Posts Tagged ‘Social Capital’

Just did a short form post of this on Facebook but the matter hasn’t fully left my spirit so I thought I would come here and elaborate a little bit. I’m talking about advocacy and how some people believe (obviously erroneously) that they have a right to your beliefs and consequently social media posts.

So, someone posts about something and instead of identifying with it and moving on, or disagreeing with it and moving on, you come with, “but you did not talk about XYZ.”

For starters, this is absolute nonsense. I have very little patience for it. Nigeria is beset with so many issues everyone should be speaking about stuff, and all the time too!

Like, who has the register for what people should speak up about? Who made anyone the keeper of advocacy topics? And how does speaking (or not speaking) about one issue take away my right to speak about something else?

I am one person. I am somebody, but I am not everybody. The issues that affect me or I’m passionate about might not be the ones that awaken your activist bones. That‘s fine. The issues bothering me today might bother you tomorrow, and vice versa. That’s fine too.

This entitlement to the content people post on their personal social media profiles is silly, and the reason why Nigeria is what it is today. We talk about social media giving us a voice, yet refuse the individuality and ripple effect it affords us when we speak up. So confusing.

So we consciously or unconsciously ‘select’ people who should somehow know what we’re interested in, and talk about only those things. Otherwise, we heckle them. We outsource our civic duties and responsibilities to a select few, then cry when the monsters we’ve bred come of age. Sigh.

I read about a person who started #DistractionFreeFridays with a friend to get people to commit to driving without their devices on Fridays. We’ve seen hashtags like #SaveBagega, #NotTooYoungToRunBill, #CommonWealth4Peace, even #BBNaija. Do we tell one set of people to stop using the internet because we don’t subscribe to their hashtag? No. Live and let live. Advocate and let others do so.

You want to talk about female genital mutilation? Do it. Child marriage? Already. ‘Grasscutters’ and the other aberrations going on in the North East? Make it louder for those in the back. Audu Maikori and Elrufai’s sudden preoccupation with him? Go for it.

Whatever you want attention drawn to, start it. Gather information, and share it in ways that will resonate with people. Create a plan detailing what message you want to get out, who your target is, and what you want them to do when they’re aware of your messaging. Craft your messages in simple language, think about graphics if you can (the diversity of content is great and images are awesome as far as shareability is concerned). Sell your idea to your friends and get them to put it out for you at times when you know your audience is online, and keep posting/publishing. As it resonates with people, they’ll like, share, repost, retweet, whatever. And hopefully, they’ll take the commensurate offline action.

Here’s to your success, and leaving others to use their social media the way they want to.

On the way to this event, in the blistering cold of time around 7:40am, I’m singing, ‘on the road again’; you know, the song that donkey in the animation Shrek was humming when Shrek allowed him to come along on the trip to see Lord Farquad. Now even though I have issues with Shrek (and how DreamWorks is slowly turning what would have been a classic into a random serial), it is the only thing that comes to mind at this time because I am truly on the road again, and I’m loving it!

In less than six weeks of starting my MA in Social Media at Birmingham City University my class has been to three events ; the Hyper Local Government Camp ‘unconference’ at Walsall College (first time ever I was at an event where the agenda was formed on the spot), the Multi-platform Story Telling and Social Capital  at the MAC (where I inflated my ignorance balloon on social capital), and this one, the Beyond 2010 event organised by the Birmingham City Council and Digital Birmingham to spark up debates on how to deliver more public services for cheaper using digital innovations.

Apart from thoroughly enjoying the coffee and biscuits and getting wowed by Samira Ahmed’s CV, Paul Tilsley, Deputy Leader, Birmingham City council gave me my first laugh of the day when he said, “there are three types of people around, the ones born in Birmingham, the ones who wish they had that privilege, and the ones who have no ambition”. Talk of being proud of where you’re from! Ha!

He also laid the background for what the conference would be about, looking at case studies of places, governments and people who had embraced technology to achieve better outcomes for cheaper, especially in the light of the budget cuts just spits away.

