Category Archives: Youth Participation

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.

RightSpace: Holding on and moving forwards

Right Space Video Wall[Summary: If you’re involved in promoting the rights of Children and Young People, and you’re an advocate for youth participation, join in the RightSpace debate]

What is going to happen to youth participation over the next few years?

On the one hand we’ve a government promising massive spending cuts*; and on the other hand, quite genuinely (I hope) talking about localism and transferring power back to communities. Whilst the coalition agreement is woefully lacking in any recognition of the rights and agency of young people, some policy proposals are creating new spaces for civic engagement and participation – whether that’s from open data and transparency; or the encouragement of cooperative and social enterprise structures for the delivery of services.

Later this year, Practical Participation will be involved in an event, RightSpace, that’s trying to explore where participation has got to – and to look to the future of rights-based youth participation. My colleague Bill Badham is already at work heading around the country talking to people about their experiences of participation, their learning from the past, and their fears and visions for the future. You can see video clips from those conversations, join in the conversation, and find out more about  the RightSpace event taking place in Sheffield in October over on the dedicated RightSpace website.

Hope to see you there…


Footnotes
*I’m reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine right now, and feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the narrative of cuts being spun; so whilst questioning the spending cuts in this post – do think we need a far more critical debate about the arguments for ‘massive’ cuts – and some of the positive and ethical alternatives.

Explaining commissioning…

More and more services for young people are arranged through commissioning, as opposed to being delivered directly by local authorities or other agencies. Last year Practical Participation did some work supporting Bradford with the commissioning of their new Connexions Service, and for that we had to find a way of explaining the commissioning process in an accessible way. The result was the slide-show below:

A recent e-mail from an NHS trust interested in using the slide-show in their own youth involvement around commissioning services made me think that other’s may also find it useful. Please consider it to be under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA and as such feel free to adapt for your own contexts.

And of course, if you’ve been exploring youth participation in commissioning and have other ways to explain and explore the issues, do share your insights in the comments below…

How to use multimedia tools to engage children and young people in decision-making

[Summary:Trying to undo a bit of scarcity thinking from the voluntary sector: this time, PW How To Guides]

A long time ago I wrote a resource for Participation Works called “How to use multimedia tools to engage children and young people in decision-making”. The work was funded through a Big Lottery Fund (BLF) grant to Participation Works to support the third-sector with youth participation, and all the published resources were being made available freely online.

It seems that since that grant has ended, Participation Works have decided to restrict free online access to all the digital copies of the resources that BLF money funded, including the guide I wrote: they now want to charge for it.

I don’t. I didn’t write it to be sold. I wrote it to be shared and on the understanding that it would be freely available online. So you can grab your copy here: How to Use Multimedia to Engage Children and Young People in Decision Making (PDF)

[Update 22nd July 2010: With much reluctance I have had to remove the download link to this guide. It was my hope that this blog post would (a) ensure the continued availability of a resource which was written for free dissemination; (b) register my feeling that Participation Works had breached the trust on which the original writing of this resource was based and ensure that others were not suffering from that breach of trust also; (c) provide a gentle provocation to encourage PW and others to think about the messages they are sending out to the sector. Sadly, it does not seem that the Participation Works Consortium took it in that spirit.

I bear no ill-will towards members of the Participation Works Consortium. It is possible some interpreted my posting of this guide as a ‘competitive’ or aggressive act and an act of  Practical Participation. It was neither.

This is my personal blog, and whilst I don’t draw a strict distinction between personal and company posts – intended this post in a personal capacity, expressing my belief in the importance of openness, abundancy thinking and values-based practice. If any offence was caused to any individuals or organisations – my apologies.

For potential users of the guide: I believe the How To guide contains some useful concepts, although it’s technical content is now out of date. If you are interested in the topic of the guide, and can’t find other resources that support your practice, please get in touch as I hope to be able to put together a freely available Creative Commons resource on this topic in the near future.]

It’s only a basic resource, and you will no doubt find lots more information online in space such as Youth Work Online but I thought it important to make sure it did remain freely available on the web.

(As a serious point: it’s pretty worrying to see how many voluntary sector organizations, particularly infrastructure organizations, are shifting into scarcity thinking right now – imagining that by starting to charge, or charge more, for resources in a time of scarcity they will be able to sustain the same old work. A time of scarce financial resources is no time to start restricting your reach by putting in pay-walls. It’s time to build and innovate on legacies of work, not to try and commercially exploit them. Perhaps this is easier to say when freelance and I’m used to the uncertainty of the future – but organizations with a social mission need to remember that the missions are bigger than the organizations – and it’s social change, not organizational maintenance that should come first…)

Where will you be on 7th May?

I’ll be thinking about the future. Not necessarily political futures, I doubt the dust will have settled by Friday 7th, but the future of work with young people and the impact of digital technologies whilst chairing the Connected Generation 2010 Conference.

This will be the third Connected Generation event (well, the first was called UK Youth Online, but we changed the name to avoid confusion with UK Youth), but this time we’re doing things slightly differently – holding it on a week day to enable new participants to come along through their work – and including some speakers and workshops to spark discussions before we go into an afternoon of open space sessions.

I’ve mentioned the event already on this blog just a few posts back, but as it gets closer we’re keen to make sure everyone who wants to come along is signed up before we finalize plans for the day. So, if you’re thinking of coming, but you’ve not registered yet, get your booking in before the end of the week (16th April) and you can use the discount code ‘TIMSBLOG’ to get £10 off the already very-good-value price.

