Decentered Media is about…
Pathfinding – Service for Clients
Insight into the social impact of community-based services does not always come by examining the numbers and metrics alone. Instead, understanding comes from the way we treat users’ interactions as meaningful and creative. To see beyond the raw numbers, I’m able to help clients think about how their customers or service users, and the communities they engage with, understand the services and products they provide. I am able to help clients develop a unique focus on the quality of the forms of communication they use, the models of engagement they practice, and the techniques and research approaches they use to account for those practices.
Outlook & Benefits to Clients
I’m a pioneer of innovative approaches to community development, organisation management, and media communication for social change. I’m able to lead and develop research-focussed projects that achieve improved social understanding, meaningful insight and critical analysis. I’m able to use my skills, knowledge and experience with research, community media and social media production, as well as my extensive teaching and curriculum development experience, to foster and improve the capability of civic and social organisations, especially as they seek to expand their capacity for social engagement and community-focused problem-solving.
I’m able to help client’s fill-in the gaps between what the statistics and data says, and what the perceptions and impressions of customers and service users indicate will make a project sustainable. I’m an experienced advocate of collaborative, collegiate, community and social-led decision-making and engagement activities, as well as a pioneer of media-related diversity and social inclusion approaches. This means I am flexible in my thinking and my analytical approach, looking at each client and situation individually, and developing solutions that are suited to the specific characteristics of each project.
My research perspective is people-focussed, qualitative, and is founded on the pragmatic model of symbolic interactionism and ethnography. This means that I look at what people’s goals are, what works for them, and what makes a difference in the circumstances that are being examined. I focuss on the development of evaluative narratives that enable clients to enhance their projects, provide evidence for their funding applications, and interact with other, like-minded organisations to promote and submit grant applications.
Not all communication models need to be founded on mass-communications principles, but can instead, take the form of grass-roots and alternative media approaches. I have extensive practical experience supporting and developing media for communities. I am an advocate of social models of communication that bring people together in shared situations. This means helping groups and communities to learn from one another, tell their stories, and enhance their understanding of the role that they play in their community lives.
With over twenty-years’ experience as a lecturer in media technology and media production, I am familiar with media-resource development, planning for media accessibility, systems training, professional standards, and critical evaluations of media approaches. I have extensive experience leading the development of emerging media production training, which has involved producing radio, developing social media platforms, giving lectures and public presentations. I am an effective communicator who can advocate and champion projects that have a strong regard for their social outcomes. I am experienced with working with regulatory and governmental organisations, such as Ofcom and DCMS, and I am familiar with a number of independent community media organisations who I have been helping to identify their strategic objectives and develop their key social change ideas in diverse, accessible and inclusive manner.
My prior academic approach can be defined as that of a pathfinder. I have sought to combine theoretical and critical insight with creative application and practice of digital media production technologies. This is demonstrated in my track record of innovative programme development at De Montfort University, playing a leading role in the advancement of media programmes that combined media technology with media studies. In 1998 when I joined the Media Technology department in the School of Engineering, the development of technology focussed media production programmes was not widely established. The programme and module development ethos that I contributed to, and helped define, was dependent on harnessing and engaging with emergent media practices, platforms and technologies as they were introduced to desktop computing.
The focus of these programmes was based on hands-on media practice, a technical development approach, combined with a theoretical framing and evaluation of media technologies as they are used and applied by producers and audiences. My evolving and somewhat intuitive interest was founded on my regard for the importance of driving creative media use in a way that is participative, and which is led by the interests and concerns of the individuals involved. The best way to describe this approach is that it is values-led with a strong focus on issues of social concern. From this my interest in community media emerged, and led to me in 2008 to establishing DemonFM, De Montfort Students Union radio station, as a full-time, Ofcom licenced community radio station.
Community Media Ethos
Community media is best defined as a distinctive approach to media that seeks to put participatory principles into practice. Principles that support and promote inclusivity and diversity, and which focus on grass-roots and bottom-up media engagement within a media ecology that is defined by the interests and concerns of the people who are involved in the media practices themselves. Community media addresses issues of access to platforms, tools and methods of distribution, civic empowerment, self-representation and cultural democracy, while also embedding an ethos of accountability and mutuality between communities of interests and communities of practice.
Having established these practices in teaching radio production and media production practices, I was able to move this forward by developing social media and community media practice modules. In these modules I sought to advance the understanding and use of collaborative online tools as a way of fostering cooperative forms of media practice based around communities of interest and production. The focus was to encourage the use of media skills to promote decentred, non-hierarchical and dispersed work approaches. In practice this took the form of the use of wikis, blogs, forums, social media, vlogging, and so on. The guiding ethos of this approach was to look at how emergent and decentralised forms of media production practice, with producers working across multiple platforms, in dispersed geographic locations, and multiple time zones, could deliberate, set objectives and define workplans and goals, while working in virtual co-location settings, forming communities of interest, concern and identity in the process.
Decentralised and Collaborative Media
What links my work in these areas is my belief that media production does not have to be a centralised or corporate activity. Traditional forms of media practice are extensively defined and reinforced by regulatory and professionalised delineations and gatekeeping. This means that alternative forms of engagement and participation should be recognised as being driven by alternative values and mutual social concerns. These values draw on the meaningful and creative interventions of the people who take part in the media practices themselves. As a result, understanding the social motivations and drives that define these forms of action is therefore central to comprehending how engagement and participation are practiced, realised and understood.
