Monthly Archives: October 2009

Fair Trade Futures – Exploring Ethical Trade 2.0 – 7th November, Oxford

456906620I’ve explored some of the possibilities connected to digital media and Fair Trade on this blog before, but never had chance to get into really good dialogue about the potential and challenges of digitally enabled Fair Trade Futures. So I’m delighted that in 10 or so days time we’ll be devoting at least one session, and hopefully more time with the Open Space discussions in the afternoon, to the topic at the Fair Trade Futures conference in Oxford.

If you’re interested in how the Internet and digital media can be used to…

  • Bring greater transparency to Fair Trade supply chains;
  • Create stronger links between consumers and producers;
  • Support Fair Trade campaigning at a local and national level;

… and you could make it to Oxford on the 7th November – then register for Fair Trade Futures and come to join the discussion. The session on Fair Trade 2.0 I’m convening kicks off around 11, and we’ll hopefully dig deeper into Fair Trade 2.0 in Open Space discussions in the afternoon.

Also at the conference will be themes exploring government’s role in promoting a sustainable textiles industry, speakers from Fair Trade Research and from Fair Trade Businesses, and a Keynote from People Tree founder Safia Miney.

All socially-reported and Amplified by the great Amplified team so even if you can’t make it on the day – you can still get a flavour of the discussions afterwards.

Youth Work in a Digital Age

Youth Work Now

I was recently asked to write an article for Children and Young People Now on ‘Youth Work in a Digital Age’. The resulting article was published in last weeks issue (15th – 21st October 09) and you can find it on the Children and Young People Now  website here.

I’m grateful to C&YPN Editor Andy Hillier for his patience with my tendency to overshoot all word limits in a first draft, and for helping to turn my original drafts into a practical piece for a print magazine.

But, with the luxury of a blog, where running to 1967 words, rather than the allotted 1500 for a spread in C&YPN, I though I would take the liberty of posting here an earlier draft, which takes a bit more a theoretical look at the question of Youth Work in a Digital Age. All comments and feedback welcome…

Youth Work in a Digital Age (v 0.1)

Where can you always find a group of young people hanging out together; chatting about everyday life and about issues that matter; planning an upcoming adventure; reflecting upon all the activities they have recently been involved in; sharing jokes; flirting with one another; having heart-to-heart discussions with their peers; and generally being young people? Ten years ago ‘the youth club’, or ‘the street corner’ might have been the answer. Today it’s far more likely to be online – on Bebo.com or MSN Messenger.

Some people have seen this as a threat to youth work as we know it – but if you had been listening in at the ‘Young people and youth work in a digital age’ conference that took place at Glyndwr University last month, you would have been far more likely to hear youth workers talking about the golden opportunities that digital technologies have created for practitioners to promote activities; to engage with young people; and to generally deliver high quality youth work.

With over 80% of young people using one or more social network sites (5 in 6 young people aged 11 – 25 were users of at least one social network site in a April 2009 representative sample study of 1000 young people by nfpSynergy) and young people increasingly turning to the internet for communication, entertainment and information youth work cannot afford to miss the digital boat.

Made for youth work?

Over recent years young people’s use of digital media has shifted from consuming entertainment and information, to creating and sharing content, being in constant communication with peers, and participating in online communities. With the right support from informal educators, digital media offers the tools and platforms for young people to move from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator’.

Working with young people online, where many of the power dynamics between young people and adults are turned on their head, can, as many workers have discovered, create an environment far closer to the youth work ideal of voluntary engagement. Youth worker Katie Bacon, who has been using the web to engage diverse groups from across Devon in decision making explains: “Online young people are often far more honest and up-front with their opinions, and the presence of the ‘block’ button that young people can use to end a conversation puts them far more in control. It can be challenging and disconcerting for workers, but once you get used to it you can see that it’s voluntary engagement in practice.”

