Category Archives: Youthwork

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.

Hanging out, Messing around, Geeking out – connecting the dots

I’ve just been watching this interview by Howard Rheingold with Mimi Ito. Ito was one of the lead researchers on the MacArthur Digital Youth project which published it’s findings in book form at the end of last year, and has a wealth of insights into the different ways American, and Japanese, teenagers engage with the Internet and mobile phones. In the interview (embedded at the bottom of this post) Ito outlines the different ways in which young people engage – using the: ‘Hanging out’, ‘Messing about’ and ‘Geeking out’ framework that the Digital Youth Project developed.

Hanging Out, Messing About, Geeking OutThe framework offered gets us beyond talk of ‘digital natives’ to an understanding that there are many different patterns and levels of youth engagement with the Internet. Young people’s uses range from a majority predominantly using the Internet to keep in touch with friends or for accessing entertainment content – chilling and killing time, rather than seeking opportunities to engage (the hanging out group) – through to a smaller group who are using the Internet to explore existing interests and new interests, experimenting with creating content or engaging in community online in a fairly light way (the messing about group) – and those who are using the Internet to really go deep into their interests, creating content, participating in communities and more (the geeking out group).

Awareness, Use, OutreachI was struck by how the framework of ‘hanging out, messing about, geeking out’ (and thinking about the relative numbers of young people at each layer of the model) fits with the framework I’ve been using in training with youth services around levels of professional engagement with social media. We’ve been talking about three levels in which youth services can engagement with social media:

  • Awareness – all staff need to be aware of how social media affects young people’s lives – and to understand that young people’s lives play out in both online and offline environments. Staff need to be able to identify risks and respond to them; to be sensitive to the role of the Internet and social media when supporting young people’s personal and social development; and to be able to identify and encourage young people to explore positive online opportunities.
  • Use – some staff should have the skills to use social media and other online services as youth work tools – whether to promote, extend or enhance face-to-face work; to equip young people with critical skills in making greater use of social media; or for promoting young people’s participation in projects. There are a wide range of different ‘use’ roles – and no single member of staff will be suited to them all. Use of social media in youth work builds upon existing practice and starts from established activities or groups.
  • Outreach – some services will want to consider creating new models of online working – reaching out to new groups of young people and providing online-only support and projects, or projects that start online, before leading to face-to-face and blended work.

(Drawn from the Youth Work & Social Networking Project final report (PDF), Davies & Cranston, 2008)

Awareness of social media for all workers ensures that youth services can provide support to the young people ‘hanging out’ online. The use of social media as a youth work tool either helps some of those ‘hanging out’ to move to stages of ‘messing about’ and exploring the possibilities of the Internet in more depth, or encourages young people to ‘geek out’ and get involved in-depth in an issue (and not necessarily a ‘geeky’ issue…).

When it comes to promoting the safety of young people online – we can reasonably expect that having a supportive youth work presence in young people’s exploration of the web as a space for messing about/exploring interests, or geeking out, and getting in-depth into an activity – can help young people to develop the critical skills to interact safely when they are exploring the web without youth work presence.

Combining these two frameworks also helps make sense of digital youth work in another practical way. Whenever planning a project, and thinking about whether it’s focus is on ‘awareness’, ‘use’ or ‘outreach’ – think as well about the young people you are trying to reach. Are they young people whose experience of the web is a place to ‘hang out’ only? Do you need to both show that the issue you’re trying to work on is important and that the Internet can be used for group-work, collaboration, campaigning and other community/civic tasks? Or are you trying to attract the attention of groups who are already ‘geeking out’ on other issues they already care about? In that case – you’ll need to really show how your project could use their existing skills, and could be fun/worthwhile/etc.

The interview

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…

Checklist for digital youth projects

[Summary: Draft of a new one page guide putting the critical questions approach to online safety into practice]

I’m heading to Coventry tomorrow to lead a training session in using social media for activism for young people involved in the DFID funded Youth For Fair Trade project. We’ll be exploring a whole range of social media tools that project can use to campaign online.

However, it’s important not only to equip young people with the skills to use social media, but we also need to talk about the skills to use social media safely. I’ll be including some elements from the ‘Critical Questions framework‘ I blogged about earlier this year, but, know that we’ll be tight for time on Sunday, and that leaving people with a aide-memoir is always a good thing – I’ve put together a draft one page ‘Social Media Checklist for safe and effective youth projects‘.