First and foremost, these forms of media engagement and participation are social practices, indicating that we have to take a sociological viewpoint in order to understand them. In my doctoral research this led me to examine and assess symbolic interactionism as a pertinent form of enquiry that could be used to understand the circumstances of meaningful media practice. Symbolic interactionism, in my view, represents a rejection of an instrumentalist social and media research disposition that asserts that meaning is held in texts to be decoded. Instead, meaning in the symbolic interactionist tradition is created in the process of lived experience, and is defined as a set of social practices that are mutually exchanged and shared between participants in their lifeworlds.
The symbolic interactionist framework proposes that all mediated experience is symbolic, incorporating a wider set of communication and social process concerns, such as the mythical and ethical dimensions that are found in the tacit and at-hand experiences of agents who are seeking to define lines of meaningful social action. Lived mediated experience, therefore, cannot simply be explained by positivistic or instrumentalised methodologies of cause and effect or systems analysis. They need, instead, to be viewed as a varied set of participative and bottom-up experience that are expanded and played-out in the participative media economy. This applies equally to forms of legacy media as it does to new forms of digital and virtual media experiences.
In my doctoral thesis I drew on pragmatic insights offered by symbolic interactionism to assess and evaluate case studies based on mixed-mode ethnographic methodologies of community media practitioners active in Leicester. Adapting Herbert Blumer’s insight into the process of industrialisation I was able to apply a corresponding analysis to the process of participation in community media, to define a set of social processes that shape the media engagement and interaction practices and experiences of advocates, practitioners and producers who are active in promoting different forms of community media practice.
I have therefore sought to combine research, teaching, practice and advocacy in my ongoing work. I completed my PhD in 2018, using a symbolic interactionist and ethnographic framework to situate participants as a social process that demonstrates social change and creative engagement. Since 2014 I have been a council member of the Community Media Association. As a director of the CMA I have a wide range of duties, including supporting the CMA’s annual conference; developing policy to support the CMA’s advocacy work; disseminating content and best practice examples to members, partners and allies; developing the CMA forum to promote an inclusive approach to organisation development; delivering workshop and training sessions, such as the CMA Connect sessions on Citizen Journalism; attending partnership and policy advocacy meetings with DCMS, Ofcom and the BBC; speaking on public panels such as the Media Reform Festival; engaging with members through the CMA Newsletter; promoting community media with public policy networks and aligned funding organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Internews, Carniegie UK, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation; and establishing academic and policy engagement network with a network of CMA academic supporters and MeCCSA.
In 2018 I had the opportunity to take a career break, which I have used to reassess my academic work balance and to evaluate my priorities for research focussed outputs. My continuing academic practice includes:
- SoundArt Every Child Has a Voice (E-Chav) project evaluator – this project is introducing radio production techniques as a way of supporting the oracy curriculum in schools.
- Internews Transform-Transmit evaluator – this project is evaluating the sustainability of citizen journalism in UK community radio stations.
- External Examiner BA Digital Media, Canterbury Christchurch University.
- External Examiner – BA Radio, University of Bedfordshire.
- ECREA Radio Research Conference Paper – I will be presenting a paper on the ‘Archetypal Role of the DJ’ at the September 2019 conference.
- Digital Inclusion Policy Conference, University of Liverpool – I am presenting a paper on ‘belonging’ as a driver of digital engagement at the June 2019 symposium.
- Children’s Media Conference, University of Sheffield – I am co-presenting a paper on the E-Chav project at the June 2019 conference.
- Mapping Community Media AHRC grant proposal, University of Leicester – I am working with Professor Peter Lunt to develop Leadership Fellow bid to take forward my post-doctoral work.
- CMA and MeCCSA Local and Community Media Network support – I am supporting the development of academic research and support for the community media development agenda in the UK, with a potential report to DCMS Office for Civic Society.
This builds on my professional experience:
- Twenty years of experience pathfinding, leading and developing undergraduate programmes and modules.
- Focussing on emergent areas that challenge the received view of training and media literacies by exploring co-creation, co-development and co-evaluation modes of production and association.
- Programme development and leadership experience. I have extensive experience developing, planning and running programmes and validating new programmes.
- I have extensive experience of HE quality assurance standards and programme evaluation experience.
- My time as a chair of governors at a primary school was invaluable in developing my management skills outside of the HE fields.
- My time as the Station Director of DemonFM was invaluable in developing skills to lead a socially-focussed and volunteer-led organisation.
- My time with the Community Media Association has been invaluable in developing my skills to lead a national advocacy body that supports a progressive social agenda of media democracy.
- I continue to pursue my self-development through my active interest in blogging, photography, sound media and podcasting.
I wish to develop my interests by further investigating the role of dispersed and decentred media engagement processes through the use of applied technologies, such as blockchain and dispersed community governance systems. Community media is somewhat locked in a set of expectations and experiences of legacy forms of media, and so it would be challenging to look at how it might be possible to incorporate and build on emerging disruptive technology principles that seek to decentralise and de-hierarchise media production and engagement practices. This means testing online and digital trust models, finding ways to support social accountability through digital engagement, and mapping the way that forms of ‘belonging’ and ‘identification’ can be modelled in a way that supports social and community development policies and practices in meaningful and inclusive ways.
This means looking at how digital engagement practices might challenge exclusivity and marginalisation practices that are embedded in existing social models, by encouraging creative and imaginative practices that test new civic and economic models for digital engagement. In its most basic form, if these practices are not meaningful then they will not succeed in challenging the harmful and exploitative digital engagement practices that are the hallmark of the marketised-social media culture. To do this means developing an evidence-base that can be feed into public policy development processes, and hosting discussions and debates that test the methodologies that are used for evaluating these practices and policies.