using Facebook to investigate local history: experience, value and policy implications in one town.

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences


What is the cultural value of posting to Facebook? This study works with one popular Facebook page, called 'Forgotten Abergavenny', which features photos and memorabilia about the town. The popularity of this page contrasts markedly with the waning popularity of the local newspaper, the use of the library and visits to the museum. It seeks to understand how we might assess the value of posting, the experience of posting and the usefulness of this information to the town, including the local paper, library and museum. It compares the traffic and presentation of this very successful site with the various websites and Facebook pages of the library, the museum and the local newspaper. It interviews a sample group of local and international users of the Facebook site, as well as conducting before and after interviews with the museum, library and newspaper. It analyses the Facebook data using hard data taken from the site. It examines the postings and seeks to understand who posts, when and how they post, what they post and their feelings and experience about posting, using a variety of methods, from audio diaries to phenomenological analyses of the spaces of posting, to questionnaires on value and focus groups.
It also engages with the question of the value to be attached to cultural production. To this end it uses methods like contingent valuation and proxy value; methods designed specifically to measure non-monetary value. The need to standardise a methodology in this area of measuring non-monetary is a pressing issue for cultural providers. The results of this research are of direct relevance to all those concerned with the significance of social media and the role of co-production, including academics, local communities and policy makers

Planned Impact

Key beneficiaries:
1. The Abergavenny library, museum, community forum, newspaper and community group will benefit directly from this research, which aims
to address the relationship of the popularity of the Facebook page to the ability of the partner organisations to use digital co-production in relation to its services.
2. Because the research is aimed at enhancing understanding among our partners, it will have an effect upon the cohesion of the town by showing how previously excluded groups can be given a voice in the cultural activity of the town through enhanced access to the cultural institutions and a greater representation of their issues and concerns in the local paper.
3.The standing of local Community groups will benefit from their engagement in this funded research project and the links it enables them to develop within the town particularly with the local newspaper. This is crucial at a time when the town and county councils are actively seeking local community voices in the process of developing a whole town initiative to cope with proposed national funding cuts.
4. this research can contribute to the 'nation's health' by assisting the understanding of the experiences and value attached by users to the most popular and accessed social media platform in the UK, thus facilitating the usefulness of such a platform as a means for the delivery of news, information and other content relevant to governments and local authorities.
5.The project team will gain invaluable interdisciplinary understanding, benefiting researchers and populace alike.
6. Cultural industries will benefit because there is a pressing need to standardise a coherent measurement of the non-monetary value attachable to cultural activities. This project contributes to this pressing issue by locating such standards and measurement norms at a local level and in relation to the wider spectrum of cultural activity.
7. Benefit will accrue to the academy because this topic, activity and experience on Facebook is currently under-researched and theorised within the academy particularly within the Arts and Humanities field. This case study will provide concrete data concerning this area and thus assist in developing an academic understanding of how people use Facebook and how that activity can be investigated and conceptualized.
The local impacts should be relatively fast but it will take longer for them to reach a national and international audience.
The website, database and support from Cardiff University PR will facilitate wider popular dissemination.


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Description In micro-sociality and the localism agenda, AHRC report 2013) Valerie Walkerdine and I argued that enhancing communal being-ness, developing community cohesion, if you want to use the old terms, required aiding and abetting inter-relational linkages through increasing actions of micro-sociality. That more micro-sociality there is, the more linkages are established and communal identity is created and maintained. Communality has its own self-creating dynamic and the role of the arts, is therefore to simply provide events where micro-sociality can occur.
Forgotten Abergavenny has shown the capacity Facebook has for bringing a community together around a shared communal history. It has created linkages and had wide ranging and positive effects in people's lives. It plays a disproportionate role in maintaining and enhancing people's sense of themselves, their sense of themselves as contained and held within a shared sense of being-ness, communal being-ness.
To aid in the future use of social media to achieve similar outcomes, the AHRC investigation of the site has revealed the following:
• The absolute importance of careful and systematic curating to the success of the site
• The manner in which successful outcomes can be enhanced by knowledge of google analytics and the capacity this gives the curator to build audiences.
• The importance of building support and audience organically. Coupled with the importance of mutually enhancing and supporting publicity, functioning on and off line. The community need to know the site exists.
• Persistent attention to the site with regular updating and a steady supply of material to display.
• The mode of language used by the curator.
• A commitment to the open ended nature of interaction that social media allows and a full appreciation and application of the possibilities this represents.
• The potential role of pages such as this in bringing age groups and classes together across local divides.
• The preference of older people for I-pads over other devices.
• The need for councils and council services like the museum and library to understand the terms of practice and the requirements of running on-line sites dedicated to proving local services. To provide the financial capacity for a member of staff to devote time and persistence to maintaining and growing the website. And this requirement is something funders need to acknowledge.
• The importance of maximising all the capacity of social media through linages and co-operation with similar web sites. The lack of communication between the museum and Forgotten Abergavenny is particularly detrimental to the museum. Such linkages and content sharing would increase the audience for the museum web site in a very short period of time.
Recommendations for our Partners.
• If the potential of Facebook for enhancing communal interaction is to be realised more attention is required both in regard to the creation, and subsequent maintenance of the Facebook pages. Attention here means both personal knowledge; regular dedicated time for someone to correctly and creatively moderate the site; active sourcing of content and matching off-line activities to publicise its presence.
• Much more use made of facilities that link Facebook pages both to other Facebook sites and to social media in general. All these sites have material which could be posted on Forgotten Abergavenny in return for links back to the council, library or chronicle site, yet none of our three partners offered or thought to suggest this.
• Understanding that openness of the comments function upon the Facebook sites involves and creates interaction and activity; that such interaction should be under people's real name which serves to discourage trolling and raises the feeling of safety and enjoyment around the site and that the site should be free of any overt council or social engineering agenda.
• A commitment to an audience led trajectory where the audience set the agenda regarding what history is important to them.
Exploitation Route Enhancing methods for using social media to connect with and engage the public
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Our findings discussed ways of enhancing cohesion at the communal level through the staging of events and actions within the town's sphere. Local people involved in the co-design and co-creation project subsequently established food kitchens in the town which were highly successful. Attendees at the facebook seminar also went on to establish facebook pages for all 7 different organization and localities all of which are on-going and developing their spread and their community involvement.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Cultural,Societal