Thanks so much to everyone who commented on my last (f-locked) entry, especially biascut whose advice helped me climb down from a serious panic last Friday night. Since reading your helpful reassurance and suggestions, attending ORGCon and making a point of speaking into the mic as much as I could get away with (I felt slightly justified in being a nuisance by the shortage of women on the panels/being called to ask questions) and thinking about what I'm going to say a lot more, I am feeling more confident and less panicky. It's not going to be great, but I can certainly pull something together, and I don't think there are as many holes in my theme as I'd realised.
I spent a couple of hours yesterday emailing various grassroots web organisers and asking them some questions:
1. What motivated you to start a social enterprise? Is the internet fundamental to the nature of your project?
2. What interaction, good or bad, has your project had with the state?
3. How much, and in what way, do you think government should engage with grassroots projects like yours? What sort of government engagement, if any, would be most useful to your service?
4. Do you see projects like yours as part of the "Big Society" idea or essentially distinct from it?
..., and I've got some useful answers back already, particularly from the person who preferred to be interviewed by phone. Turns out I like giving phone interviews. (Is "give" the correct verb for the interviewer? Shouldn't it be "take" or something?)
I also finally, after much tearing of hair and swearing at the screen, sent my bio and abstract off to Turnfront. (I HATE writing bios). Here is what they say:
Helen is a web designer and developer with a background in web strategy and online marketing. She has a keen interest in activism and online campaigning; in 2009 she co-founded Police State UK, a website reporting on civil liberties issues, and she was closely involved with the Get a Vote and Hang 'em campaigns during the 2010 election. Helen is a member of the Open Rights Group, and her interests include open data, service design and the democratising power of the internet.
The elephant in the room: web activism and the state
Labour's government was the first under which the web became a significant vehicle for activists, and had a poor track record for engaging with grassroots social enterprise in a productive way. Internet projects have tended to be the 'elephant in the room' in government discussions about social engagement. I'm intending to explore the role of online, third sector social services in developing a healthy democracy, and how the state tends to engage with such services, hoping to offer recommendations for future collaboration in the light of the Coalition's "Big Society" proposals. The talk will aim to kickstart a discussion about the most effective ways for the state and web activists to work together to improve our society, and I look forward to hearing any ideas or experiences you would like to contribute.
The rest of the speakers/talks are described here. I feel a bit academically out-classed, but I think my topic is interesting and current and relevant. My only anxiety is that everyone listening will know it all already, but I discovered at ORGCon that audiences love talks on topics they're already familiar and arguments they agree with, as long as they get some nifty soundbites out of it and to ask some questions at the end which make them look clever. And chances are there'll be at least something new for most people.
So yeah. I have far more thoughts than I can probably squeeze into 20-30 minutes, which is a nice position to be in; now I just need to write a structure/plan and practise speaking from notes in front of a mirror. If any of you lot want to come, it's in Kings Cross on Saturday Aug 6 from 10-4ish, and tickets are £15 for individuals. I'm not sure if familiar faces would make me more nervous than not, but if I freak out on the day and decide to cut it short and open the floor for discussion early, you could make yourself useful by asking intelligent questions, which would help! There'll probably be a video or something I can post here afterwards, either way.