Looking back & looking forward: 2008 & 2009

[Summary: A quick look back at 2008, and a look forward to plans for 2009]

2008 has been a busy year indeed. It’s been my first full year working completely freelance and I’ve worked on some great projects from running an online course for Oxfam activists, through the stacks of work around Youth Work, Youth Engagement and Social Networking and developing the SMS and website platform for a national climate change campaign.

I’ve also found myself video reporting at the 2008 E-Campaigning Forum (the content is available as part of recently launched and really handy Fairsay Insights e-campaigning toolkit), organising the UK Youth Online unconference in September, fasciliting the development of the resulting Youth Work Online network of practioners, and writing a module on youth participation for the Open University Foundation Course in Youth Work, I started out 2008 living in Leicester, but in June made the move back down to Oxford – and have been getting involved once more in Fairtrade campaigning, resulting a few weeks ago in the @askforfairtrade campaign.

I’ve been really fortunate that all these projects, and the many other bits of consultancy, research and writing not mentioned above, have all offered great opportunities for reflective learning, and I’m looking forward to a lot more in 2009. From Action Learning around Social Network Sites and Youth Engagement, to exploring youth led innovation, and innovation in the provision of information for young people I’m set for a packed, but I hope, really interesting and collaborative, 2009. However, most exciting of all for me, I’ve just got confirmation that from October next year I’ll be getting to devote even more time to in depth exploration of the impact of social media on social processes and social change, when I start on a year-long MSc in the Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and sharing comment and insights here on Tim’s Blog or over on Twitter in 2008. Wishing you all the best for 2009!

NESTA seeking youth participation specialist

[Summary: Are you a youth participation specialist? Fancy a change in 2009? Details below of job ad from NESTA. (Deadline 12th Jan 2009)]

One of the project I had the pleasure of working on this year was helping NESTA to develop it’s strategy for Youth Innovation, building on the work future innovators programme.

The new programme, named ‘Innovation Generation‘ will be launched early next year, and is designed to be increasingly youth led: putting young people in the driving seat of determining, developing, evaluating and disseminating learning from projects that are all about unlocking the innovative potential of young people.

Not only will the programme be looking at how it can involve young people in innovation, but it will be exploring innovations in participation – supporting the development and evaluation of new approaches to youth participation.

And Benedict puts together his team to lead the programme forward, that means there is a job opening for an Innovation Generation Development Manager – Youth Participation Specialist.

If you know any youth participation specialists (or you happen to be one yourself) interested in a change in 2009 – please do forward on details. Closing date is the 12th Jan.

Ask for Fairtrade (a twitter experiment)

Update: @askforfairtrade now has it’s own blog over here…

Have you asked for the Fairtrade option in a coffee shop that advertise it as an extra and been met by a bemused look from the person serving, been told that it’s out of stock, or simply been told they don’t sell Fairtrade coffee, in spite of the big Fairtrade logo on their menu?

I have. Quite a lot of times. And it’s really frustrating.

So, this morning I set up an @askforfairtrade account on Twitter to start finding our who the worst offenders are.

If you’re a regular coffee-shop hopper and you’re amongst the twitterati, then follow askforfairtrade, and when you’re next getting a caffine fix, make sure you request the Fairtrade option. Report the response you get by tweeting an update to @askforfairtrade.

I’ll aim to collate the reports on a regular basis and will get in touch with the best and the worst of the coffee chains to let them know how they are doing and to put the pressure on to keep Fairtrade on the menu.

Why does this matter?
Fairtrade matters. When a mug of coffee with the Fairtrade Mark is sold in place of a bog standard brew the farmers of the coffee beans are getting a guaranteed price for their labour, and a social premium is being invested in health, education and infrastructure projects in producer communities. Asking for the Fairtrade option makes a tangible difference. (Read more about the different Fairtrade makes on the Fairtrade Foundation Website)

Big companies are actively misleading consumers, giving the impression that their coffee is ethically produced and certified to Fairtrade standards, when in fact, Fairtrade is only available as an optional extra, and no effort is taken to actively encourage customers to ask for Fairtrade. In fact, from my experience, the level of service when trying to ask for the Fairtrade option actively discourages it.

By collecting reports of whether or not coffee shops and chains are living up to their promise to provide a Fairtrade option we can put pressure on them to make sure staff are trained, and products are in stock, for choosing the Fairtrade option to be the easy option. And we can demonstrate the consumer demand for Fairtrade as standard.

Adding negotiation to the participation vocabulary?

