Quality resources on participation? Let the people decide…

70 kites on a single line3 - (Creative Commons)

There have been murmurs about a 'Youth Participation Resources Kite mark for a while now.

Whilst concerns about the quality of resources on Children and Young People's participation might be founded (I've seen quite a few participation resources recently which have made me somewhat concerned due to their lack of clarity or any clear understanding of participation…) – the idea of one group certifying those resources which are 'quality' or not simply doesn't work*.

Instead – we need a space where potential users of a resource can discuss it. In part that might be the People&Participation Library with comments switched on – but what I really have in mind is a version of Social Source Commons for participation.

TimDavies Tookit - Social Source CommonsThe Social Source Commons model allows anyone to create a 'personal toolbox' (see mine here) of open source tools that they use – and to see what others have in their toolbox. I can assess the value of a tool by seeing who else is using it. Do they use other resources like me? What comments have people left on a particular tool? How have they rated it? It's a context rich way of finding out if a resource can cut it or not.

An online Participation Toolbox would allow Participation Workers to create their own filtered lists of the resources, toolkits, books, and guides that they can comment on, rate and share information about. And they would be able to see who else used particular resources, how others rated them, and what others had said about using them in practice. Instead of a central 'authoritative' KiteMark – I can choose to trust particular peers, or the wisdom of the crowd. Altogether a more participative solution…

(P.S I'd be up for developing the system if anyone wanted to sponsor development…)

*In any case – if, as I suspect, the issue that drives the idea of a Kite Mark is bad resources, not good ones. The logical response then could be to publish a 'black list' rather than a Kite Marked list…

Non-formal education goes WWW project

Non-Formal Information Goes WWW Image

I came across Andreas' work at nonformality.org when he added to the reasons why youth workers should be blogging. And now Andreas and the team at the National Youth Agency of Estonia are taking the initative to kick start even more dialogue about how the informal learning sector across Europe can get far more engaged with the web by pulling together a Networking Seminar in Tallin, May 30 – 31, 2008.

From the Seminar flyer:

The context – why?

Non-formal education is an exciting way to learn: full of opportunities to be discovered – but not very well recognised at times. The internet is an exciting place to learn, too: full of different opportunities to be discovered – but also quite lonely and confusing at times. Imagine the power unfolding when the two come together!

This networking seminar wants to offer time and space to people, groups, teams, initiatives, projects, and organisations who bring together non-formal education and the world wide web. There is surely something we can learn from each other! And there might be something we could do together, too…

The timing – why now?

In recent weeks and months, more and more websites have emerged about and around non-formal education and learning. It seems to be the right time for bringing them together for an exchange of experience and some dreams about the future!

The aims – what for?

The networking seminar aims to offer space and time:

  • to get acquainted with different web-projects and initiatives about or for (raising awareness on) non-formal education and learning,
  • to discuss the role and potential of these projects and initatives for the recognition and valorisation of non-formal education and learning, and
  • to explore needs, potentials and strategies for co-operation between such initiatives and projects in the future.

I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to make it (it's a little tricky to just slip in a trip to Estonia whilst pledged not to fly in Europe…) but it would be great to see some representation from England there. Perhaps we could host a bit of a pre-discussion to feed into the seminar at BarCampUKYouthOnline which is taking place just before on the 17th May.

I've attached the full flyer to this post below. Deadline for applications is the 26th March 2008.

Attachment: NFL goes WWW call and application-1.doc

Article 13 and the miniLegends

alupton Twitter: Thanks to everyone for comments n support left at now closed class blog.I'm watching with interest on Twitter the unfolding discussion about the decision by the South Australia Department of Education and Children Services to ask for the closure of Al Upton's class blogs (the miniLegends).

Minilegends Blog

The miniLegends blogs were written by 8 and 9 year old students in Al Upton's class as part of their learning. Last year Al invited international edubloggers to offer to mentor members of his class by leaving positive comments on their individual blogs.

Sue Waters suggests the order to close the blogs was due to parental concerns over use of young people's photos:

What happened was a few parents became concerned over the use of student images on blogs and potential for cyberstalking because global adult mentors were interacting students. Al had followed all the right procedures and obtained parental consent.

