Leicester Stories Community Media Engagement Model

Decentered Media Vlog 025
Decentered Media Vlog 025

In this vlog I wanted to unpack some of the terms and issues that will be associated with the Leicester Stories project. I think ait is important to understand the processes that support community media as a social gain focussed community development practice. I wanted to discuss how these factors come together in a dynamic process that is centred on people representing themselves in a positive and accountable way using media that they have to hand and can directly access themselves. I start off by defining the engagement models, then I ask the associated themes and terms are, before putting this in the context of the communication for development approach and the need to support social action communications.

Engagement Model

Community radio is a tested way to build community trust, identity and companionship. It provides an ideal medium to engage with the easily ignored people, the so-called hard to reach groups, such as households whose first language is not English, who may have low functional literacy skills, who might historically distrust central and local government, or who are not able to afford digital resources. Leicester is a highly diverse community with substantial levels of poverty and detachment from typical civil society process. The city represents a particularly challenging public engagement environment, which has been demonstrated with through the Covid-19 pandemic as Leicester is now the public authority area that has been in lockdown longer than anywhere else in Europe.

Leicester Stories aims to advance and innovate in the use of community media as public engagement resource, and will be partnering with, amongst others, Kohinoor FM who serve the Sikh community, Radio Seerah who serve the Muslim community, and Leicester Community Radio who serve both the African-Caribbean Community and the white working-class communities on the outskirts of the Greater Leicester Area. The principles guiding the model of engagement come from UNESCO’s Communication for Development (C4D) framework, which is practiced in many developing communities internationally, and supports the framework of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (Jenatsch & Bauer, 2016; McCall, 2009; UNICEF, 2019).

Leicester Stories Engagement Model
Leicester Stories Engagement Model

Leicester Stories will therefore engage with audiences in culturally appropriate ways to raise awareness of the census, highlighting the need for ‘voices to be heard’ to inform economic and social policy. Leicester Stories will seek to tell and share positive experiences of completing the census, such as examples of community action and engagement that have achieved positive recognition and social change. This approach will not only encourage participation in the census, but will also paves the way for continuing community engagement based on community media models in the city, something that is vitally needed to tackle deep structural problems of inequality and a lack of civic engagement.

Leicester Stories will prioritise aural, spoken and sound-based content, that can be creatively adapted to suit the cultural needs of different language and cultural communities. While the project is centred on Leicester, the open-learning approach being applied, with a live journal, blogging and social media examples, means the innovation and impact can be shared more widely. In particular, the Leicester Stories resources and insights will be shared through networks of civic society and mutual aid to inform similar initiatives elsewhere.

Engagement Themes and Terms

Translating Terms: when two unassociated parties resolve to work together, the initial challenge is for them to learn from one another, to seek to understand what their principal concerns are, and learn how to translate these terms of operation into a language that is mutually comprehended. It is anticipated that there will be a high level of interaction in this project that will make it possible to overcome many of the initial challenges encountered when bringing together academic researchers with community media practitioners.

Patchwork Disorganisation: the challenge of achieving effective understanding is made more difficult, however, because community media groups and activists tend to operate within a distributed patchwork of organisations and mutual support networks. These groups don’t often correspond with strategic or systematic development expectations. Community media must be understood, therefore, as a diverse movement of activists, rather than a defined public communications sector or industrial sector of the economy. 

Establishing Relationships: it is expected that support for effective collaboration will take priority at the outset of this project, because it has been demonstrated elsewhere that the quality of the interpersonal and social connections between those involved is essential. These relationships must be managed diplomatically and sensitively, taking into account the social needs and cultural expectations of the different individuals and groups, who sometimes operated in very different environments, and with very different motivations.

Mutual Engagement Interests: it is expected that the desire to achieve common goals must be fostered through the establishment of mutual and supportive relationships, which is the antithesis of a behaviourist approach. This mutual engagement can be established by identifying the lines of commonality that are shared between the community media practitioners and the communities they are interacting with. This is principally about telling stories of positive and constructive social change.

Established Communication Models: to be successful a community development approach of this kind may require some visible pushback against traditional models and practices of mass media communication. It is expected that participants who are working flexibly and collaboratively, may seek empowerment as individuals with life affirming stories to tell, and that they want to share with their communities of place, identity or interest.

Collaborative Purposes: this project is predicated with a shift away from a transactional model of communication functions. The participants are expected to find common cause in a developmental attitude of learning, discovery and deliberation. The affectiveness of the participants experience in this process therefore becomes a principal guide for its success, and a principal mechanism for engaging with other people in the process.

Programming Styles and Standards: rather than imposing a pre-determined model of programming, it is expected that the content will be allowed to find its own form, based on the interests and concerns of the participants and the people that they wish to engage. Jettisoning expectations of professionalised media production will demonstrate how socially affirming and personally empowering these stories can be.