I’ve just been catching up on reading the findings from the MacArthur Digital Youth Project Final Report (a much needed contribution to the field of youth & digital media/digital learning and well worth taking a look at…) and one phrase has jumped out at me:

“youth-adult negotiations”

Negotiation is not a word I hear a lot when talking about youth participation. Yet I suspect it is an important one.

I still encounter a lot of contexts where youth participation seems to be limited to asking young people, in the abstract, what they want. And then not delivering on the responses because they’re to tricky to implement.

But then, if you ask any group of citizens, young or old, what they want – without articulating the constraints (budgets, sign-off, existing strategic plans) then you are likely to get a list of ideas most of which would be almost impossible to implement (try it…).

The bit missing is the negotiation. Setting out the constraints on a decision, but allowing them to be critiqued. Making clear to young people the assumptions on which you are basing decisions (and in the process, probably becoming more aware of them yourself) and then getting into dialogue over these assumptions. Responding to young people’s suggestions for change with explanations of which bits you think won’t be easy to implement, but encouraging young people to negotiate and creatively pursue the implementation of the changes they want to see.

Of course, one’s position in a negotiation is often about power – and ensuring young people in participation negotiations are on an equal footing with adults is perhaps the most challenging part of all…

Safe and effective social network site applications

[Summary: Inviting feedback on first public draft of working paper about developing social network site applications for young people that can be effective and engaging, whilst also promoting safety and limiting risk to young people (PDF)]

Update 18th May 2009: Version 1.0 of the paper posted here.

For the Plings project – concerned with promoting positive activities to young people – Social Network Sites (SNS) offer amazing opportunities. One of the main ways people find out about positive activities (the football club, dance group or arts society for example) is through word of mouth. So if you can feed information about positive activities into SNS, and increase the flows of information about positive activities through the networks of young people already active there, you could potentially have a big impact on young people’s awareness of activities they could take part in.

Take a look at the slidecast below to get an idea of how a Social Network Site application could work:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sns)

Of course, local authorities and professionals working with young people have a duty not only to make sure young people are aware of the positive activities available to them, but also a duty to keep young people safe from harm – and Social Network Sites can be places of risk as well as of opportunity. Which is why public and third-sector organisations engaging with SNS shouldn’t just copy the ‘viral marketting’ and often aggressive tactics of commercial SNS application builders – but need to develop a clear ethical and risk assessment framework for engaging with Social Network Sites.

I hope that this working paper which I’ve put together for the ISP/Plings project can go some way to starting off that development.

‘Safe and effective SNS applications for young people: considerations in building social networking
applications for under 19s’
aims to build a coherent foundation to support public and third-sector engagement with SNS through application building by:

  1. Unpacking the reasons why we need to treat young people differently;
  2. Exploring the features of Social Network Sites which lead to both amazing opportunities, and potential risks;
  3. Clearly identifying the risks to young people within the Social Network Site space;
  4. Proposing three levels of response that should lead to safe and effective application building;

The document also includes an outline risk assessment framework.

The three responses proposed are:

  • Abiding by ethical principles – and designing applications on the basis of principles derived from law, a respect for young people’s rights, and existing principles from professional practice;
  • Having a clear risk assessment in place for all projects – to make sure potential risks are identified and design decisions or resources put in place to limit potential harm to young people;
  • Building safety in – and creating applications which empower young people and encourage general safe online behavior.

So, if you’re exploring the use of Social Network Sites to engage young people, whether in positive activities or participation opportunities – or if you’ve got experience of e-safety or Social Network Site applications please do take a look at the ‘Safe and Effective SNS for young people’ working paper and share your reflections, questions and feedback.

Exploring further
This first public draft of the paper is hopefully just a starting point of a deeper exploration on building positive SNS applications. In particular:

  • The ISP/Plings project will be seeking to operationalise some of the learning in this paper, so it’s proposals, and the feedback and comments on it should have an opportunitity to be explored in practice over the first half of next year…
  • I’ll be leading an exploration of using applications for youth participation as part of the Local Government Information Unit Action Learning Set on SNS and Youth Participation. (N.B. Application deadline extended until 9th Jan 2009 in case you wanted to come along… but have not yet had chance to register…)
  • If there is enough interest – then I’d love to host a seminar on SNS applications and youth engagement early in 2009 – exploring both this paper, and emerging practice from the field. If you would be interested in taking part do drop me a line (tim at practicalparticipation dot org dot uk) or leave a comment on this blog post.
  • All comments and feedback on the paper are most welcome. Again, e-mail or comment below…