One of the things that I wished we had done during our project last year was to take better notes about the process of developing and implementing our plans. Not only would this provide an opportunity for us to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t, but it would provide a record of what we did, for us and even perhaps for others interested in replicating and adapting parts of our program. This time around we’re going to try to do better.
This year’s project, officially named Leveraging Digital and Social Media for Peacebuilding and Youth Empowerment, has been in the works since last September, as we realized that we didn’t have enough trainers to offer all the instruction we wanted and we didn’t have enough time to sit with the each of the organizations and activists who approached us for help with thinking about how these media might really be useful for them. We suffered from a lack of depth in what we were doing. We couldn’t meet the demand that was stirred.
2009: Seeking Depth and Sutainability
We’re attempting to address the challenges in a sustainable way with the structure of the 2009 project: 1) train trainers and link them together as a network through an online/offline course, 2) ask them to offer trainings during the course,  and 3) solicit ideas from organizations and then leverage the network of trainers to flesh out those ideas. We turned to the idea of a competition, because we wanted to encourage experimentation, collaboration with other organizations (one of the submission criteria), and let organizations self-select for their participation.
We will introduce the competition in several information sessions held around the country in June. In each session, we’ll describe the program and then give a brief introduction to the social web. Next we’ll divide into workgroups and make our way through a basic communications needs-assessment and brainstorming how (or not) digital or social media may be able to address some of the challenges.
Our hope is that by working through some of the issues and potential solutions, we will encourage entries for the competition. While not all of the entries will be selected for full development, we’re going to do our best to give each of them more opportunities to workshop their ideas. The details of the competition call will be posted here when they are final.
Finding Trainers
To find the participants for the training we sent out an announcement via lebanon-support.org, which everyone here reads for jobs; to the emails of our participants from last year; to our network of NGO leaders, including Women in Technology, with whom we partnered a lot last year; and to university career services offices and other professors. Field officers with OTI got the word out to potential particpants in what are called the manaatiq (regions) outside Beirut.
So far we’ve received over 60 applications for a budgeted 25 spots. Applications have come from as far as Iraq and Dubai, from more women than men (about 60/40), and from people aged 17 to 53.
My past attempts at interviewing and hiring candidates for employment in Lebanon has been frustrating and downright disempowering at times. Once a job listing is posted, no matter how clearly you ask for a motivation letter, often you just receive a résumé attached to an email saying here’s my CV for the current advertised position. Résumés themselves, targeted or not, leave lots to be desired as well, even from graduates of the so-considered best universities.
But we didn’t want them to get in the way of our application process. And so we took a note (actually many) from the recent and transformative Infoactivism Camp that Tactical Technology Collective held in India this past February—and in which I and our project associate participated—and asked the questions we wanted to know the answers to, which had little to do with degrees or years of experience, and made a CV secondary.
We used Google forms to collect this information, and in 65 or so applicants, we didn’t have any problems. A couple of people submitted their form twice, but that was easy to catch. The only difficulty with using the form, which was quite large and included paragraphs of text, was being able to export it or print it out in some readable way. We weren’t, so I found myself copy-pasting each row of data onto a page of a document. Worked fine, didn’t take long, but we only had 65 applications. Does anyone know of another way to manage a table like this?
The best part about doing things this way, though, came as I read through the applications, which focused on the answering the questions rather than trying to puff up an application. It also gave me a real sense of being able to host a collaborative program and develop a safe environment in which we can focus on facilitating peer-to-peer learning, which is essentially what networks are all about.
The range of experience was broad, from marketing strategists, photographers, cameramen, audio engineers, social workers, youth shadow government ministers, website developers, volunteers. They come, as we had hoped, from all over the country, though still weighted, as expected, in favor of Beirut. And the passion for media and communication and the understanding for how it can effect social change emerged in high relief, with ideas like (slightly edited for spelling and clarity):

the internet joins people from different regions, beliefs, affiliations, religions, races, nationalities, with a very easy way without need to be displaced

a strategic use of digital tools and media can reinforce social responsibility, affect the mentality of the community in general and create pressure on the policy makers which results in better social change

I’d like to shed some light on the issue stressing on the effects of worldwide socialisation that is independent of the sapce and time restriction in real life

the internet is helping us develop cultural and democratic activities in my hometown without the efforts and the usual constraints. We can set events, meetings, activities, trainings with lesser efforts and greater impact

[With the internet,] the peacemakers can influence a large segment of youth and urge them to move and work

I train ladies in making blogs and facebook. So when ending this training and being familiar with all new tech, I’m going to forward it to them. Also, I’m seeking with a group of youth to open a computer center for training

as a dramatic arts teacher, i can assure you that my students are more motivated, since last year, when we started shooting little projects, and they are more responsible and aware about media, hard work, and time management

I think digital tools connect people, empower those who are often marginalized in the media and can also work to humanize commnities and people

This generation [the youth] feels that they are neglected by those “old stupid people who ruined this country and turned their lives into hell” (yaanee, us). We need to communicate

What’s most exciting is that I can see a network developing. We will bring all the trainers together into one room later this month for a day to introduce them to the training and, of course, to each other. We’ll ask them to set expectations for skills and for participation guidelines. And then, I guess, we’ll see what happens from there.
Image: Original art from http://www.rainbowsafety.co.uk/.