Interview with Sam Gregory from WITNESS

Sam Gregory, the Program Director from leading human rights agency WITNESS will be talking on Melbourne’s RRR next week.

Sam is one of our guests at next week’s CoCreative Communities forum, and he’ll be speaking to Jacinta Parsons on RRR’s Detour program at 10.15 am (day light saving time), Wednesday 7 November.

You can tune in through their website:

Find out what WITNESS have been up to lately, including their ambitious partnership with YouTube on the Human Rights Channel that launched mid 2012.


Meeting ‘Change Media’

A couple of weeks ago I caught up in a coffee shop with Jennifer Lyons-Reid (Creative Director) and Carl Kuddell (Executive Producer) to chat about their company Change Media and their approach to co-creative media making. With wide-ranging combined experience in activism and documentary, Change Media operates as a small team, working with a variety of communities nationally and internationally, unfolding from the premise that if you ‘teach a community to film… they can show the whole world how to fish…’

Jen and Carl noted that ‘co-creative media’ is a term that is becoming increasingly popular, and is starting to replace other terms like ‘collaboration’. They prefer it in some ways because it reflects an active acknowledgment of the facilitation process, rather than the prevailing tendency to make facilitation invisible and insignificant. For some time they have been documenting ‘behind the scenes’ processes as a means of reflecting the involvement of the communities they’re working with. However, all too often, they found that auspicing institutions (often third party funders) would assume that the particular community in question was ‘exceptional’ and that other presumably less exceptional communities would not be as adept, expert, capable of producing a ‘professional’ end product etc. As a means of re-dressing this Jen and Carl are now looking for new ways to represent with transparency the process behind any product thereby re-inserting themselves into the end product.

I asked Jen and Carl what examples of best and worst practice in co-creative production came to mind – they spoke at length about the increasing level of ‘story theft’ that they see in many so-called ‘do-gooder’ initiatives. They had heard many anecdotes about filmmakers flying; working briefly with the community to deliver an end product that adequately fulfills the funding criteria but is not what the community actual wants. Often, after the event, the community feels even more disenfranchised, actually ‘ripped off’. Jen and Carl have written an opinion piece for the Australia Council called ‘Get off my Back’ that explores some of these ideas further. You can read it here.

In terms of facilitation process, Jen and Carl aspire to active listening that often involves ‘naming the elephant in the room’, discussing the power lines laid down between funders, facilitators, community and individuals etc…  they see themselves as triggers or ‘pilot fish’ for ‘innovative disruption’. In any development process they believe it is important to ask ‘where is the centre?’ just as much as ‘what are our objectives?’ and ‘what are the deliverables?’. They see this as a means of going further than just dealing with lack of technical agency; they attempt to address personal agency by walking into a room believing that every single participant is capable of great art… and working with people through a process of actively negotiating facilitation, creation, production, distribution etc. They believe communities should first decide why they want to share their stories and with whom. In this way they see themselves as ‘agent provocateurs’ who inspire leadership skills rather than ‘offering’ empowerment.

Meeting with Jen and Carl was an inspiration… you can meet them and hear them speak at the forthcoming ‘Co-Creative Communities Forum’ at ACMI in Melbourne. Read more about their projects and process at their comprehensive website

Media Production at the MRC

The Media Resource Centre (MRC) in Adelaide has been around in a range of different incarnations and locations since 1974. In 1992 when the Lion Arts Centre was established in the West End the MRC merged with Co-media (SA’s community Media organisation) and relocated, simultaneously opening the Mercury Cinema. The MRC undertake a range of activities including professional development for entry-level to ‘emerging’ film, video and digital media creators; equipment hire (including a suite of Final Cut Pro equipped Macs); and production initiatives that support emerging filmmakers to make a number of early short films in various genres, including webisodes and music clips. Through their community and youth activity they also deliver a number of bootcamps and digital storytelling workshops both as MRC programmes and as service to NGOs.  They have 2 cinema exhibition spaces available for launches and have an excellent curated programme of local and indie screen product.

