[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…
The Real Stuff
We’ve planned a three stage engagement process, mapped onto the different stages of the commissioning process.
The first stage is all about the specification for the new Connexions service. Rather than a questionnaire getting young people’s “views in general” on the Connexions service, we’ve worked with the existence of a draft specification – and sought to break down the elements it contains so that young people can offer their insights about particular aspects of the service Connexions provides. To do this, we’ve asked the question “What makes a great service?” and “What makes an awful service?” (With a question about “What makes a good service?” in the middle).
The hope is that, by finding out from young people what they think makes for great, good or awful services in careers advice, drop-in centres, or youth involvement – we can help the Commissioning & Contracts team to reshape the specification to take account of young people’s insights and experiences.
In future stages we’ll be looking to gather young people’s input into the assessment criteria used to choose suppliers – and the questions that should be asked at interview.
All the participation activities we have planned will be available through the website at Buying Bradford Connexions, but we know that some young people will need supportt to engage with the participation process. YouthBank UK will be working with a small group of young people to help them get directly involved in commissioning meetings and reviewing tenders – but we’ve also put together a Participation Toolkit full of ideas and worksheets that professionals working with young people in Bradford can use in their face-to-face contact time to help them input into the commissioning process.
Local practitioners can request a copy of the toolkit online.
The toolbox also contains this slideshow – trying to explain commissioning to young people via the analogy of choosing a mobile phone.
Social Network Integration
Just as I was starting work on the Drupal based website we’ve used to host the online engagement I noticed a new module had come out which offered integration between Drupal and the Gigya social network site API. So – with just a little extra work I could get sign-on via Social Network Sites working for the Buying Bradford Connexions website.
The site works without sign-in, but if young people (or adults) choose to register they can use their Facebook or MySpace accounts to do so – with the added bonus that they can share details of the Buying Bradford Connexions with their Facebook or MySpace friends whenever they post responses to any of the questions on the site.
This is the first time I’ve tried using Facebook Connect or MySpace Connect style tools on a live site – and I’ve taken care to make sure that young people can choose whether or not to post updates to their networks, and to ensure the updates don’t contain any sensitive information (see safe SNS paper)- so I’ll be interested to see how this form of social network site integration adds to the online engagement.
An evolving process
We’ll be refining the process as we go – and sharing the learning as much as we can. Ideas and input of course, always welcome.