Sharing Knowledge Online
Steve Connors, CEO, Creative Concern, Manchester
The online site ontheplatform.org.uk is a forum for knowledge sharing for people working on sustainability – policy, transport, building, recycling, waste, energy plans, and so on – and is being used by about 100 to 200 people every day.
Steve Connors is co-founder and CEO of Creative Concern, a communications agency in Manchester, specialising in ethical and sustainability issues, integrated campaigns and city strategies. He is also on the advisory board of the Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF) research centre at the University of Salford, Manchester.
Q: How is this online forum working?
A: The site, called ontheplatform.org.uk, has a rather sophisticated design. Right now, we have 7,500 unique visitors and 25,000 monthly visits to the site. It launched in October 2013 and really got going in January. We had a spike of 250 people reading one article we did on the role bridges play in urban centres and cities. About 75% of readership is here in Greater Manchester, 20% in London and the rest of the UK, and other nodes in North America and a few in Sweden.
We have 60 to 70 contributors, including professional writers, people who represent different sectors. We wanted to have 5 or 6 professional writers to ensure solid flow for high-quality content – you need to have quality content to get repeat visitors.
Q: Have you done other work for Mistra Urban Futures projects, sharing what you have done for GMLIP?
A: We’ve held deliberative workshops exploring the role of the voluntary sector and alternative pathways in how cities might develop. For the Mistra Urban Future partners, we share knowledge with Cape Town and Kisumu LIPs and in Gothenburg. They’ve seen our site and quite like it and they retweet when we put something online.
The other cities are tackling similar issues. The online forum provides space for discussing sustainability in a very informal space. The interactivity into social media – we have no comment forums. It was a deliberate decision to take the interactivity online through social media only, like Twitter and Facebook.
Q: What kind of results have you had? How do you know that this is a tool engaging participants in GMLIP?
A: It’s really tricky to know whether online involvement represents the real world. We have had open meetings of the editorial panel, 15 to 20 people show up and bounce ideas around – they meet in the real world. That’s worked quite well. At the same time, we had a poor response to a recent readership survey. We still have to see who is involved. We have no citizens’ panel or jury involved, and we have tried to broaden the voices involved.
We also have a new calendar and a documents library connecting silos across the city. Knowledge about sustainability is held on people’s laptops and there has been no archiving for organisations that have disappeared. These documents are all available online now, and they are open access!