Category Archives: Community Relations/Outreach

How to change minds

I’m a part of the March for Science Facebook group, for people that were in the Marches for Science all across the USA on April 2017 or that supported such. A lot of the talk on the group has been about science education and public relations. There are individuals and communities all over the USA – and the world – fighting against science-based decision making in public policies and science education in schools, and many on the group feel this is because of poor wording and poor outreach by scientists and those that support science regarding public relations. In my ongoing quest to be a better communicator, I’ve watched these discussions closely.

Recently, someone posted the following regarding how we communicate about science. I think it’s a great testimony regarding what works, and what doesn’t, regarding swaying public opinion, changing people’s minds and fighting misinformation. I’m sharing it here, with her permission, but without her name to protect her identity:

I’m not a scientist. I’m not afraid of science but I also don’t have a strong grasp of most science related jargon. I joined this group along with a few other science groups/pages as I heard more and more of anti-science rhetoric from our govt. Allthough I don’t understand a lot of scientific things that doesn’t mean I don’t realize the importance of science for our society and for our future.

I have learned SO MUCH from reading posts and comments. The reason I have learned so much? The reason I am no longer “afraid” of GMO’s? The reason I have changed my mind on other popular misconceptions? Because my fear was never the science. My fear was that I didn’t know what information to trust. Money talks. It’s hard to figure out who is paying. Do I trust a science study that was paid for by a big corporation? Do I trust a study that’s published but not peer reviewed? WHO do you trust?

The common thread I’ve found as I read posts and comments in order to learn more is how stupid I am. How dumb was I to not trust GMO’s. People’s comments were blatantly MEAN. And sure, I was completely uneducated about GMO’s. I read the wrong information. I trusted the wrong sources. But again, without hours of research to find out funding sources, etc HOW do I know what to trust?

This question was amazing. I always want to learn more. I want to understand about so many things – to give my kids the best future possible. The best food to eat. The best meds for my asthmatic child. The best environment for them to grow up in, etc. But here’s the thing. If I wasn’t determined to do the best for my kids . . . by the 100th ridiculing comment on a post I found interesting I would have stopped following and learning. Heck by the 20th I would have written off these sciences pages.

Even in this thread there are those using terms like “stupid,” “brainwashing,” etc. Very derogatory terms and grouping all people who don’t have a knack for science into one realm. I have a great head for business, finances and can analyze the heck out of any non-technical literature. I don’t make fun or ridicule those people who don’t have have that ability. It accomplishes nothing.

So thank you to those of you who answered this post thoughtfully. I’m certain there are many of you who diligently try over and over again to get your point across. Don’t give up. Changing peoples’ minds is never easy but in this case it’s worth the fight.

—end quoted text—

Also see:

schedule social media posts? use with caution

I’ve been using social media before it was called social media: I was a heavy user of USENET newsgroups back in the 1990s, and moderated the soc.org.nonprofit group for a few years. USENET was all about interaction with others and networking – but in text-based formats. As a result of that experience, I learned early so, so much about using the Internet both for promotions and for engagement: it gave me terrific grounding for using modern social media tools (and least I think so). As a one-person shop with no permanent agency affiliation, no best selling book and no big media splash, I’ve done pretty well at attracting followers on both Twitter and Facebook.

I use tools like Hootsuite to pre-program tweets to Twitter and status updates to Facebook and GooglePlus, but I don’t overly-rely on those tools: I still take at least a couple of hours every week to scroll through those I follow on Twitter and to read updates, to retweet things, to reply to posts, etc. I also pick one of my Twitter lists every week to read through and do the same. I wish it was as easy to do that on Facebook, but that’s another blog…

That said, I do use Hootsuite to pre-program tweets and Facebook page posts. I do this days, weeks, even months in advance. And I’ve been doing something in the last several weeks that seems to attract a lot more likes, followers and interactions for me: choosing my own social media theme for a day, and programming posts, especially tweets, once an hour around that theme, for 4-5 hours on that one day.

Creating tweets and other social media messages around a theme for the day doesn’t require me to create new information: I choose themes based on pages on my web site and posts on my blog that I would love for people to visit or revisit. Some days, I tweet about the same web page or blog post four times, but always with different keywords and a different description.

Some of the day-long themes I’ve tweeted around:

  • ethics in international volunteering
  • how to get a job in or experience for a job in humanitarian aid and development
  • controversies regarding not paying interns
  • using Twitter
  • ethics in communications
  • safety in volunteer programs
  • resources regarding volunteer firefighters
  • virtual volunteering
  • competing online with breaking news
  • welcoming volunteers (and how you might be making them unwelcome)
  • digital/IT-related volunteering
  • conflict, free speech, reconciliation
  • social cohesion, building understanding

Your nonprofit, non-governmental organization, school, government agency or other mission-based initiative can do the same: look through your web pages that are focused on educating people about your cause or mission or reaching clients and potential clients in particular. Do you see themes emerging? What about UN international days that relate to the mission of your initiative – could you build a day-of-social-media-messaging around that theme?