And with social network sites very much based around peer-group interaction and relationship building, it is easy to see the potential fit between digital media and core youth work values and practices.

Even so, digital media tools have rarely been created with a ‘youth workers instruction manual’ to accompany them – so the challenge for youth workers is to work out how to understand, adopt and adapt digital media tools for their practice. It can help to think about three forms of ‘youth work in a digital age’: (1) supporting young people to navigate growing up in a digital world; (2) using digital media tools to promote and add value to existing youth work; (3) weaving the digital media tools into youth work activities – and making the most of the technology for youth work goals.

Growing up digital

Just ten years ago, young people may have only been able to be in social contact with their peers for a small part of the day: snatched conversations between lessons at school, on the way home, or meeting up for a few hours in the evening. A couple of hours spent in a youth project may have been a significant part of young people’s social time. Now, many young people live in near constant contact with peers, sharing text messages, photos and videos from phones, computers and consoles. In this world where communication moves faster, both positive and negative experiences can be ‘amplified’ by digital media; and the divide between those with access and skills to be connected, and those without can widen.

Whilst government backed education programmes such as ThinkUKnow.co.uk are doing important work educating professionals and young people about potential dangers of digital media, youth workers have an additional role in equipping young people not only with awareness of the risk, but also with the resolve, resources and resiliency to navigate dangers, whilst still taking advantage of online opportunities.

That might involve giving a peer group the opportunity to reflect upon the sorts of images, photos and videos of themselves and their friends they are sharing online – and to come to an agreement about what to share or what not to. Or it might involve workers being attuned to instances when bullying might be moving onto the web, and being ready to address the underlying bullying. Starting from young people’s experience of digital media, youth workers need to be supporting young people to become digital media literate, and for many workers that will start with developing their own digital media literacy.

Promote what you do

You can support young people to develop skills and literacy for growing up digital without touching any technology yourself, but if you want to reach out and promote youth work activities to young people for whom the internet is the primary information source then it’s time to log-on. Setting up a blog, for example, gives you an instant (and free) publishing platform where you can share news about your project and details of upcoming events – and within weeks details of what you do should be appearing in search engine results, helping young people discover and remind themselves of what you do.

Facebook Pages, or Bebo and MySpace profiles, can provide a powerful free platform for promoting projects and activities to young people – taking the message to the social network spaces where young people are hanging out. When Denise Drake updates the Tower Hamlets Summer University Facebook Page, the update is featured in the news feeds of over 250 people, all of whom have signed up as ‘Fans’ of Summer Uni. If any of those people comment on one of these updates, then their comment (and the original message) could also be shown in the news feeds of their friend networks on Facebook. News of new activities can spread quickly through the network.

Of course, one of the greatest potentials of digital media is the ability to show young people what’s on offer, rather than just telling them in text. With cheap video hosting and online editing tools – sharing videos, photos or recordings to give young people an insight into what happens at your project is easier than ever.

However, if you try promotion without participation you’re likely to be disappointed. As local authority communications expert Simon Wakeman recently explained in an interview on the Plings project blog (http://blogs.plings.net): “It’s two-way communication – having a one-way dialogue just doesn’t work! Social media blends communications and consultation. You can’t start using social media without being prepared to have conversations online.

Weaving digital media in

Digital media can be a big draw to attract young people to take part in a project. But more importantly, ensuring young people have digital skills is key to support both their participation in social life and education now, and in social life, education and work in the future.

For just about any youth work activity there will be digital media tool that can add a new dimension to it: from using online video clips as discussion starters at a youth club, to using blogging to help young people reflect upon and document an international youth exchange. And as Hilary Mason, Senior Manager at West Sussex youth service recently discovered, when using blogging as a way for young people on exchanges to China and India to reflect on their experiences and share news with friends and family back home – there are often unexpected positive impacts of using digital media: “There was a knock-on effect in the local community – with parents and grandparents who would normally not be using a computer reading and commenting on the blogs. The messages of affirmation to young people coming from family back home with written comments saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’ were very powerful.”

