an RSS feed as a means of ‘following’ the delivery of news. It became more conversational but now I see it as reverting to a news delivery system but with more curation. I know the people I follow will find the news that interests me and sometimes I will have useful and interesting conversations but mostly it is about news curation and building links in a much more effective and randomly serendipious way than blog comments where the power tends to remain in the hands of the site owner/s.  So in a sense, Twitter can become it’s own kind of newspaper with people whom I trust finding the articles that I know I will find interesting.

I’ve also tried to be a little sceptical in part about a role in social media regarding the building of individual influence and branding. Far more likely larger, different conglomerate and disparate sites and services will take over rather than the individual person with a voice having their own blogger or wordpress site.

And then I see as the News of the World story broke, the so-called ‘Twittersphere’ (and Facebook groups) picked up the baton (aided, importantly, by some larger group blogs – Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook ) in targetting advertisers.

I still suspect that people who extensively use Twitter and read blogs are in the massive minority in the general populace however those users have loud voices and they have influential voices. PR likes new media – so voices shouting loudly are heard by the ‘right’ people.

My  worry is two-fold though before we head off down the path of increasing equality and a breaking down of the barriers between bloggers and journalists, people and politicians.

Firstly, there are massive groups of people who are disengaged and remain disengaged by the so-called ‘digital divide’. Some groups of people are much more likely to have their views heard.

Secondly, the rise of the group blog and of different kinds of news organisations like the Huffington Post which set up in the UK this week, as well as Dale and Company (which is launching today)  are merely replacing one kind of journalism for another.

There will always be a place for good journalism and don’t think we are close yet to the death of the newspaper but the balance has shifted a little more along the way this week.

Sometimes it’s useful to take a step back and retain a perspective outside the ‘internet’ and ‘new media’ bubble and remember that there is still a long way to go before we assume equality of access and  pay attention to the volume of the different kinds of voices that may be heard.

Media, whether old or new, still has an agenda. We shouldn’t think that just because we can add a comment to a news story or a blog post or retweet an interesting nugget or post curious stories to facebook that we have a greater role in influencing the agenda. Maybe we do but it isn’t necessarily the case.

In the meantime though, I can’t say I would be sad to see a re-examination of the relationships between media and politics in society in general. It is well overdue.

So Goodbye News of the World – Hello seven day Sun. Is the world really that different?

Maybe.

Social Media and Social Work – Part 4 Social Networks and Forums

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

In this post, I am going to look at the ways that I use and have used social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook in a professional capacity and I also want to touch on the wider uses of forums and discussion groups.

Perhaps this would have been the logical place to start the ‘series’ because when you mention ‘social media’ or ‘social networking’ the most commonly held (and used) example is Facebook.

Facebook is the most prolific site with over 500 million active users around the world. That’s a fairly mindblowing figure when you stop and think about it.

So how would I use Facebook in a work environment. The simple answer is that, in general, I don’t.  I favour Twitter over Facebook for link sharing and random work-related thoughts. Facebook identifies me by name and location. My family and friends update me on their news. I have some work colleagues or ex-work colleagues as my friends but anyone who has ‘friended’ me on facebook and reads this can testify to the dullness of my updates!

This is intentional. There are ways to close down Facebook regarding information that is accessible and it’s a good idea to do that for reasons of privacy. I might sometimes share an interesting story I find on Facebook but I’m more likely to share pictures of baby animals and other non-controversial irrelevancies. The reason for this is that generally when the people I know ‘go’ to Facebook, it is for updating/chatting to friends – it has a perfect use for students at the same universities to stay in touch throughout placements, for example – but for me, it doesn’t seem to be the best environment for sharing more controversial or immediate items. Partly because half the people from school who have ‘friended’ me on Facebook seem to have grown into Tories…

However I fully accept that I don’t explore the full potential of Facebook. The ability to set up groups both closed and open groups allows for discussions to take place.  You can’t ignore the user base of Facebook. I have, for example, set up a ‘fan page’ for this site but I am less good at actually checking and using it! Fan pages though can be used as discussions and to form more integrated communities around certain issues and debates.

You can, of course, create ‘false’ Facebook identities. I know a number of people who use maiden names or slightly different names to use Facebook just to make more of a distinction with work.

As for LinkedIn, which claims to be a more ‘business’ focussed network, I am much more sceptical.  There are claimed to be 100 million users (although ‘user’ is more of ‘people who have signed up’ than active users who keep returning).  LinkedIn is presented as a more ‘serious’ social network where you connect with contacts on a professional rather than personal level. Like Facebook, your name and place of work is identified and there are ways and means to use both open and closed discussion groups.  If you see yourself as a ‘product’ to be marketed and sold, I suspect it has more use. My personal experience is that is that most contacts that have  made with me are from predatory recruitment consultants and I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about advertising my place of work so openly.   It is open enough to be searchable from Google if you don’t lock down the privacy settings and to identify both name and place of work.  I understand that not everyone operates in the same kind of arena that I do and for most people in most spheres of life, that would pose no problem whatsoever but social work is and can be different. Sometimes the actions we take mean that being openly searchable is not necessarily ‘a good thing’. I’m open to persuasion though so if anyone can convince me that would be fine.

