What is my Digital Artefact and Who is ‘Beyond Empathy’
Over the course of the semester, in conjunction with my BCM302 – Digital Artefact, I have provided creative and marketing support to Beyond Empathy’s GRIT Project as a volunteer through my degree at the University of Wollongong studying a Bachelor of Communication and Media. Beyond Empathy’s Grit Project is a Shoalhaven regional leadership program focusing on the recovery and preparedness of remote communities in regard to natural disasters with a particular focus on the devastating 2019–20 Australian Bushfire Season.
The GRIT Project consists of an 8-episode podcast series titled ‘One Road In, One Road Out‘ with each episode focusing on a principle of GRIT, in which Archie and Samantha travel over 14,000 KMs to share stories from those affected by natural disasters in the Shoalhaven region. Accompanying this podcast series, Samantha and Archie run in-person events called ‘Podformances’ in which they engage with local communities, share stories, and build up future leaders while focusing on the principles of GRIT like ‘Acknowledge’, ‘Acceptance’, ‘Accountability’, ‘Perseverance’, and ‘Cycle of Change’, for example, to build a more resilient and resourceful community that is prepared to challenge any trials and tribulations.
My Digital Artefact is aimed at taking the theory of my marketing and digital media majors and applying them to a real-world client, to hone my skills and continue to build up my portfolio of previous professional work experience within the specific industry, I primarily would be looking to transition into after my graduation at the end of the 2022 calendar year.
Reflecting on My Project’s Concept and Methodology!
Since my pitch for this Digital Artefact, I experienced a few minor changes to the concept and methodology of my planned project commitments, with the most significant change being the removal of my involvement in the Digital Artefact Collection (DAC) team due to the small demand and engagement within the project, which also helped reduce my workload and allowed me to focus on one project and client, as suggested by fellow students peer-review.
Concerning my project’s methodology, the main change was surrounding who I was going to be collaborating with, and the type of content I would be primarily producing. For the majority of the semester, I was the only UOW student working on the project, so I was required to work more closely with the leadership of the project while being tasked with completing social media posts like promotional, and natural disaster key messaging media, along with in-person media to enhance the quality of the ‘Podformances.’
Social Utility: Prepare, Inspire and Social Capital
My Digital Artefact and The Beyond Empathy’s GRIT Project has tremendous social utility, aimed at “building capacity, relationships, and resilience within the bushfire-affected Shoalhaven”, however, the project has the capability to escape its defined niche audience through the sharing of similar stories that were experienced by communities across Australia and primarily NSW during the 2019/2020 Summer Bushfires. The GRIT Project also aims at engaging young youth leaders, to take part in activating their hidden knowledge of GRIT, to help push these regional communities forward in the face of unimaginable hardship.
“Social Capital is the quality of relationships between community members”, which plays a major role in the collective effort of building resilience in remote communities. As somebody, who also experienced the bushfires, the opportunity to give back to my communities, encourage the engagement of our future leaders, and inform our community on how to stay alert and safe in natural disasters has been a profound experience, not only developing my professional work resume, but also an opportunity to reflect and bring personal closure to a significant life event.
Responding to an Internal Feedback Loop
Due to the fact, that the majority of the content that I have produced was directed towards the in-person ‘Podformances’, I wasn’t able to establish a feedback loop with our core audience, however, I was offered the opportunity to operate and communicate with the internal stakeholders of the program, to help direct the creation of my Digital Artefact. I would frequently produce drafts to gain feedback to continue to iterate my designs, and videos to achieve the goals required for the specific KPI that I would be working towards. This will be the typical experience, we creatives and marketers will have to deal with once we transition into the professional-client-based world, which makes this experience extremely valuable as means of understanding how different stakeholder groups can play a vital role in work-related project feedback loops.
“There are many possibilities- socially engaged design for raising awareness; satire and critique; inspiration, reflection, highbrow entertainment; aesthetic explorations; speculation about possible futures; and as a catalyst for change.” (Dunne and Raby, 2013) Since the start of my Digital Artefact, I have always considered the multiple design styles to which I can effectively communicate information, feelings, and values to our audience, combined with how the audience may interact, and react to the GRIT Project, along with the means to which we can best encourage them to stay engaged with the podcasts, live ‘Podformances’ and social media activity. We have been able to achieve this through the religious implementation and reflection of the Design Thinking Process from the first stages of empathising, and defining the mutual problem of our audience members, and then ideating, testing, and continuously prototyping solutions in the form of the in-person media, and social media promotional content and natural disaster recovery messages.
Project’s Development Trajectory
After completing my Digital Artefact pitch, I began the process of onboarding, which took longer than expected, taking nearly 3-4 full weeks to get done, and as a result, left me with only 6 weeks left in the semester to catch up with all the internal procedures and meetings, then get to work producing content. I was first tasked with creating promotional social media content in preparation for the release of the first podcast episode, however, this quickly shifted as I was needed to help catch the team up on the in-person ‘Podformance’ GRIT principle videos to increase the diversity of engagement experienced by attendees. Following this, Samantha Dorigato joined the team, and we were swiftly placed on creating 20 natural disaster key messaging posts for Instagram and Facebook, along with some additional videos for the ‘Podformances’ focusing on specific stories central to each podcast episode. A timeline of this work trajectory can be seen below.
