* Social reporting is a collaborative way of curating an event. Leaders and participants are all invited to contribute. The record may include words, images, links and video clips.*
Anthropologists are fond of a technique called ‘participant observation’. You join a remote tribe in Borneo, or a street gang in East Harlem, and become part of the group. Soon you’re enthusiastically taking part in a whole new world. Dance-offs? Eating lizards? Initiation rites? You acquire tattoos in places that don’t show on the metro. It’s all based on the premise that to really understand someone, you have to walk a mile in their shoes. If you want to catch big fish, you must be prepared to swim with sharks.
Social reporting is a similar idea, but it’s more a matter of participants’ observations. What we’re aiming for here isn’t just recording what went on: it’s getting people involved in the process, so that they want to see the result. A ‘conference’ (Latin: ‘bring together’) is much more than just a series of lectures and meetings. Before the event, the organizers plan a formal timetable. During the sessions, participants have experiences which may or may not reflect the official schedule. Afterwards, attendees want to remember what actually happened. When you bring people together you can’t always control what goes on!
What’s special about this technique? Simply, it’s collective storytelling: the output evolves as you go along. It’s a way of getting people involved and interested. It lets everyone contribute to the final record. Which makes the report feel more relevant for all concerned.
Social reporting is a participative and inclusive approach. It encompasses a role, a set of skills and a philosophy. The philosophy is that everyone’s experiences and perspective are valid and worth consideration: we shouldn’t just rely on the official version of events. The skills involve collection, collation and curation. The role is that of anthropologist, looking simultaneously outside in and inside out, to truly represent the gathering.
Why does social reporting work? Because it goes with human nature. People are most interested in their own stories. When you see a group photo, who’s the first person you look for? If your college has a year book, whose page do you turn to first? When a report drops onto your desk, do you read it all eagerly? Or do you flip through the bit that affects you, then file it away? When you use social reporting to curate an event, you’ll ensure that everyone looks through the whole report. It recreates the content, mood and ethos of the gathering in an accessible and memorable way.