On a related note, if you have an event, or an approaching program deadline, or some other time-sensitive information or announcement, don’t rely on just one tweet or one Facebook post to get the word out. You need to come up with reasons to post multiple times on Twitter, even in just one day, about a key event: each post could feature a different photo, a different keyword, and slightly different wording.

Oh, but doesn’t that mean followers keep reading the same message over and over? No. That’s because most people aren’t sitting and looking at one Facebook page or one Twitter feed all day long. I’m very lucky if one of my followers just happens to be looking at Twitter when I post – it’s very likely most WON’T be. For my followers to see a message, they either have to be staring at the screen the moment I post, to go specifically to my Facebook page or Twitter feed to read only my social media posts, to see the message when it’s reposted by someone else, or when it uses a keyword tag that they follow.

The only way scheduling messages for later posting to social media works, however, is if it’s coupled with live, in-the-moment interactions on social media: liking other people and agency’s content, responding to that content, asking questions regarding other people’s posts, etc. If I don’t show interest in the social media posts of others, why should they show interests in mind?

And whatever you do, do NOT use Twitter only as a gateway for your Facebook posts. No one is going to click on that truncated message on Twitter to read the rest of it on Facebook. It shows a profound laziness on your part.

The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science

Looks like an interesting read for those in the nonprofit sector and other mission-based organizations, and a great resource of quotes for various program and funding proposals – maybe even interviews with the press to explain why a nonprofit is doing whatever it is it is doing.

At $150, I’ll have to beg my way into an academic library in order to read it…

The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science

Edited by Emma M. Seppälä, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Stephanie L. Brown, Monica C. Worline, C. Daryl Cameron, and James R. Doty

How do we define compassion? Is it an emotional state, a motivation, a dispositional trait, or a cultivated attitude? How does it compare to altruism and empathy? Chapters in this Handbook present critical scientific evidence about compassion in numerous conceptions… and contribute importantly to understanding how we respond to others who are suffering… it explores the motivators of compassion, the effect on physiology, the co-occurrence of wellbeing, and compassion training interventions. Sectioned by thematic approaches, it pulls together basic and clinical research ranging across neurobiological, developmental, evolutionary, social, clinical, and applied areas in psychology such as business and education. In this sense, it comprises one of the first multidisciplinary and systematic approaches to examining compassion from multiple perspectives and frames of reference.

Here’s the table of contents:

Preface
James R. Doty

Part One: Introduction
Chapter 1: The Landscape of Compassion: Definitions and Scientific Approaches
Jennifer L. Goetz and Emiliana Simon-Thomas

Chapter 2: Compassion in Context: Tracing the Buddhist Roots of Secular, Compassion-Based Contemplative Programs
Brooke D. Lavelle

Chapter 3: The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis: What and So What?
C. Daniel Batson

Chapter 4: Is Global Compassion Achievable?
Paul Ekman and Eve Ekman

Part Two: Developmental Approaches

Chapter 5: Compassion in Children
Tracy L. Spinrad and Nancy Eisenberg

Chapter 6: Parental Brain: The Crucible of Compassion
James E. Swain and S. Shaun Ho

Chapter 7: Adult Attachment and Compassion: Normative and Individual Difference Components
Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver

Chapter 8: Compassion-Focused Parenting
James N. Kirby

Part Three: Psychophysiological and Biological Approaches

Chapter 9: The Compassionate Brain
Olga M. Klimecki and Tania Singer

Chapter 10: Two Factors that Fuel Compassion: The Oxytocin System and the Social Experience of Moral Elevation
Sarina Rodrigues Saturn
Chapter 11: The Impact of Compassion Meditation Training on the Brain and Prosocial Behavior
Helen Y. Weng, Brianna Schuyler, and Richard J. Davidson

Chapter 12: Cultural neuroscience of compassion and empathy
Joan Y. Chiao

Chapter 13: Compassionate Neurobiology and Health
Stephanie L. Brown and R. Michael Brown

Chapter 14: The Roots of Compassion: An Evolutionary and Neurobiological Perspective
C. Sue Carter, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, and Eric C. Porges

Chapter 15: Vagal pathways: Portals to Compassion
Stephen W. Porges
Part Four: Compassion Interventions

Chapter 16: Empathy Building Interventions: A Review of Existing Work and Suggestions for Future Directions
Erika Weisz and Jamil Zaki

Chapter 17: Studies of Training Compassion: What Have We Learned, What Remains Unknown?
Alea C. Skwara, Brandon G. King, and Clifford D. Saron

Chapter 18: The Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) Program
Philippe R. Goldin and Hooria Jazaieri

Chapter 19: From Specific to General: The Biological Effects of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training
Jennifer Mascaro, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, and Charles L. Raison
Part Five: Social Psychological and Sociological Approaches

Chapter 20: Compassion Collapse: Why We Are Numb to Numbers
C. Daryl Cameron

Chapter 21: The Cultural Shaping of Compassion
Birgit Koopman-Holm and Jeanne L. Tsai

Chapter 22: Enhancing compassion: Social psychological perspectives
Paul Condon and David DeSteno

Chapter 23: Empathy, compassion, and social relationships
Mark H. Davis

Chapter 24: The Class-Compassion Gap: How Socioeconomic Factors Influence Compassion
Paul K. Piff and Jake P. Moskowitz

Chapter 25: Changes Over Time in Compassion-Related Variables in the United States
Sasha Zarins and Sara Konrath

Chapter 26: To Help or Not to Help: Goal Commitment and the Goodness of Compassion
Michael J. Poulin

Part Six: Clinical Approaches

Chapter 27: Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-being
Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer

Chapter 28: Compassion Fatigue Resilience
Charles R. Figley and Kathleen Regan Figley

Chapter 29: Compassion Fears, Blocks and Resistances: An Evolutionary Investigation
Paul Gilbert and Jennifer Mascaro

Part Seven: Applied Compassion

Chapter 30: Organizational Compassion: Manifestations Through Organizations
Kim Cameron

Chapter 31: How Leaders Shape Compassion Processes in Organizations
Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton

Chapter 32: Compassion in Healthcare
Sue Shea and Christos Lionis

Chapter 33: A Call for Compassion and Care in Education: Toward a More Comprehensive ProSocial Framework for the Field
Brooke D. Lavelle, Lisa Flook, and Dara G. Ghahremani

Chapter 34: Heroism: Social Transformation Through Compassion in Action
Philip G. Zimbardo, Emma Seppälä, and Zeno Franco

Chapter 35: Social Dominance and Leadership: The mediational effect of Compassion
Daniel Martin and Yotam Heineberg

Essential digital networking skills of the modern nonprofit worker

angryjayneNo matter your role at a nonprofit or other mission-based organization – marketing, management of volunteers, directing a program, accounting, human resources (paid staff) management – you must have a solid understanding of certain digital skills, skills that go beyond how to use database software, to be able to do that job well.

Every job at a mission-based organization – nonprofit, NGO, charity, school, government agency, etc. – requires being able to efficiently process large amounts of information from a variety of resources, being able to respond to people quickly with accurate information, being able to work with a variety of different people via online tools, being up-to-date on developments that can affect that job and knowing about emerging innovative practices. Going to conferences and reading magazines and paper newsletters are great to build your knowledge, onsite classes are great to build your skills – but just going to such events and reading only print information isn’t enough anymore to continuously build your skills and knowledge. And conferences and onsite classes are often out-of-reach, financially, for many nonprofit workers.

The good news is that digital skills are easy to acquire, and are much more about being an effective communicator with humans than having a computer science degree or being a programmer.

At minimum, the modern nonprofit worker, regardless of his or her role – human resources management, program assistance, marketing, whatever –  should:

  • Respond to email quickly
  • Manage email well, to the point that he or she can quickly find a particular email from a particular person from a particular time period
  • Be able to communicate effectively via email, including in situations addressing conflict or talking with someone for whom English is not his or her first language
  • Be a veteran of participating in online presentations and know what makes an effective online presentation
  • Have taken and finished at least one online course that took longer than two hours to finish.
  • Know how to work remotely, not just writing and responding via email, but participating in phone conferences and checking in regularly
  • Be able to effectively facilitate a phone or online meeting
  • Know how to use Twitter or Facebook or whatever comes next to connect with essential information for his or her job (experts in his or her field, legislation that could affect his or her work, etc.) – that doesn’t mean he or she needs to be a social media outreach expert, just that they know how to use social networking to NETWORK as a part of his or her job. And that means more than just posting information; it means knowing how to engage with others.
  • Know how to look for social media keyword tags that might relate to his or her work in some way
  • Know how to upload, or download, photos to Flickr, or a similar online platform
  • Know how to reduce the size of a photo (so that it can be included in an email newsletter, attached to email, etc.)
  • Not be afraid to try new technologies more than once

In addition, senior staff at any mission-based organization should know how to work with online volunteers and understand the basics of virtual volunteering; even if all your volunteers are “traditional”, you need to explore virtual volunteering.

Yes, it would be great if you understood Instagram and Snapchat and whatever else intensive, shiny social media tool comes down the lane, especially those that are used exclusively or primarily by phones and tablets – but unless you are a marketing director or manager of volunteers, those are just nice to know, but not absolutely necessary.

Put it into your official work plan to get up-to-speed on essential digital networking skills – practice will get you where you need to be!

Also see:

Your nonprofit or government program should check out Reddit

Reddit is USA-based web site for discussions on a huge variety of subjects and for rating web content. And it has a lot of potential as a tool for your program’s volunteer recruitment and awareness-building.

