Youth Leadership in a Digital Age: An Internet Governance example

The launch of the Young Foundations new report “Plugged in, untapped: Using digital technologies to help young people learn to lead” was rather serendipitous. I saw an e-mail announcing it’s launch just as I got back from the final session of The Internet Governance Forum, where, for the past 48 hours, the ‘Dynamic Youth Coalition on Internet Governance‘ had been living up to it’s name and demonstrating the power of digital media in supporting effective youth-led collaboration.

First some history
For those not familiar with it (which, alas, is most people), the Internet Governance Forum is a UN Sponsored multi-stakeholder body set up in 1996 after the World Summits on the Information Society, focussed on discussing issues of ‘Internet Governance‘. In practice, that means that every year, over 1000 people from across the world get together for a week, with participants from governments, companies, non-governmental organisations and independent individuals to engage in dialogue on topics ranging from the underlying technologies and policies of the Internet infrastructure, to copyright and intellectual property online, child protection, language issues on the web, increasing Internet access, and ensuring the Internet operates in way that is pro-development and pro-developing world.

The open nature of The Internet Governance process means that there are no rules prohibiting youth involvement, and over the first five years of the forum, and, particularly over the last two years, children, young people and young adults have come to play an increasing role in the event: facilitated through projects like Childnet’s Youth IGF programme, or the Hong Kong Youth IGF run by NetMission, but also coming to the forum independently.

In the closing stock-taking session of the IGF, participants can speak to those assembled to share views on the issues discussed and, this year, focussing on the future of the forum.

Digital-era leadership
The idea of making a youth-statement in this final session (Friday 3pm) was raised in the Wednesday meeting of the Youth Coalition (Wednesday, around 3pm). During the meeting where the idea was raised, statement writing began. But not statement writing of the type I’ve experience before at youth summits, where one person sits at a laptop as others start throwing in ideas – generally leaving the editor-at-keyboard with a greater influence on the text that others. Instead, using PiratePad, a live-editing tool, young people and young adults in the room logged on and started working collaboratively on the same text.

Within a few hours a skeleton statement had started to take shape: drawing on existing statements from Youth IGF projects, pasted into the document and then drawn upon to make the final text – creating a direct link between existing statements from young people and this IGF statement (leading to the lines in the final version “We have established a coalition not to compete with, or replace many youth groups who have come to play a role in the regional and International IGF process over recent years. Instead, we want to bring together the messages from many different groups”).

Of course, many members of the youth coalition were not at this years IGF in Vilnius, Lithuania, but by sending a message to the coalition mailing list giving a link to the PiratePad, they gained the same access as people in the venue to edit the draft statement. By lunchtime the next day, gathered around laptops in the lunch-hall, editing text, chatting online and talking face-to-face, a small group were approaching a final draft. The final statement which you can read at is directly the product of at least 10 different authors, and draws on the inputs of many more. The image to the right shows a different colour highlight depending on the author responsible for that element of text.

By 9am on Friday, a copy of the statement was sent ready for translation and before it would be presented; and when, at 3pm, Joonas stood up to read out the statement, I was just putting the finishing touches to a new blog design and hitting the ‘publish’ button so that anyone following the IGF closing session on Twitter of via live Webcast (which a number of coalition members were doing) could access a copy.

There were quite different opinions when we started about what a statement should contain, and how it should be structured, but the final product, imperfect as it may be, makes sense of those differences and I think presents a modest but positive step forward in youth contributions to Internet Governance. The process drew upon many different skills: convening, co-ordination and leadership from Rafik Dammac to bring together the coalition (not an easy task: serious respect due!); technology stewardship to identify a platform we could use for collaboration and to support different participants to work with the process; digital facilitation, sending messages out to coalition members on e-mail in a timely and clear way; face-to-face facilitation, such as Desiree’s fantastic work encouraging and supporting members of the Hong Kong youth IGF to input into the statement; collaborative working, from all the different authors who input; and presentation skills, from both Rafik and Joonas who presented the statement.

Learning to lead?
The work of the Youth Coalition over the last few days of the IGF has taught me a lot about the potential of technologically-enabled collaborative working. There has been some learning to lead: but more importantly, learning to work together on concrete action.

It also reminds me that whilst the Young Foundation’s new report offers some solid analysis of the opportunities of challenges of digitally enabled work with young people, it’s title is too modest: we should be focussed not so much on young people ‘learning to lead’ as we should be looking at active active innovation in how to get things done, and in what leadership is and means in a digital age. Innovation and new opportunities that we all have something to learn from…

For it’s modest title, “Plugged in: untapped” does help us on that learning journy.

Social reporting & sense-making a summit: IGF2010

Tomorrow the 5th Internet Governance Forum begins in full and if last year is anything to go by there will be a lot of social media buzz around. Last year I was supporting a group of young people and Diplo Foundation fellows to be social reporters at the event – using blogs, twitter and video cameras to capture and share discussions. This year, the focus in on trying to make sense of the event amidst a sometimes chaotic event and overwhelming amount of content.