I interviewed current Director Gail Kovatseff about the MRC’s role in the participatory media landscape in SA. Gail spoke a little about the sense of distance from activity on the eastern sea-board that manifests in occasional feelings of isolation for SA based screen practitioners and organisations. While she noted that the MRC are not actively engaged in a national debate about the state of play for community media, they’re very busy servicing a demand for ordinary people and communities to tell their stories. Gail was passionate about the successful entrepreneurial activities and initiatives the MRC undertakes with communities and highlights the differences between their approach and what she sees as the traditional, expensive and slightly stultifying community development (CCD) process, characterised by immersive and lengthy development that can thwart actual productivity.

“[In the past] we have actually gone to a community and said if I can get the money for this, do you want us to do it with you?”

Gail noted that ‘co-creativity’ is not a frequently used term at the MRC, but they speak in more general terms of ‘empowering people to tell their stories’. She also spoke at length about the aesthetics and professional standards that collaborations with professional filmmakers can bring to media productions and sees it very much as a process of helping storytellers make their stories as compelling as possible, something they can be proud of. In some case participants have received support not just in how best to script their stories but also media training on how to talk with journalists. A MindShare initiative designed for people living with mental illness encouraged storytelling in multiple forms (digital stories, blogs, audio, photos and interviews) across multiple platforms including a customised website and the local Messenger Press. I asked Gail about uses of social media in general and she noted that, apart from the requirements of specific initiatives (like MindShare and other projects like Big Stories, Small Towns) the MRC use social media and online spaces mostly for promotional activities rather than story-sharing space. That said, the MRC web site is undergoing ongoing expansion and they are simultaneously addressing a lack of people power by working towards employing a youth worker and eventually a community development officer.

You can find out more about the MRC’s suite of activities and programmes at visit them in person at 13 Morphett St. Adelaide or call 08 8410 0979.



Martin Potter talks co-creativity

I caught up via Skype with Martin Potter who is currently in Cambodia working on an online community doco project with the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center. The ‘White Building’ is a rundown space with significant culture and history and the site of massive urban renewal. Following a filmmaker-meets-community collaborative format he has been exploring in projects over the last 5-10 years, Martin is working closely with local artists and residents to map the divergent stories of the community.

Martin has a diverse background working across documentary, television and online spaces and is inspired by the work of oral historian Studs Terkel and others who are using art and culture in really unique and inspiring ways… He’s also worked within institutions like the MRC (Media Resource Centre, Adelaide) and has recently won awards for his involvement in ‘Big Stories, Small Towns’ including the interactive community award at SXSW 2012. Martin likes to develop sustainable media-making by framing projects around the needs expressed by community, balanced with the objectives outlined by other stakeholders, for example funding agencies. He acknowledges that it’s hard to assure sustainability but in cases where projects are owned and embraced by the community and the overarching narrative of the initiative is compelling, they tend to bubble along way beyond the impetus provided by the original facilitators. He also acknowledges the pragmatic significance of ‘mapping institutional mindsets’ and a professional final product or glossy quantitative report on outcomes!

I asked Martin for his definition of ‘co-creative practice’ and after lots of discussion we ended up with a broad summary – ‘bringing new voices to screen-based narratives’. Martin pointed out that the field of products resulting from co-creative practice is also diverse, ranging across time frames from two minutes to hours; utilising moving images or purely text; in linear and non-linear formats; made in workshops by individuals and/or by groups over extended time-frames. Martin considered audiences for these participatory media projects are equally diverse – stories can be ‘narrowcast’ for family or a specific friend or alternately everyone in the world. He sees that new tools, technologies and models are excellent at facilitating personal connections through media. Martin draws on Paulo Freire, Ivan Ilich and Donella Meadows to highlight the underpinning intentions of dialogic engagement and convivial tools used to communicate within a complex system (like ‘the internet’). He’s particularly interested in systems and ecosytems in which participatory initiatives thrive. He ascribes to a theory that the goals (or incentives), the rules (or traits), and the feedback (punishments and rewards) that support or sustain the system arise from a particular mindset or paradigm. For those of you reading between the lines it might also be apparent that Martin is in the process of producing a PhD out of his reflections on participatory media!

