A passion for for photography and digital communication with a background at the BBC and ITV.
Currently director at the School Media Club making cinema films for schools and working for Oblong Leeds a community development organisation. Also a member of All Saints Church in Ilkley and involved with communications in the parish.
This blog features posts about photography including some of my photos, while the media posts will include thoughts about filmmaking and online media - particularly to do with PR activities.
School Media Club
Category Archives: Ideas
I’m sure that journaling our stories through images consistently and over the long term will lead to an invaluable resource. A catalogue of images that truly reflect our organisation’s values and activities can help celebrate achievements and protect our future.
I’ve been working with the Woodhouse Community Centre in Leeds and a number of local churches in Bradford to improve the presentation of their communities online.
The one big stumbling block, it seems to me, is the availability of decent images. Community organisations are about people, what they do and how they relate to each other. The use of images can show who you are and what you do much more powerfully than endless paragraphs of explanation.
Text heavy websites or magazines are simply not going to be engaging enough for the majority of people these days. Of course we do our best to find images we can use but they are often of poor quality and don’t represent the range of people and activities in our communities.
The safeguarding issues around children often mean that children are not represented on websites at all, or at least very little. The photos we use rarely represent smaller groups where the presence of a camera may be intrusive.
The absence of images can make us invisible – for example whenever my wife an I go on holiday you’d think she went on her own by the absence of photos of me! Our churches may seem to be populated by older people who stand in rows smiling and looking towards the camera but not actually doing anything.
If we are going to do this properly we’ll need three things in place.
- A policy for obtaining photos and using them online. This means understanding what we can and can’t show, how we obtain permission and what the copyright rules are, among other things.
- People who know what they are doing – i.e. photographers who understand the rules, the needs of the website and how to take a decent photo. Publishers who know the history of the photos and can make good decisions about how they are used.
- A place to store and catalogue the photos so they can be accessed by the people who need them.
Here I’m going to suggest that we use Flickr to store and catalogue images. It’s only a suggestion and I’m open to any other thoughts about how to manage an accessible library of images for use on the web and other publications.
Heres a video. To see it properly you may need to use the ‘full screen’ button bottom right of the player.
Here are a few thoughts on teamwork and a recommendation for Yammer, a desktop and mobile tool which addresses communications for dispersed teams. If your organisation is made up of remote groups which need to work more closely together, share ideas and resources then Yammer may be of interest.
I’m hopeless at working on my own. There’s a confession! If I try to work on my own I’m prone to distractions or tend to trust myself too much, so I need people to keep me focused and to give me a reality check every so often. I have a home office, and do in fact work on my own for much of the time and so I value the supportive friends whom I see, usually at the local Cafe Nero.
The teams I have worked with in the past have often been based in a single space – round a big table – where the banter is part of the business. If an idea pops up in conversation it can be quickly evaluated and moved
Increasingly organisations are requiring teams to connect with each other remotely. This is for a number of reasons – perhaps because its members are part time or because they also belong to other organisations. It can also be because team members are fast tracking and juggling with several projects or tasks at the same time and so don’t have time to meet.
There is a value in engaging with people embedded in different situations and yet part of a small dispersed team. Small teams can become blinkered by their own context and not see beyond their immediate environment, they can bed down into thick walled bunkers. So, having a close knit team made up of people with quite different outlooks can can have enormous value. Perhaps they can share insights from different parts of the country of the world
At Oblong in Leeds I work part time with a group of volunteers who come and go. The organisation is run through a series of collectives which come up with ideas and make decisions through their weekly meetings. Every six weeks there are assemblies of the whole organisation. The meetings and assemblies have been inconsistently attended, agendas poorly formed and the meetings devoted to catching up. The problem was communication. Getting people motivated and briefed before the meetings was the challenge.
The solution we have found is YAMMER. Yammer is a tool for connecting work groups around an organisation and enabling them to share conversation and resources freely wherever they are. Yammer works like a simple and well structured Facebook account where you can see to structure of your organisation & who belongs to which team. You can follow and connect with relevant people and choose appropriate levels of privacy. Yammer also gives you the opportunity to create networks outside your organisation.
The benefit to Oblong has been a vast improvement in the internal communications and briefing of the team members. We can clearly see where people belong in the organisation. When we meet there is an improved level of attendance and commitment and we can devote the time to decision making rather than catching up.
