Monthly Archives: May 2009

Connected Generation: 2009 unConference on online youth engagement

The social media game

[Summary: Registration open for the 2009 unConference on youth engagement in a digital age]

Some point just after the first BarCampUKGovWeb back in 2008 I floated the idea of a BarCamp, or an unConference to explore the ways in which organisations whose work involved young people could make the most of social media and new digital technologies. After a few false starts, that turned into UK Youth Online* – a gathering of over 60 fantastic folk one Saturday at the offices of DIUS in London where we had explored all sorts of elements of online youth engagement: tools and technologies; issues of safety; participation online; implications for youth workers; the social media game; and loads more. That event led to the growth of the Youth Work Online ning network, currently fairly quiet, but helping to carry on the conversations from our face-to-face event.

Since the 2008 unConference I’ve met a whole load of fantastic people working to explore and use social technologies in youth work, youth participation and outreach work with young people. From software developers and central government policy makers, to local authority web teams and front-line youth workers – and of course, many young people themselves – as volunteers, activists and innovators. However, in all these meetings, I’ve not come across a forum that brings together practitioners, social entrepreneurs, developments, policy makers and young people to get stuck into sharing their learning and building the sorts of informal and formal networks that will drive forward greater and more effective uptake of social technologies to make a difference in the lives of young people.

Summing upSo – I though it might be time for another unConference. And this is the rather roundabout way of announcing: Connected Generation 2009 – unConference – exploring youth engagement in a digital age.

It’s taking place on the 11th July, it’s free to attend, in the same place in Central London as last years thanks to Steph Grey and DIUS, and registration is now open.

So, erm, get registered if you can join us, and spread the word!

More details below…


If your work involves young people, then understanding and engaging with social media and online technologies is a must. This event is an opportunity to explore big ideas, and practical realities of weaving the web into work with young people.

As an unConference, the exact programme is created on the day by the participants, who will convene conversations, provide demonstrates and share their insights. However, themes that are likely to be explored include:

  • Communicating with young people online - from promoting youth services and positive activities, through to hosting two-way dialogues with young people in online spaces.
  • Social networks & youth participation - how can Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and Ning be part of the participation workers toolbox? And how does social networking have the power to change the face of participation?
  • Digital inclusion for young people – making sure that all young people have the access to technology and the skills they need to get on in the digital age;
  • Practical action - how to make sure online engagement is based on safe-and-sound foundations; getting policies in place; and making sure the technology and staff skills are available to make the most of online engagement;
  • Hands-on learning – exploring different social media tools that you can use in your work, and sharing tips with other participants about the best way to use them;

Bring your own sessions!

An unConference is created by the participants – and it works best when everyone comes prepared to offer a session. Your session could be a short presentation of a project you have recently worked on using digital media for youth engagement; or it could be a topic for discussion; or an issue you want to get the insights of others on.

When you register you have the opportunity to suggest a session you may offer.

How the day works
If you’re never been to an unConference before and are wondering what to expect – here is a rough outline of what the day might look like: Planning out the different time-slots for the day

  • 10.00am – Arrive, coffee and introductions
  • 10.30am – Suggesting Sessions – participants will be invited to announce and introduce sessions they would like to run during the conference. These will be assigned to a time-slot and break-out room. There will probably be 6 break out rooms, allowing 30 different sessions to take place during the day.
  • 11.00am – Parallel Session 1 – some of the sessions just announced will take place and you can choose which to take part in.
  • 11.45 – Parallel Sessions 2 – more sessions taking place
  • 12.30 – Lunch
  • 13.15 – Parallel Sessions 3 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.00 – Parallel Sessions 4 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.45 – Break and review - A change to check if any new ideas for sessions have arisen throughout the day so far, and to plan in a few extras
  • 15.00 – Final sessions
  • 15.45 – Wrap and close

You will get to take part in at least five sessions on key topics in youth engagement and new technology. If you find a topic you want to discuss is not being covered, you have to opportunity to suggest a new session to explore it – and the facilitators will do their best to make your new session idea take place.

We’ll probably end the day at a local coffee shop or pub for those who can stay in London a bit longer.

Who is behind it?
The 2009 unConference is being organised by Tim Davies as a voluntary project.

The venue has been kindly supplied by DIUS, arrange for by Steph Grey.

Other volunteers will be involved on the day. Check for more details.

Sponsorship welcome
We welcome sponsorship to help us cover the costs of the event. Sponsors have the opportunity to display materials at the event and to place items in the conference bag – as well as to feel good about making a great event take place!

Any questions?

If you’ve got any questions then drop a line to
or give me a call on 07824 856 303

*Note: The 2008 event was not associated in any way with the charity UK Youth, and at their request we are not longer using the ‘UK Youth Online’ title for future events.