First (and in my opinion the most interesting session for the day) was by Robert Bell, co-founder of Intelligent Community Forum. He talked about intelligent communities, saying they are measured by what they do (innovative and constantly working to build a knowledgeable work force), how they do it (advocacy, marketing, digital inclusion), and why they do it (to give their children a life better than what they’ve had). He also stressed the need for digital inclusion because leaving people out costs more money.

We broke into sessions and I remember murmuring to myself as I went to find my hall about the futility of breakfast with the flight of stairs I had to climb!

I sat in on a session chaired by Professor Nigel Shadbolt, Government Transparency and Open Data Advisor. I must say I loved the way Kate Sahota  explained Open Data using a popular film (don’t remember which now) and then ran us through the Benefits of Open Data (efficiency, opportunities to reuse data, accuracy, improved transparency, data quality) and then the challenges with it (what and what not to release, how the councils can make money off the data they release, Ordnance Survey). She wrapped up by touching on how councils can start Open Data.

Now, ever thought about who decides what information is released? What approach is better for releasing data? Those were the questions Adrian Brown from the Institute of Government left us with after his talk about the two approaches of government to transparency which could either

  1. Targeted: waiting for the public to ask for the data before you release it as against releasing random bits of information.
  2. Free: as fast you can get the data out, let it out for people to access, re-use and solve problems that affect them.

Final presentation was by Open Data champion, Will Perrin. Can I digress a bit and say that at all three events I’ve been to so far I saw at least ten people who have been to all three events too. Made me think two things;

  • Means it’s a fairly close-knit network since everyone gets invited to all the ‘same purpose’ events
  • We could be at risk of circulating messages at these events to the same circle of people and excluding (however unconsciously) a wider and potentially ‘just-as-strong’ audience.

Back from my drifting thoughts, Will Perrin talked about the benefits of Open Data, and then touched on how communities can embrace the big society; help their neighbourhoods find a voice online, and give their citizens the data and information they need to help them deliver efficient public services.

I enjoyed the presentation, Will Perrin is a great speaker; my only issue with it was that I had heard it all before (at the Hyper Local event). And I’ll leave it at that.

Food!! Yes, it was lunch time. Lunch was lovely; exposed me to another difference between Nigeria and here though. Lunch at a conference in Nigeria would be rice (boiled, jollof, fried, sautéed), chicken (in all forms imaginable), fish, moimoi (bean pudding), beef, goat meat, salads, etc. Lunch here was mini sausages, sandwiches, prawns, potato wedges, meatballs, and the option of tea and coffee (of course).

Back from lunch (which I enjoyed), Helen Milner from UK Online explained the brilliant work her company is doing (in collaboration with the government) in getting people online. Things I took away?

  • Don’t use the offline majority as an excuse
  • Create the digital world and get the offline on board
  • Don’t just see it as a tool to save money (even though it does save, and a lot)

After this there was the presentation by Andreu Puig, General Manager of the city of Barcelona, another case study of an intelligent city by Robert Bell, and then another break out session that included Dave Harte  (yay), Nick Booth, Karen Cheney, and was chaired by Will Perrin. This is what I took away from all of those (randomly noted), feel free to take notes!

ü  A digitally enhanced citizen is one who is well-informed to and be able influence/comment on/access decision making and have access information.

ü  Social media adds a valuable option to community engagement but should not be used instead of face to face communication; it’s an addition, not a substitute.

ü  The Big Society is about people helping people using technology so the emphasis is laid (or remains with) the people and not technology.

Ok, so I could go on and on and on but I need to stop here and read, update my knowledge because Beyond 2010, technology will render a lot of human functions obsolete and I’m getting ready for that. And by that I mean prepping myself to remain relevant.

