Category Archives: Youth Work 2.0

The Digital Edge – Nominet Trust announce new funding challenge

[Summary: New funding opportunity from Nominet Trust, shaped by messages from the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration]

The Nominet Trust have just announced a new £2m funding challenge focussed on support for young people. Here is how they describe it:

Nominet Trust is launching a programme of social investment to address the challenges faced by young people in participating socially and economically with their communities. This call for applications aims to seek out new approaches to using digital technology that re-design ways of supporting young people. We’re looking to invest in partners and ideas that address the challenges we have identified, and look forward to working with you to do so

A number of the areas of interest in the challenge have been shaped through the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration which David Wilcox, Alex Farrow and I have been working on for Nominet Trust over April and May: seeking out key messages on opportunities and approaches for digital technology to be used supporting young people’s economic and social engagement in communities. The four areas the challenge looks to address (headings are from Nominet, reflections are my own) are:

  • Digging deeper into the problems and addressing the root causes- going beyond surface solutions to find new spaces for effective innovation. Our exploration highlighted the plural ‘causes’ is important: there is often not one root cause to be addressed, but a diversity of issues needing a diversity of approaches. Roots spread out underground, so as we dig we need to explore multiple pathways and many spaces for innovation.

  • Exploring the changing landscape and the nature of engagementMany of the models for youth engagement, or offering support to young adults, were developed in a pre-Internet era and haven’t really been updated, save from digitizing a few processes here and there. Looking at how digital technology has changed the context of young people’s lives (whilst many of the concerns of youth and young adulthood remain pretty consistent) can highlight opportunities for new forms of support and social and economic engagement for young people – not driven primarily by a desire to save money or streamline, but by an interest in making engagement more effective in an Internet age.

  • Renegotiating professional practiceI’m really happy to see this element in the challenge, as it provides a great opportunity for practitioners in Youth Work, Community Development and other youth-supporting professions to put forward projects that start from their professional values, but consider how these can be applied in new contexts. In a recent digital youth work workshop in Helsinki with Verke, CFDP and YouthPart, we started to sketch out a shared understanding of Digital Youth Work that started to consider what a renegotiation of youth work practice could involve, drafting the description below:

The Internet is playing a powerful role in shaping the lives of young people today: as a source of information, as a social space, and as a key part of everyday life. Youth work is a process of engagement with young people, supporting young people to make positive choices and shape their own futures, and to actively participate in communities and societies. Digital youth work is values-led practice working with young people that takes account of the digital dimensions of young people’s lives. It might be delivered through digital tools, using online environments or mobile communication; it might blend together physical and digital communication and collaboration; or it might take place face-to-face, but aware of and addressing issues raised by the digital world. 

The ethical values of digital youth work are rooted in voluntary engagement, empowering young people, and working from the interests, needs and concerns of young people. Digital youth work is necessarily a multi-professional field, involving a range of existing practitioners, and requiring us to develop new forms of practice and new roles. Digital youth work include specific online services (for example youth counseling delivered by professional adults), as well as facilitated peer-to-peer learning and engagement.

Digital youth work is a key part of supporting young people’s digital citizenship and securing the rights of everyone to participate fully in contemporary everyday life and its environments. 

The renegotiating professional practice element of the Nominet Trust challenge invites proposals that “support different professions… [to] test out and learn new approaches for engaging with young people?”, and there is real potential here for some action learning in different professional fields to feed back into scaleable change in the way support and engagement opportunities for young people work.

  • New forms of employment and rewardI like to think of this last element of the challenge as creating the space for some more radical rethinking of solutions to the current economic crisis. Although the challenge is a little narrower than the ‘Consider the livelihoods of the future’ message in the Provocation Paper (PDF), in getting beyond the idea that ‘economic engagement’ means getting into a full time job, and thinking about “ how we [prepare] young people to secure a decent living, and to be able to make positive choices about how they use their time, talents and resources”, there is hopefully space here for innovations that challenge a work-consumption treadmill, and explore with young people the social, as well as economic value, of work.

I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas and innovations that result from the challenge. The first deadline for Phase 1 proposals is 1st August, and support is available ranging from £2,500 up to over £250,000 for larger projects. So – head over to the Nominet Trust site to find out more and think about putting forward your project ideas…

 

Developing ten key messages on digital technology for youth engagement

[Summary: Searching out content to illuminate key messages on digital technologies to support youth engagement]

I’m half way through writing up a provocation paper for Nominet Trust based on the project David WilcoxAlex Farrow and I have been working on to explore key messages on how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities. You can find the latest blog posts from the project here.

We started the process with an open online document that generated over 30 suggested messages, both on the How To of using digital technology, and the issues to think about when engaging 16 – 24 year olds. We took the messages into a workshop with 30 young and older digital innovators in London, and came out with 10 prioritised messages. Driven by the idea of ‘social reporting’ as a process of bringing together and curating content that has already been generated, we then set out to find existing online material that could be used to expand on those key messages, and Alex Farrow has been working hard to put together 10 ‘storify’ posts (see below) that capture and curate key content – both gathered through the online document, tweeting and the workshop, and from going out and searching the web for relevant academic research and social media snippets.

The goal was for these storify posts both inform the write-up of a short paper summarising the messages, and for them to act as an extra resource that could ‘show not tell’ those interested in the messages what the mean. For example, it’s pretty hard to capture what co-design is in 300 words of prose, but in a couple of short video clips, photo-rich blog posts, and pithy tweets, it should be possible to communicate a more rounded picture. Alex Farrow has been hard at work curating content, and we’re getting close to that goal, although it’s turned out more challenging than we expected to track down snappy online content to illuminate the key messages*. So – we’re really after your help to really make sense what it means to blend online and offline in supporting young people, or to use games to engage (or any of the other messages below).

Here’s how you can help:
  1. Take a look at one or more of the storify posts below…
  2. Tweet us additional examples, quotes, links or comments using #DTYE or to @alexjamesfarrow, @timdavies or @davidwilcox. We’re particularly keen on good short video clips or slideshows that help make sense of the messages. Good tweets might be used directly in the storify posts, so clear and concise summaries of ideas very welcome.
  3. Using the comment box below each Storify post, give any feedback, comments, thoughts on the blog.
  4. Pass on to others who you think have something to add
Whilst the final draft of the provocations paper that Nominet Trust will be printing up will be completed in the next week or so, we’ll keep adding to the storify posts, which will be linked to from the paper, so ongoing input and ideas are really welcome.
  • Background post: Meeting the challenges: young people in the UK
    What challenges are young people facing in the UK today? At our workshop event in April 2012 we sought to dig behind the headline challenges to understand the underlying issues that social innovators might be able to address.

  • Blend online and offline
    Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.

  • Use games to engage
    Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.

  • Address the innovation gaps in the back-office
    Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.
  • Support young people to be creators, not consumers
    Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.

  • Co-design with young people
    The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.

  • Consider the livelihoods of the future
    Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living.

  • Use digital tools to enable peer-to-peer learning
    In the Internet age education doesn’t have to be top-down, digital tools allow for peer-to-peer learning: helping people come together to teach, learn and collaborate.

  • Use technology to personalise services
    Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.

  • Be network literate and create new connections
    Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.

  • Recognise the diversity of youth
    Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.

Emerging messages on digital innovation to support youth engagement

Photo (C) David WilcoxAs part of the project I’m working on with David Wilcox and Alex Farrow for Nominet Trust to look on “how digital technology can support young people to engage socially and economically in their communities” we’ve been gathering input into an online document to develop some ‘key messages’ that will help projects spot the opportunities for digital innovation. This Thursday we brought together a fantastic crowd of 25 thinkers, social entrepreneurs, funders, youth workers and young people at the RSA in London to explore some of the messages that had been emerging and to explore which were most relevant to the social and economic challenges young people currently face.

David has put together a storify bringing together many of the discussions from the day, and has blogged a quick clip of me explaining the workshop process, which essentially involved taking some headline challenges (youth unemployment; lack of youth influence of local decision making), digging in to find the underlying challenges and unmet needs, and then looking at the messages identified so far which had been printed out as cards to discuss them and see how they might be relevant to the challenges.

Selection of cardsBy looking through all the cards (which people could rate for importance), looking at which messages were chosen as relevant, and looking at the messages which have had attention in the online document so far, I’ve pulled out what look like the top-10 themes for us to explore further. Each message includes a brief summary, and then a link off to more details where you can also directly add to our working document – adding key questions for us to address in our follow up explorations, or sharing links to examples we should explore and draw upon.

This list is not set in stone, and might still change quite a bit before the final write up (you can make the case for changes in the document too…), but here’s the list as it stands today (the numbers are from the original set of cards):

Emerging messages

Planning a project that will use digital technology to address key challenges that young people face? Think about how you might:

19. Blend online and offline
Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.

6. Use games to engage
Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.

7. Address innovations gaps in the back-office
Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.

17. Support young people to be creators, not consumers
Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.

3. Encourage co-design/co-design with young people
The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.


4. Consider the livelihoods of the future
Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living.

18. Use digital tools to enable peer-to-peer learning
In the Internet age education doesn’t have to be top-down, digital tools allow for peer-to-peer learning: helping people come together to teach, learn and collaborate.

24. Use technology to personalise services
Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.

30. Be network literate and create new connections
Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.

30. Recognise the diversity of youth
Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.

 

Look out for all the updates from the Digital Tech and Youth Engagement crowdsourced research project over the SocialReporters.net blog here.

The Risk-Opportunity discourse is broken: Rethinking responses

[Summary: Slides and paper given at EU Kids Online Conference yesterday

Yesterday I rather hurriedly (last presenting slot of the workshop at the end of a long day…) presented at the EU Kids Online conference around the draft model that emerged from the Youth Work Online Month of Action and other prior work to use the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as the core of a model for broader and more effective research, policy and practice thinking about young people’s online lives. Below you can find a copy of the slides, annotated to explain what would otherwise be a series of rather uninformative words and images, and the working paper based on this can be found here (of follow this direct link to the PDF).

 

 

I’m speaking again around this idea of rethinking responses to young people’s online lives, and about the need to reframe the discourse and debate (something danah boyd has just this week again reminded us of the need for with a deeply insightful paper and article), at the EU Safer Internet Forum conference in October, and yesterdays brief presentation has already giving rise to some good suggestions of ways to refine the above – so I’ll blog some more on it soon.

 

Digital innovations are not always digital (and other reflections on youth-focussed digital innovation lab design)

[Summary: assorted learning from participation and hack-days applied to ideas about a youth-focussed digital innovation lab.]

Right Here, Comic Relief and Nominet Trust have a really interesting tender out right now for someone to deliver two ‘Innovation Labs’ focussed on helping “young people to look after their mental health and to access appropriate help and support”.

They describe how the labs should provide young people with the opportunity to work with mental health, youth work and design professionals to design digital tools that will meet their needs.”  If it weren’t for the unknowns of the schedule for my PhD that starts in October, it’s exactly the sort of project Practical Participation would be putting in a proposal for*, but, with the freedom to adopt a more open innovation exchange style bit of sharing around a proposal, and having been unable to resist jotting a few notes about how I might approach the tender, here’s a few quick reflections on youth-focussed digital innovation labs, drawing on learning from previous participation projects.

Digital innovations are not always digital

In my experience working with youth services and mental health services exploring use of digital tools, the biggest gaps between the potential of digital tools and their use in practice is not down to a lack of Apps or widgets – but comes down to a lack of training, inadequate policies, or other small barriers.

The most effective outcomes of a digital innovation lab could be how to guides for practitioners, youth-led training for mental health workers in how to engage online, or new protocols that make sure mental health staff have a framework and incentives to make use of digital tools – as much as they might be new apps and websites.

Set up to succeed

I’ve experienced and observed a number of participation projects in the past that have, mostly unintentionally, set young people up to fail by asking them to redesign services or systems without reference to the staff who operate those systems day-to-day, or the realities of the budgetary and legal constraints the services operate under. Instead of empowering young people to bring their lived experience to real problems, whilst avoiding organisational agendas crushing the ideas and insights young people can bring, participation projects can end up asking young people to solve problems without giving them all the information they need to find viable solutions.

In innovation events with both young people and adults ideas often come up which, whilst great in principle, draw on mistaken assumptions about resources that might realistically be available, or about how digital tools might be adopted and used (it’s not uncommon to hear ‘innovators’ of any age suggesting they’ll build ‘the next Facebook’ to bring together people to discuss some particular issue). Finding the balance between free-flowing innovation, and realisable ideas is a challenge – and increased if, for the majority of participants, the event is their first innovation lab, or project teams don’t have people with experience of taking an project through from idea to implementation. Finding facilitators who can combine the right balance of technical realism, with a focus on youth-led innovation, is important, as is offering training for facilitators.

