DevCom = Development Communicators: people who work in communications for organisations involved in international development. Last week this network held a workshop, which saw representatives from a range of government departments (donors like DFID, from Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, France, Norway, Belgium and other, plus colleagues from the World Bank, UNDP, African and Asian development banks) meet to discuss their experience using social media.

First off Joanna, network co-ordinator, shared the results of a survey of people’s experiences. These showed that while there is a good range of use, it is still not universal – and some channels in particular showed 50/50 experience.

Next we heard a couple of talks from colleagues – the first on evaluation – where we had a comprehensive walk through creating an evaluation framework for a communication activity. The main conclusion my colleague has formed when working on these, is that having clear and measurable outcomes to evaluate really helps you sharpen your thinking as to the type of communication you actually do. I’ll work through his notes and example with him and perhaps write a separate post.

Next up was Nick Jones, head of digital at Number 10 and the Cabinet office. He gave an entertaining talk on the range of channels they are using to get different stories out. His original mnemonic  was Stefffyl: covering slideshare, twitter, foursquare, facebook,  flickr, youtube, LinkedIn [and I can’t remember the ‘e’], but he has already had to add a new line to include pinterest, storify and tripline. He also talked about the approach of COPE – Create Once, Publish Everywhere- in particular in relation to infographics, which, used  thoughtfully, can add huge value to a piece of news.

The general talks were followed by a series of “show and tell” sessions, first from 3 donors: DFID, the Belgian aid agency, and Norad – our colleagues from Norway. These were followed by 3 international agencies : IFAD, UNDP and the World Bank.

I gained snippets of useful information from all of these – like the interesting tool they are using in Belgium to create a daily tailored news service: Scoop it – definitely one to investigate. Also the fascinating programmes being run in Norway to raise awareness of development issues. They talked us through their “Reborn” programme, which they developed by working with Facebook (so they had permission!) to create what looks like a timeline – but not for your own life as it is now, but how it might have been if you had been born in one of the developing countries that Norad works in. You learn whether you would have received an education, and what work you might have ended up doing, how young you might have married and in general what your life might have been like. They also shared a competition they are running for schools – where the prize is a class visit to a programme in Tanzania – but it is no simple task to win. 1,000 classes have registered, but the final winner will have completed a long series of questions, done a lot of research, and probably enlisted friends and family to also complete the course and “donate” their points.

The next set of presentations included the importance of getting buy-in and support from the absolute top of the organisation, plus some fascinating insights from UNDP on running social media in several languages. They have both facebook and twitter accounts in french, spanish and english. Finally the World Bank, who introduced the concept of crowdsourcing blogs. By this they mean that they tweet a broad idea for a post, and ask what people think –  then they frame the blog post based on the questions people asked and the comments they made.

Our final sessions were a series of small groups for in depth discussion of specific topics. People talked about the ethics of photography when used in development – starting with some very helpful guidelines that Save the Children have produced – contrasted with some actual photographs that one of their field officers had published recently (which appeared to break all the rules.) Another group talked about how to embed social media activity and skills across an organisation, another covered blogging – which also included talk about how to support people new to the act and how to encourage and enthuse those who already have a busy life. The final group talked about metrics and measurement – which neatly rounded off the discussion started in the morning about evaluation – but covered the challenges in deciding what to measure to demonstrate the success or value of communications and interaction carried out via social media.

A busy day- lots of conversation, new contacts made and old friends re-connected with. I look forward to experimenting with some new ideas – and with the speed this environment is changing,  wonder what would be on the agenda this time next year?