above: my border collie, Maggie – the original ‘face’ of Lost Dogs of Adelaide
Here is a tale of how connecting and communicating through social media to reunite lost dogs and their owners created something unexpected, and how it can apply to developing communities for sustainability (or communities for anything else).
Being a dog-lover, and having had one too many experiences of encountering dogs on the loose late at night, or near traffic, I decided to create a Facebook page as a way to do something about it. The idea was that it would act as a virtual stobie pole (aka telegraph pole), where people could post ‘lost dog’ notices, and it could have a much wider reach than physical flyers in a limited location.
It emerged out of a frustration of not being able to call on someone who could help secure dogs when I wasn’t able – spotting dogs from a bus, or not being able to catch them at 2am, not knowing which Council’s dog catcher to call, on what number, or even if they would come out in the early hours.
So ‘Lost Dogs of Adelaide’ (LDOA) was born in October 2010 as a page. It quickly built a following of over
300 from my friends and members of a previous LDOA group (established before Facebook invented its pages, which offer a lot more functionality than groups). But with all my other commitments, I knew after only a month I couldn’t do the page justice with the time commitment that would be required to manage what I envisioned it could become, and how it would need to be run.
I put a call out via the page for someone to take it over. A young vet nurse from country South Australia responded, and said although she was not familiar with how to run pages, she could give it a go.
With a handful of tips and instructions from me, she built the page, developed collaborative relationships with other relevant Facebook page admins, sourced a double-digit team of volunteer admins to help manage the rapid growth and level of interaction and before long the page was at critical mass – people weren’t just posting pleas for help about lost dogs, cats and other animals, but were now actually starting to find them through the page (including a budgie just yesterday!).
As at April 2013, there are almost 17,000 followers of the page (in a city of 1 million), 8 admins who organise themselves into ‘shifts’ so that someone is ‘on deck’ to manage the incoming flow of information and reshare it, and hundreds of animals have been reunited as a direct result of the page.
Along with its intended purpose of reuniting lost pets with owners, LDOA is also a conduit for a wide array of community announcements, from microchipping days and reminders about the importance of desexing, to fireworks and thunderstorm warnings.
In addition, some unexpected and lovely things have emerged:
- people have taken it on themselves to go and help search for the pets of complete strangers, even late at night, when animals have been spotted and reported as on the loose or injured in their area
- the page ethos is to keep lost animals’ pictures in albums and report back on outcomes of animals lost or found, and to let people know if they were reunited or returned home safe, or sadly, if they have ‘gone to the rainbow bridge‘ – people are following the stories of particular dogs, cats, situations; often people will come back to a post of an animal whose story they are following and ask for updates!
- followers express both their joy for pets safely reunited, and their sorrow for the loss of a loved pet, creating a community of support and empathy for the owner
- people have collected injured or deceased animals from the side of the road that they have been alerted to via the page, and taken them to a vet or animal shelter so that the owner has a chance of finding them (and getting closure in the case of deceased pets)
- the admins and followers have ‘crowd sourced’ funding for six microchip scanners, whose custodians are located across the north, south, east and west of Adelaide, so that found, injured or deceased pets can be quickly identified, especially after hours
- the page has driven off-line connections and friendships – personally, I have met with three (now past) page admins
Lost Dogs of Adelaide meets people’s need of finding, or at least putting the information out to find, their furry friends in what has become the recognised ‘go to’ place for lost pets in Adelaide.
I have lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with random people who I then discover are following the page.
Now, if I had gone to any funding body or authority with this idea, I would have likely had one or all of the following responses:
- we need a business case/plan
- we’re not using Facebook, we’ll have to build a custom platform
- it won’t work, because it crosses jurisdictions and it will be a nightmare to co-ordinate all these local authorities
- we’ll have to pay people to run it – who will fund this?
- it won’t be able to be attended outside business hours
- will costs be allocated according to percentage of dogs lost in each council area?
- hand-wringing over a plethora of stuff including branding, disclaimers, liability and occupational health and safety
The Lost Dogs folks may not realise it, but they are part of a working peer-to-peer (P2P) community, as Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation explains:
…the internet is creating not just a great horizontalisation in communication, but also new forms of cooperation…it is now possible for people to meet together, declare their joint intention to produce something, and go about organizing this using a combination of ‘virtual’ and ‘physical’ means. These systems are based on people engaging with their passion, ie. doing things they actually want and like to do, to create a community around it…
No funding applications/competition for funds.
No hoops to jump through.
It. Just. Works.
In my assessment, Lost Dogs of Adelaide has emerged as a stellar example of both community building and social media engagement because it is best practice in both its technical use of social media platforms and how it manages the LDOA community.
In particular, it:
- reshares content posted or messaged to the page by followers concerning sightings, losts, founds, deceased animals to the page – this is the most critical thing, because if people were simply invited to leave their information on the page wall, it would not appear in the feed of followers, which triggers sharing, likes and responses
- is using an existing, familiar platform where people already are interacting, and which makes it easy to rapidly share content, especially from mobile devices
- has proactive volunteer administrators who are committed, organised and professional
- cross-posts information from other pages, animal shelters and local council pounds on the page, and provides advice on what action to take if a pet is lost (or found)
- provides a free service, almost 24/7 (the hours of 2am-6am are usually less likely to result in admin support) – no organisation could match what LDOA offers in terms of both temporal and spatial coverage
- it taps into people’s passion – their animals – and meets a need better than other options in terms of reach, prompt sharing of information, and being free to use
I never realised how many lost animals there were in my city before this page – but more than that, I didn’t realise how an online community could also be a real community that makes a difference in peoples’ lives, and how many kind and selfless people there are who are willing to give their time, attention and help to others.
If all of this can be achieved by a handful of volunteers, on NO budget, in less than three years – what can this same approach do for building peer-to-peer communities for sustainability, or for how government works?
How can the learnings of Lost Dogs be applied in other fields – local food, community currencies, sharing skills? Even if there is some extraordinary level of participation for reasons peculiar to this group, could some of the elements of LDOA be translated to achieving other community goals?
What is possible if we start with what we have – in this case, people’s passion, time, skills, knowledge – instead of focusing on what we don’t have (funding, resources etc), which is a ‘deficit’ model’?
Do you know of any other examples that use the collaborative, on-line approach of Lost Dogs of Adelaide to build communities and achieve positive, ‘real world’, social change?