It was an idea that came out of another idea. It’s funny, and wonderful, when ideas seem to spark off each other, until it becomes a series of fortunate events that connect people to other people, to places, to other ideas.
Last year, after the Climate Change Advocacy Project between Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was finalized, the Provincial Information Centers under PIA nationwide were given marching orders to roll out activities that would raise public awareness on what climate change is, and how Filipinos can protect themselves and their communities from its ill effects.
In addition to the generic activities that were required (campus caravans, Kapihan forums, media briefings) I wanted an activity that would get people writing and discussing about climate change. The generic activities usually only lead to spoon-feeding of information – you get people to gather, sit and listen to your inputs. But will this really lead to action? How can students and the youth learn about climate change if you don’t bring them outside and see for themselves what climate change is doing to the world?
It’s not enough to make people aware. You can be aware and yet not do anything about it. Experience remains to be the best teacher. Plus I’m a strong believer in the power of social media. No other modern medium out there can spread the word faster, can get people discussing, writing, arguing, debating, DOING, than social media. With the very high Internet usage in the Philippines, and the fact that Filipinos spend most of their time online on their mobile phones, social media is another platform that I wanted to use for the project.
I’m thankful that since I started working in Cebu two years ago, I’ve developed strong connections with the Cebu Blogging Community through Ruben Licera Jr. and Bjornson Bernales of CBC, both of whom are heavily responsible for how CBC is so organized and mobilized. I reached out to Ruben and Bjorn and pitched the idea of holding information sharing sessions between top bloggers in Cebu and local environment officials. I asked them if it’s possible to get the citizen media in Cebu writing about environmental issues from the perspective of someone who’s talked directly to concerned government officials.
You see, when it comes to information dissemination, access to government sources has always been limited to traditional media. Invitations to press conferences and media briefings with government talking heads – particularly in Cebu – have always been restricted to journalists from radio, TV, and print. Reporters cannot inject their opinions in their reports, but their opinions are shaped from their discussions with government officials. They just can’t write about it in their news stories.
However, bloggers, social media influencers, and citizen media have as much power to spread the information, and at an ever faster rate. Why not provide them with the same access? Most of the time – and I’m talking about Cebu here – the bloggers are tapped by hotels, resorts, restaurants, private businesses in the opening of new shops, or the telecommunication companies. Most of these bloggers, when they blog about government issues, rely on either second-hand information or what they learn from the news outlets.
Bloggers/citizen media are free to color their posts with their opinions. The ideal situation would be for them to develop informed opinions so that when they post it, the content they produce come from one whose perspective has been molded as a result of picking the brains of the experts. This almost always makes a difference. How many times have I heard a reporter remark after a press conference, that her/his opinion on a particular issue was changed after talking to a government official? They walk out of press events with informed opinions, that would hopefully lead them to make informed choices.
Thankfully, Ruben and Bjorn said yes. (These two are tight, to the point I would tease them there’s bromance in the air. They’re like ying and yang. They argue, they discuss, they bounce ideas off each other, then they reach an agreement.) They agreed to the idea, either they were just as crazy as I was, or because they were both too much of a gentleman to say no, or maybe – and I prefer to believe this was the reason – because they are ruled by the passion to do good, to make a difference.
This was what gave birth to the Bloggers Couch Chat Sessions under the Climate Change Advocacy Project in Cebu. No other PIA center nationwide is doing this, and I’m proud to say that we in Cebu remain to be the only one initiating these sessions. I hope though that once I’ve finished my accomplishment report for this particular project, it would inspire and motive the others to tap the social media influencers their area in communicating government messages.
As for the couch, it actually stemmed from a photo I saw online. I was Googling for couch designs (there’s a frustrated interior designer in me), because we moved into a new office at that time. I was looking for L-shaped couches that would fit the corner in our office where I wanted to put up a receiving area. One photo that Google spit out was of a WordPress event where bloggers met up to interact. The photo showed an L-couch, and people were sitting on the couch and some were standing gathered around and just interacting.
It was a simple, harmless photo but light bulbs were sparking off in my brain like crazy. Of course! The bloggers sessions with the government officials should be set up like this, with couches, so that it won’t be too formal, and interaction should be free flowing and unrestricted just like you were talking with guests in your living room. Press conferences and media events are too formal and in a way, rigid. The bloggers sessions should be different in a way that these people aren’t reporters and discussions should be more like you were having a talk with guests in your living room.
This post is just the first of a series. In my next post, I’ll talk about #iBLOGforBANTAYAN, give you a glimpse of behind-the-scenes, the amazing writers we brought with us, how it is one of the best examples of Private-Public Partnerships, and the unforgettable paradise that Bantayan Island is, and how it lingers in the mind and in the heart long after you’ve left its shores.
Before I end, a little shameless plug: