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social reporting

With ever more sources of information swilling around – printed journals, e-bulletins, blogs – it’s all too easy to get swamped trying to keep abreast of what’s happening in your own field, let alone trying to bring in fresh thinking from other disciplines. But it’s critically important to try and look beyond our own bubble and learn from others.

Journalism – or perhaps the wider field of communications – is one discipline from which planning could learn a great deal. The growing phenomenon of social reporting is one particular angle that has grabbed my attention recently. Pioneer social reporter David Wilcox describes the role of the social reporter as being to ‘challenge dis-empowering cultures’ – a new way of deploying journalistic skills at collaborative workshops, allied with audio/video recording and blogging, to facilitate greater community involvement and empowerment.

David Wilcox is at the forefront of using social reporting to move towards more inclusive, empowered decision-making – and, fortunately for the rest of us, blogs prolifically on his experiences at socialreporter.com. Although his work is focussed on civic governance in its wider sense rather than just planning, he gives plenty of food for thought on how social reporting might make for more inclusive, and empowered, decision-making on land use and the built environment.

In this recent post – which is well worth reading in full as an introduction to social reporting – David alludes to the role of social reporters as more than mere facilitators. To quote:

Social reporting is an emerging role, a set of skills, and a philosophy around how to mix journalism, facilitation and social media to help people develop conversations and stories for collaboration.

While mainstream reporting is usually about capturing surprise, conflict, crisis, and entertainment, and in projecting or broadcasting stories to audiences, social reporters aim to work collaboratively with other people, producing words, pictures and movies together. They may challenge and even provoke, but social reporters are sensitive to the resources and parameters of the group, community or organisation they reporting for. They are insiders rather than outsiders.

Other posts give further useful insight into facilitating dialogue from a journalist’s perspective – I found this post, on capturing stuff, conversations and stories, particularly interesting.

How can social reporting help planning? I believe it has the potential to help transform community consultation into a vehicle which builds momentum for change – so community engagement extends to become a powerful tool for implementing change, much more than simply a means of finding out local people’s views. The result would be that future plans for communities, rather than being dismissed as top-down impositions, are instead driven forward by local communities – which, I believe, is exactly the philosophy behind the community engagement strand of the ongoing modernisation of Scottish planning as well as the work of forward-thinking organisations such as the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment.

That’s the theory, anyway. The next stage is to find an opportunity to put it into practice… and I’m working on that.


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