Anyway. Advert for Yammer over.
Lent is a great time for reflecting on how things are and where we would like them to be. My pondering today has been about the nature of commitment. I won’t lie, I’ve been inspired by at least one person who I feel lacks commitment (not you I hasten to add).
The kind of projects I get involved with require quite large amounts of commitment if they are to succeed. Usually the projects are either new ventures or are in some way disruptive to the normal pattern of things. Oblong in Leeds is a project which has involved the complete refurbishment of a community centre, and the staff there are impressively committed to making it work. At St Joseph’s Primary School in Keighley where we ran a school film project recently the teachers were impressively committed – yes it’s true.
It’s easy to show enthusiasm for a project and even put lot’s of energy into it, but commitment is more than that. Commitment is about taking a risk and going all the way. The commitment is usually shared with other people and so there is often a demand for compromise and trust. It’s really hard.
By definition commitment takes you to a point of no turning back – where there is no return path, all of nothing. What I see in so many areas of life is an absence of true commitment. Folk will work hard and be totally professional, but only to a point. Even in family relationships there is a growing tendency to believe that you can get out at the first sign of trouble, there’s an escape route.
So why am I reflecting on this now? I suppose it’s because I have been examining my own commitment to the things I believe in and the people I relate to. My track record is chequered. More and more I feel as though I don’t want to be bothered unless I can be really committed. Why be half involved with something? There are people in my life who deserve my wholehearted commitment, without question. Maybe there are people who don’t!
Lack of commitment shows itself in an unwillingness to change, and as we all know change is necessary for the survival of all of us. People without commitment often appear dull or lacking in energy. To stand still is to wither away and risk is an inevitable part of being alive. And where people are concerned that change might also involve forgiveness.
So my promise to myself through lent is to give up the things that don’t mean much and to be more committed to the things that do. To be unafraid of taking risks or embracing change, and to be forgiving.
I’m not saying I’ll succeed but I’ll try.
I've been reflecting on this year's Creative Partnerships projects in local primary schools. There has been a real mixed bag – some brilliant and others less so.
The work has involved making video usually alongside a drama practitioner. The projects are set up by the school to a very specific brief. The brief will usually say that the school wants to focus on speaking and listening, confidence building and so on.
Here are some bullet points from my reflections:
- The best managed projects are not always the most valuable.
- Most learning comes through a constructive response to failure.
- An open brief is much better than a prescriptive one.
- Not enough effort goes into designing and initiating projects.
- The ideas are rarely big enough.
- Ambitious and risky projects are usually more rewarding.
- The active visible support of the head teacher is vital.
- The most interesting work is done while the creative practitioner is not present.
- Teachers can be fully supportive or not supportive at all – the worst is when they are reluctantly supportive.
- Allocation of roles and in particular the role of a project co-ordinator is vital.
- Build in time for conversation and reflection.
- Capturing evidence of success immediately is invaluable.
- Trust the children.
The most successful and sustainable project I've worked on is in a school which has been somewhat ambivalent towards new multimedia technology. A media team made up of 6 children has championed the use of video and in particular green screen with great success. The children are now teaching the teachers and hopefully contributing to a change of culture.
The next step is to look at the leadership of creative projects – in particular raising the ambitions and quality of the initial ideas. Perhaps creating a model for project design and initiation - but then the practitioner backing off and handing ownership to class teachers or the children themselves.
I'm going to an ICT conference in Manchester on Friday. Apparently ICT stands for Intermittent Cervical Traction (I looked it up); You can understand why I'm apprehensive.
Actually, I have a lot of reasons to be apprehensive. For a start there will be a lot of teachers there and secondly it's all about technology (not traction). So why am I apprehensive about technology?
I'm very interested in technology and what it can do but I feel uncomfortable when it becomes the topic of conversation. It's like someone talking about cars when what they really want is the freedom of travel. A car will take you along pre-determined roads and you can only stop where there is a parking place. I prefer to hitch a lift on whatever mode of transport happens to be pointing the right way and get off wherever.
It's for this reason that my current project is to set up creative communication teams in schools; I did start by calling them media teams but the term media carries far too much baggage.
