Monthly Archives: August 2009

Commissioning Connexions – Consultation in Bradford

Buying Bradford Connexions[Summary: Just launched Buying Bradford Connexions consultation for young people. Please help get the word out…]

Commissioning is big news right now. Many services for young people are now provided through commissioning arrangements, and competitive tendering. That can lead to a shift in the ways in which young people’s voices influence service provision – and it can open up new decision making spaces where young people’s participation is a must.

When the Commissioning & Contracts Manager in Bradford got in touch to ask if Practical Participation could help them to develop ways of getting young people’s input into the Commissioning process – I was interested to explore the possibilities for blending online and offline engagement – reaching out to a wide range of young people, but also getting in-depth engagement to take place structured around the commissioning process. At first I thought, with my impending return to MSc study, that the job was too big to take on – but, with Bill Badham joining the Practical Participation team in September (more on that soon…) and working in partnership with our friends at YouthBank UK – we’ve been able to put together a plan for young people’s engagement in Commissioning the new Connexions Bradford service & to identify a few opportunities to experiment with new methods along the way too.

So – yesterday, and after a week of development, I pushed the button to launch http://www.buyingbradfordconnexion.net as a participation space to gather the views of young people from Bradford and surrounding areas into the Connexions service.

(If you happen to work in, or around Bradford – or know anyone who does, your help in getting the message out about this new participation opportunity would be much appreciated)

And in the interests of shared learning – a few more notes on the project below… Continue reading

Beyond Twitter: Young people and youth work in a digital age

Picture 10Just a quick post to let you know about ‘Beyond Twitter: Young people and  youth work in a digital age – a conference and open space event I’ve been involved in planning with Simon Stewart for 24th September 2009 focussed very specifically on youth work. I’ll be speaking and facilitating some of the open space process, fresh from spending a few days at this symposium on ‘human services in the network society‘ – so very much looking forward to how we can make this conference the next step in build capacity and conversations around the future of digitally aware youth work.

Here’s how Simon has described the 24th September event:

Thursday 24 September 2009, 10.00am–4.00pm

Catrin Finch Centre, Glynd?r University, Wrexham

Technology today is creating one of the greatest transformations ever seen in humankind. Technological turning points of the past came about progressively. People and social systems had time to adapt. This time around rapid innovations are coming upon us suddenly. This digital explosion has opened up a plethora of opportunities and challenges for society.

Professional youth work and emerging children’s and young people’s services have not been left untouched, but what are we doing to ensure that our work remains current in a technological age? From social media to digital exclusion, youth workers are faced with ever more complex and challenging situations that they are required to respond to.

This conference and open space event is the beginning of an extended conversation reflecting on how youth and community work practice can respond to the digital transformation of society

It’s great value at just £25 for youth workers, and £10 subsidised rate for students. So if you’re in youth work – it would be great to see you there…

Booking details and online booking on the Glyndwr University Website here.

Three challenges for proponents of a Rebooted Britain

RebootBritainWhilst there might still be a lot of work to do in order to remove the practical, everyday and mundane barriers to building more interactive, open government – and public services fit for the 21st Century, it’s also important to ask critical questions about the sort of public services and government we want developments in technology to help bring about. I’ve just been reading the essays prepared for the Reboot Britain conference that was held last month – and whilst their provocative cheer-leading for a digitally transformed world is often well placed, I also felt slightly uneasy at the omissions in this NESTA publication, and the challenges either unseen, or glossed over.

I’ve tried to capture that unease into three challenges that I believe need to be addressed by those proposing and arguing for more open government, digitally enabled public services and a ‘rebooted britain’. Challenges that are intended, not as a argument against moving forward, but as a the starting point for an argument for subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, tweaks to our direction of travel.

Challenge 1: Where is social justice?
It doesn’t just matter that it is made generally easier to access public services; or that access to democratic power is redistributed to a greater number of people. It matters who has easier access to services, and which voices are now being heard in democratic debate. If digital innovations stand to widen the gulf between the best off, and the least well off, then it may well turn out to be wrong to pursue them. Markets and technologies are not morally neutral or value free – and we need to ask questions about their impact on equality and socially just outcomes.