We moved from this somewhat academic discussion to a refreshing evaluation of who owns the system in co-creative media production. Martin believes that someone has to ‘own’ the frame or context (although it can be co-owned) and acknowledge their authorial influence – a transparent acceptance that everything that is positioned within this frame is shaped accordingly. Beyond these acknowledgements, Martin also points out that any ecosystem has to be evolving and stay relevant in order to maintain audience engagement. He’s excited by the fact that online distribution of user-generated content means that mainstream broadcast is no longer the only means for circulating stories in the world…

You can see the fruit of some of Martin’s labours at and the website will be live from January 2013.

Christina Spurgeon talks Co-Creative Communities

In advance of our Co-Creative Communities Forum which is coming up at ACMI in Melbourne on 8 November, Christina Spurgeon (who is the lead investigator on our research project) was interviewed by the QUT Creative Industries Faculty for a short promo video, which is embedded below.

By the way, if you’d like to join us in Melbourne for the Forum, get in quick as tickets are going fast!

Radio Beyond Radio

Last month the ABC co-hosted a symposium for producers that looked at the future of radio. Over five days a wonderful collection of people spoke on a range of themes and topics, including storytelling. Those panels were recorded and you can catch them again, here.

Some of the participants in that event will be coming together again in Melbourne on 8 and 9 November 2012 to discuss community collaboration in media production, along with other national and international speakers. Visit ACMI more information about Co-creative Communities: Storytelling Futures for Community Arts and Media.

Storytelling 3.0

Well it’s been coming for a little while now, but storytelling is definitely having a full blown renaissance.

I’m thinking here of live storytelling projects like The Moth: True Stories Told Live, which is also a popular podcast. Or This American Life, and the many imitators of the show’s intimate, story-centred approach to radio journalism. Closer to home, FBi Radio’s All The Best has been exploring audio storytelling, on the airwaves and onstage. As have Paper Radio. ABC have too – with project’s like ABC Open. And there are countless other examples I could mention, not least being the decade-long trend towards more vernacular, first-person prose in non-fiction writing.

The revival of the raconteur is interesting for media researchers because it gets at the heart of a couple of really big questions, a) why is storytelling important for social communication and b) what does that mean now, in an era of digital convergence, social media, big data, etc?

The questions are especially complex when it comes to community and public media,  radio in particular, where so many of these new storytelling projects are being generated. How do you translate the intimate, live, ‘blind’ aesthetics of radio storytelling into multi-platform digital content (beyond a token web site and a couple of images)?  How do you make the most of new platforms, not just for marketing, but to really progress the core values of community access, representation and engagement?

These are some of the issues Sue Schardt has covered in a recent article for Media Shift, “Public Media Reinvents Itself With ‘Full-Spectrum’ Storytelling”.

For Schardt, executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio, “public media is arguably in a life-or-death situation”. The revival of storytelling and experimentation with the form, she says, is an important way for community broadcasters to innovate.

 “Storytelling” has emerged as a safe zone that allows media practitioners to circumvent, or at least loosen up, some of the traditional boundaries that may be confining the industry during a time of great change. It is, in part, a way for us to flex and experiment on the edges of the often strict parameters of journalistic practice and the fixed broadcast medium that defines much of what we do….

In other words, storytelling facilitates the kind of creative experimentation that the sector needs if it wants to remain relevant.

For Schardt, it’s not just about experimenting with how we distribute and share these stories that’s important, but also how we make them in the first place. To that end, AIR have been working on an initiative called Localore which is trying to “define a new, converged, space where broadcast, digital, and street platforms coexist”:

The latter — “street” — platform is especially key, since it represents public media makers moving beyond the traditional approach of going out into the community with a microphone or camera to capture a story, edit it into shape, and send it into distribution. This is where our producers are providing new, often intimate points of access for public media in the physical space of the community — portable booths, installations, moving onto porches and into backyards and haunts familiar to people living in a neighborhood –

You can hear more from Sue Schardt on these issues and the Loclaore project at the up-coming Co-Creative Communities in Melbourne.

Project development workshop – call for co-creative projects

For those of you interested in the sound of our ‘Co-Creative Media Exchange’, here’s a little bit more information about what we’ve got planned, and how to get involved.

