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A Developing Story: Founder interview

19th March 10

“Designers are natural activists…taking responsibility for the consequences of what we design needs to be part of the value system of our industry, not a burden for a fringe group to take on. We have reached critical mass in terms of consciousness of the challenge; now we need to move from awareness to action.”

Valerie Casey profile, SXSWorld magazine 2010

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Ideas that marry great design with real purpose make us sit up and take notice. So it is with A Developing Story, which we’ve been following since its launch at the end of last year.

ADS publishes news stories from developing countries with a clean & intuitive design that avoids all the worthier-than-thou clichés associated with the category.  It also has a mindblowingly simple campaign at its core: to make the creative assets created for public awareness campaigns freely accessible across developing markets.

Makes perfect sense, right? A campaign that nonetheless needs all the support it can get if governments are to be persuaded to dump red tape and adopt what is in effect a Creative Commons approach across developing nations.

Of course that’s easier said than done. If you want to get involved or just show support, visit http://www.adevelopingstory.org/joinus or email adevelopingstory@googlemail.com.

To find out more we spoke to the people (John, Benjamin & Phil) behind A Developing Story.  Check out what they had to say below.

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Tell us the story behind the story – when and how did the idea of ADS emerge?

JB: The idea was conceived online. I blogged about audioslide shows including something about Benjamin’s production company, Duckrabbit, Benjamin spotted this, visited site Amusing Ourselves, saw a thing called Londoniser which I’d hacked together using Flickr and Yahoo Pipes. He said something nice about it, and suggested that I might be able to apply the same sort of approach to the kind of content generated by NGOs, IGOs, etc. Benjamin is a good friend of Phil who is the Chief Executive of the Prison Radio Association – a Sony Award winning charity that provides support, guidance and expertise to existing prison radio stations and advises prisons interested in setting up radio stations and radio training facilities. Phil had worked in social work and international development before moving into journalism, and was keen to help us with the campaigning aspects of the site.  We all met, had a couple of beers and the decided that the idea was a good one.

How did you get from embryonic idea to launched site?

JB: I designed and built the site using WordPress – Benjamin helped shaped the editorial, creative and campaigning approach with Phil.

The impetus for the campaign, however, came from Ben’s time working in Ethiopia. As part of a campaign about sexual health he worked with a local team writing and producing radio programmes. When he’d finished, he couldn’t believe that the campaign assets weren’t available to others particularly as the campaign had been funded with UK tax-payers money.

So while we built the site with a specific campaign aim, we’re all interested in stories (I’m a novelist and Ben and Phil are both ex-BBC journalists) and in particular how new media can be used to afford a voice to those excluded by ‘mainstream’ media.

Help us understand your campaign approach – who are you trying to reach and persuade to get involved – governments, NGOs and/or the content providers?

While we believe that there’s clear value in bringing together this public-facing, awareness-raising communication material, we also want to do something similar for communications that are used in international development – e.g. radio scripts, posters, mobile text messaging campaigns, etc, used in health campaigns, etc.

Unfortunately, almost none of this material is available in the public domain. A public health campaign about the risks of HIV is run in South Africa, for example, but the artwork and radio scripts aren’t available to someone doing the same thing in Malawi six months later. And that’s what we want to change.

We believe that a few simple changes will have real and immediate impact on the way the international development community communicates. All it really requires is a change of attitude from Government, a simple addition to all relevant contracts which obliges the supplier to make any communications work they produce as part of a funded project, e.g. photos, text, video, available under an appropriate Creative Commons license on a central database.

Incidentally, we’re not saying that anyone should do less communication work, we just think that we should be getting more mileage out of the money spent. Running more campaigns without having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ each time. Using funding to create more content to help educate and promote their work.

We’ve started a dialogue with DFID who seem interested in the idea of using Creative Commons, however, we’re at an early stage as yet.

As with any huge task, the physical solution presumably needs to be incredibly simple. Do you envisage ADS itself becoming the database or hub? Does it need to be a portal (managed by moderators) or Flickr-style database (cloud-based, work tagged by the community) or could it be a more ‘distributed’ solution across a number of sites?

JB: The ADS site and the proposed database of communication assets would be complimentary, though we believe that it’s really important that the database have a strong educational component – capacity building is really important, so ideally local media producers can learn communication skills as well as just having access to assets. Whether it would be possible to run this with volunteer help is debatable.

What can anyone reading this do to get involved / do to help?

We’ve got a wide range of contributors from around the world, ranging from committed individuals to the web teams in large NGOs like MSF, Greenpeace and Amnesty.  If you want to help manage the site, or send us something you think we should feature, then you can learn more about how we work here: http://www.adevelopingstory.org/joinus

or please email us at: adevelopingstory@googlemail.com

How are you spreading the word?

We’ve been too busy building the community and doing our days jobs to get round to talking about what we do. Not great for people who have all worked in the communications industry, but we guess this piece is a good place to start, and we wanted to build something tangible to add credibility to our campaign – to prove that we can deliver this sort of project.

Rewinding to ADS in its broadest sense, you’ve only been live since October 2009, but can you tell us more about your plans for the future?

The plan has been to build community around the site, then start to add more semantic features – we already use elements some of the Open Calais plugins. We’re also opened a dialogue with DFID and we hope to progress the campaign for a shared development content.

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We wish them luck – again, if you want to get involved you can contact John, Benjamin and Phil at http://www.adevelopingstory.org/joinus. Or email adevelopingstory@googlemail.com.

See also: http://www.designersaccord.org/ and the recent Labs post on T.I.E.

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