Mutual Intersubjectivity: the benefit of the collaborative programme making approach is that it enhances the opportunity for the mutual exchange of ideas and experiences. This approach takes media engagement out of the routines of impartial exchange, as found in the news cycle. This project will demonstrate that it is possible to open a safe space for those who are easily ignored by mainstream media, which can ensure that those who are included can have their voices heard.

Community Development Practices: community media is better understood if it is aligned with organisations and policy models that recognise the value of community development practice. This practice seeks to build on the assets found in each community, which responds to the priorities that members of each community wish to address. This usually encompass a sense of belonging, a sense of empowerment, and a need for relevance through deliberative and shared exchange of concerns.

Social Capital: community media can build capacity by offering support for different forms of social and symbolic capital, such as bridging capital and bonding capital. One supports extra-community understanding, while the other fosters intra-community understanding. Social capital is easily expressed through the stories and testimony of the people who are engaged in the project, as part of their lived experience, which can then be integrated back into the public engagement process.

Decolonisation Through Collaborative Practice: there is growing concern among academics of the need to use research practice to decolonise our social institutions. Internationally, community media has been at the forefront of decolonisation practice for many years. In the UK, however, there is a lack of institutional status associated with community media and this purpose. The sustained relationships demonstrated here are a chance to foster and model new progressive channels of communication that can address these important social justice aims. 

Equality and Civic Deliberation: the linking of research impact evaluation and community media will be best understood, overall, if it is conceived from principles of inclusion and civic deliberation, rather than organisational or governmental outcome frameworks. The sense of empowerment, care and joy that is exhibited in the testimony and stories that will be shared, will illustrate the values of this project. This testimony is precious and must be tended cautiously, so as not to stifle the unpredictable and unexpected gains that might emerge from the creative nurturing process which underpins this project.

Communications for Development

Communication for Development (C4D) is a core change strategy employed by international NGOs, such as UNESCO and UNICEF, which contributes to the implementation of the wider set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By identifying and addressing a developmental approach to communication, C4D seeks to facilitate change by focusing on established social norms, behaviours and practices, and identifies how change is brought about from the ground-up. C4D strengthens developmental programming as an evidence-based and participatory process that facilitates the engagement of families and communities in the public decision-making process. C4D aims to achieve positive social, and behaviour change in both development and humanitarian contexts through a mix of available communication platforms and tools (Jenatsch & Bauer, 2016; McCall, 2009; UNICEF, 2019).

Communication for development (C4D) can be thought of as a tool for social and political transformation. C4D promotes participation and social change using the methods and techniques of interpersonal communication, community media and networked social and information technologies. C4D is not an add-on, but rather a cross-cutting activity in project development, aimed at strengthening dialogue between beneficiaries, partners and authorities, so that communities have a stronger sense of social capital and local ownership of programmes that generate a sustainable impact.

Social Action Communications

Social action communication is the practice of creating, producing and sharing media that is designed to support and promote positive and inclusive forms of social change. This can take many forms and be shared and distributed across multiple platforms. Based on a social value or SROI model, social action communication is a purposeful use of media that informs, educates and encourages people to respond to calls-to-action. The aim is to enhance or engage a respondent, and to involve them in a debate, discussion or public change focussed campaign. Messages in the social action model are created on behalf of an organisation or group, rather than for individuals. These groups are defined by a constitution or terms of reference and operate openly with the public. This is not a manipulative model of public relations, with shadow messaging, proxy communications or paid influence. Social action communications are a form of direct and transparent engagement with the public through and with media.

Social action communication is in part defined by dialogue-based Object Attitude theory of engagement (Bohm, 1996),[1] which recognises that people are drawn to activities and behaviours based on differences in their cognition and comprehension attitudes, which signify differences in their social orientation and symbolic recognition and identification practices. This includes additional dimensionality of needs, which themselves are shaped by differences in their cognitive and psychological orientation. This approach recognises that in attempting to appeal to one limited set of criteria or symbolic dimension of people’s motivational capacity, a communications process will result in failure.

Social change stories are best understood in the context of long-standing storytelling modes, such as myth, fairy-tale, legend and sagas, which are dependent on archetypal structures and patterns that recur in many forms of storytelling.  Examining how social change is enabled by stories is essential if we are to enable respondents and collaborators to deeply identify with them. An understanding of how social stories work will enable advocates of change to facilitate discussion and consideration of the forms of change that need to be more deeply explored in host communities. By using archetypal motifs and figures in our storytelling, we can communicate with people at a deeper level, thus developing an alternative approach to the transactional, strategic and instrumental forms of communication theory that dominate mass media models of marketing and public communications.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_attitude_theory

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