Framing: Coordination Costs
Coordination Costs are the procured “costs of processing information in an organisation”, and due to its looming impact on my capabilities to begin work, and complete work for Beyond Empathy, it will be a fantastic frame and/or lens to view my Digital Artefact through, as a way to shift my perspective surrounding the experience volunteering for a not-for-profit organisation.
To be given the green light to work for Beyond Empathy, myself and other students were required to complete multiple third-party screenings like a police background check, and working with children check, along with reading and signing off on internal Beyond Empathy policies, all of which drastically hindered my capability to start work with the project. These third-party screenings must be thorough and as a result, increases the coordination costs significantly. This delay would also hinder the production of content for the GRIT project, which would also have drastic impacts on the project’s ability to meet KPIs and due dates.
The Collaboration Experience
My engagement with the GRIT Project consisted of two collaboration experiences, this being with internal stakeholders and the leadership of the project, along with my coordination with Samantha to produce numerous social media and ‘Podformance’ content. My primary collaboration efforts were surrounding the planning, execution, and review of our content production, these were communicated across email, phone calls, and social media team Zoom meetings. These moments of collaboration provided clarity to the situation and helped identify the key priorities that needed to be handled in relation to responding to deadlines like podcast releases, ‘Podformances’, and monthly stakeholder KPI reviews.
Samantha and I, communicated frequently over Twitter, Facebook, and Discord as a means of helping in the creation of social media content. As we were often tasked with working towards completing the same KPI for example 20 natural disaster recovery posts, it was important that we collaborated, so we didn’t overlap and make our work redundant when dealing with increasingly closing deadlines of our Digital Artefacts, and the GRIT Project as a whole.
Important Learning Moments (PERSONAS & COMMUNICATION)
Over the course of the semester, I had two major epiphanies, one being around the importance of an organisation’s personas/brand identity, along with the previously discussed coordination costs and the impact of poor communication practices in a remote working environment.
- Organisations Persona: Incorrect tones and messages can have numerous negative impacts on how your messages are perceived by your target audience, therefore, it is extremely important for all individuals that work for an organisation, is to be well-informed about the brand’s ‘persona’ to keep messages consistent and truthful to their covenanted identity. Due to the GRIT Project taking on creatives from all backgrounds, which can flood social media channels with multiple different tones, and messages, this can have a direct cause and effect surrounding lack of engagement as communication is lost in translation. This can be rectified by establishing brand kits that can allow creatives to follow guidelines surrounding design philosophies which can help reduce the drastic changes in tone and shifts in the public-facing persona. After conducting a review of Samantha’s and Is work, we believe that we have been able to achieve a similar persona throughout our social media posts, which will play an important role in keeping the target audience engaged and connected with Beyond Empathy and The Grit Project’s branding when dealing with natural disaster recovery resources.
- Communication Practices: As somebody who conducts a lot of his professional work, and university studies online, I believed that the ability to effectively communicate would carry over effectively, however, without platforms like Discord, and frequent Zoom Calls, it can be extremely easy to fall behind, which aligns with the concept of coordination costs of an organisation. These downtimes in communication can have profound effects on a team’s ability to meet deadlines, and objectives, as a result, it will be a continuous focus of mine to streamline all communication within any organisation that I work for, to help reduce the unproductive downtime that can be contributed to a slow email and text response, a missed phone or Zoom meeting, as they all hinder the effective execution of one’s duties in both leadership and staff roles.
Paradigm Shifts & The Attention Economy
A significant paradigm shift I experienced throughout the duration of this Digital Artefact was surrounding the concept of the Attention Economy. Organisations like Beyond Empathy are often well-funded through partnerships with the government and are able to achieve great things through events and other activations. However, in particular to the GRIT Project specifically, there is a lack of demand for the content being produced surrounding natural disaster recovery as it’s something most people want to avoid, this leads to an uphill battle to gain engagement online while attempting to gain the attention from more prominent organisations in the landscape like the Rural Fire Service, local and state governments, and other charities and NGOs within the region of operation. Going forward it will be vital, for not only myself but those at GRIT to dive deeper into their target audience as a means of identifying points of interest that would encourage them to engage more frequently with Beyond Empathy’s social media presence as much as they do the in-person events and activations. It’s never too late to grow a sizeable following all it takes is proper ideation, strategy, and a very engaging experience for the audience you want to integrate with.
My Future & Self-Reflection
As we come to a close on my final Digital Artefact at the University of Wollongong, it is a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the positive and negative outcomes that we have experienced along the way. Working for Beyond Empathy’s GRIT Project over the last couple of weeks has been an extremely rewarding, and engaging experience, albeit at times stressful, and confusing. Over this time, I have created 11 videos for Beyond Empathy’s social media accounts and the live ‘Podformances’, along with 12 infographics for Facebook and Instagram aiming at promoting the GRIT Project, but also providing the resources available to inform and prepare our audience in the event of a reoccurrence of a devastating natural disaster on the Shoalhaven Region. Creating this content has been extremely rewarding, and will drastically shape, how I will approach design thinking, content creation, and marketing when I graduate from the University of Wollongong at the end of this year!
“You have been a massive help and the content you have produced has been amazing, as well as your flexibility and patience when myself and the project has so many moving parts…”– Samantha Kettlewell, Beyond Empathy, 2022
Leave a Reply