The teams consist of six children who each have distinctive talents and interests. I've tried to design the teams so that they are independent of specific tools or platforms, so for example we don't talk about writers, web designers or video editors, we say that these are people who like to generate and sequence ideas, or like working with tools to build things. The outputs can be a web page, magazine or an installation or anything else you can imagine.
The creative challenges set for the team are never to make a podcast, produce a documentary or film an animation – that would be like giving them a road map and a car and telling them where they need to get off. Instead they have to meet a brief which is to investigate specific aspects of a specific subject and report their finding to a specific audience. The solution is open to creative thinking.
In reality, the children may well create rich multimedia web pages using exciting digital tools, but the point is that the tools are not the starting point.
It seems to me that we spend a lot of time getting up to speed on technologies which are here today, gone tomorrow but less time considering the missions and purposes behind their use. The skills involved in effective teamwork, directing and organising, generating ideas, questioning, story telling are higher level media, and the skills required are timeless and transferable.
And so I would like to focus on those fundamental human technologies. As for the lower level tools I'm inclined to include those under the heading of independent problem solving challenges – i.e. work out for yourself which is the best tool for the job and fathom it.
Let's meet up if you're in Manchester on Friday
I've been reviewing some of the projects I have been involved with recently and thinking about how they could have been improved.
The conclusion I have come to is that most creative projects are to some degree chaotic and uncertain; You can't always predict how they are going to run. You have to be flexible and responsive to new ideas and directions as they come up.
That said, there is possibly value in at least attempting to structure the management of creative projects around tried and tested ideas. A creative project, like any other, has process steps and milestones. One reason why creative projects often fail is because not enough time is spent understanding the purpose of the project and refining the ideas around that purpose. Sadly is is all to easy to forge ahead with half baked ideas with no idea of why we're doing it!
Step 1: The brief
Be sure about the purpose of the project and why it has come about. You might call this the creative challenge.
Get down on paper a description of what you hope to achieve, who it is for and why it is important. For example – Encourage year four children to take pride in their town by revealing its glorious history. We're doing this because ……
Set out what you want to achieve, how you are going to approach it, who it is for and why it is important.
Step 2: Ideas
Once we have a brief we can set about coming up with ideas (in the above case for revealing the town's glorious history). Not enough time is ever spent coming up with ideas or evaluating them. I would say that this is one of the biggest reason for the failure of creative projects. The temptation is to settle on the first and most obvious idea you come up with. Often the crazy ideas are sidelined at the outset, and yet these are often the most interesting.
Make plenty time for coming up with as many ideas as possible, even the crazy ones, and evaluate them according to the brief.
There are many techniques for coming up with ideas – here are some. Thinking Hats for evaluating ideas, Mind Mapping with which I'm sure you are familiar, and a favorite of mine, The Creative Whack Pack
Step 3: Planning
Do you decide on the team and resources before you have an idea or after? I would say that it's sometimes better to come up with the idea first with a small core team and then pitch for people and resources once you have the idea. That way you'll get what you need rather than having to put up with what you have got.
Careful planning of the resources and the timetable, setting of realistic deadlines and getting agreements.
Step 4: Action
Well planned activity with a great idea behind it should be exciting. Any problems will be quickly resolved because of a solid commitment to the purpose of the project.
Step 5: Celebration
The positive outcome should be shared and celebrated beyond the immediate team. The more external praise and feedback the better. A public film screening, a party for those who contributed, a commemorative web page. The legacy of successful projects should be preserved so that the benefits can be made available to the greatest number of people for the longest amount of time.
Step 6: Review
A constructive examination of the project should always be part of its legacy. Did it meet the brief? What were the points of learning and so on.
This may all seem obvious – in which case I apologies – but I need to remind myself just how important these project steps really are and that to skimp on any of them will weaken the outcome.
Iconic filmmaking tools – meaningful objects – become the badges of the children's responsibility, and seeing them all together they actually look like a professional film crew. I think this is an important visual way of giving them a sense of their individual responsibility and belonging to the team.
I have been struck by how important is to have the cool looking pieces of kit in the schools I have been working with. Of course if you take a camera or a clapper board into a school the children are going to swarm around them and want to play. But there's much more to these pieces of equipment.
We have been taking small groups of children and training them to be a film crew. The specialisms break down something like – camera, sound, director, assistant, performer. One of the things we have to do is to determine which children are best suited to which task. At first they really don't know, but usually want to have a go with the camera.
