Learning by doing


Continual learning by doing – in particular from lots of little mistakes, errors and oversights that I’d normally beat myself up over (metaphorically, not literally)

I’m in the process of adding content to the Be The Change – Cambridge website – which  Ceri Jones designed for our joint long term project.  In fact, we’ve added ***loads*** since many of you last saw it. It’s evolved from all things Puffles towards this big event of ours on 13 September 2014. (If you want tickets and are reading this after 04 August 2014, click here). On updating content, I had to remind myself that there was little different between adding content on here and adding content on that website – both use WordPress. The challenge I’m having is filling in some basic gaps. My learning in this field (making websites) hasn’t been in sync with my preferred style of learning – in a group with a logical progression.

What’s been the most interesting bit for me is doing things using technology that when I first started in the civil service were technological niceties rather than essential parts of a planning process. How many of you now take Skype calls and/or conference calling for granted? I remember the days when senior managers were intimidated by the technology or frustrated by intermittent connections that it never reached the full potential with them. This in part is where Cllr Dave Briggs’ post on digital transformation becomes important. How can people like me make all things digital ‘easy, relevant and accessible in a manner that helps people overcome their fears’? I have fears about it too.

Not conforming – and being seen as a little different in the process


The above-song by Australian musician Bity Booker who was at Hot Numbers Coffee off Mill Road covers Malvina Reynolds lampooning post-war conformity in the US. The thing I’ve been trying to break out from – with some success in 2014, is conforming. Once the institutional reins are no longer there, you have greater freedom to try out new things. The Be the change – Cambridge project is one such thing. At the same time, I’m meeting a number of people separately who are also experimenting with or pioneering digital in their fields in a manner that is bringing about greater learning and culture change.

In my case, going out and doing the filming has been the hardest initial barrier to overcome. The next one is moving from beyond some of the basic standard tools to the more advanced ones that I have access to but have not really made work to their full potential. One thing I’m also mindful of is consent – in this case public consent with filming. It was something I mentioned in a previous blogpost and the more I ponder over it, the more systematic I need to be with it. i.e. Having printed consent forms to hand and business cards stating specific links to where I’m uploading footage to and for what purposes. The question community reporters and citizen journalists have to repeatedly ask themselves is ‘How can I make it easier for the public to understand what I am doing in order to give informed consent?’

Learn a little but often

That’s the journey. I tried the one-day immersion with digital video and it didn’t work for me. If anything, it was the lack of a follow-up with the group and the tasks. For me, one-day courses/workshops work when you’ve learnt the basics and reached a barrier that is insurmountable without expert focused help. There are still gaps I need to fill with the ‘little and often’ process, but I feel I’m getting towards the stage where I can ask informed questions about the content I’m publishing.


Taking the above video, which is of 16-year-old Malka Kovalenko who played support to Bity Booker that evening (in the first video embedded in this post), I positioned the camera on the other side of the room deliberately. Natural light from behind was the reason. It killed the video footage of a band I’d filmed in the room previously. That said, the light quality (despite Simon Fraser’s best efforts mid-film (he’s the proprietor of Hot Numbers Cafe)) isn’t great. In this case, I sought & received consent from Simon, Malka and Bity to film that evening. One of the things I might look at should I get improved kit is how to plug that into any sound systems that venues have. In Malka’s case her performances were rudely overshadowed by people talking loudly.

A curious mind with some end goals in sight

Another digital video clip I took recently was this one from Cambridge City Council’s East Area Committee.


From a Cambridge Cycling Campaign perspective, it’s fairly straight forward – that’s who the speaker (Martin) is addressing the committee on behalf of. From the campaign’s perspective, it’s great to have this on film. It’s much easier to hold councillors to account on specific commitments. From my perspective, I filmed and published this to show others how straight forward this sort of filming is. When it came to my questions, I mentioned to people in the room (and also at a workshop that same week) in a Shape Your Place website context that many of us have the equipment to film council meetings & upload footage.

At the same time, I’m also putting myself in a ‘work in progress’ context. Managing my own expectations are just as important as managing other people’s. This is where feedback loops are ever so important. Carrying multiple camera batteries or a mains plug along with a couple of larger memory cards are today’s learning points. At the same time, I’ve got a choice to make on balancing mobility with quality of footage I want to take. The greater the latter, the more kit you have to acquire and carry with you. What I like about what I currently do is that I’m using a device that many others have, along with cheap accessories. I don’t want to get to the stage where I’m permanently carrying a tripod and lots of kit.






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