December 23, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Bright idea

Left your Christmas gift buying too late? Stumped for a gift for someone who’s got everything? Can’t get out to the shops because of the snow (or because it’s too hot if you’re one of our friends in the south)? Don’t worry, because Oxfam has gifts you can order online and help someone live a better life. Pay anything from £5 to £80 to buy a goat, teach a teacher, fit solar panels or buy mosquito nets.

Here at Scriptoria, the team loves this sort of thing.

Visit the Oxfam website to find out more.

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Scriptoria Blog

Cancun: Climate effort back on the road

Now that the dust has settled in the aftermath of the Cancun climate change summit, what does the world think of the outcome? The reaction has generally been positive, perhaps because so little was expected of Cancun that almost anything would have been welcome. But maybe that’s being just a bit too cynical.

Tim Gore of Oxfam told The Guardian newspaper: “The UN climate talks are off the life-support machine. The agreement falls short of the emissions cuts that are needed, but it lays out a path to move towards them.”

The China Daily - whose view is significant because of China’s previous lack of enthusiasm for climate change agreements - hailed the outcome as a success and declared that the Kyoto Protocol had been reaffirmed.

Writing for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news website, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, gave the summit agreement two cheers - just.

It had, he said, “put the world back on track to renew international efforts to combat climate change, albeit at a pace and a scale that will leave many onlookers frustrated”.

We at Scriptoria, along with everyone else involved in international development, cannot fail to have noticed the effects of climate change in the fields, in the forests and in the seas of the countries where we work. So we are inclined to welcome anything that will keep the momentum going.

Steiner said no one should underestimate the magnitude of the challenge facing South Africa, the host of next year’s summit. But at least there will be talks next year and the delegates will have something serious to talk about.

Let us celebrate that.

Photo: International Rice Research Institute, reproduced under a creative commons licence.

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December 7, 2010

Scriptoria Blog

Photos and messaging - key issues for sustainable development communications

The importance of pictures to sustainable development communications
‘A picture says a thousand words’ may be a cliché, but it’s true. Good quality photographs are an absolute must for any organisation that wants to communicate its messages well and change people’s behaviour (whether those messages are about climate change, poverty, health or any one of the so-called ‘hard-to-communicate’ issues).

Of course, most of you already recognise the importance of photos on some gut level I’m sure. But, you’d be amazed just how many organisations don’t give enough thought to the photos they use. Now, as a communications strategist, this always upsets me, because running really strong (strategic) communications campaigns almost always means having access to really good photos - which requires long-term planning.

The sad thing is that almost all sustainable development organisations should be able to produce fantastic pictures - particularly those working overseas. Every day opportunities for amazing photographs present themselves, ranging from people on the project interacting in offices and children playing, to people collecting water (that old standby), or feeding livestock.

Some example of photos that grab and communicate
The United Nations Development Programme’s international competition ‘Picture This: We Can End Poverty’ is a great example of the opportunities for photography that exist in developing countries. Take a look at the competition (click here for the website) for positive eye-catching images of schooling in India, Bangladesh and Tanzania. Or click on the buttons at the top of the page to see the winning entries for other Millennium Development Goals.

For yet another stunning collection of images, go to the winners’ page for the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management’s Environmental Photographer of the Year competition (click here for the competition website). Clicking the links at the bottom of the page will show you the winning entries for each category. We loved the photo of the phone on a bike in the category ‘Innovation in the Environment’.

Now what I’d like you to note particularly is that almost all these entries show things that happen every day (people casting nets, carrying bricks, speaking on the phone, etc.), which just drives home the fact that the opportunity for a good photo is always there.

Do it yourself
Of course, not everyone is an award-winning photographer. But, you don’t have to be a fantastic photographer to take good photographs (many of the examples at the sites given above were taken by amateurs using a decent camera).

Usually all you need to get started is a good quality camera (a cheap, bottom of the range digital SLR is your best beginner’s option), 30 minutes’ training in how to use it, and some quick lessons in the rules of perspective and what makes an interesting picture. If you want to get started, a good place to begin is with Scriptoria’s Field Guide to Photography, which we produced in partnership with a UK government programme a few years ago. You can download it by Clicking Here.

You should also remember that most large projects have a few keen (and very good) amateur photographers working on them. They just have to ask (or better still, run a photography competition for staff) and suddenly they find that they have lots of photos.

Or hire a professional
Or, you can buy pictures from a photo site or employ a professional photographer to go out and shoot photographs for you. Just make sure that you look at examples of their past work and give them strong guidance on the subject you want your photos to address (our photography guide will also help you to give the professional guidance).

Organising and storing your photos
But, whether you take your project photos yourself, or hire a professional to do it for you, you need to take the time to ensure that they are stored properly and will remain easy for the project to retrieve for years to come (i.e. after you’ve left). This is the planning ahead bit, and it’s really the subject I want to deal with here.

Projects shouldn’t have to ask themselves whether they have particular pictures showing a certain subject. And project staff certainly shouldn’t be saying things like “I’m sure we have a picture showing that subject - whose computer is it on?” Or, “so and so had a good picture of that - but unfortunately he’s left the organisation”. Instead, you should put your photos on one of the free online photo sites.

There are several options to choose from - some of which are better than others. Just make sure that whichever site you chose allows you to upload and download large (high-resolution photos). Some sites reduce the quality of your photos when you upload them, which means that they look good on screen but don’t come out well if you need to print them professionally in (for example) your flyer or brochure.

Personally, here at Scriptoria, we like Flickr. By creating a photo library on Flickr you’ll be able to organise your collection with ease, use the search facility to quickly find the photo you want, and share images with specific people as you so choose.

With the help of Flickr, organisations should be able to provide and distribute most of their photos themselves. And, unlike images from professional photographers, in-house photos will have most relevance to the work an organisation is doing, and are available free of charge. I can think of many large organisations that are doing this already. The Global Water Partnership (GWP) is one example. With more than 2,300 partner organisations, this worldwide network (with 13 regional offices) is working towards a water secure world, by supporting the sustainable development and management of water resources at all levels.  A quick glance at the materials they produce plainly demonstrates that a non-profit organisation can (with a little planning) reach the point at which it looks great while hardly ever having to buy a photo because it takes, stores and catalogues its own.

The only downside to Flickr is that it is a little hard to use when you’re first getting to grips with it. To help to overcome that, we at Scriptoria recently produced a simple ‘How To’ users guide to Flickr that will quickly tell you and your colleagues how to use Flickr to store and distribute your best photos - making them available whenever you need them. To download this free guide to using Flickr, Click Here. So good luck, and happy snapping.

All the best, Jim (Weale) Find out more about me >>>

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