After working together on a few small projects preferences begin to emerge. This is usually through a process of observing and encouraging.
An interesting strategy (once they've had a bit of experience) is not to allocate the roles myself but to let the children themselves decide. I tell them that I will not be making the decision, but they must decide among themselves who will be director, camera operator and so on. I give them 10 minutes on their own to negotiate. Once they have decided there may be one individual who has been sidelined; to the one who is sidelined I give the desirable task of being production stills photographer.
Once the team is assembled they take ownership of their specialist equipment – camera, fluffy microphone, clapperboard, tripod, clipboard etc.
I was very proud when a child who lacked confidence identified that using the clapper board was something he could do very well and announced this to the whole class.
Story telling is such an important aspect of our lives and learning, and is certainly at the heart of good film making. The process of constructing a story – deciding on what are the key moments, understanding the characters and context - is an invaluable skill.
Photographs can help act as 'key frames' in our own stories. Maybe a photograph doesn't tell the whole story but it can jog the memory. You fill in the gaps – "in-betweening" as animators might say.
Supposing you were to describe your own story with the help of the photos you happen to have at home? You might spread the photos out on the table, select the ones that best capture the special times and then fill in the gaps using your own recollections.
This is the old fashioned experience of the photo album with its page by page narrative which forces us to record and recall our lives in a linear fashion – ideally suited to story telling. Perhaps the way we share and view electronic photographs now is in danger of losing order of time – or perhaps not!
Blogs and photo websites like Flickr stack up your memories in order of time so we can look back in chronological order. But more than that, we can examine the places and characters of our story through gps tagging and face recognition.
The talking photo album idea
A school I was working with had the idea that we could record interviews about the history of the school. These audio clips could then be attached to old photographs in an album.
The process of constructing the album involved carefully deciding on the order of the events and finding key images.
Once the images has been found and put in order in the album, an interviewee would be found to tell the story (or part of a story) using the photographs as a prompt. The story would be recorded in sound only as the interviewee turned the pages of the album.
The audio is edited into chunks to be attached to each of the photographs in the album. Each chunk of the story is saved as a sequentially numbered MP3 file
The school purchased a special "talking photo album" from talkingproducts.co.uk. These albums have about twenty pages designed for 7×5 photos. They also include a slot for a flash drive for the recordings. As you turn the pages you can look at the photo and press a button for each bit of the story.
I like the combination of the physical album and the recorded story. The process of constructing the album really makes you think about the structure of the events and how they are represented in pictures. And more than that, it helps you to understand the relationship between the image and the spoken word in the telling of the story. For the listener browsing the album it can be an intensely personal one-to-one experience.
As an exercise in multimedia story telling I can recommend this as an engaging project which is simpler that making a film but can be just as powerful.
At one of the schools I've been working with, we had a team debate about project ideas but it was chaotic. Everyone spoke at once, there was no chair-person and no idea about what we hoped to get out of the meeting So, we came up with the idea of making the debate itself the focus for a film project.
To begin, we spent some time discussing debating styles and approaches – the role and skills of the chair-person, using your voice clearly, listening and picking up on points, including a wide range of contributions, sticking to the agenda and so on.
Next after a bit of rehearsal we filmed a wide master shot of the whole debate. During the debate we took notes of who spoke, what they spoke about, observations of performance, anything that could be improved.
We looked back at the video and and had a conversation about how it went and anything that could be improved.
A re-run of sections of the debate to improve the behaviour. The camera position was changed to focus on an individual's contribution to the debate. This was scary for the individual but gave a real chance to iron out any performance or communication issues. We did this re-framing about four or five times.
The debate was edited together using the improved sections to look like a really slick and well chaired debate. Someone said it looked like a scene from "young apprentice" – hope that was a complement!
This was a very exciting and memorable process which gave the children a lot of new skills and confidence. They looked terrific on camera and everyone was very proud of how professionally they performed. Of course it was an edited sequence, but it demonstrated what was possible to achieve.
This is a great way to use video in school because it provides a little bit of fear, excitement and theatre into the learning. With instant playback you can address issues simply by showing them the video – often the facilitator need not say anything; show rather than tell. It's also a resource to show other children with some ready made role models.