On 20th June, we organized Writers’ Workshop: Narratives of the Quake 2015 because we wanted to provide a space for writers/bloggers to pen down their thoughts regarding the earthquake. This space would not only be a physical one, but a space where they could learn (through sessions), share (through group activities and feedback), write (in their own little corners or in groups and share it on the platform), eat (some really tasty food by Sharmila didi), and have fun (watch documentaries, get a journalism kit to play around with, and meet some like-minded people).
Now it is time to reflect over whether these “goals” were met! So the Future Makers Nepal team is taking some time to reflect over what worked and what can be improved. We also include some random photo impressions from the event below – enjoy!
I think I was really nervous if people would find the format of the workshop useful and productive. That was my first concern. When participants started to pour in, and I saw a lot of “young” people it was really exciting to see that so many people are interested in writing and in building this community. I will put down my thoughts into the positives and then some negatives:
Some great positives:
- Dynamic Workshop Format. The format of the workshop was very dynamic which allowed the participants to get a wide range of information/activity in one package. But at the same time, it allowed them to have their own time to write.
- Fun Parallel Activities. The session that I was moderating was a discussion on “Is Writing a part of Rebuilding”. I think initially it was difficult to get everyone talking but eventually everyone warmed up to the discussion and really put forward interesting comments. It really worked to pick their brains, get them started on thinking about what they could write about, how they could write it, and the discussion moved organically to citizen journalism.
- Insightful and Thought Provoking Sessions. The documentary+visual journalism was very evocative and focusing on the ethics of visual journalism was great. The Record Nepal’s session was really laid-back, but insightful. The participants were really enjoying these two different style of presentation.
- Fluid Writing Time. The writing session provided them a fluidity – so I think they were able to write on their own pace, no one was rushed. I think this is the reason some participants managed to write down quite a lot. Those who did not get to write so much, did gain a lot from the sharing session afterwards.
- Great Food. The food was great! Everyone loved it.
- Awesome Journalism Kit. I think everyone loved the kit.
Now on to some workable negatives:
- Number of Participants. The number of the participants could have been smaller. Although few people did not turn out, we still had about 25 participants so there was less time to interact with everyone in a more detailed manner.
- Less time for interaction with organizers. Our estimate was a bit off so we ended up having more food (but thankfully, we did not waste it thanks to Natalia’s idea of taking it all home). But because we were running around buying food, helping didi out, and organizing all of it, we could have saved that time to interact with the participants more.
- Article Writing Session. Perhaps we could have had some time to actually sit down with everyone there in groups and work on some of the write-ups (like reading, peer reviewing, and some preliminary editing/revisions).
- Time Management. The documentary that we had wanted to screen at the end did not really happen since by the end of the day, we were all exhausted and the participants also had to go back home. Perhaps, screening documentaries can be an informal activity that Future Makers Nepal can do even on other days?
Overall I think we were able to “meet the goals” and more. We are already starting to get posts on the platform and people are asking what is in the future for Future Makers Nepal
So by the feedback we got it seems we got the basics right I will not repeat Dipti – I agree with her points and will just add others:
- Sessions were great! Especially I enjoyed Gyanu Adhikari’s session, when he was questioning the mainstream narrative in so many cases and even defined journalism as “breaking down the narrative”. Unexpected input like this makes for great food for thought and great sessions. Well selected, Dipti :)
- Saturday! That’s the right day for such events here. Except we could also try half-day events in the afternoon during the week.
- Knowing who comes. We had a bit of a messy process for this, resulting from (1) the fact that some registered participants to events don’t show up, (2) us having to know the number of participants to prepare kits and food, (3) us having some places left after not everyone filled their final confirmation, so we even re-opened the application form for a time. And some were able to use the form after the deadline :P So there’s potential to streamline this process, but I don’t have detailed ideas yet.
- Informal name tags. With so many participants, it’s hard to remember who’s who without them. They’re esp. helpful on photos as well :D Self-made name tags were nice and informal, maybe a selection of nice templates could be used next time. The badges were not really suitable for pinning the name tags to clothing (too fiddly to do), and tape pieces were not really beautiful or sticky enough. A minor detail, but can be improved :)
- Snacks and furniture. Here we learned from last time: every room was a chillout space this time, with snacks, fruits and juices and comfortable couches. Maybe cold juices and two water dispensers next time, for mixing. Aww :)
- Space concept. This time, we had assigned one room for brainstorming / group writing and one for silent writing work. This did not really work. For group work, everyone including myself would use the room that they liked (maybe b/c it had space left and was not too noisy at the time).
