Organizers often believe we have to choose between breadth and depth. Do we prioritize meaningful relationships or strive to “reach” the greatest number of people?
At Allied Media Projects we see this is a false dichotomy. Over the past 15 years of organizing the annual Allied Media Conference (AMC), we have learned that we can achieve broad engagement while also prioritizing deep relationships.
Relationships are key
The AMC has a unique conference organizing model that fosters relationships at the internal and interpersonal, community, and inter-community levels. Small-scale relationships fostered through the AMC have ripple effects that create large-scale impact. Founded as a zine conference in 1999 around the independent press mantra of “become the media,” the AMC has since evolved a theory of change that says:
Creating our own media is a process of speaking and listening that allows us to investigate the problems that shape our realities, imagine other realities and then organize our communities to make them real. When we use media in this way, we transform ourselves from consumers of information to producers, from objects within narratives of exploitation and violence to active subjects in the transformation of the world.
Our definition of “media” has grown over the years to include everything from breakdancing to broadcasting community radio and building web applications. The conference features more than 140 hands-on workshops, strategy conversations, caucus meetings, and art and music events.
Coming to the AMC has become an annual ritual for grassroots media-makers, artists, educators, activists and technologists from across North America, who are all working towards a more just and creative world.
For many participants the conference is the first place where they felt they could engage the full spectrum of their complex selves in the work of social change—as young people, parents, queer people, immigrants, teachers, and many other identities. Following the AMC, one participant reflected:
Back from my third Allied Media Conference, and feeling like it has been the most beneficial yet! Of course the workshops and skill sharing was visionary and inspiring, but more so what got me is all that is intangible and unexplainable, like the sense of community or acceptance. It felt like home, which is such an elusive concept for me in my day-to-day life.
The AMC is the alternate reality I would create if I were allowed to create new realities: a place where we respect each others’ differences and everyone earnestly wants to make a positive change in the world.
More Participatory = More Participants
The AMC’s participatory content-design process engages conference presenters for nearly the full year leading up to each conference and ensures that conference content is well-designed, accessible, and deeply relevant.
We make the process of organizing the AMC more participatory every year. Using both digital and analog tools, we are constantly adding new ways for AMCers to design, critique, and contribute to conference content, to self-fundraise for their participation, and to document and share their stories.
As the conference has become more deeply participatory, participation has grown: from 500 in 2007 to nearly 2,000 in 2012. This is primarily through word of mouth (AMC uses no paid advertising) as individuals who came to the conference one year return with more members of their organization or community the next.
AMC participants connect with each other at the conference and germinate year-round trans-local collaborations. In some instances, these collaborations lead to new national networks (Nation Inside, Creating Collective Access, Medios Caminantes, etc.).
The AMC’s ever-broadening network of networks reconvenes at each year’s conference, presenting back the ideas and resources that they developed over the previous year, and generating new energy and vision to feed into the next.
To understand the impact of each conference we have built mechanisms of evaluation into our annual organizing cycle. These include pre- and post-conference surveys, registration data analysis, and social media analysis.
From these evaluations we have gained insights which inform the evolution of the AMC’s online tools and communications systems, conference logistics, and the organizing process for sessions and special events.
We can also can see anecdotally the role the AMC has played in supporting and advancing work on important issues such as low power FM broadcast radio stations, net neutrality, phone justice, and the development of the idea of “digital ecology.”
We see the contributions the AMC has made to youth media, participatory research, and strategies of international solidarity. And we see how we have cultivated new ideas about technology and civic engagement, of the role of technology and communications in disability justice, and of the interconnections between media justice and environmental justice.
We are excited to continue documenting the AMC’s engagement model by which we have “scaled up” by first going deep.
As we approach the 2013 conference and look back on the impacts of the past 15 years, we are seeking new tools for studying the longitudinal impact of the AMC’s deep and broad engagement strategy.
We believe such study will show how the experience of building relationship from the internal, to interpersonal, to community and inter-community levels, leads to profound changes for communities and the world.