A segment of a social network

Image via Wikipedia

Every now and then, we hear something about a new world order where every country will use the same currency, use the same policing system, etc. Religious people say it’s a sign of the ‘end times’, you know, just before the world comes to an end. I remember the panic I felt some years ago when some countries switched their currencies to the euro; I remember begging God to at least let me have my own family before the world ends!

The first time I heard of social capital ever, was at the Social Capital as the New Currency event at the MAC. To my mind, it sounded like this was it, this currency would trump my new world order ideas because this we wouldn’t even need money for! Just be friends with a bunch of people, be nice to them, and start calling up favours as you need them!

Award winning Director Natasha Carlish gave a brilliant example with the  Turbulence film where everything needed for the production of the movie was sourced via social networks (including the 3000 pounds of lighting)! I remember telling myself that if she could do it, I could, and started imagining myself at the première of my movie (done from concept to edit on social capital of course)!

Yes there was the bit about social capital not being a genie you could rub the right way and get results, you would have to invest in the networks but honestly, I wasn’t listening. I related to it like I would do the basic form of barter; your milk for my flour.

Jon Hickman’s class shook the very foundations of my naivety, practically uprooted them from the ground. First off, it wasn’t as simplistic as I had thought it to be, it was academic! As a matter of fact, even though an emerging consensus has been identified by Woolcock (2001) defining social capital as “the norms and networks that facilitate collective action”, it is still a highly contested idea at the moment.

That class took away the equation of social capital to anything monetary, even though further reading on Johnston and Percy-Smith’s “In Search Of Social Capital” showed that a number of scholars likened social capital to finances and suggested that potential finances or monetary gain were some of the origins of social capital.

Since then, I’ve done a bit of random reading on the subject to get myself out of the dark and this is what I’ve come up with, in my own words.

Social capital is not owned by one person alone but is the sum of strengths drawn from social networks; you have to contribute and actively participate to gain the right to draw from it. This thought is corroborated by Gidden’s (2000:78) definition of social capital as ‘‘trust networks that individuals can draw from for social support’’. Also agrees with Bourdieu’s definition of it as ‘‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to a durable network of somewhat institutionalized relationships of mutual recognition or acquaintance’’. Almost sounds mathematical!!!

A lot of other big weights (Coleman, Fukuyama, Becker, Webber, etc.) have defined social capital as it speaks to them but I found that three underlying principles that cut across all their definitions are reciprocity (or do unto others what you would have them do to you), trust, and the fact that you need to belong to a network and participate to be able to reap anything from it.

From Jon Hickman’s class I learnt that policy makers see social capital through the eyes of Robert Putnam, believing that when people come together to collaborate, they reduce reliance on the state, increase opportunities for each other, and generally make their society better.

Reading ‘Social Capital: Beyond the Theory’, a 2003 research document by National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO) identified more positive outcomes of social capital including (but not limited to) improved labour market participation, good election turnout, economic growth, and government effectiveness. Woolcock (2001) does a good summary of the benefits of social capital when he says “the well-connected are more likely to be housed, healthy, hired, and happy”.

All this is apart from social capital being both a public and private good to all concerned. A good example would be members of a community volunteering to get together to repaint and redecorate an orphanage. Public good = doing something good for the community. Private good = providing the volunteers new friendships and contacts that might benefit them later.  Sounds nice doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, social capital is not all heavenly. Its positives ironically also constitute its negatives. Portes (1998) identified four negative consequences of social capital to be exclusion of outsiders (so people outside a circle find it difficult to get in); excess claims on group members (making them do stuff they normally would not do just because they belong to a network); restrictions on individual freedom (making them feel like because you belong to this group you can or cannot do stuff) ; and downward levelling norms (where a community that has experienced adversity consciously or unconsciously restricts its members from seeking to better their lot).

Narayan (1999) explains the exclusion component of social capital by saying it sometimes results in “unequal opportunities for participation, meaning that those who have access to resources and people with the power to make decisions are likely to continue doing so to the detriment of those who are already not in that circle”. That made me think again about the ‘rich getting richer and poor getting poorer’ phrase.