- How to structure collaborative writing? The long collaborative writing session was possibly a bit disorienting. I don’t know, did participants enjoy this time, or did they feel left alone to “work for us”? Since the sharing time session worked so well and was seemingly more interesting, a next writers’ workshop might consist of just the sharing session (and the presentation sessions before). Not every participant would have to come with a text to share, some might enjoy to hear the comments and discussions when others share, and learn a great deal from that about how to write.
- Sharing time: Unplanned and great. This was not in the program, but was very helpful and worked amazingly well: half of the participants presented the state of their writing, and the audience was engaged in feedback. In my impression, many of the less experienced writers were looking for feedback on structure, topic etc., and feedback during this session was at times too careful to really help with that. A different mode of giving feedback could help … like, live commenting and suggesting on a Google Doc while the author reads key parts of it?
- Sharing time: What was up with the ladies? Only one lady among 7 guys or so presented during “sharing time” what she had written, and she was an experienced writer. Hope we did not make the other ladies somehow uncomfortable sharing their ideas and texts?
- Online-offline integration. If (maybe) we want to make writers’ workshops into a more regular thing, we want to think about how to streamline the process of actually publishing the content online. Because it seemed to me that participants were mostly willing to publish, but only when they are confident enough it’s good, and in some cases the time during the workshop was too short for that (and then the “normal” lack of time over the next days might do the rest). Streamlining would include some technical work on edgeryders.eu to make it more usable and suitable for this task. For the intentions of our dialogue-creating project, ideally every participant would publish something (without pushing people of course).
- Internet and electricity. The inverter was a bit weak for the projector and for all the notebooks combined, and we had Kathmandu’s typical “unreliable broadband” problem for a time (combined even with “unreliable 3G data” during the Twitter story session). So when making these events into a regular thing, it will be worth it to reduce dependency on the Internet. Instead of Google Docs, we would use open source collaborative writing software (like Etherpad Lite or Hackpad) on a server in the local network. Instead of edgeryders.eu, we can use a local copy of it running on the local network, and let people create accounts and publish their articles there – it would later be synced to the Internet. For the parts of the event that really need the Net, a wire-based broadband router with failover (and parallel use where needed) to mobile broadband would do the job.
Overall: I think writers’ workshops have the potential to become a regular thing in Kathmandu, strengthening blogging culture and citizen journalism here. They are basically a form of P2P support with well-aligned incentives, so with some organizational streamlining I think they are efficient and cheap for organizing them on a regular basis. Some ideas for future topics that come to mind:
- Data journalism workshop. With sessions teaching data analysis and data visualization basics.
- Collaborative article writing. (Dipti’s idea actually!) Organized (for example) as a Google Drive folder with Google Docs documents, where people help each other out by reading and commenting on each other’s texts. This would happen asynchronously and online, and every now and then there would be an event for meeting up and working together face-to-face.
- Wikipedia collaborative writing. Since Internet users in Nepal are not used to using wikis or the Wikipedia wiki syntax, collaborative writing could happen in Google Docs or Etherpads, and in the end somebody copies the finished article over to Wikipedia and formats it correctly. Might be combined with a competition.
- Blogging workshop. Could be one of the meetups of a writer group, introducing them to relevant blogging tech they might not know yet. Including blog aggregation on edgeryders.eu once available, which would make it a nice citizen journalism publishing hub all at once.
Not much left to add. I do agree a smaller group would be good - but at the same time I think we did the right thing to bring all these people at once, as they had a chance to meet. The following events could be based on smaller groups with which we could actually sit and discuss things, and do some writing with them ourselves. Participants can spread the word, and bring new folks around.