Whilst ensuring young people's protection from significant harm is crucial, the United Nations Convention on the Rights balances protection, provision and participation rights – and as I watched the issues unfolding this morning I thought I should take a look to see what the convention might have to say. So, here's Article 13 from the UNCRC.

Article 13 (Freedom of Expression)

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order , or of public health or morals.

Australia is a signatory to the United Convention on the Rights of the Child. It would be interesting to see how the Committee would respond to the sorts of limitations on young people's expression and information seeking that are becoming all to common because of parental or policy makers irrational fears of the unknown*.


(*I'm not saying all fears are irrational. There are rational fears and concerns. I'm only worried about the cases where fears that are actually irrational (i.e. don't stand up to rational scrutiny) are causing problems.

Philosophical Consultation: Independent Asylum Commission

[Summary: Thought experiments for consultation prove their value in complex decision making]

Citizens Speak LogoYesterday evening I took part in a 'Peoples Commission' as part of the Citizens Speak consultation on Asylum and Sanctuary in the UK organised by Leicester Intercultural Communication and Leadership School (where my wife, Rachel, is the project officer). The People's Commissions have been designed to be held by any small group of citizens – with the results of each local commission fed back into the deliberations of the Independent Asylum Commission who will be publishing a report and making recommendations for the UK Government on Asylum policy later this year.

To hold a commission, all that was needed was a space to meet, and a copy of the commission toolkit (and short PDF). And I was struck my how the toolkit, produced by Dr Julian Baggini, editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine, and Jonathan Cox, Co-ordinator of the Independent Asylum Commission, was a paradigmatic example of carefully planned, well structured and deceptively simple complex consultation in action.

The tookit consisted of three parts:The Citizens Speak Peoples Commission Toolkit

  1. Part 1 was a thought experiment. Practical philosophy in action – asking participants in a commission to consider some tough issues, but in a way that at partly strips away, partly brings into relief, the many preconceptions and predjudices (both in favour of, and against a strict Asylum system) that participants may hold on the issue of Asylum.

    The thought experiment included three parts, the first of which was to discuss and conduct a straw poll on the groups responses to this scenario:

    "You’re on a ship crossing an ocean. Three days out of port, in the middle of the open seas, the ship is hailed by a small boat with three people on board. They request to come aboard, saying that they are not safe in their home country and had no choice but to sneak out. The captain comes to you as the passengers and asks your advice – should he let them on the ship or not?"

    Observations and Learning: Thought experiments have a really important role to play in exploring tricky issues and getting a group to establish conversations prior to tackling tricky issues 'for real'. I already find thought experiments to be useful in my own reflections and writing, but I'll be looking at where I can experiment with the use of thought experiments in consultation work in future.

  2. Part 2 asked participants to decide from a series of statments about asylum whether they agreed with them or disagreed. The toolkit specifically encouraged participants to check that the principles in the 'agree' pile were interally consistent – and sanctioned the rewriting/ammending of principles so that the group felt comfortable with them being in the 'agree' pile, or being consistent with other principles.

    Observations and Learning: It would have been tempting in designing a toolkit for others to run a consultation to say 'Decide on the principles as they are written, and only as they are written', or to fail to provide guidance on making sure the principles were consistent. But by allowing principles to be adapted – the discussion in our group could flow much more easily – as we weren't arguing over the semantics of the given principles, but were able to adapt just one or two words across them all to make sure they represented what we really felt.

    That the toolkit could allow principles to be adapted may have quite a lot to do with the way responses from People's Commissions are not feeding straight into a written report, but are feeding into the deliberation of the Independent Asylum Commission. However, having carried out 'put this list of principles / statements in order' type excercises before – and having been strict on them not being modified – I'm encouraged to rethink that in future – and to be open to the learning that comes from letting go of the components of the process a little more.

  3. Part 3 was a short excercise to decide upon appropriate language for describing Asylum seekers. There is not too much to say here, apart from perhaps to report that our People's Commission felt 'Sanctuary' to be a far better term than Aslyum. Also of note was that the form where responses were noted down provided clear space for extra comments alongside a record of how many people had voted for each term. Again, it would be easy to miss out a good comments box.

