[Ssf] Building local social forums

Dan dan at aktivix.org
Tue Nov 2 14:57:10 GMT 2004

Hey folks,

Here's my notes from the Building Local Social Forums meeting, taken 
from the A2 notes, which you can find in their original form here -


... and my own memory. Any additions? How will this fit with the rest?

Apologies for the delay.


Sheffield Social Forum


Building Local Social Forums

This document was put together from a meeting of members of currently 
existing local social forums (LSFs) who wanted to share experience, and 
others who were thinking of setting on up.

For the original documents, see:


We first went round the group to find out what questions were uppermost 
on our minds.

 From this list, we narrowed down to five themes:

1. What do local social forums do?
2. How to start?
3. What do you do with the charter?
4. The local / global relationship.
5. Outreach and publicity.

Due to time restrictions, we only had 12 minutes on each of these: only 
enough time to make a very meagre beginning - but start we did!

Note that some other issues came up that we didn't have time to cover: 
see the website above for the full brainstorm. Some to mention would be:

· Do LSFs vote?
· How to keep LSFs going / avoiding ending up in an activist ghetto?
· How to avoid building to an event, only to subsequently dissipate?
· What works and what doesn't work?

On to the five themes:

1. What do local social forums do?

Most already existing local social forums had held at least one large 
annual 'social forum' event.
· Irish Social Forum: held weekly meetings to plan for an annual event. 
These were open meetings, and ended up as networking events.
· Gothenburg Social Forum: Brought local organisations together for a 
large event, placing the emphasis on certain organisations taking 
responsibility for their own mobilisation. The local context was an 
explosion of (non-co-operating) groups that the forum aimed to bring 
together. Large meetings were held once a month.
· In Belgium there was also a WSF-like 'mass' event.
· Sheffield held a ‘launch event’. One participant expressed a fondness 
for the New York LSF model of a ‘seed group’ and connected working groups.
· A new South Manchester LSF has a very local focus. The aim is to share 

2. How to Start?

This theme was particularly to help potential new LSFs avoid some of the 
pitfalls that others had encountered.

· Ask local groups directly – don't rely on printed publicity. Making 
personal contact is the way forward.
· Organising locally ('mobilising') for European / World Social Forums.
· Be clear – both in your group and when communicating with others – on 
issues of transparency, the WSF charter, being open to all, etc.
· Ask people attending meetings: be honest about your agenda; come as 
individuals, not representatives.
· Think about finances: fundraisers? Ask groups to contribute? Charge 
for stalls? Other...?
· Big Question: think about in what way / if at all the group wants to 
relate to trade unions.
· Don't be over-ambitious – think long term!

3. What to do with the charter?

There was a general agreement that, whilst the WSF charter was a key 
document for LSFs to refer to, the charter itself should be used as a 
'base', not as a set of unchangeable rules.

The reason for this was because of the need to adapt points in the 
charter to local circumstances.

It was emphasised, however, that people coming to the forum as 
individuals – and these individuals all being equal /within/ the forum – 
was vital.

4. Local to Global

We discussed the balance of local and global issues that LSFs might want 
to reflect. Particularly, we looked at the kind of speaker a LSF might 
want to invite to an event.

It was noted that it can be embarrassing if international speakers come, 
but only get a very few people in their workshop.
However, national speakers have worked for some.

It is also good to get people who can give the context to LSFs – the 
World and European Social Forums.

One LSF had focused on issues, not speakers: thereby keeping local 
issues central to the event.

5. Publicity and Outreach

The main points we came up with here were:

· Using the local press is good – but takes time! Planning is necessary, 
and knowing when is the right time for which press release. Having a 
local contact who knows about marketing can really help!
· Keep the ‘Social’ in your local social forum – e.g. make it a social 
as well as a political event. You’re more likely to attract people this 
· We wondered how best to split outreach time between organizations and 
individuals. Some said 50 / 50.
· It was noted that organizations attending want structure – they don’t 
want to be told to self-organise! Those working to make the local social 
forum happen have to provide this structure, whilst making the forum as 
open as possible.
· Networking – talking to people still counted as the best way of 
getting them to come along. Word of mouth.
· One LSF asked organizations to take responsibility for getting their 
own ‘constituency’ to come along. This worked very well.
· Feeding people when they’re there was also a popular way of persuading 
people to come along.

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