Most of the niche online communities I’m a part of are overwhelmingly female; that’s why I use Reddit, to provide some gender balance in my online life regarding nonprofits, community development, volunteerism, etc. It also helps me understand what people outside of the nonprofit and humanitarian world are saying about nonprofit and humanitarian issues.

According to citations on the Wikipedia page for Reddit, statistics from Google Ad Planner suggest that 74% of all Reddit users are male. In 2016 the Pew Research Center published research showing 67% of Reddit users are men; 71% of users who read news on the site are men. As of the end of 2016, Reddit is the only major social media platform that does not have a female majority user base. Users tend to be significantly younger than average with less than 1% of users being 65+. Reddit users also tend to be very tech savvy, using the very latest social media tools and knowing about, even creating, the latest tech trends. The Reddit community has gotten a lot of negative press, but it also has an extensive philanthropic reputation.

Content entries are organized by areas of interest called “subreddits”. It’s worth checking to see if your city has a subreddit – mine does – and posting your nonprofit’s events, volunteering opportunities and other public announcements there.

Other subreddits I frequent that you might want to check out and, perhaps, post to:

https://www.reddit.com/r/volunteer/

https://www.reddit.com/r/Philanthropy/

https://www.reddit.com/r/communityservice/

https://www.reddit.com/r/Charity/

https://www.reddit.com/r/nonprofit/

https://www.reddit.com/r/probono/

https://www.reddit.com/r/AmeriCorps/

https://www.reddit.com/r/peacecorps/

https://www.reddit.com/r/InternationalDev/

https://www.reddit.com/r/humanitarian/

If you have used Reddit to recruit volunteers or build awareness about a particular issue, please share your experience in the comments below.

Also see:

How do I get to you without a car?

If I want to come to come to your nonprofit organization, your NGO, your government office, etc. for a training or a workshop or a special event or for your services, and I will not be driving, will your web site tell me how to get there?

Will your web site tell me what buses stop nearest to your organization and how far the walk from a bus stop is to your office? Will it tell me where to park my bicycle? Is there a photo of the exterior of your agency, so I’ll recognize it easily?

I’m in a one-car family. I use mass transit and my bicycle to get around. In the greater metropolitan Portland, Oregon area, that’s not an easy thing (it’s fascinating to hear Portlandiers brag about their mass transit system, but start to stutter when I ask, “Do you yourself take it every day, or even every week? Do you rely on it to get to and from work?”). Looking at various nonprofit web sites when I’m supposed to have a meeting, I often can’t find the street address, and even then, there’s no information about mass transit options or bike parking. Yes, I’ve used the Portland mass transit trip planner, but it often doesn’t suggest the quickest route, or tell you that while there is a bus stop a block away, there’s a light rail stop just five blocks away. When you are actually on a Portland bus, routes usually are not announced, bus drivers aren’t happy about trying to help you find the right stop, and there are lots of challenges that would have been much more navigable has someone simply warned you about such.

There are people who cannot afford to buy a car, people who don’t have a driver’s license, and young people, too young to drive, who want to volunteer at your organization, attend an event, or access your services. If you don’t have information to help these people – and that includes me — you are telling these audiences, We don’t want you to come to our organization. Is that really what you want to say?

And, indeed, there are events, trainings and more I have wanted to attend, but cannot, because I either can’t figure out how to get to the organization by mass transit or the organization is having the meeting in a place not easily reached by mass transit. One organization had a meeting at a library branch that would have taken more than two hours for me to get to – but had they had the meeting just 3.5 miles away, at another library branch, it would take just 40 minutes – the difference was that one site is served by a bus that comes only every 30 minutes, while the other is on an express, frequent service bus line.

Your organization’s web site needs to have the following information – and it needs to be oh-so-easy to find:

  • a text-based rendering of your organization’s physical address (not just in a graphic)
  • a map that shows your organization’s location AND the nearest bus stops (including express/frequent service buses) and nearest light rail stops; there are online volunteers who would be happy to prepare this graphic for you
  • written advice that would be helpful to a bus rider (is there a landmark you should be looking for when riding the bus to know when your stop is coming? how long of a walk is it from the stop to your office? is there only one place to cross a particularly busy street that wouldn’t be obvious to someone unfamiliar with the area (as I recently encountered for an evening training, in the dark, at a nonprofit’s office)? Ask your current volunteers and clients about this – or create an investigative project for your volunteers to tease out this information
  • a photo of the exterior of your offices
  • information on where a bicycle rider would park. If you don’t have a rack outside, either get one or allow people to bring their bikes inside (an addition note about this is at the end of this blog)
  • tips specifically for bicyclists, like advice on routes (perhaps a bike rider would be more comfortable riding on a parallel street rather than a main one – another great investigative project for your volunteers)

There is no excuse to not have this information on your web site, unless your organization needs to keep its location private (a domestic violence shelter, for instance).   Not We don’t have the time or We don’t have the funding or All of our clients/volunteers drive. This information is just as important as parking information and your hours of operation!

Volunteers can help you gather this information. If none of your current volunteers are interested, post it as an opportunity on VolunteerMatch (or your country’s equivalent) and with your local volunteer center.

In addition, remember that in most cities, buses stop running after a certain hour. If your training goes past that time, you are excluding people who would be stranded after the training. If there is no way to change the hours, talk about ways to set up participant car pools.

Encourage volunteers to carpool as well. And brag about all these green living efforts to the board and on your blog!

On the subject of bike parking racks: Cyclists prefer to park very close to their destinations and will lock a bicycle to anything available unless a rack is nearby. They do NOT want racks that hold the bike by the wheel, nor racks with which they can’t use a U-Lock. Racks should be in public view with high visibility and good lighting. One that is filmed by a security camera is particularly great. Work with your city to get a rack installed for your building; they will have rules regarding where racks can go. Bike racks are great projects to fundraise around: identify exactly how much it will cost to buy and install such and involve your volunteers on creating a fundraising campaign to raise the funds needed for installation (what a great sponsorship opportunity!); when you install your new bike rack, take photos, make an announcement – maybe even throw a party! In short – make it a big deal.

Behavioural Insights at the United Nations – Achieving the 2030 Agenda

The United Nations has embraced the use of behavioral science to help it craft effective development activities and interventions. As it notes on this November 2016 blog:

Across the globe, all people – poor or rich – sometimes make choices that are not conducive to their own well-being. Saving enough for retirement, eating healthy, investing in education – all too often we humans postpone intended actions to ‘tomorrow’, succumb to inertia or get stuck in habits.

In light of the extensive research on the cognitive biases that influence human decision-making, there is a broad consensus that traditional economic models are insufficient for effective policy-making. Behind every policy lie assumptions about how humans will behave in light of new regulations and why we act the way we do.

UNDP has embraced the idea of network nudges, where people are influenced by the behavior of friends and members of their extended social network, and that people observe other people’s behavior as guidelines for what’s acceptable and desirable. UNDP has been cooperating with the UK Behavioural Insights Team since 2013, and UNDP’s report, Behavioural Insights at the United Nations – Achieving the 2030 Agenda, advocates this approach for inclusion in every policy maker’s toolbox and presents 10 valuable case studies. This is from the page at the aforementioned link:

In 2016, the UNDP Innovation Facility collaborated with the newly engaged UN Behavioural Science Advisor to work on behaviorally-informed design with 8 UNDP Country Offices in all 5 regions: Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Jordan, Moldova, Montenegro and Papua New Guinea. This Progress Report highlights the potential of behavioural insights to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and provides an overview of the 8 initiatives.

Behavioural insights draw from research findings from psychology, economics and neuroscience. These insights about how people make decisions matter for development. They matter for policy-formulation and addressing last mile problems.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that, “In order to succeed, Agenda 2030 must account for behavioural insights research… Our organization, our global agenda – and most importantly the people worldwide they are intended to serve – deserve nothing less than the best science available. A human-centered agenda requires a rigorous, research-based understanding of people.”

The report shows that approaching development challenges with behavioural insights leads to better diagnoses of problems and to better designed solutions. Public policy and programme officials around the world can achieve better outcomes — often at low or no cost — simply by leveraging our current understanding of human psychology and behaviour.

In January 2016, the UN Secretary-General appointed two “Behavioural Insights Advisors” for initially six months. They worked with the UNDP Innovation Facility to improve uptake of an e-waste recycling solution in China, crowdfunding efforts for green energy in Ecuador, the anti-corruption initiative ‘Phones Against Corruption’ in Papua New-Guinea, and more.

Wikipedia actually has some good pages that provide an overview of these and related subjects:

And here are some of my own resources on these and related subjects:

when “calling out” is bullying

A student in one of my classes raised her hand to say something about 20 minutes into a university class guest-lecture I was doing, then smugly told me she didn’t like my use of the words target and setting my sights on something, because these were “references based in violence” (her words).

I didn’t feel like it was a moment of enlightenment for me, nor that she was trying to be helpful; I felt like it was a moment to humiliate and to control. It felt belittling. And I admit that, later, I oh-so-smugly chastised her over her own use of the phrase rule of thumb, a phrase she didn’t realize is tied to an excuse for spousal abuse that can be traced as far back as 1782.

I can be petty. It’s true.