I like the running around and doing things – but it would be great if we had a space where cooking and preparing, would happen in a more symbiotic way, and people could easily just shift from one place to another. The setting of Aamu wasn’t exactly good for it, the kitchen had a limited capacity and access to it. But anyway, Sharmila didn’t seem to need a lot of help
My session was partly ruined by the internet connection, but at the same time it was a great lesson on how to interact with Nepali people. I was so surprised by how it went. At first, I gave instructions and started the novel with the first sentence. Then cracked a few jokes and encouraged them to continue. And I would expect participants to engage in a conversation while waiting for the page to refresh, but they were rather silent. And I was expecting that nothing will happen – but the story was being silently crafted by them. It’s a different dynamic, but it went very well.
Things to change:
- Registration – well, that was tricky because people didn’t check their emails or care about confirming. Maybe we should simply call and confirm this way next time.
- Next time, with a smaller group, we could prepare ourselves better in different topics - knowing what people want to write about, each one could take over a discussion with part of the group, this way helping them with improving their ideas and helping with having different angles on things.
Great work guys! I had fun reading your comments. Like Natalia said, much of it is already covered. Here are my thoughts about the day:
- Great food and snacks management. Thanks to Sushila baini, we didn’t have to worry about food. It was managed well. And we didn’t worry much about it.
- Good participation. It was good to see new participants (whom Dipti and I didn’t know) which means our FMN page on Facebook is getting popular. :)
- Good sessions. I was moving in both the rooms during the parallel sessions and I could see that the participants were having fun in both the rooms. Also, the discussion (like Dipti said) took turn into something so interesting towards the end.
- Spontaneous writers’ sharing. It was a very casual sharing session and I think that was what was needed, especially when the participants were not very confident about their writing. No one was too critical. I think the sharing session went well (albeit short).
Matt, I wouldn’t worry too much about women not sharing. I don’t think it was deliberate. But we can be a little more careful about it from next time.
- Battery back up. I wish we had thought about the load shedding schedule and battery back up before the event. I know it is almost monsoon and load shedding was unlikely. But if we had a longer (more important) session in projector we might have trouble because of the power cut.
- Easy mobility. I agree with Natalia on this one. It would be wonderful to have a space where people can move around more easily. I also know this is a very big challenge in Kathmandu. But we can decide on the project and then find a space if that is possible. I still don’t know how we can go about it. A better setting might make the entire event easier (for the participants and us). This could partly be due to the number of participants. :-)
- Shopping a day ahead. Like Dipti said, may be we can shop and prepare the logistics entirely a day ahead so we can concentrate on the participants and events alone.
- Post-session “hangout”. I like the idea of participants hanging around after the event discussing the outcome. In a casual get together, letting us know what went well (and what didn’t). This will probably require us to finish the event by 5:30 so we can have the session of casual discussion after that. May be serve tea so people would stay back. :)
- Data Journalism. I agree entirely with Matt. This is something we can work on (especially because we have likes of KLL, RAN and YoungInnovations who can help us).
- Writing “competition”. I like the idea of open calling on article for a particular topic(s). May be we can select a few that meet our objectives and ask people to post write ups in the blog with a title we can recognize (FMN Sharing Competition: Is writing a big part of Rebuilding?). We can also give a “Popular Award” based on who gets the most likes/ comments on the platform? We will have more visitors that way. This is something UNEP did for World Environment Day.
Well first , toast to the wonderful team and great work!!
I joined in only in the later part of the event, (wish I was able to make for the entire day) but i had a wonderful experience listening to Gyanu Adhikari on citizen journalism. However I had expected a bit more on that topic from him. Sometimes I felt that he was talking about the same thing over and again, may be I was expecting something on future prospect of citizen journalism in Nepal from him as well as the challenges of it. But, given that we had to make participants write as well may be his allotment of time was perfect.
- Team Spirit. I enjoyed helping Sharmila in the kitchen with all of you. The way each of us would pop into the kitchen to help Sharmila, making sure that things were done on time, and the team spirit; I am proud to be part of such a vibrant team.
- Less number of participants. As Dipti said, I too think lesser number of participants would have worked a bit better for the workshop (maybe around 15) primarily because that would have given more time for everyone to share their write-up. I got so much engrossed into their stories and was expecting more interesting ones to come up. But sadly we just had few sharings.
- Future Ideas. I am excited about the writing competitions that some of us have proposed as future events. But it would also be wonderful if we had some kind of events where we could invite participants and experts to talk a bit on politics and statebuilding. A discussion event on political issues would be something I would definitely look forward to.