You can view it below, download the PDF here, and if you want to adapt and update it, as a word file here.

Like all the one page guides it is under a creative commons license to encourage you to take, remix and share back your updates. This is very much a draft, and so I would welcome your critical questions about it – and reflections on how it could be improved as a resource to support young people thinking positively and proactively about being sensible and safe as online actors.

Social Media Checklist for Youth Projects

Delete – The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age

Delete - Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age[Summary: New book provides great discussion starters for youth groups on online content sharing and digital footprints]

Last week at the OII we were treated to an enchanting presentation by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger on his new book ‘Delete – The Virtue of Forgetting in a Digital Age‘. You can listen to an interview with Viktor talking about the book here.

The key thesis of the book is that, whilst in the past, forgetting was the default. Humans forget things. In a digital age, remembering is default. Computers, with cheap storage, can keep a copy of just about everything.

It is that new default, the default of remembering, that lies at the heart of many of the social challenges the Internet might present. The Facebook photos from teenage years that surface during job applications. The news report of a misdemeanour that appears top of Google searches for an individuals name, even though the midemenour took place years ago. The digital footprint that only grows and never shrinks. The comments on message boards that come back to haunt you.

This default of remembering is technical, legal and social: the technical choice of service providers to keep content indefinitely; the legal defaults that mean an individual can’t easily request information about them to be removed from what is now a very accessible public record (compare the news report indexed online and available with one click of a search button, to the news report which, though stil theoretically accessible years after being published only available on microfiche); and the social defaults of sharing content about other people without their consent, and of, as an individual, not going back to audit, and potentially remove some of, the content one has put online about oneself.

In ‘Delete’ Viktor explores a range of different responses that could move us back to a better equilibrium between ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’ – and at least one involves us each changing the way we think about keeping and deleting the digital content we are responsible for.

Youth work potential
‘Delete’ offers a great entry point into thinking about the Internet in youth work contexts. Not least

  • Using examples from ‘Delete’ to discuss online content with a youth group
    • Ask group members when they last deleted content online;
    • Ask if anyone has ever asked a friend to delete photos, videos or comments online;
    • Talk about whether the default should be remembering or forgetting, and what the pros and cons on each side are
  • Exploring your ‘Delete’ policy
    • If you use digital media with your youth groups, how long do you leave it online for?
    • How do you agree this with the group? Is it a discussion point?
    • Memories are not usually there one moment, gone the next – but they fade and become trickier to access over time. How can your archives fade, rather than be deleted? (For example, you might remove individual photos from a project website, but keep group photos after a set time; or you might replace full project details with a project summary on the web – but keep a digital copy of content in the project’s archives).

If you use ‘Delete’ as the basis for work with young people, make sure you share the story of what you did with others over on Youth Work Online.

Just published: Social Media – Youth Participation in Local Democracy

Social-media-youth-particip[Summary: Introductory guide on youth participation with social media now available]

One of the curious things I’ve discovered in seeking to equip practitioners to engage with social technology is that, the more I explore about digital media, the more I end up creating printed resources, or at least, resources based on a book/handbook structure.

That’s the case with a new resource that was published today by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) that is the product of learning from the Network Participation action learning set I co-facilitated earlier this year.

Drawing on theory and case studies explored during that action learning set, ‘Social Media – Youth Participation in Local Democracy‘ is designed to step through some of the issues that practitioners need to consider in exploring the use of social networks and social media in youth participation.

It’s available to order from the LGIU Website, and for online purchase via Central Books.

(P.S. If you’re interested in more practical resources to support youth engagement and youth work uses of digital technology – keep your eyes open, as I’m in the midst of working on a new toolkit hopefully ready early in the New Year…)

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.

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.

Where are the practitioners sensibly addressing online safety?

danah boyd, US based researcher of all things social networking and youth, has put out a much needed call – looking to track down practice on-the-ground where professionals and volunteers working with young people are addressing online safety in their day-to-day work. As I’ve argued when talking about youth work and social networking it’s essential for all practitioners who work with young people to be aware of the internet as an element of young people’s lives, and then to think about how they might support young people to navigate risks and make the most of online opportunities – not by delivering scary presentations about online dangers – but by weaving in consideration of online safety to their regular practice. That might be through explicitly designed activities, or just asking the right questions at the right times.