I have tended to prefer ‘Communities of Practice’ as a work-related discussion forum which runs on a government site and again, it attaches your name to your work location but the discussions there are much more valuable as they are more specifically related to the workplace in the UK.  It is not ‘open’ in the same way and content is not search engine linked which, to be honest, I see as a bonus.

There are ‘communities’ about many of the more specialist subjects that might come up in statutory work in particular. I’ve found it to be a useful source of information for those with much more experience and I’ve also found it to be a ‘safe’ place to ask some of the questions that might come up in practice. Some of the ‘communities’ are only open to invite, some to allcomers with an interest and it is quite easy to set up your own communities. The attachment of name and employer mitigate some of the tendency for ‘trolls‘ to emerge on some of the more open forums.

Then there are other forums of interest – namely those that are hosted and set up on their own websites. An example of this would be the ‘Carespace’  from Community Care which is a discussion forum for those interested in social care in the UK. Like any anonymous community, there is an element of mischief making among some participants who may find that anonymity allows them a freer rein and there are the alarmingly regular requests for help with essays by people who seem baffled by some of the most basic concepts but in general the good outweighs the bad.

BASW have their own ‘forum’ which is only open to members and the GSCC have their own forums for those who are registered with them. The problem with both of these is that there is a ‘higher’ bar to membership. Sometimes making things as simple as possible (create a  username – login –) make for the more vibrant and active communities or a login via Facebook and/or LinkedIn which only require a ‘one click’ to join a particular group.  I haven’t joined either the BASW nor the GSCC forums partly because I don’t like the idea of my membership number or registration number to be linked to my log in.

Some services such as Free Forums’ allow anyone to set up a free forum for themselves.

Then there are some other mailing lists that I belong to. Yahoo and Google both allow for these groups to be created and ‘posts’ can be emailed round members or visited ‘on the site’.  For those ‘old school’ users, Google has archived the old Usenet groups from the early days of ‘internet connectivity’ but they and their successors are far more accessible now! Obviously, the level of information shared can be more closely focused on what you choose to share.

The positives of social networks and forums to discuss are very clear – on one level it is the absolute bedrock of social media – discussions can take place and there is a sense of ‘democracy’ in that anyone can start and contribute to them – depending obviously on the ‘open or closed’ proviso.  There are many different platforms for the discussion and debate to take place   – in some ways too many choices, real name or pseudonym, real ‘person’ or caricature of an identity.

One of the basic fundamentals in discussions online is the veneer than allows on one level a deeper debate of issues and thoughts and the cloak of anonymity that can allow a more unfettered rein to some issues that could offend or upset. It is far easier to get ‘wound up’ about a forum post than it is to feel angry or frustrated in discussion with someone face to face. Misinterpretation can be an issue to be aware of in all communication media.

However as the ways to share information grow, we have so many more opportunities to learn and gather sources and knowledge and to share.

All that’s up to us to do is to find the appropriate channel and that’s a tough decision in itself.

If you are interested in the use of social media in social work, please look back at the other posts in this series.

Part 1 – Blogs

Part 2 – Social Bookmarking

Part 3 Twitter

Thanks. I’d welcome any input about other communities/forums that have been useful to you and how you use Facebook/LinkedIn

Social Media and Social Work – A Series

I’ve had a ‘technology’ type post brewing inside me for a while and although I can’t promise this is the best researched and planned post, I thought it might be useful to share some of my practical uses and experiences with different social networks and sites and how I have used them. I realised though as I started writing my ‘definitive’ post on how I use and have learnt from ‘social media’ that the post was turning into a dissertation so I thought it best to break it down into more ‘manageable’ chunks.

So as a result of my overrunning initial post, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts which will explore my use of different social media with a particular regard of the implications for my practice as a social worker.

Part 1 – Long Form ‘traditional’   Blogs (WordPress.com/Blogger/Wordpress self-hosted)

Part 2 – Social Bookmarking and Tumble/Quick Blogging(Delicious/Pinboard/Posterous/Tumblr)

Part 3 – Twitter and Microblogging

Part 4 Social Networks and Forums  (Facebook and LinkedIn)

 

I’m intending to publish on a weekly basis on Mondays with the first part tomorrow – although as always and because I operate this site individually, I reserve the right to change schedules if something comes up!

I hope people will add and develop my ideas as I present them. I am very specifically writing about my personal experiences rather than definitive guides with the hope that it will encourage more people to take up some of the tools we have between us to ‘make a difference’ and make our collective voices heard in the government and media circles so that the fight for social justice and an understanding and appreciation of social workers and the work we do takes place on our own terms.

We are lucky to live in times when we have the means for taking up these fights on our own terms rather than being reliant on others to provide the tools and the ‘media window’ for us

I’ll add the links here as they ‘show up’.

Thanks 🙂