We’re planning on doing that in three ways:

  • Training social reporters  – the training for social reporters this year is focussed far more on creating summary reports than on adding to the noise of IGF. You can find the 2010 Social Reporters Handbook here.

  • Engage Remotely, Connect Locally – The Internet Governance Forum has an amazing distributed participation infrastructure which means people are joining in session from right across the world (over 30 remote hubs are registered!), logging into WebCasts and chats, and able to send questions into the physical sessions.

    As Ginger explains participants connecting via the WebCast can bring a new set of perspectives to reporting of what has gone on – able to monitor multiple workshops and to more easily track-back over transcripts and notes. However, it can be tricky for remote participants to ask follow up questions to speakers outside sessions, or to catch the mood of the event from the conversations in the corridors.

    So: we’re going to experiment with creating small teams following particular themes – made up partly of people following the WebCast form their own countries, and partly of social reporters physically at the IGF. These groups will be able to work together on creating reports of sessions, and summaries of key issues relating to the IGF themes.

    The process will raise some interesting questions about how to integrate online and offline participation in an event – and already a number of ideas around specific language reporting are emerging.

  • Social Reporting Aggregator – I spend a lot of last week messing around in the innards of a Drupal install to build a ‘Social Reporting Aggregator’ which is capturing all the Twitter messages around IGF (at least those tagged #igf10) and as many blog posts and video clips as I can track down.

    All this social media is aggregated in near real-time, and using various APIs and tag-extraction is categorised and has meta-data attached to it. I’ve scraped a copy of the IGF Timetable and used that to build a hierarchical taxonomy of sessions onto which particular tags and categories can be attached. All of which means it should be possible to present back most of the social media discussions around a specific session, or around a theme.

    You can see an example from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) pre-meeting on Human Rights in Internet Governance on this page.

    The aggregator has been surprisingly good so far at extracting relevant tags from blog posts (E.g. Just by moving a few theme tags (net neutrality; net-neutrality; neutrality) to sit in the taxonomy structure under their related workshop I can bring together blog posts on a workshop topic that I would never have found otherwise). However, when it comes to Tweets the experiments I’ve tried show automatic extraction of key tags doesn’t get very far. Instead, for the aggregator to work well, groups will need to make use of hash-tags.

    In this handout which will be on the Diplo stand at IGF I’ve suggested a pattern for tagging workshop content (and the aggregator is configured to work with this), but as @apisanty has already said “hasthtags are not dictated from above, they rise from crowdsourcing”.

    If sessions settle by crowdsourcing on a different tag from that in the handout, this is not a problem (as long as I spot it!) as the platform can have multiple ‘tags’ against any session. However, I observed with the APC today that adding an extra ‘session tag’ to the ‘event tag’ was only common practice amongst some twitter users. How far to encourage such a practice, or how much just to sit back and watch whether it emerges (and cope if it doesn’t) is going to be an interesting question for the aggregation strand of social reporting.

    I’ve experimented with adding light-structures to social reporting platforms before, but never with an event so big and diverse (and where it’s impossible to get anywhere near to reading all the content being generated), so how the aggregator works and develops I will be interested to see.

How any of this plays out and what issues come up is yet to see. However, seeing how distributed participation in the IGF has developed over recent years to become embedded in the event – transforming in the process how a UN conference works and blazing a trail for new models of working – I’m pretty excited (though also very nervous) about what we might achieve!

#igf10 #socialreporting

Resources for exploring social media participation

[Summary: a quick linking list of social media & youth engagement resources, cross-posted from Youth Work Online]

I’ve just been running a short session at a meeting of the South East Participation Project around how different social media and social network sites can be used in youth participation. The session gave me an opportunity to put together some new slides and a list of resources capturing learning from recent projects about the need to look at more than just Social Network Sites – but to think about how a wide repertoire of tools and online facilitation approaches are brought together to support engagement and inclusion. You can view the slides below (may not make massive sense without the speaking with them – but hopefully give some insights) or scroll on for a list of links and resources.

We discussed a wide range of resources in the session, some of which I’ve tried to capture links to below.

Online tools

Video-making tools: powerful for ‘context-setting’ (explaining a participation opportunity); promoting projects; and as a way of capturing young people’s views and getting voices heard.

Useful links: Shared Practice Through Video guide; Example of video to promote projects; Discussion on using video; Suggested kit-list with cameras;

Survey tools: you can link people to online surveys – or some surveys can be embedded within Facebook and blogs to get structured input from young people. Think carefully about the design of online surveys.

Useful links: SurveyMonkey for online polls; Look for Poll and Voting applications to add to a Facebook page; SMSPoll for text-message surveys; Practical Participation can offer support designing and hosting online surveys; Google Forms also offers a free and effective way to create quick survey forms.