Like danah, I’ve been talking a lot about the importance of this, but when it comes to finding good examples of it happening on the ground – I draw a blank. Not because it’s not happening – but because, as I discovered in the Action Research for the Youth Work and Social Networking Project, good innovative practitioners are often getting on with being practitioners – not creating case studies for researchers and policy makers. That said, I know a smattering of innovative practitioners do read or stumble across this blog from time-to-time, and hearing your/their stories about addressing online safety in a realistic and grounded way would make a real difference to the debate about how to best support young people on the web.

So – I’ll share with you danah’s call for input, and encourage you, whether you a are a practitioner working with young people, and including online safety in your work – however light-touch and occaisional  – or you know practitioners who address online safety in innovative ways, to drop in a comment – either on this blog post, or on danah’s original.

I need your help. One of our central conclusions in the Internet Safety Technical Task Force Report was that many of the online safety issues require the collective engagement of a whole variety of different groups, including educators, social workers, psychologists, mental health experts, law enforcement, etc. Through my work on online safety, I’ve met a lot of consultants, activists, and online safety experts. Through my work as a researcher, I’ve met a lot of practitioners who are trying to engage youth about these issues through outright fear that isn’t grounded in anything other than myth.

Unfortunately, I haven’t met a lot of people who are on the ground with youth dealing with the messiness of addressing online safety issues from a realistic point of view. I don’t know a lot of practitioners who are developing innovative ways of educating and supporting at-risk youth because they have to in their practices. I need your help to identify these people.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who are speaking about what these partitioners should do, who are advising these practitioners, or who are trying to build curricula/tools to support these practitioners, but I want to learn more about the innovative practitioners themselves.

Please… who’s incorporating sensible online safety approaches into their daily practice with youth in the classrooms, in therapy, in social work, in religious advising, etc.? Who’s out there trying to wade through the myths, get a realistic portrait, and approach youth from a grounded point of view in order to directly help them, not as a safety expert but as someone who works with youth because of their professional role? Who do I need to know?

(And if you’re a practitioner in the UK, or indeed from beyond the UK, who is exploring online safety and opportunity in your work with young people – do come and join fellow practitioners over in the Youth Work Online network…)

Your professional approach to social networking should be based on your professional context and values

“How should professionals or volunteers working with young people use Facebook?”

There is no answer to that question. Or at least, no answer that doesn’t start with a fairly long list of ‘It depends’.

I often show this slide when talking about the need for clear policies in organisations that support staff to make effective use of social media:
Slide on Safe and Sound Foundations

The slide was prepared (and I always introduce it in this context) based on work exploring how Social Network Sites can be used by Youth Workers.

Almost always I get an interjection at this point in the presentation from a teacher or other youth-sector professional criticising the way this guidance suggests that workers may be interacting directly with young people online, when surely that can never be appropriate.

To which I have to re-emphasise that this guidance is specific to a youth work setting. It’s based on youth work values and, fundamentally, on an attempt to understand how different youth work relationships between young people and adults transfer into the online environment.

It is perhaps because of the centrality of ‘relationship’ in youth work theory that drives me towards stating this, but it seems far more useful to switch from the question ‘How should [teachers/youth workers/probation workers/sports coaches] use Facebook?’ to the question ‘Given the existing professional relationships between young people and their [teachers/youth workers/probation workers/etc.] offline, what would be appropriate for their interaction through [Facebook/Bebo/MySpace/any other social network]?’

Ewan McIntosh has been exploring again recently
his belief that direct interaction by teachers with children and young people through Facebook or other social networks is not appropriate, and my intuitive sense of the teacher-pupil relationship suggests that Ewan is right. When it comes to a youth participation worker exploring social networks for engagement, then using Facebook might be appropriate, but a direct friend-relationship with young people may not be. Use of Facebook pages and groups may provide a means of engagement more analogous to offline participation relationships.

With a number of authorities and organisations development organisation-wide social media policies, emphasising the specificity of different workforces is more important than ever.

We need to always start from the specifics. From what a particular form of work involves, from the professional values involved, and from the relationships with young people (or others) before developing guidance, policy and practice. Rather than imposing top-down technology policy and strategy.