And don’t forget to check out the rest of the Co-Creative Communities program. Tix available now.

Co-Creative Media Exchange: A Call for Project Submissions
Submissions close 11 October 2012

Do you work in community media or community arts and have a great idea for a project?

We want to hear from artists, filmmakers, broadcasters, media producers, cultural workers and organisations who want to develop an interesting co-creative community media project. It can be a brand new project or a new angle on an existing one. What matters most is that you’re exploring how to help communities make and distribute their own media and stories.

What’s happening:
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are hosting a professional and project development opportunity for community arts and media makers as part of a large multi-year research project into community uses of co-creative media.

Taking place on 9 November 2012 at ACMI, Melbourne, this half-day ‘media exchange’ will give selected participants the opportunity to workshop their projects; receive feedback, advice and support from national and international guests; participate in peer-to-peer mentoring and make new connections across community arts and media.

Limited travel assistance is available for interstate and regional participants who need to travel to Melbourne for the ‘media exchange’. Financial assistance from QUT may also be available to projects that are suitable for further research and interested in being involved in the research project in 2013.

Projects might explore:
– New approaches to working with communities to co-create content
– New models of making community tv and radio production more accessible and participatory
– Collaborations between traditional broadcasters and community arts and media makers
– Experiments with using digital media to tell community stories
– Experiments with using social media platforms to creatively collaborate with audiences
– Scroll down for more information about what to include in your submission

How the day will work:
– Successful participants will get 5-10 minutes each to pitch their project idea to the room
– Participants will then get 3 hours to workshop their project in detail with some of the most interesting thinkers, makers and innovators working in community arts and media.

Who will be there:
Participants will get to workshop their ideas with community arts and media figures including:
– Sam Gregory, Program Director of the leading human rights agency WITNESS;
– Sue Schardt, Executive Director of the innovative US-based public media organisation the Association of Independents in Radio;
– Scott Rankin, writer/director and Creative Director of award-winning arts and social change organisation Big hART;
– Mimi Pickering, award-winning documentary filmmaker and community media Director at the celebrated Appalshop in Kentucky, USA;
– Colin Griffith, online media expert and Director of the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation;
– and many others.

Participation in the ‘media exchange’ is free, but places are strictly limited. For your project to be considered, please respond to the submission questions below.

Send all submissions to by 11 October 2012

What to include in your project submission for the Co-Creative Media Exchange

Please respond with 1-3 sentences for each question. Feel free to include links or a CV but please don’t submit audio/visual material.

1. What is your project?
2. Who is it for and why?
3. How is the project participatory, collaborative, or co-creative?
4. What do you hope to achieve with the project?
5. What resources do you need to make the project a success?
6. What connections do you have, or do you hope to make, with other communities, organisations, networks,
etc, on this project?
7. Do you need travel assistance to come to the ‘media exchange’? If so, how much and for what?

Additional Details
– Names of people who would attend the ‘media exchange’:
– Organisation (if applicable):
– Contact Email and Phone:
– Estimated Project Cost:
– Estimated Project Timeframe:

Submissions or queries to
Closing date: 5pm Thursday 11 October 2012

Major event announcement: Co-Creative Communities Forum and Lab

The Community Uses of Co-Creative Media research team has been very busy over the past several months conducting background survey & interview research with key project stakeholders, as well as completing the Digistories sub-project –  a broadcast distribution experiment conducted in collaboration with 31 Digital and well worth a blog post on its own at some stage soon.

A lot of energy has also gone into planning for our first major project event, which combines a future-oriented public forum with a workshop/lab-style activity targeted specifically at selected co-creative community media practitioners looking to improve knowledge, gain skills and develop new partnerships.

Details below, please pass them on to all who might be interested!

Co-Creative Communities: Storytelling Futures for Community Arts and Media

Thursday 8 November – Friday 9 November 2012

Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

How are community media and arts organisations responding to the challenge of digital convergence? What is the role of storytelling and storytellers in this evolving landscape?

This two-day event brings together storytellers, broadcasters, filmmakers, artists, cultural workers, activists and researchers to discuss the challenges and opportunities that digital convergence and participatory media present for communities.

Thursday 8 November, 8.30am – 5pm

Broadcast Yourself?

Find out how public and community media innovators are responding to the challenges, changes and potential of participatory media. Speakers include Sue Schardt (Association of Independents in Radio, USA) Cath Dwyer (ABC Open), Jodie Bell (Goolarri Media Enterprises), Kath Letch (Community Broadcasting Association of Australia) and Indu Balachandran (Information & Cultural Exchange).

Impact Effects Evaluation

Leading researchers, practitioners and activists discuss the different models and best practice principles for working with communities to help tell their stories and creative positive change. Speakers include Sam Gregory (WITNESS, USA), Mimi Pickering (Appalshop, USA), Andrew Lowenthal (EngageMedia), Dr. Lachlan MacDowall (University of Melbourne) and Change Media.

Platforms & Publics

Explore how arts and media organisations are connecting with communities across new platforms, and how they might harness the power of next generation broadband. Speakers include Feral Arts, Assoc Prof. Jean Burgess (QUT), Colin Griffith (Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation) and Helen Simondson (ACMI).

Storytelling Futures

We consider the enduring appeal of storytelling, the role of the storyteller and storytelling institutions in a changing media landscape, and the importance of community-based storytelling. Speakers include Prof. John Hartley (Curtin University), Scott Rankin (Big hART), Jesse Cox (All The Best, FBi) and Elias Nohra (CuriousWorks).

To book tickets to the forum and to download the full program visit the ACMI event page.


Friday 9 November, 10am- 2pm

A half-day lab for selected participants to workshop new projects; receive feedback, advice and support from our national and international speakers; participate in peer-to-peer mentoring; and make new connections across community arts and media.

Participation is via application. For more information on how to get involved or to register your interest in the lab, email

This event is presented by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and the Queensland University of Technology with support from the Australian Research Council, the Australia Council for the Arts, Goolarri Media Enterprises, Swinburne University of Technology, Curtin University, 31 Digital and the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia.

ACMI will also be hosting a Digital Storytelling express workshop in conjunction with the forum on Saturday 10 November, 10am – 5.30pm. More info at the ACMI website.

Recent Highlights from the Twitterverse.

Community Uses of Co-Creative Media’s Twitter stream has been going for a few months now, so we thought it would be a great idea to post a roundup of what is out there with digital storytelling and co-creative media practices in the wider community and around the world.

Recent highlights include a story from the well known StoryCorps, with a Kickstater campaign to fund a TV series of their animated digital stories. This looks really interesting, and the use of crowd funding is quite a fascinating idea, as it allows potential audience members to invest in the program that they will eventually watch. So, both the audience and storytellers are involved in getting it on the air.

Another very interesting piece of information is the recent post on the research of The Future of Storytellingconducted by Latitude 42 via the CBX Twitter feed. This research emphasised:

“1. How are audiences’ expectations around storytelling evolving as media experiences become more multiplatform, more customizable, and more participatory?

2. How can content creators and technologists make stories come alive, by allowing audiences to delve deeper into them or by bringing them out into the real world?

3. What are some best practices and new opportunities for the future of storytelling?”

Reference: CB Online 

Another great community project is the The Creative Recovery Pilot Project. This is fantastic. It is a 16-month initiative across three communities, including the regions of Ipswich, Lockyer Valley and Cassowary Coast in Queensland, that were hit hard by recent flooding and natural disaster in 2010-2011. It is really worth checking out, and to also see how stories have been shared on the online platform by Feral Arts called Place Stories.

One really interesting, and well publicised use of community co-creative storytelling, is the recent National Geographic collaboration with the people of the Pine Ridge Reservation. By using the Cowbird Storytelling Platform, this allowed both the magazine and the community to tell their stories unfiltered, and to share these with the world.

The Information and Cultural Exchange’s (ICE) recent blog post The Empowering Nature of Storytelling and self esteem, also shared a wonderful short summary of the Koori Kinnection Project, and the great things that storytelling has done for young people with the telling and sharing of digital stories and similar creative practices.

This is only a short collection of the wonderful projects that are out there, and we will be posting many more regular round ups and highlights of such great projects and initiatives that we come across via Twitter and other online travels.