In weaving digital media tools into youth work practice there are often decisions to be made about what is published on the web, and how you manage conversations and communication. In the case of young people blogging from China, West Sussex youth service made sure that there were staff back in the UK to check over blog posts before they went on the web, and to address and issues that came up. “One of the main things that came up was comments from parents – we had to remind them that the blog was public communication.”

Getting started

If you’re not already using digital media in your work, then knowing where to start can be tricky. But, as the Youth Work and Social Neworking report (NYA, 2008) sets out – there are four simple steps to going digital.

1) Survey: find out what’s already going on in your organisation & find out about the digital opportunities young people are interested in. Create a ‘community profile’ of the social media spaces young people are active in (there’s no point being on Facebook if everyone you work with in on Bebo). Check what policies your organisation has on digital media, and check what technology you have available.

2) Strategy: choose how you will engage with digital media. Will you discuss digital media issues with young people but without using the technology directly? Will you use digital media as a promotion tool? In face-to-face settings? Or as a tool for online outreach?

3) Safety: check out the safety issues linked with your choice of digital media. Think about possible safety issues and how to overcome them. Most issues can be overcome with careful thought. You can find an overview of key safety issues to consider in the online Youth Engagement & Social Media guide that I’ve been developing here: http://is.gd/3Orsc

4) Skills: give yourself an hour or two to explore the digital media tools you are planning on using. Try them out – or find a colleague who can teach you how to use them. You don’t need to be an expert – just confident enough to learn as you go along, and to identify the issues that may make for discussion points with young people.

Going further

Finding your own route to engage with digital media in youth work can seem daunting, particularly when there is no set pattern to copy. However, digital media isn’t just about youth work delivery. It can also play a part in youth worker’s professional development and learning – and you will find a growing range of supportive online communities, reflective blogs, and online resources to help you explore youth work in a digital age.

Often, starting to use the tools for your own professional development, whether reading and commenting on blog posts from other youth workers, or participating in a focussed network of youth work practitioners such as YouthWorkOnline.org.uk, you can pick up the skills and experiences you need to apply digital tools in your own practice. Hilary Mason was one of the first youth work bloggers from the statutory sector, and for Hilary being able to explore both digital tools and youth work ideas through maintaining a blog at http://ukyouthblog.wordpress.com/ is key: “As a reflective tool it’s huge, both in spending time writing and thinking about what you are going to say.”

The digital world is here. And it’s moving forward at a phenomenal pace. Youth work has some catching up to do – but it also has a key opportunity and offer to make – and hopefully soon we’ll be seeing all youth work as work engaged with the digital age.

Do stop me if…

Picture 8I’ve just made it to the end of the first week of term on the MSc course I’m taking full time for the next year.

I’m aware that already my writing style is heading off towards the academic and even-more-verbose-than-usual; and the topics I’m exploring day-to-day are getting relatively specialised.

I’ve been wondering whether I should start another blog for study-related content, but I’ve decided for now, to stick to writing here.

But – this blog is for readers as well as it’s writer. I want to make sure that I can get a sense if readers think the blog is getting too technical. Or indeed, not technical enough.

Speaking at conferences before I’ve used the jargon busting red card system, where everyone in the audience has a red card to hold up should the speaker end up off-topic or using too much jargon. Scary for the person on the podium. But it encourage a great discipline for the speaker to maintain clarity and focus. Seeing a sea of red-cards start to shuffle in the audience certainly helps me to get back on track if I’ve mis-judged how to pitch a presentation.

So consider this post to gift you a virtual red card, and to be an open invitation and encouragement to give your feedback and to help keep this blog useful and practical.

The myth of easy engagement. Who should participate and how…

Decisions are made by those who turn up.