I'm sure that not everyone will have come away from taking part in a Citizens Speak People's Commission with as positive a view as I have (we were admitedly a small group – making discussions easier) – but I do think there is a lot of interest and to learn from in how the process was designed (and that's not just me as a Philosophy graduate trying to drum up the 'thought experiment' business, honest!)

Of course, the test of any consultation excercise is in the difference it makes – and I'll be eagerly waiting to hear how the Independent Asylum Commission to the input they'll have gained – and to hear their recommendations for future UK Asylum policy and practice.

Independent Asylum Commission on Friction.tv(The Citizen Speak process also includes a discussion space over on Friction TV.)

Registration open for UK Youth Online gathering – May 17th 2008

With encouragement and fantastic support from Dave Briggs, I finally got a chance this afternoon to put together a more accessible homepage for the BarCampUKYouthOnline all ready for you to register to join us and take part…

BarCampUKYouthOnline - Sign Up Screen Grab

We want BarCampUKYouthOnline on the 17th May 2008 to be an accessible informal gathering for all who are interested in:

  • Online information services for young people
  • Supporting young people's online interaction and activity
  • Researching young people and the internet/blogging/social networking etc.
  • Developing online tools and platforms for young people
  • Exploring online technologies in education and participation
  • Young people's civic engagement online
  • School councils online (Primary et. al.)
  • On-line video and web radio with young people
  • And more…

…to be able to come together, get into some practical and theoretical discussions, plan some action, and generally go away again better networks and with a better shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by a digital generation.

Whether you're a:

  • Youth worker;
  • Web developer;
  • Participation worker;
  • Youth website manager;
  • Reporter or broadcaster;
  • Content commissioner;
  • Researcher;
  • Young person;
  • Activity and campaigner;
  • Youth website manager;
  • or anyone else interested in the BarCampUKYouthOnline themes

We're hoping you'll feel you have something to contribute, and something to learn from the event. We're expecting we will have a bit of a techie focus at the event – but that we'll also be very much looking at how the digital realm affects the lived lives of young people – so, rather than the conventional BarCamp 'add your name to the wiki' sign up system, if you head over to the UK Youth Online page you should find a form where you can signal your intention to join us…

How will the event work?

1) As we get a sense of the level of interest we'll aim to track down a suitable venue in London (suggestions & help welcome…)

2) We all gather at the venue on the 17th May 2008 and we collectively set an agenda – a series of possible discussion streams and sessions based on the interests of those who are present.

3) You choose the discussions you want to take part in – join them, and see what happens

4) Throughout the day you build networks, ideas for action, new learning etc. As much of that learning as possible gets logged by bloggers, video bloggers and an active team at the event.

5) At some point later in the day we draw to a close and head off to the pub / some social venue where networking can continue…

6) Who knows?

Any questions? Do drop me a line or join the Google Group and ask away…

3 reasons for involving young people: reasons matter

[Summary: why should you be involving young people? – And once you know your reasons – what impact do those reasons have on the nature of their involvement?]

Can you hold an event about children and young people without children and young people being there?

By Jeffrey Ball - http://flickr.com/photos/denverjeffrey/542264434/Well, of course you can, but should you? Many people in youth participation might say young people must be involved in all events about them – the idea that from a young person's perspective 'You can't talk about us without us'. Personally I think we should start from an assumption that young people should be involved, and should have to argue against it if neccessary, rather than always having to argue for young people's involvement. However, when we do argue for young people's involvement – the reasons we give for youth involvement matter – and have an impact on the selection of young people to be involved and the role they should play.

Below I'll offer three candidate reasons for involving young people – and I'll sketch out what I think their upshot might be for the nature of young people's involvement that is suitable in a particular context. This is very much a work in progress, and should not be taken as a definitive set of views:

Three reasons for involving young people and their practical consequences…

1) To address the oppression of young people: rights and justice

Far too often young people are excluded either simply because they are young or because their preferred methods of working and communicating do not fit neatly into formal 'adult' structures.