As I noted in a blog called Have I offended?, this and other incidents prompted me to put a slide called modus operandi at the beginning of all of my presentations. I tell the group there are no stupid questions, that I welcome all questions though I might not have all the answers and will freely admit such, etc. And I also ask for no GOTCHA moments, where an attendee immediately becomes outraged at something I’ve said. I ask that, if anyone hears me say something that he or she thinks is offensive to please raise a hand and ask me to clarify, or to take me aside at a break and ask for clarification. I love training and teaching, and if there is an obstacle to my overall message getting out because of something I’ve said, or a perception of what I’ve said, I want that obstacle addressed post haste. So far, it’s been a good strategy: it’s cut down significantly on these gotcha moments where there’s very little learning and listening – but there’s a lot of efforts to control, and often, at least a bit of humiliation.

This all came to mind as I read this outstanding essay, What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic, by Asam Ahmad. It’s from 2015. From the essay:

Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and language use by others. People can be called out for statements and actions that are sexist, racist, ableist, and the list goes on… In the context of call-out culture, it is easy to forget that the individual we are calling out is a human being, and that different human beings in different social locations will be receptive to different strategies for learning and growing. For instance, most call-outs I have witnessed immediately render anyone who has committed a perceived wrong as an outsider to the community. One action becomes a reason to pass judgment on someone’s entire being… It isn’t an exaggeration to say that there is a mild totalitarian undercurrent not just in call-out culture but also in how progressive communities police and define the bounds of who’s in and who’s out. More often than not, this boundary is constructed through the use of appropriate language and terminology – a language and terminology that are forever shifting and almost impossible to keep up with. In such a context, it is impossible not to fail at least some of the time.

I actually teared up as I read this. I so want to connect with my audience, or with other people at a community meeting, or my neighbors, on a human level, and for all of us to be able to treat each other with respect and openness. But sometimes, I’ve felt shut down by call-out culture, by people playing gotcha, and I haven’t felt like they were trying to be helpful or educational – I’ve felt like they were trying to humiliate me, to silence me. I love Ahmad’s assertion that “There are ways of calling people out that are compassionate and creative, and that recognize the whole individual instead of viewing them simply as representations of the systems from which they benefit. Paying attention to these other contexts will mean refusing to unleash all of our very real trauma onto the psyches of those we imagine represent the systems that oppress us.”

Ahmad cites Ngọc Loan Trần’s earlier essay to explain this further, and it’s also excellent at explaining how “calling out” can turn into shutting discussion down and shutting certain people out of a discussion altogether.

This isn’t AT ALL to say someone shouldn’t call out threatening, harassing, abusive, oppressive, dangerous and/or illegal behavior. Absolutely: call that out! It isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be debates about what is and isn’t appropriate to say – English is a living language, culture is evolving, and there’s no reason to fight against it, to not be a part of it. Sadly, there will be those that will claim anyone saying that calling out can sometimes be used as a tool for bullying is just an effort to stop people from calling out threatening, harassing, abusive, oppressive, dangerous and/or illegal behavior. I’ve already had two people say just that when I shared a link to Asam Ahmad’s essay on social media, and I’ll expect it now as I share this blog.

Particularly when working with cultures very different from my own, and working abroad, I’ve heard words and phrases that I felt were inappropriate, even hurtful, but sometimes – NOT always, but sometimes – I also know the words might be open to interpretation in terms of meaning, motivation and intent, and I need to ask for clarification to make sure I’m understanding the speaker’s intent. And sometimes, asking the speaker some questions, getting clarification and even saying, “When you say that, here’s what I hear…” is a more effective strategy to elicit a change in mindset than immediately branding someone as racist, sexist, etc. And sometimes, the person doubles down and they really are a racist, sexist, etc. – and now, I’m sure, and it’s going to be very hard for them, later, to claim it’s not what they meant.

One way of addressing with compassion an issue someone has for what he or she perceives as inappropriate words or actions is “calling in”, which means speaking privately with the individual, addressing the word or behavior without making a more public spectacle of the address itself. I have appreciated this very much when it’s been done with me, when someone tells me, privately, that this or that word or phrase may be offensive to some people and why that is. Sometimes I agree with them and alter my language. And sometimes I don’t. But I always appreciate outreach that comes from a place of sincerity and care, not gotcha.

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ICTs to reach & educate at-risk communities

Apps, social media, text messaging/SMS and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) are already playing a crucial role in educating people regarding public health issues, reaching marginalized communities and helping those that may be targets of harassment and discrimination. But in all of these tech4good initiatives, the importance of safety and security for those doing the outreach and those in the target audience is critical. People trying to promote a tech4good initiative do not want the technology to be used by hostile parties to identify, track and target people based on their health, lifestyle or beliefs.

For those interested in using ICTs to reach marginalized communities, or those interested in how to communicate vital information about topics that are frowned-upon in religiously conservative communities, the new publication Pioneering HIV services for and with men having sex with men in MENA: A case study about empowering and increasing access to quality HIV prevention, care and support to MSM in a hostile environment, is well worth your time to read. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded this project, and the 48-page publication was produced by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and co-authored by Tania Kisserli, Nathalie Likhite and Manuel Couffignal. The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

This is from the report (note that this is with British spellings):

In 2015, the partners of the MENA programme implemented a pilot online peer outreach project to reach more MSM, in partnership with the South East Asian Foundation B-Change Technology.