Online mapping tools: to communicate information, or for campaigning.

Useful links: the MyMaps feature on Google Maps (see the one page guide here) can be used for collaborative map making; Google Sketch Up can be used to make 3D models for Google earth; OpenStreetMap can generate free maps of your area for printing & working with; TacticalTech on Maptivism

Collaboration tools: for group work across distance.

Useful links: iEtherPad offers a quick-to-set-up places to collaborative write a document in real-time. Google Documents allows a group to all share and collaborate on spreadsheet(e.g. Budgets) or other documents. Zoho collaborative docs and Huddle collaboration space both have Facebook applications that let you create a ‘virtual office’ within Facebook for a project.

Social Network Sites can be the hub for many engagement projects. They provide a space to connect with young people; to share media from other tools; to promote opportunities to engage; to campaign for change and more.

Some local areas will have private ‘social networking spaces’ within the local authority or schools – such as SuperClubsPlus or RadioWaves which practitioners may wish to explore as environments to work with. If exploring engagement in the wider environment of existing social network sites then more links are below.

Working with social network sites:
There are many resources to help practitioners explore the use of social network sites such as Facebook. The following were mentioned in the workshop:

On e-safety issues take a look at The Byron Review for the wider context, and resources from ChildNet such as Digizen.
For those exploring the development of applications Safe and Effective Social Network Site Applications might also be of interest.
If you have young people interested in Internet governance issues – check out the HuWY project.

Taking it further
The Youth Work Online network and the Network Participation networks are places to explore these issues more.

Political Innovation Essays: Towards Interactive Government

A few months back Paul Evans asked me to write a short essay/blog post for the Political Innovation project – taking a series of posts about how politics could be done better – and cross-posting them on political blogs from different places on the political spectrum. I managed to escape dissertation writing long enough to draft the below, which has been posted today as the first post in the series and is featured on the Political Innovation site; Left Foot Forward and Local Democracy blog so far. Comments, if any, should all go to the main Political Innovation site…

Here’s the post:

The communication revolution that we’ve undergone in recent years has two big impacts:

  • It changes what’s possible. It makes creating networks between people across organisations easier; it opens new ways for communication between citizens and state; it gives everyone who wants it a platform for global communication; and it makes it possible to discover local online dialogue.
  • It changes citizen expectations of government. When I can follow news from my neighbour’s blog on my phone, why can’t I get updates on local services on the mobile-web? When I can e-mail someone across the world and be collaborating on a document in minutes, why is it so hard to have a conversation with the council down the road? And when brands and mainstream media are doing interactivity and engagement – why are government departments struggling with it so much?

Right now, government is missing out on significant cost saving and service-enhancing benefits from new forms of communication and collaboration. But the answers are not simply about introducing new technology – they are to be found in intentional culture change: in creating the will and the opportunity for interactive government.

There are three things we need to focus on:

  • Culture change. Although there are pockets of interactivity breaking out across the public sector, it’s often counter-cultural and ‘underground’. Most staff feel constrained to work with tools given to them by IT departments, and to focus on official lines more than open conversations. Creating a culture of interactivity needs leadership from the top, and values that everyone can sign up to.
  • Removing the barriers. There are literally hundreds of small daily frustrations and barriers that can get in the way of interactive government. It might be the inability of upload a photo to an online forum (interactive government has human faces…), or consent and moderation policies that cover everyone’s backs but don’t allow real voices to be heard. Instead of ignoring these barriers, we need to overcome them – to rethink them within an interactive culture that can make dialogue and change a top priority.
  • Solving tough problems. Public service is tough: it has to deal with political, democratic and social pressures that would make most social media start-ups struggle. We need to think hard about how interactive technology and interactive ways of working play out in the tough cases that the public sector deals in every day.

The Interactive Charter is a project to explore how exactly we go about making government into interactive government. It’s got three parts:

  • Creating a pledge – The ‘Interactive Charter’ will be a clear statement that any organization (or senior manager within an organization) can sign up to say something along the lines of “I want my organization to get interactivity; and I’ll commit to overcoming the barriers to interactive ways of working”. With a promise and commitment from the top removing the barriers should get a lot easierOf course to just hand down a pledge wouldn’t be very interactive, so we’re drafting it on Mixed Ink.
  • Naming the problems…and overcoming them – We’ve already made a start over on the Interactive Charter wiki, but we would love you to join in suggesting practical challenges, and practical solutions, to interactive and digital working in government.
  • Putting it into practice – We want to pilot the approach: getting top-level support, and removing the barriers to interactivity from the ground up. Could your organization be part of that?

So, if you’ve got a vision for more interactive government, you can share it by redrafting the current pledge. And if you’ve faced or solved problems around interactive government, help shape the body of knowledge around each of the barriers and their solutions on the wiki. Of course, you could also just drop in comments over on the Political Innovation blog…