Many of the decisions that are taken about young people's lives do not involve them. Where adults can often take control and reject decisions they do not agree with – young people often do not have such opportunities.

Young people have a right under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to be involved, listened to, and to have their views taken into account – in decisions that affect them.

If we are serious about tackling the general exclusion and oppression of young people – and the particular exclusion of some groups of young people – we have to lead by example and to include young people as partners in all we do.

The Upshot
ILO Meeting - By soham_pablo - http://flickr.com/photos/soham_pablo/160753236/Recruit young people most affected by the decisions you are making.

Provide extensive support for these groups and design inclusive processes throughout your events and engagement that bring adults and young people onto a 'middle ground' where they can work together.

Young people participate as 'experts by experience' in their own lives.

The process should test adult ideas against young peoples concrete stories about their own lived experience.

If it is tricky for a particular group to participate directly – support other young people (see Reasons 2) to act as advocates on their behalf.

2) Making better decisions: prudential and practical

What may sound like the idea solution from an adult's perspective may not be from a young person's perspective because:

1) It's very tricky to remember what it is like to be young and undergoing rapid processes of cognitive, physical, social and emotional development;

2) Youth is a rapidly changing social phenomena – and the norms and practices which should govern 'interventions' in young people's lives need to be constantly renegotiated with young people now;

3) It's a very different picture from the 'inside' as opposed to from the 'outside' – and the dynamics of how a politic of programme is implemented could make or break it;

Involving the voice, views, responses and ideas of young people will enable us to make better policy and implement better practice in better ways.

The Upshot
Recruit a diverse group of young people with an understanding of the decisions and issues you are working on.

Provide training and support for young people to understand the processes you are working through and the challenges you are facing. Seek to make the processes you are working through as accessible as possible (e.g. avoid jargon, use visual methods, keep things to the simplest level you can whilst still engaging with the complexity of the challenges you face).

Young people participate as those offering 'insights' into the contemporary lived experience of young people.

Work with these young people as partners and 'critical friends' helping to develop your idea further.

OR (Combining this with Reason #1)

Resource (offer training, teambuilding time etc.) the group of young people you are working with and actively hand power over to them. For example, power to decide on funding and to act as commissioners or co-commissioners.

3) Developing fresh talent: forward looking and developmental

Young People at Voices for Change 2006Creativity is not something people learn, it something they are trained out of.

Providing opportunities for young people to participate addresses the inbuilt 'age discrimination' in the common 'seniority' requirements for participation in many conferences and formal processes.

Allowing young people to gain positive experiences in a formal arena of sharing their views, ideas, experience and innovation builds their capacity to be realistic and practical change makers in their own communities – linked into intergenerational networks that can support them to make a difference.

The Upshot
Recruit young people with existing skills and expertise in the area you are focussing on.

Offer them some additional support to understand the context and structure of the process they will be involved in – and offer opportunities for them to reflect on learning from the process.

Young people participate as equal partners in the process – with their voice no more or less listened to than anyone else present.


So to return to the question in the opening: Can you hold an event about children and young people without children and young people being there?

I'd love to hear your thoughts…

What is Youth Led Development?

[Summary: two short video interviews about Youth Led Development]

This weekend I had the pleasure of facilitating at the Department for International Development/Civil Society Organisations Youth Working Group 'Advocacy Action Planning Residential' alongside a fantastic team of young facilitators and supported by Daniel Smith from BYC.

One of the key themes running through the residential promoting wider funding of, support for, and research into the impact of, Youth Led Development. Too often in international development, young people are perceived as a 'problem to be solved' rather than a 'resource to be developed' and as leaders of change. Much as Positive Youth Development (PYD) models seek to convince policy makers to see young people as an asset rather than a problem in domestic youth policy making, the idea of Youth Led Development (YLD)* seeks to convince planners and funders of international development initiatives and schemes to draw upon the lived experience, enthusiasm and energy of young people to contribute to creating positive change in some of the most challenging settings in the world.