In order to improve the understanding of the online habits and behaviours of MSM, two anonymous web surveys were launched online to collect information among MSM (living in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia), recruited via Facebook and instant messaging channels. The first survey assessed technology use and included questions about mobile devices and tech-based sexual networking. The second survey collected further data on social media behaviours, with questions about using social networks, interpersonal communications, and negative experiences online. The results confirmed the penetration of internet and mobile technologies in urban centres, and highlighted the widespread use by MSM of mainstream social networks (predominantly Facebook) and global gay dating apps, especially in the evening. The predominant website for sexual networking was reported to be Planet Romeo; the predominant smartphone app for sexual networking was Grindr. The results also revealed that while MSM use smartphone instant messaging (SMS and Whatsapp mainly) to communicate and chat with friends, they tend to use the telephone when communicating with health providers. Sexual networking among this cohort demonstrated a preference for web-based methods versus offline (public space) networking. A significant proportion of negative experiences using social media or apps was also reported, in particular cases of breach of confidentiality online.

Based on these findings, the partners designed a pilot information and communications technology (ICT)-based intervention. Experienced peer educators created avatars representing different profiles of beneficiaries, collectively designed an online peer outreach intervention and developed the corresponding standard operating procedures and M&E framework. This was identified as the most feasible output based on existing resources and ICT experience. Building the capacity of community groups for this intervention would result in more effective use of popular social media platforms for MSM-peer outreach activities. Local trainings of ‘online peer educators’ were organised to strengthen digital security, content creation systems, online outreach procedures, conduct of peer educators online, and M&E framework to measure the outcomes towards the HIV continuum of care.

The trained ‘online peer educators’ created ‘virtual peer educators’ accounts/profiles and contacted MSM though internet and social media in their respective countries, mainly on Facebook, Whatsapp, Grindr, Hornet, Planet Romeo, Badoo, Tango and Babel, and mostly during evening and night shifts. The objective was to contact MSM not reached by the usual outreach in public spaces, and hence continue expanding the package of prevention services available to MSM. They provided interpersonal communications on HIV and STIs, disseminated IEC materials online, encouraged them to take an HIV test and referred them to prevention services provided by the partner organisations, as well as public health services in their country.

This test phase lasted from July to September 2015 in Agadir, Beirut, Tunis and Sousse. The results were promising; during the month of September 2015, the six online peer educators of ASCS in Agadir for instance reached 546 MSM via chat rooms, websites, apps and instant messaging. They referred 148 MSM for an HIV test and 86 MSM for an STI consultation. During this period ASCS noticed an increase of number of MSM visiting the association to collect condoms and lubricant; ASCS peer educators appreciated this new type of outreach work compared to street outreach, the latter being uneasy due to growing harassment of police. Some challenges that peer educators faced online were similar to ‘traditional’ or face-to-face outreach work: high interest in sexual health, initially reluctance to visit association or uptake services, or to change risk behaviour.

“The virtual prevention pilot project has allowed us to reach a significant number of MSM, in particular those who remain hidden and aren’t reached through our outreach activities in the streets.” — peer educator and university student in Morocco

Some of the lessons learned from this pilot project:

  • Overall high acceptability: many MSM are eager to engage in an online conversation about HIV and STI prevention, rights and services; virtual spaces are perceived as safe to talk freely about sexual practices with no face-to-face bias; however, a significant proportion of MSM contacted online refused any discussion relating to sexual health and HIV.
  • Strong operational procedures and human resource capacity are required to maintain a high quality ICT tool that maintains privacy and confidentiality; consequently, organisational ICT capacity needs to be assessed and strengthened before initiating an online prevention project.
  • Monitoring and evaluation challenges: it is not easy to measure service use or user engagement online or to clearly show the link between use of ICT and uptake of services; monitoring of referral pathways between outreach CSOs and friendly providers needs to be aligned to track referral from virtual spaces to services.

One thing I do wonder: were any of these people involve volunteers?

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Community radio – we are in dire need of it

logoAs I said in a blog last year, I don’t come from just a town in Kentucky; I come from a community. It’s not always cohesive, there are conflicts (thankfully, mostly unarmed), not everyone likes each other, but it’s a community: people there have common experiences and common values, across economic and education levels, even if they don’t have the same religion or political beliefs. In addition to the local newspaper, one of the things that has helped to build this sense of community in my hometown is the local radio station, WSON. For many residents, listening in the morning to WSON is a non-negotiable morning ritual. Listeners hear about school sporting events, obituaries and funeral notices, farm reports, information on community arts events, information on events at the local community college, and interviews with candidates for local office. In the evenings, high school basketball games – boys and girls – or baseball or football games are broadcast live. You can see their program lineup here.