More details and booking here…

Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers

Today saw the launch of DFID of ‘Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers‘ – a new guide created through the work of the DFID Civil Society Organizations Youth Working Group and a young team spanning the UK, Nepal and Uganda, to act as a resource supporting Development focussed organizations and funders to explore how young people can participate as actors in development, rather than just as subjects of development interventions.

You can browse the entire guide online (another little bit of Practical Participation Drupal work) or download a copy from the guides website.

Connected Generation 2010: The Conference

Lots of people have been starting to ask me when the next ‘Connected Generation’ event will be taking place. Well, thanks to the sterling work of Katie Bacon, we’ve just booked The Watershed in Bristol for 7th May 2010 to host Connected Generation 2010 – a one-day conference exploring youth engagement and technology in 2010. Based on feedback from participants at recent training events, and on the positive response to the Beyond Twitter event we ran up in Wrexham last year, we’re trying a mixed Conference and Open Space format again – with a morning of top-quality input from speakers and a range of pre-planned workshops, followed with an afternoon of curated unConference, where delegates can set the agenda and direct the conversations.

Bristol Watershed - the Venue

I’m delighted that key speakers at the event will include a gender balanced panel with:

We’re still in the process of confirming the workshop programme, but plans include:

  • Ethics and ICT – workshop with Andy Phippen from Plymouth University;
  • Promoting Positive Activities with Social Media with Steven Flower from Plings;
  • Safe and Sound Foundations – proactive approaches to safe social media engagement with young people, staff and volunteers;

If there is a workshop you would particularly like to see, drop in a comment and I’ll see what we can do…

Full details and online booking available here. (If you can’t order online because your organisation needs invoicing etc. just drop me a line…)

Fingers crossed, we’ll also be using the event to launch a new ‘Youth Engagement and Social Media’ resource which Katie and I are hard at work drafting, and, if you want, you can pre-order a copy when booking your place at the conference.

Skills for public voice & participation alongside skills for social media

Eszter Hargittai was in the Oxford Internet Institute earlier today sharing her research findings on the role of skills and socio-demographic factors in influencing levels of use of the Internet – and particularly web 2.0 spaces.

Implicit in Eszter’s argument was a relationship between the diversity of Web 2.0 use and democratisation. The presentation highlighted how socio-demographic factors, and particularly gender, can have an impact on the extent to which different groups contribute to public online spaces such as YouTube and Wikipedia. It’s not enough to give access to the web, and to web 2.0 for the imbalances in who is speaking and expressing their views through these online platforms to be challenged. Skills matter in addressing the imbalance.

However, as discussion at the presentation explored, if our concerns are of democratisation, social justice and equality, then the the skills that need to be promoted are far wider than technology skills, or skills to work with social media.

Skills to exercise public voice and to participate in community (online and offline) are arguably prior to the skills to use technology for public expression.

Both as we measure engagement online, and as we work to promote online engagement – keeping in mind a focus not only on digital skills, but also on general skills of public expression, interaction and dialogue is key.

For those working with young people and communities then that perhaps adds up to encouragement to address digital skills as part of wider civic skill-building programmes such as ‘Act by Right (now online as a free resource BTW)’ rather than to address digital skills and social media in isolation.

Two opportunities to explore social media & work with young people

[Summary: Two day course, and six-month action learning set on social media in youth work and youth participation]

Getting started with digital youth work, or with using digital tools in youth participation, can seem daunting to many. It’s not enough to just talk about how digital skills are essential assets needed in the youth-serving workforce, or to point to tools and approaches that professionals should be using. Training opportunities, capacity building, and ongoing action learning to inform that training are all needed. Which is why I’m really pleased that 2010 will see the return of two key opportunities.

1) Social Media and Youth Participation Action Learning Set

Building on the Action Learning Set I co-facilitated last year, this six-month (one meeting a month) action learning supports participants who are working to increase their own organizations engagement with social media. Through expert inputs, workshops and shared action learning projects with peers – the action learning set aims to develop the skills of individuals, and the capacity of organizations, to engage with social media in youth participation.

Last year’s set resulted in a printed and online guide; and supported a wide range of local projects – ranging from those focussing on social media and youth engagement around commissioning, to projects supporting the use of social networks to engage young people in care in decision making.

You can find out more about this year’s action learning set (first session taking place at the end of January) and details of how to book in this flyer: Social Media and Youth Participation Action Learning Set

2) Two-day training for Youth Work Professionals

After a successful pilot, Katie Bacon will be leading a number of two-day trainings in 2010, on ‘Social Media for Youth Work Professionals’. Katie & I have developed the course together, and initially we’ll be running a number of sessions in partnership with LECP Training.

This two-day training is designed to support youth professionals from a wide range of backgrounds to develop their understanding of social media and how to use it as a tool in their work. Including hands-on activities to learn to use different social media tools – it’s a practical training that grounds the use of social media tools in professional values and practices.

You can read about the pilot training day in this reflective blog post from trainer Katie Bacon, and keep an eye on the LECP Training network for details of when the public course dates are announced (join the network to get training alerts).

We’re also exploring how this training might be offered as in-service training in individual local authorities, or offered on a regional basis – so if you might be interested in having Katie and/or I come to train with your service/region, then do get in touch.


I’m also hopeful that 2010 will bring the completion of a couple more digital youth work resources I’ve been working on. More on that some other time…

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.