[*Ok – the language does confuse things a little – so for clarity: In PYD we're talking about the developmental journey of an individual, in YLD we're talking about development as in 'developing country']

Of course, to really get to the bottom of what Youth Led Development is all about it's best to ask people who are in the know – so I got out the video camera and took the opportunity to speak to Anna from Y-Care International and Deborah from Voluntary Service Overseas.

And if you prefer to read rather than watch – this definition written around the 2005 World Youth Congress captures some of the story:

What is Youth-led Development (YLD)? Simply, YLD is community projects devised and implemented by young people under the age of 25. They are generally grass-roots, small in size, and carried out mostly, but not exclusively, by youth volunteers. And why do we think YLD so essential to achieving the MDGs? Because nature dictates that youth have energy to spare and the eagerness to use it. Worldwide, young people are already dedicated to addressing their communities’ needs. And, because we young people are so keen to learn, we are happy to take our wages in experience rather than cash salaries. Thus, YLD offers the most cost effective development action. YLD also massively benefits the youth who do it. They learn invaluable project management, fund-raising and leadership skills, hugely boosting their employability. Being part of a successful project builds a young person’s confidence and raises their self-esteem to stratospheric levels.

And to close this post – a quote that my colleague Sarah Schulman uses as her e-mail signature:

“This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” Robert Kennedy.

RSS to Newsletter Maker – A pitch to the Social Innovation Camp

[Summary: looking for a tool that will make it easy to take Web 2.0 information sharing into the physical world of flyers, leaflets and posters…]

Newsletter Maker

It was a conversation with Espen Berg from the U8 Global Student Partnership for Development this weekend that finally convinced me to get around to pulling together various thoughts I've been thinking lately about the need for a tool that bridges the Web 2.0 <–> Paper 1.0 divide. Espen was telling me about work he is exploring with a number of others, seeking to make Web 2.0 accessible in low-bandwidth environments – realising that many of the benefits of the information revolution (2.0) are not readily available to a large proportion of the worlds population. Whilst many of those people lacking access are in developing nations – a lot are also right here in Leicester, Social Innovation Camp Logoand in cities across the UK – and one the best ways to build at least a temporary bridge across the digital divide seems to me to be with a printer and a bit of paper.

So I've just pitched the idea below into the Social Innovation Camp to see where it could go…


A tool to take web snippets, RSS feeds, social bookmarks and other online media and to easily assemble these in printable leaflet, flyer and poster formats. Making online information available in a non-digital format ready for copying, faxing, posting, sticking up on a notice board, and generally sharing amongst those who prefer to/can only recieve information offline.

Something like a cross between MS Publisher and NetVibes for print, it would need to handle:

  • Collecting snippets from across the web;
  • Agregating and allowing selections to be made from RSS feeds;
  • Editing & formatting of content to make it coherent when on paper and you can't follow the links;
  • Layout and preparation for printing of information;

Ideally such a tool would also allow templates newsletters / posters / flyers to be shared and worked on collaboratively – with the capacity for creating one-off publications, and regular publications, which would auto-update on the basis of RSS feeds etc.

What social need does it address?

The digital divide. (And the 'social media divide'). Whilst the web has made it easier than ever to share information, that sharing is only accessible to a limited number of people.

Creating a bridge between the online and offline worlds can make sure information shared through social media channels is:

a) Available to those without access to the technology;

b) Available to those with access, but who are not yet comfortable using social media technologies;

At present, a lot of people are missing out on a lot of information – and a lot of the potential of information sharing is being lost – because the sharing is taking place in online spaces that are not accessible to everyone.

What’s new about it?

It aims to make publishing on paper move able to move at least somewhere closer to the speed of Web 2.0. Initiatives on bridging the digital divide have tended to focus on bringing people to the technology so that they can access information and services. This looks to make it easy to take the information directly to people in formats and spaces that are accessible to them.

What inspired you?

Realising the amount of information I have at my fingertips is not accessible to many of those I'm working with, meeting with & campaigning with on a day to day basis. Realising its information they could really do with having access to. Realising that if they had access to the information, they could join in many more conversations and I could learn a lot from them. And realising that asking them to learn to use social media spaces is not the only solution.

Image based upon IMG_1435 by vovchychko under Creative Commons Licence.