Often, those looking to engage people in decision making and shaping services make the shaky leap from the fact that over 70% of people have internet access, to the idea that the internet offers the straightforward opportunity to engage 70% of the people. A few days ago, frustrated by questions driven by this logic, and of the form ‘How many people in our local area are on Twitter?’, Dave Briggs sought to explode ‘The myth of engaging with everyone. Dave asks for clarity stating:

The first thing to be clear on is that no one engagement method will reach, or suit, everyone.

The second thing to be clear on, is that you don’t necessarily want to reach everyone, anyway.

Two statements that seem empirically and intuitively sensible. But the argument they lead Dave to is not necessarily so uncontroversial:

My argument would always be to focus on the small number of active, enthusiastic people first.

Whilst there are a limited number of cases where putting the primary focus on the active, enthusiastic people is the right way forward, in local authorities, national government and other democratic contexts we need to think more carefully. The ‘active, enthusiasts’ who leap upon any opportunity to get involved may well be great & capable people – but they may well not have all the ideas, insights, experiences and networks that we need for innovation, change, and the development of engaged vibrant communities. The following post is not a call to reject the active enthusiasts, engaged online and willing to make considerable contributions to civic life – but it is a call to remember that, if decisions are made by those who turn up, those planning and facilitating engagement have a responsibility to make sure they are inviting and supporting the right individuals and groups to be part of the process.

So, who should turn up? Below I’ve sketched out three steps to thinking about who you need to engage, and how to manage that engagement.

This is a quick sketch – and I’m sure the ideas it explores have been well developed elsewhere – so I welcome comments / pointers and reflections to help shape and develop this more…

1) Start from the end
You can’t start planning an engagement process without thinking about why you are looking to engage people. Why you are thinking about engagement, will determine who needs to be engaged, and how.

Some useful questions to ask yourself about the outcomes you want:

  • Are we looking to make a decision at the end of this process? If so:
    • Does the decision need to be decided by a democratic process? Or does it otherwise need some democratic legitimacy?
    • Do we already have a mandate or responsibility for making this decision?
  • Is the goal to make a particular project happen where we already know what that project is?
  • Is the goal to take action on a particular issue, but without already knowing what action to take?
  • Is the goal to build a community who can take forward projects and action in future?

And then ask about the sort of input you need. Do you want:

  • Ideas?
  • Insights?
  • Expertise?
  • Innovation?
  • People taking action?
  • Voting?
  • etc.

The reality is that most engagement projects involve multiple possible outcomes, and multiple sorts of input.

For example, you may want to initially get a wide range of ideas about the priorities that should be set for a £100k pot of local funding; to  follow this up with a democratically legitimate vote to discover the top local priorities; to put together a panel who will invite local groups to apply for funding to run innovative projects that match up against the chosen priorities; and to decide who gets the funding and to support them in running projects and making an impact. Each stage of the process answers the questions above in different ways – and so will need to think differently about who to engage and how…

2) Think about who is affected & who should be involved

If you want to engage a local population – you could just put an engagement opportunity up online, and let the people who are interested find out. But, as Mark Pack points out in a comment on Dave’s blog post:

often those keenest on an issue have a different view from those less keen on the issue

Those who self-select to get involved in an engagement opportunity may not represent all the people who should be involved in an engagement opportunity. Of course, who should be involved depends on the sorts of answers you gave to the questions above.

If you want to get the best possible democratically legitimate outcome that respects the independence and self-determination of local communities then you need at least two broad groups of people involved:

  • (a) People with expertise on the issues in consideration;
  • (b) People who will be affected by decisions or actions that result from this process;

You could just work with a tick-list consisting of these two items, and check you have people from both categories taking part – but chances are that breaking down category (b) at least is going to prove useful for targeting engagement opportunities and making sure you get beyond the easy-to-reach enthusiasts.

For example, you may decide you need to hear from:

  • Men & women, of a range of ages and employment situations, who live in different wards where your funding of £100k might be spent.