Digital inclusion and social capital

I’m going to be taking on the social reporter role at the RSA seminar on Digital Inclusion and Social Capital today – and trying to tweet, video and blog insights and ideas arising from the discussions on Will Davies working paper on The Social Value of Digital Networks in Deprived Communities (to be published after input from the seminar and online discussion have been incorporated…)

Social Reporting a seminar like this is a new one for me. I’ve almost-live blogged at conferences before, but this looks set to be a really in depth discussion in a concentrated couple of hours so I’ll be trying my best to draw out elements and weave them into the web of great experience and insight that will be outside the meeting room at the RSA as well as in it.

To help with that I’m trying out CoverItLive – which, if you’re viewing this blog post in an RSS Reader that supports it, or on the front page of the blog, should present you with a feed of conversation as the session unfold – and should give you a space to add your own comments.

Please do drop in between 10.30am and 12.30am to follow the discussions and to add your thoughts to the debate on digital inclusion and deprived communities…

Networked Participation: opening up

Networked Participation - funded by LGIU

Networked Participation - funded by LGIU

Just a quick (and slightly late) note to let readers interested in Youth Participation & Social Media that we’ve opened up the Ning network for the Youth Participation and Social Network Sites action learning set to anyone to join.

You can access Networked Participation here.

You need to request a membership to access all the content – but as long as you provide just a few details I’ll get any requests to join approved quickly.

Inside the network you will find shared resources and slides from our expert speakers and all sorts of other bits and pieces from the last four months of explorations of what social network sites and online social network has to offer to effective youth participation.

Can social networks bridge the participation gap?

[Summary: Online social networks have a role to play in bridging one off engagement with more structured forms of participation.]

A bit of scene setting

Image from Hear by Right book (p.g.7)

Image from Hear by Right book (p.g.7)

The ‘Ladder of Participation’ which asks organisations to consider the depth of youth participation in particular activities will be familiar to many people in youth engagement. Using Hart’s Ladder of Participation you can assess whether a youth council is acting as a genuine structure for youth empowerment, leading to young people and adults sharing decisions and creating change – or whether it is really a tokenistic gesture, creating the illusion of participation whilst adults are actually running the whole show.

But youth participation is not just about youth councils and young mayors. Good youth participation offers young people the chance to get involved and influence issues that affect them in a wide variety of ways, from one-off input into feedback and complaints processes, through to more structured engagement in the governance of organisations. On it’s own the ladder of Participation doesn’t show the full picture. That’s where the ‘matrix of participation’ comes in.

It’s a tool I’ve been using in training sessions for years, having first discovered in whilst working with Bill Badham delivering Hear by Right training. However, as far as I can tell we’ve never written it up online (though it is written up in this book which you can search inside with an Amazon account (search for ‘matrix’)).

The matrix of participation includes Hart’s Ladder of Participation on it’s vertical axis, and adds a horizontal axis consisting of different participation approaches, running roughly from one-off, short term or informal approaches on the left, to more structured and long-term approaches on the right.

Organisations can map the different participation opportunities they provide against both their level of participativeness, and against the type of approach they represent.

Matrix of Participation

The matrix is particularly useful to encourage organisations to consider whether they are offering young people a spread of engagement opportunities, and our experience is that attempts to just provide opportunities at one side or other of the matrix is unlikely to lead to sustainable and effective youth participation which leads to positive change for young people.

An observation: the gap in the middle
When Bill Badham joined us at the April meeting of the Youth Participation and Social Network Sites Action Learning Set he led the group in using the matrix of participation (plus some post-it notes and a big sticky sheet) to put together a big visual representation of the different participation approaches in use amongst the 20 or so local authorities participating in the learning set.

Standing back from the wall where this matrix had been put together during the lunch break we spotted something interesting. The participation methods shown were clustered on the left and right of the matrix, and things were thin in the middle.

Matrix with a thin middle

Already participants had been talking about how many of the more structured participation methods to the right were limited in their efficacy because they only managed to attract certain groups of young people who did not reflect the diversity of the young people the organisations worked with. And this got us thinking.

Participation methods towards the middle of the matrix are really important. It is through involvement in events; in creative projects; and in short-term activities that many young people can develop the confidence to express their views and can build the networks with other young people and with supportive adults that enable and encourage them to then get involved in further participation. The middle of the matrix is a key point on young people’s ‘pathway of participation’. Without opportunities to gain experience, information and develop networks – many young people (and often the young people we most need to hear from) may never go on to speak up in forums where they could have power to make serious change happen.

Bridging the gap: online social networks
Online social networking is not a cure all. But it seems that it could have a role to play here.