As a result, even if you don’t have children, you care about the schools in the area. You know when friends and co-workers have had a death in the family. You have opinions about local elections or local bond issues coming up and you’re more likely to vote. I haven’t lived in Henderson since I was 18, yet, anytime I go back, I listen to WSON in the mornings, because I know my family will be talking about what they heard later in the day. It’s hilarious to see my sister’s Facebook posts when she’s listening to a high school sports event on WSON, posting her pleas to the Interwebs for the team to do better, or her congrats for the team doing well.

Now, I live thousands of miles away, in a city in Oregon that’s just about the same size as where I’m from, but there’s no community radio station, commercial or nonprofit. The local paper is published only twice a week and isn’t read by most residents – I have a lot of thoughts as to why, mostly having to do with the quality of reporting, but I’ll save that for another blog. Most people I talk to here don’t know when there is a local election coming up, let alone who is running or what ordinances they are being asked to consider. Twice I found out a neighbor had died weeks after his or her passing, and I was mortified that I hadn’t offered condolences to the surving spouse at the time. I don’t know when events at the local university are happening, and frequently hear about things I would have loved to have attended.

Facebook helps a little to know what’s going on, but it’s not enough. Even if an organization types its events into the Facebook event feature, and frequently shares that event on their status update, people on Facebook may never see it in their newsfeed, because of the network’s algorithms, which push sponsored content and often hide the content from a user’s friends and from pages that user has liked. Twitter helps only if I happen to be on Twitter at the exact moment a local event is posted – otherwise, I miss the tweet, and the event. I try to remember to visit to various web sites and Facebook communities to see what’s going on, but I often forget. TV? The TV stations here are all based in, or focused on, Portland – they rarely even talk about the state legislature (which is in Salem), let alone something nearby. Public radio? Again, the nearest public radio station is focused on Portland, not any of the cities or towns around it (I love OPB, I really do – but it’s no substitute for a local station).

World Radio Day is February 13. It’s promoted by UNESCO, and it’s an example of how the United Nations and other international development agencies still have a lot of programs that leverage radio to help promote agricultural knowledge, educate communities about HIV/AIDS, keep a community up-to-date about a water and sanitation project that will affect the area, help promote gender equality and opportunities for women, promote inter-cultural understanding and tolerance among different groups in the same area, and on and on. Radio remains a powerful force for human rights and development. Here are examples:

I can listen to the radio for free, and while mowing the lawn, driving in my car, cleaning my house, etc. – I can’t do that with a newspaper or TV. What about a podcast? Well, that could work if you have a fantastic broadband connection – here in my town, most people don’t – or you remember to download the podcast every day, which I’m sure I wouldn’t. As Radio Boise says:

A radio can be found very inexpensively at almost any thrift store, plugged into an electrical outlet, and the sounds of nearby broadcasts come spilling out, instantly available. The internet, a wonderful place, is rarely provided for free and, because our country is so large, it will take a long time to develop a pervasive public wireless network. And mobile is also a reality – but also has a monthly fee for access. Radio can be heard by anyone, even by a kid with a crystal-based home-made radio or like me, with an old stereo receiver that my parents gave me that has a simple bundle of wire shoved into the antenna port, or streaming online in a browser or your mobile phone . . . the root of the broadcast, radio, is a signal sent into the air and received for free…

The internet provides vast means in which you can entertain your ears, most of which at their root are computer programs. When human beings program a show to share on the airwaves, the idea is that a warmth and personality is communicated with awareness of our communities’ nuances that the automated mechanisms cannot provide. That is one definition of community.

Imagine attendance surging at community theater productions and local sports events, imagine donations increasing to local nonprofits. Imagine the local police being able to be interviewed on a local public affairs show and putting to rest rumors that are creating conflict and fear within the community. Imagine local service clubs not having to disband from lack of members, but rather, seeing a surge in membership. Imagine people running for office getting to each make a pitch to listeners. Imagine not finding out your neighbor died two weeks ago because you cheerily asked his wife, “So, how’s your husband!” – imagine, instead, being able to attend the funeral or send flowers.

In my community, in addition to all that desperately-needed local information a local radio station could provide in English, it could provide an hour-long program in Spanish, helping our growing Spanish-speaking population to know about public events and free events at the local library that could help them integrate into our community even more.

This town where I live, right here in the USA, needs a local radio station. And I bet this is true for towns all across this country.  When local information disappears, local connections disappear as well. And I think it’s disappearing here – and in communities across this country.

So, now all we need is the space, the equipment, the know-how and the appropriate federal filings. Piece of cake. The Prometheus Radio Project says “Many stations get on the air for under $15,000 and can stay on the air for less than $1,000 per month.” Maybe if I win the lottery…

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Goodbye newspaper, goodbye community?

My Blogs re: social cohesion, building understanding