Do your own work

Thanks to @stevesilberman I came across this little article about growing food locally in Britain:

Introducing Britain’s Greenest Town

Now, I’m already inclined to like these stories because I think local food will remain part of a larger localism trend over the next 10 to 20 years as we pass peak oil and go deeper into global warming’s effects.

But there’s a quote in there that caught my eye (boldface my own):

Incredible Edible was originally funded out of the participants’ own pockets. “We were very clear that we didn’t want to look at what grants were available and mould our projects to suit them,” said Mr Green. “We felt that what would work was to start with the town and what it needed. We’d look for money later on.” What the project leaders found was that a lot could be achieved with small amounts of cash. And awards and grants have followed…

This was something I saw in public media (and still see) that drove me nuts: companies taking grant money because it was available and the projects sounded mildly interesting, not because they organically developed a project in response to local needs.

We did it in Alaska when the stations took money to create a replication of the “Portal Wisconsin” project from several years back. No one really wanted to do the project — hell, the company didn’t even believe in the web as a viable platform to begin with — but there was $10,000 in cash sitting there, waiting to be taken. We ended up not doing the project and returning the money (thankfully). But that wasn’t the only time funny funding came along.

I worry about other projects (one in particular comes to mind right now) that drives public media firms to do work they shouldn’t really be doing.

Heres a concept:

  • find out what the community wants or needs; do a “listening project” like IdeaStream did a few years back
  • develop a project or service that would fit the community’s needs
  • if you really need cash to get started, then start smaller so you need less cash and can fund it out of pocket
  • get some early successes, then take your story on the road to raise more money if needed

Social media works this way, too. First, you listen. Then you talk. Then you get together to do something new as a team. Later you raise money.

I know there’s an additional desire to ingratiate one’s public media company with the CPB or with the Knight Foundation, so people sign up for projects that don’t quite fit but are “close enough.” And I know these projects are a time-honored tradition in the public media system — it’s just what everyone does.

But maybe that’s one of our problems. We’re not working for our communities, we’re working for someone else, somewhere else.

Let’s do our own work. And let’s start by listening.

2 thoughts on “Do your own work

  1. How does someone “take your story on the road to raise more money if needed”? I’m suspect of your ‘investment narrative.’ I like your idea of listening and doing your own work, but public project at some point need to prove impact within the community and then be valued/funded by the community. I’m curious where you see the line between a business and public media….

    • Taking your story on the road, so to speak, means that you build a “case for support” — a story that explains who you are and what you’re doing and why others should support you in doing it — and then you tell that story to everyone you meet and make an extra effort to get in front of donors (be they individuals or institutions) that can help you achieve your mission.

      In the case of the local food promoters noted in the linked story at the top of this post, they got support from the local school, who uses locally-grown meat and produce in all the student meals they prepare. They told their story, talked to a group that could support their efforts (the school) and acquired the support they sought.

      Sometimes support is cash. Sometimes it’s political clout. Sometimes it gifts-in-kind or traded goods and services. But you won’t get any support if you don’t make a case for that support.

      As for impact, I think in this day and age you must show some impact first — real impact, not imaginary or hopeful. That’s why starting small, and starting out of your own pocket, and starting with an idea YOU had — not one handed down to you from someone else — is so critical.

      I hope that clarifies it a bit.

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