Right now, young people engaging in participation on the left of the matrix of participation, in one-off participation opportunities have few ways of connecting this engagement to longer term involvement in participation. Filling in a paper form to provide feedback on an activity and handing it in can often feel like a participation dead end.

But what if, instead of just handing in feedback, young people were encouraged to digitally provide their ideas for improvements to a service, and were to vote for the ideas supplied by other young people (see tools like UserVoice)?

And what if young people taking part in survey and small-scale engagement were offered an opt-in opportunity to connect with the person who will take forward action based on their input, so they can continue to engage with further questions that crop up as a policy or practice comes to be implemented?

And what if young people who want to express their view on a single issue could do that by joining a group within a social network, in the process coming to discover the other issues their peers are working on – and becoming part of a shared network with young people already involved in formal participation structures?

Not all young people will go on to ‘leap the gap’ themselves and move from one-off engagement to sitting on a youth forum or governance board (nor should they), but perhaps some will – and perhaps, equally importantly, those young people who take part in formal participation structures will have ways of keeping connected with the issues that matter to their least advantaged peers, and will be better able to represent the views of others and to advocate for improvements that benefit those most in need of change.

How are you blending online and offline social networks into your youth participation practice?

Overcoming the challenges to open government – the wiki way

The Wiki

The Wiki

My recent post on 50 Small Hurdles to Open Government generated some great comments and conversation. And so, with the encouragement of a number of those who commented, I took the 50 hurdles from the blog post, and turned them into a Wiki where anyone can share insights and ideas for overcoming them.

Take a look and see if you can offer some tips for dealing with the technical, organisation, policy and skill-set hurdles that hold back so much digital engagement potential in local and national government.

And in true Wiki style it can be built up and developed. Paul Evans has already pointed out one ommission which now has it’s own page: the lack of clarity about what the law says about engagement. However, thanks to Paul’s pointer to ICELE guidance, and contributions from the DC10PlusNetwork today, we now have a pretty good list of where laws and policies support and enable online engagement rather than prevent it.

Visit the Overcoming the Hurdles Wiki here.

Online Citizenship for young people – e-safety project ideas

[Summary: Ideas for online citizenship, digital youth work and e-safety programmes]

Project proposals

Project proposals

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Jonathan and Jackie from the E-Safety Sub-Group of Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board to develop ideas for a range of projects and programmes that could be run in the Borough to promote positive online citizenship amongst young people.

Brent LSCB have long been leaders in the drive to encourage every local authority to have an e-safety group within their Local Safeguarding Children Boards – and in encouraging organisations working with young people to have e-safety co-ordinators. Refreshingly their focus has not just been on a narrow definition of e-safety and safeguarding – but they have pro-actively recognised the importance of supporting young people to thrive online and be active online citizens as a means to promote online safety. And they have been very kind in letting me share the project and strategy ideas we developed.

So – here is Citizenship for Young People: promoting e-safety through promoting opportunity – proposals for positive project as a PDF download.

The document sets out a small portfolio of projects – some specific to the work in Brent – but, along with the critical questions I shared from this document previously, hopefully also provides a few general purpose projects that others working on e-safety might find useful. In particular:

  • The Content Creators (PDF) project proposal sets out a process for encouraging young people to consider online safety through creating digital media in their local areas. In particular, it works alongside the Critical Questions framework in the main document to suggest a series of stages of planning and working on online content with young people that provides opportunities to consider and reflect upon key online safety issues.

    Draft structure for the Content Creators programme

    Structure for the Content Creators programme

  • The proposal for Skill Swap sessions (PDF) suggests ways of getting young people to teach each other about online tools and technologies – and suggests using this as an opportunity to add in some e-safety messages. Underlying a skill-swap model, where young people are encouraged to teach each other about managing their online identities and keeping safe is a belief in building young people’s resiliency, rather than putting up barriers to protect young people; and a thesis that, given the right opportunities for reflection and discussion, young people are able to identify relatively unprompted, many of the steps they may need to take to be safe online.

    Both Content Creators and Skill Swap sessions have possible use in digital mentor style programmes with young people.

  • The Connection Hubs proposal (PDF) has a slightly different focus – on online outreach and taking content to where young people are. It outlines a possible strategy for having a core project presence online, and then ‘hubs’ out in different social media and social networking spaces to be able to engage with the online communities of young people in those spaces. It also fits with the idea of having a content strategy rather than a web strategy.

All the above are under a Creative Commons licence, and are very much initial ideas and sketches of possible projects. Brent LSCB have only been able to take a few of them forward at the moment, but hopefully in allowing them to be shared there may also be some value in here for other organisations exploring e-safety.

And of course – your feedback, reflections and comments (and edits even – let me know if you would like to Open Office/Word originals to work on) to help improve these would be most welcome.