A five step framework for encouraging community engagement with networking tools

Central to ARCLIGHT is the idea of introducing low-cost, offline networking hubs (our Raspberry Pi computers running the MAZI software) to enable community members to collect, share, and read positive mental health stories. These enable stories to be gathered and viewed over time, via participants’ own personal devices (smartphones, tablets, or laptops).

Initially it was challenging to introduce the MAZI to participants so to build their confidence without overwhelming them, one of the researchers, Andrea Berardi produced a “ five step method”. This method consisted of five distinct steps: each requiring increasing levels of sophistication with regards to community use. The steps outlined below were used with the communities in the ARCLIGHT project.

Step 1 – Engage. The first step is to encourage curiosity and a willingness to engage with a MAZIzone, and to see this as a useful mechanism for connecting with the ARCLIGHT aims and processes. Activities could involve supporting community members to read local stories through the MAZI website (using WordPress), and to read and even contribute to brief social exchanges on the message board (‘Guestbook’). This is a key part of the necessary ‘free, prior, and informed consent’ process allowing participants to familiarise themselves with the project and its key communication platform.

Step 2 – Inform. This step involves participants accessing the MAZIzone for more in-depth knowledge acquisition. Community members are encouraged to explore existing multimedia assets stored on the MAZI on wellbeing, resilience, community owned solutions and positive deviance, alongside more practical tips on storytelling using different forms (text, drawings, photos, video). These will comprise short introductory materials uploaded on the file sharing tool (Nextloud, an open source tool similar to Dropbox) providing examples and explanations so that participants build their understanding of the concepts and the techniques underpinning the project, and gain confidence in accessing a MAZIzone to view existing content.

Step 3 – Debate. This crucial step supports participants in their reflections of the initial project aims, concepts and techniques, and raise queries, concerns, ideas, and ultimately, enables then to decide how to proceed.  WordPress can be used for community leaders to create discussions that participants can then respond to. A more open-ended conversation might either be recorded (annotating a face to face discussion for later reviewing or amending), or carried out through the simple collaborative writing tool deployed on MAZIzones, Etherpad.

Step 4 – Create. Here, participants are encouraged to produce and upload their own assets on the MAZIzone. This is anticipated to be primarily achieved by participants contributing their own community stories of resilience, but also with a license to co-develop, with project researchers, new assets to describe the project aims within the community, and expand on, modify, and contribute new concepts and techniques. MAZIzone tools that could be used include: WordPress, Etherpad, and NextCloud.

Step 5 – Manage. Participants are encouraged to produce a timeline of who is doing what, when and how, and the emerging result of the intervention. Ultimately, if the MAZIzone deployment is to serve as the ‘digital collective memory’ for building community mental health resilience, this social memory needs to be in the form of an engaging and captivating story. A WordPress blog could be the best tool to integrate and ‘manage’ the disparate assets on a MAZIzone.

All of this also implies a parallel activity, “Maintain”: the development of local community expertise in running and maintaining the MAZIzone itself. This has both technical and social aspects: ensuring the hardware and software are running well, and also facilitating and moderating participants’ use of the digital tools. For a number of the participants, they will not only require technical guidance and confidence building but also social and cultural guidance in how to contribute to shared discussions. As with any collective communication space, there is always the possibility that well-meaning contributions might accidentally offend instead of enhancing conversation.


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