You may find you can generate a matrix from the lists of different group you want to engage – giving you a tool to check and think about who is engaged so far. For example, the matrix below helps get a rough sense of whether a process is hearing from participants across areas of Oxford, and from a range of age groups and employment backgrounds.

Picture 7

It’s important to note, however, that these are not tick-boxes. You may not necessarily have someone from every category. These lists are tools to help you think about and visualise whether or not you are getting a broad range of inputs into your engagement process.

Engaging some groups is easier than others. Although – as I heard it put at the recent Beyond Twitter conference, that’s not because some groups are ‘hard to reach’, but because from some places in your local area, the council is harder to reach. With a matrix like the above, you can think about where you put your resources, and how accessible the engagement you are creating is to different groups.

3) Think about the sorts of input you allow, and the inputs you are getting

The people you engage are not, unless they have been elected through a suitable process, representatives . Nor, unless you’ve gone through some in-depth statistical sampling, are they representative.

But they do bring something to your process. And knowing what they bring is important to ensure the outcome is as high quality and legitimate as possible.

People bring ideas, insights, lived experience, energy to take action, skills and practice know how and a whole lot more. Sometimes people should be allowed to bring a veto; or to call for a vote on particular issues.

Fascilitating engagement involves looking at these different sorts of input, and getting the right balance at the right time.

For example, you may first gather stories from across an area about what living there is like, and share these stories with the ‘active enthusiasts’ who have time and energy to give in thinking about innovative funding priorities that could respond to those stories. You may invite those affected by decisions about funding to reflect upon the ‘active enthusiasts’ suggestions. You may offer a veto power to local community members. You may seek out the views of specific groups to make sure a decision is well rounded. And you may seek to bring together a large group to vote on proposals. If all the stories and insights come from one group; all the ideas from another; and all the action from another group again – then the risk that your process is unbalanced is big.

Engaging everyone

Many people have had bad experiences of engagement in the past. Some people are not interested in being engaged. Many people face barriers to getting engaged. You can’t engage with everyone all the time.

But whatever you do, look beyond the easy and obvious, to seek approaches that will work, and that will push forward are more just society.

Why engage online?

Where does this leave the argument for online engagement that Dave Briggs was exploring in the post that sparked the exploration above? Well, one avenue worth exploring is how digital technologies can lower the costs of engaging the easy-to-engage, to free up resources to offer substantive support to those groups, who for reasons of structural and systematic disadvantage, may find their input less likely to be otherwise included.

Protecting copyright at the cost of children’s rights?

Picture 18There is a lot of talk right now around the rushed legislation proposed by Peter Mandelson, and being consulted on by BIS, that would allow households suspected of illegally downloading copyright material through peer-to-peer filesharing or other methods to have their internet access cut off.

The way this proposal suggests leapfrogging legal processes of proof before action is taken against suspected offenders was a theme coming up in more than one of the MSc research proposal shared in my induction at the Oxford Internet Institute this afternoon – but one dimension which deserves added attention is the impact of the proposed legislation on the rights of children young people.

Although the UK Government has signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we still lack a systematic review of the way legislation impacts Children’s Rights – so the key voice pointing out the fundamental problems in Mandelson’s proposal is coming from ARCH – Action on the Rights of the Child.

ARCH explain in their response to the BIS consultation:

the tone [of the proposed legislation] has more to do with the interests of copyright holders than with the rights of children.

And in their analysis set out the ways on which a restriction on household access to the internet, impacts children and young people – and runs counter to government efforts for digital inclusion, and internet access as a key part of learning.

Children and young people have a right of free access to information (so long as that access does not harm them / others), and to cut off internet access, no longer just a luxury but a key element of modern life, because of the actions of some other member of the household, or accidental infringement by young people unaware of copyright laws, seems manifestly unjust and rights-infringing.

38 Degrees and the Open Rights Group are actively leading the campaign against this proposed legislation.