Generative News Makes Visible and Connects Social Tourism Network

The Holiday Participation Centre in Belgium has been exploring various innovative ways to share its story and impact. One of its project included transforming a large body of research about the effects of social tourism into a booklet of vivid photos, one of which is included above.

Generative News Makes Visible and Connects Social Tourism Network

Director, ‘believing without seeing,’ pioneers generative news in Belgium

While a network of 1,900 Belgian organizations dedicated to social tourism was already strong, when Marianne Schapmans heard about generative news, her sense of what else might be possible was awakened, she says.

The Holiday Participation Centre of Belgium’s Tourism Flanders department exists as a cross-pollinator and catalyst for a network energized by one common mission: to ensure that everyone — from people living in poverty to those facing emotional or health challenges — gets a holiday.

“We believe that everyone has a right for a holiday, for a break, a moment to refuel your batteries,” says Marianne, director of the centre, who has co-published a paper on the network’s activities as a form of social intervention.

  Marianne Schapmans

Marianne heard Axiom News Canada founder and CEO Peter Pula speak about the generative news approach during the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Belgium in 2012 and says she “immediately knew” she needed to introduce this approach to the network.

While she and her team at the Holiday Participation Centre often heard amazing stories of how the network was enabling change in people’s lives, those stories didn’t often go beyond the office walls because there was no clear path.

“Sometimes we told them, if we remembered them,” Marianne recalls. “We would say, ‘We should spread these stories,’ but we didn’t have the time or the courage to write and publish the stories.”

Marianne also saw tremendous opportunity in the generative news process to build and sustain the sense of connection that a yearly gathering of about 500 people from all parts of the network — including those taking the holidays, tourism agencies and the social service organizations — typically sparked.

“We would see that the energy was still there (after the gathering), but not connected anymore. So there are lots of local initiatives, but they don’t know of each other, what they are doing and we were looking for a way to keep that dynamic all year round,” says Marianne.

Because creating the capacity to deliver generative news within the Holiday Participation Centre itself was too far from its core service, Marianne eagerly agreed to become a first client of Axiom News Belgium when it launched in 2012.

Inspired by Axiom News Canada, founders of the Belgian organization, Griet Bouwen and Arno Vansichen, began offering generative news services to organizations in their country.

  Another photo from Belgium’s social tourism network capturing how holidaying opens up whole new worlds for people.

Today, the Holiday Participation Centre, in partnership with Axiom News Belgium, publishes three news articles a week that share the successes, strengths and possibilities energizing the social tourism network. The stories are distributed using a variety of tools, including social media and print. Marianne notes the print pieces are important as many of those in the network do not have access to a computer. Her team is also exploring the possibility of including a feature that allows people who can’t read to listen to the stories.

The generative news process has made visible the size of the network as well as how its shared intent is being actualized in many different ways, Marianne says. The stories also provide information that helps the centre identify new initiatives and connections.

“Because we know what’s going on in every corner of the network, we can connect it better; we have a helicopter view,” Marianne says.

The stories are generating change. In one news article, a tourist provider expressed his wish to be more connected to people working in supported employment environments, for instance, people who have a disability. As a result of that story, various members of the network reached out to him and helped make that happen.

In another case, a story sharing a person’s wish that a tourist attraction would be more accessible by public transit was published and then passed on to the local public transit service. Conversations have now begun on new possibilities around improving public transit to this site.

Griet refers to Marianne as one of a couple strong pioneers for the generative news process in Belgium. An integral element in Marianne’s approach to working with Axiom News Belgium has been “believing without seeing,” she says.

Griet has also seen that Marianne’s way of leading her organization is based on a strong belief in the people who make up the network, and that any goals will and must be attained through people taking ownership.

  This collection of photos offers a unique way to understand a large body of research on how being able to take a vacation has made a difference for people. Click the image to view more.

Marianne also brings a sense of trust in the process, Griet says. She is not so much fixed on targets and results as understanding that “bringing the right people together and trusting the process is the main condition to reach the results (Marianne dreams) about.”

Looking ahead, Marianne says she would like to see every partner in the network gain a stronger sense of pride and satisfaction in how they are contributing to the social tourism cause.

“It’s really the common effort that makes the difference, and if people can feel that it makes a difference, then it can grow,” she says.

Her role in enabling this to happen will include continuing with what she is doing right now, she adds. This entails in large part reminding her team that “you can believe in something you can’t see,” that it’s okay to just try things and that telling the stories of what is happening over and over again, in many different ways, is foundational to growing and strengthening the work of the network.

“It’s a never ending story and we have to tell it again and again from different ways, and I think that’s my role — to ensure that that keeps moving.”

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Michelle Strutzenberger

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