Also, the ties between members of criminal networks and the mafia are also due to social capital or the “strong internal bonds they have”, so says NCVO.

Bottom line, there’s still a lot I need to learn, a lot more I need to understand about this thing called social capital but I know I have moved from being the starry-eyed youth seeing social capital as the genie with my three wishes.

P: S – it took a lot to expose my ignorance on this subject so… easy with it!!!

My people say that when a child goes to the same market often, he is soon able to find his way there with his eyes closed.

Now I can’t say I can find my way around this Social Media market with my eyes closed (yet), but at least I’m not calling Transport for London because I’m lost! (And yes, I have called them for that purpose before but that’s a totally different story)!

So again my class had another event to be at -isn’t it great that we have these opportunities to attend these events- this time at MAC Arts Building.

From the theme of the conference, ‘Social Capital: A New Currency’, I was more curious than I was terrified like the first one I attended Somehow I daresay I looked forward to this one!

First thing I learnt, social media networks are inter woven in such a way that you’ll always see a face you know at any related event (even if it’s just the faces of your classmates)!

So we got there a little late (thanks to the adventure of finding our way there) and only caught the end of Lance Weiler’s interesting session on, ‘Building a Storyworld’. Take away for me? Don’t let the world get in the way of the story, let go of a single point of view, no story is ever cast in stone, I could go on and on and on…..

Next up, Helga Henry did a very insightful presentation on Switchboard and what they are about, traced the origins of Social Capital (which is essentially barter) way back to pre-currency times. I studied Johannes Gutenberg as part of the requirements for a course I did for my first degree; it was good to update my knowledge with some of the things she said.

By the way, Helga runs a blog (and plays Agony Aunt too) here –

There was also a live broadcast of a session by Tommy Pallotta, an award winning film Director. More gist on him?

We took a break here, and I gratefully dug into two croissants (one after the other), shared a high five with @leonieBrueckner for knowing Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus (and thanks to @daveharte for making us read it) and then it was time for the next session.

Moderated by Julia Higginbottom of Aquila, Nicky Getgood and Dave Harte (yay) were on the hot seat discussing their blogs and and the power of storytelling in the community. I learnt that at some point, bloggers have to make the editorial decision (based on personal values) on what and what not to feature on their blogs. Nicky gave an example of the time a youth center/lounge/building (I don’t remember which) caught fire and loads of local press reported it; she didn’t.  A couple months later, the place re-opened for business, and that’s what she based her story on.

I also learnt that you can enrich your blog by using links, audio ( and video feeds; more people will feel comfortable contributing to your blog that way than doing regular interviews for traditional media. Now you can stop wondering why I seem to have so many links with this post!

The fifth and final session had power houses like Nick Booth, Natasha Carlish, and Chris Unitt, and was moderated by Helga Henry. The topic for discussion? Social Capital as Currency. I was blown away by the concept behind the film developed and shot on social capital alone; everything was virtually sourced from social networks!

The concept behind Created in Birmingham is laudable; linking up the interesting arts and culture related activities that happen here, thus becoming one blog among many and playing its part in Birmingham’s online community. If you haven’t already been there,

I also learnt that Social Capital is not a genie you rub the right way and expect miracles; you invest (the typical garbage in garbage out scenario). You can do this by providing needed help to people (not spamming them); examples include and

With that we wrapped up a lovely evening and… (no we didn’t go home), we headed to the bar where the organizers had graciously opened a tab we had drinks on. It was good to sit and talk about the challenges with blogging, how to measure responses, how to keep the interest up even in discussing sober topics on a blog, and other related questions with @nohaatef, @Ianswallow, @negredo, @kazkiely, and @leonieBrueckner. We had a nice chat with @podnosh too and it was refreshing to know that in the spirit of community collaboration, I can explore text messaging as an alternative where twitter and other social media are not easily accessible.

Final word: everyone has social capital; you just need to find out what you can trade.