Social justice, equality and inequality are not terms that you will find anywhere in the Reboot Britain essays – and there is a lack of critical appreciation of the way in which existing social inequality can be re-enforced by the introduction of technologies that outsource to the individual the burden of managing the fulfilment of their needs, rights and entitlements from public services. Whilst the VRM movement advocated by Lee Bryant could indeed lead to a powerful transformation of the relationship between citizen and state – we should be asking ourselves the Rawlsian question of whether some of our innovations, applied without attention paid to equality, could end up benefiting the well off, to the unjust detriment of the least well off in society – widening, rather than narrowing the gulf in our unequal society.

The challenge in a nutshell: ask what sort of society your innovation creates – and tell us if that society is closer to a just and fair one?

Challenge 2: Supporting Deliberative Leadership
Accountability is generally a good thing. Having more information on which to base decision making is generally a good thing. Having decision makers who can debate their decisions by appeal to public reason, and who can account for their decisions clearly and transparently is also much to be desired. However, having decision makers and leaders who are human being is also important. And human beings have practical limitations.

Demands for data, demands for transparency, and demands for new systems for getting more voices into decision making are common across many of the Reboot Britain essays – but without a recognition that decisions should be made, not just upon data-points and on the basis of who shouts loudest, but upon careful deliberation and discursive weighing up of ideas – we risk ending up with a very impoverished politics.

To demand far greater accountability from politicians than we demand either from the media, or, indeed as categories of media / politician and ‘other’ break-down in a digital world, from ourselves – seems to risk creating leaders unable to use their judgement, not least because of the basic practical burdens of auditing all past statements they have made and accounting for any changes in their view over time.

The challenge in a nutshell: don’t stop at making demands for data – think about how it will impact upon deliberative decision making. Can you provide an account of the form of leadership or decision making you want to see – and provide a realistic portrait of a politician fit for a Rebooted Britain?


Challenge 3: Local Control vs. Universal Services

In part this challenges is a replay of the social justice challenge – in so far as it asks whether local control of services leads to a concentration of better services around the already well-off, and a relative decline in the quality of services in areas where populations find it more difficult to exploit new technologies of voice. But more generally this challenge asks whether we can make compatible the idea of Universal Services, available to everyone across the country (without the ‘postcode lottery’ frequently decried in mainstream media) with the idea of local and hyper-local control of services?

The challenge in a nutshell: Does the idea of universal and uniform provision drop out of the picture in the Britain described in the Reboot Britain essays?

Voicebox – making the most of engagement

VoiceBoxThe process is depressingly familiar. Someone asks you to fill in a survey for research or consultation. They take away your results – and – in the rare cases where you ever hear of the research/consultation again – you see that your responses have been written up as part of a dull report, full of graphs made in Excel, and likely to sit on the book shelves of people whose behaviour betrays the probability that they’ve not really read or understood what was in the report.

Which is why it is refreshing to see the (albeit well funded) Vinspired team doing something rather different with their Voicebox survey of 16 – 25 year olds. Here’s how they introduce the project:

Journalists, politicians, academics, police and parents all have a point of view on what the ‘kids of today’ are like.

But has anyone ever asked the young people themselves, and not just in a focus group in Edmonton, but in an open and transparent way and on a national scale? And has anyone done anything smart, cool or fun with that data, that might, just might, make the truth about young people be heard?

These questions were the starting point for Voicebox; a project which aims to curate the views of 16-25s, visualise the results in creative ways, and then set that data free. Over the coming months, we’re going to try to find out how young people spend their time, what they care about, how many carry knives, what they really think about the area they live in and much more.

But not only are they breaking up their survey of views into manageable chunks, and giving instant feedback on the results to anyone filling the survey in – they are opening up the data they collect through an open XML API and CSV downloads, so anyone can take and use the data collected.

Plus – to make sure responses to the question ‘What do young people really care about?’ make it in front of decision makers – they’re planning to wire up the responses to a robot, ready to hand-write out each and every response as part of an installation in Parliament.

Of course, it’s not often that your budget stretches to custom-built flashy survey applications and internet-connected-robots when you’re looking to gain young people’s input into local issues or policy making. But what Vinspired have done with VoiceBox does raise the questions: how will you make sure that you really make the most of the views young people give you? Any how will you get young people’s views in front of decision makers in a way that makes them tricky to ignore?

Certainly two questions I’m going to be asking myself on any future consultation or engagement projects I work on…