I’m changing jobs at the end of September. Having worked at De Montfort University for over twenty years, I felt it was time to move on and try new challenges. As part of the process of adjusting to the new opportunities I’m seeking, I’ve been asked to write a personal statement about my most valuable achievements, so that I can use what I feel as the basis of my future employment strategy. In this blog I’m going to identify three things that I’ve worked on recently which I think represent an achievement that I have valued most.
My main recent achievements are:
- Successfully defending my PhD and gaining recognition from the informed examiners on the viva panel.
- Establishing community media as a topic of study at a UK university, and facilitating the first cohort of graduates from the programme.
- Facilitating community media training and development sessions with partners in the UK and internationally.
The first of these achievements, completing my doctorate, is probably the most important, because it was based on a long and extended period of study, starting in 2009. I was most defintiely tested in a thorough manner, by both by the process of undertaking the research and sustaining my work in gathering data, then in justifying the process I desinged with senior academics who are experts in the academic field that I was aspiring to enter. To successfully defend my thesis I had to demonstrate a level of analysis based on a clear idea of what was at stake in the topic. This had to be undertaken with fortitude and perseverance, both through the field work, and then by bringing rigorous critical reflection to the data and its implications.
I had chosen to study aspects of community media, and opted to use a methodology and approach that wasn’t common practice at the time in the field of media studies in the UK (but is in others), and which meant that I had to become familiar with a new set of methodological principles, both in order to undertake the study, and then to analyse the data that came from it. The reason for being so focussed, was that I was aiming to offer some insight into the activities that I had observed in practice. The viva was tough. In the UK not many people have four Professors on the examination panel, and it was mentally exhausting, but well worth it in the end. As I was advised, I had to own the data and the analysis as my own, and this is what I am proud to have achieved.
The second achievement was exemplified when working with my close colleague and friend John Coster. We ran a Community Media Expo at De Montfort University, in which students from the BA Communication Arts programme gave presentations about community media, and related their understanding of the principles and scope of community media. There are similar courses at other higher education institutions around the UK, but to my knowledge the community media modules I developed are the only integrated community media modules that are part of an integrated undergraduate course. Establishing community media within the curriculum has been a long-term aim of mine. I was drawn to community media principles when I set up a radio production programme in the 2005, and then persuaded the university to take its student radio station full-time by applying to Ofcom for a Community Radio Licence.
There were lots of diversions, burnouts, battles and dead-ends in the process of developing the subject material, but it was gratifying to see that the principle of community media, in which we value what we become in producing shared media, rather than simply what we can get out of using media for our own ends, had been integrated into the thinking of the soon to be graduates, who are the emerging and potential leaders of the community media movement of the future. In a world in which individual advantage and status is what often drives so much of our attitude to personal advancement, I’m proud that I was able to push against the grain in a small way, and put in place the outline of a programme of study that challenges the restricted and normative model of media consumption and production – and to be attractive to future cohorts of students who want to exercise their social conscience at the same time.
The remining achievements are related to the first two, but rather than facing inwards to the university, they face outwards by working with active community media practitioners, not just in the UK, but internationally. Recently I’ve been undertaking development work with a couple of community media groups who are looking at establishing and developing their services as part of the wider community development agenda, tacking things like social isolation, loneliness, social integration, local representation, civic identity and digital inclusion.
Using what I have learnt and practiced over the last twenty years, I gives me satisfaction to help people find their social voice, to develop skills and capabilities in producing their own media, on their own terms and for their own communities, then evaluating the benefits and the impact that these forms of media have on individuals and social groups. In these sessions and conversations I’ve been able to plant seeds that we can do media in a different way than is commonly practiced. We can be truly collaborative. We can empower people who otherwise get overlooked in social debates, and we can find what people’s joy is in sharing their interests and their experiences through the use of media.
None of these achievements have been easy to learn from, nevermind undertake. They have required a grasp of what I beleive to be one of the on most important factors associated with learning, that we have to make lots of mistakes to learn. We have to find out what does and doesn’t work in practice, and at different levels, and with different people, before we can move forward. This pragmatic approach requires a wide view of how and in what way we achieve our goals, and a lot of patience in getting to them. I’m proud that I am increasingly publicly recognised as someone who is able to help move a development process along, to build the skills, knowledge, and awareness of partners who work together, and then to reflect on the ideas and the experience that brings it all together.