Projects like Young Rewired State offer an interesting model, where young people who have participated in past events, return as young mentors in future years. Finding a community of young mentors may also prove useful for an innovation lab.

Involving adults

It’s not only mentors and digital experts who have a role to play in the design process, but also mental health professionals and volunteer adults who work day-to-day with young people. In policy consultations in the past we’ve used a ‘fish bowl’ like approach to adults involvement, starting the day with adults as observers only on the outside of circles where young people are developing plans and ideas; moving to a stage (perhaps after an hour) when young people can invite adults into the discussion, but adults can’t ‘push in’; and then (another hour or so later) moving to a stage when adults and young people participate together. Whilst artificial, in a policy consultation, this sort of process helped address issues around the balance of power between young people and adults, without removing the benefits to be found from youth-adult dialogue. In an innovation and design situation, this exact model might not be appropriate – but thinking about lightweight processes or ‘rules’ to help the relationship between young people and adults may be useful.

An alternative approach we’ve taken at past participation events is to have a parallel track of activities for workers coming to the event with young people: could you set a team of adult innovators competing with young innovators to contrast the ideas they come up with?

There are no representative young people

I’m not a representative 26 year old. There aren’t representative 17 year olds. Or 15 year olds. Or any age for that matter. People often design innovations for themselves: that doesn’t mean they’re designing for all young people. Not all young people are technology experts. In fact, most aren’t. There is no such thing as a digital native. Bringing the lived experiences of young people with experience of mental health services and challenges to the design of services is still a very very good thing. It can mean massive improvements in services. But often there’s a risk of implicitly or explicitly thinking of service-user or youth participants as ‘representatives’ – and that tends to be an unhelpful framing. Understanding participants as individuals with particular skills and insights to bring tends to work better.

Freedom and frameworks

I’ve spent most of this afternoon at the Guardian offices in London as a mentor for young hackers at Young Rewired State. Young Rewired State is a week-long event taking place across the country for young people interested in building things with open data and digital platforms. Young Rewired State centres have varied in how much structure they have had: some simply providing a room, and some mentors on hand, for young people to identify what they want to work on and get hacking. Others have supported the participants to work through a design process, offering more structured how-to guidance and support. Some young people thrive and innovate best with a framework and structure to work within. Others need the freedom from pre-planned programmes and tight agendas in order to innovate. Having no agenda at all can exclude those who need structure. But an agenda that is too tight, or a programme that is too prescriptive can miss innovation opportunities. Fortunately, the Innovation Labs tender that sparked this post highlights that the events themselves should be co-designed with young people – so there’s space to negotiate and work this one out.

Keep out of the dragons den

I’ve sat on a few ‘dragons den’ style panels recently – responding to presentations about young people’s project ideas. And I’ve yet to be convinced that they really make a useful contribution.

 

This post has been in the spirit of reclaiming reflective space, and has no neat ending. 

*Although I’m not putting in a proposal around the labs, I’d still be really interested to get involved should a youth-engagement and effective technology focussed facilitator/action researcher/data-wrangler be useful to whoever does end up running the labs.

Event: Social Media and Youth Engagement Hotseat

[Summary: join me for an online conference hotseat on social media and youth engagement next Thursday]

Last year I was involved in a project in Nottingham called Measure-Up, exploring youth-led approaches to promoting positive activities through a range of different digital tools. It resulted in the Measure Up handbook, a step-by-step eight-week guide to using social media to promote activities for young people, and for youth projects to develop their online presence.

Next Thursday I’ll be joining some of the team who were involved to take part in an online hotseat on the LGA Communities of Practice platform sharing learning from the project. More details below:

How can social media support you to engage with young people and at the same time increase the uptake in positive activities?
 
Join the online discussions with Nottingham City Council on Thursday 4 August between 11:00 – 13:00
  
Click on the link below to access the draft case study, vox pops and online discussion:
 
Please join us via the above link on Thurs 4th August at 11:00 – 13:00 to hear more about the approach and discuss:
  • which social media tools young people wanted us to develop and which ones they told us they wouldn’t use
  • how social media increased the uptake of positive activities
  • how a youth-led approach helped to promote youth participation in a range of activities, supporting wider agendas such as anti-social behaviour, community engagement and civic participation.
Speakers:
  • Frances Howard, Arts & Education OfficerNottingham City Council
  • Esme Macauley, Marketing and Communications managerNottingham City Council
  • Tim Davies, Director, Practical Participation.
 
Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and engage with their peers in discussing the findings from the projects .
If you are unable to join us on the day please feel free to add any questions beforehand. All the information will remain on the Communities of Practice place so can be revisited at any time.
If you want more information about how hotseats work  please go through this link -

Connected Generation 2011 – unConference on digital media and youth

I’m just coming to the end of the formal Youth Work Online Month of Action where I’ve been working to explore ways of taking forward action to promote digital skills, literacy and practice amongst professionals and volunteers working with young people. Lots to blog about it in the coming weeks, but for now I just wanted to let you know about the most important bit of the month, which, due to somewhat slack organisation on my part, is in fact taking place on the 21st May rather than this weekend: Connected Generation 2011 – the annual free unconference of the Youth Work Online network – open to anyone working with young people wanting to explore digital dimensions of their work.

Booking is now open – and more details are below…

Header Image

The annual event for anyone exploring digital dimensions of work with young people.

The Connected Generation unConference is back for 2011 on 21st May at The Hub Kings Cross, London.

This one-day free open space event brings together practitioners from youth work, participation and voluntary youth projects with digital media developers and experts to share ideas and practice, to explore what the digital world means for young people’s lives, and for services seeking to support young people as they navigate growing up in a connected world.

The agenda for the event is set on the day, and built around the ideas, experiences and questions that participants bring. Topics at past events have included: understanding young people’s digital media use; creating an online presence for your youth project; digital literacy; keeping young people safe online; creating policies and guidance for practitioners; social media tips and tricks; identifying the right tools for the job; social media for youth participation and local democracy; building websites with young people; virtual volunteering; mobile technology for youth work; and much more.

This years event is running in partnership with social innovation specialists Hub Kings Cross and is hosted at the inspiring Hub venue in central london (2 minutes walk from Kings Cross Tube and Railway station), and offers new opportunities to connect digital youth work themes with ideas of social enterprise and innovation.

Register now for your place!

Comments from participants at Connected Generation 2010:

  • “Great event, good organic feel to it, how conferences should be!”
  • “A brilliant opportunity to find out about what other professionals and young people are doing with social media.”
  • “A real get together of great knowledge from great people!”
  • “Inspiring”

New to open space events?

An unConference is created by the participants – and it works best when everyone comes prepared to offer a session. Your session could be a short presentation of a project you have recently worked on using digital media for youth engagement; or it could be a topic for discussion; or an issue you want to get the insights of others on.

When you register you have the opportunity to suggest a session you may offer; and on the day Tim Davies will facilitate an agenda setting session where we gather together ideas for sessions. We will then break out into spaces around the Hub Kings Cross

If you’re never been to an unConference before and are wondering what to expect – here is a rough outline of what the day might look like:

  • 10.00am – Arrive, coffee and introductions
  • 10.30am – Suggesting Sessions – participants will be invited to announce and introduce sessions they would like to run during the conference. These will be assigned to a time-slot and break-out room. There will be around 6 break out spaces, allowing 30 different sessions to take place during the day.
  • 11.00am – Parallel Session 1 – some of the sessions just announced will take place and you can choose which to take part in.
  • 11.45 – Parallel Sessions 2 – more sessions taking place
  • 12.30 – Lunch – Pizza & salad
  • 13.15 – Parallel Sessions 3 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.00 – Parallel Sessions 4 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.45 – Break and review – A change to check if any new ideas for sessions have arisen throughout the day so far, and to plan in a few extras
  • 15.00 – Parallel Sessions 5 – a last round of sessions
  • 15.45 – Plenary – come back together to share learning from the day and present findings to our invited panelists.
  • 16.45 – Close

You will get to take part in at least five sessions on key topics in youth engagement and new technology. You are free to move between Open Space sessions – using ‘The Law of Two Feet’:

  • If you are not contributing to, or taking anything away from a session, you may find there is another discussion you can move to;
  • If you find a topic you want to discuss is not being covered, you have to opportunity to suggest a new session to explore it – and the facilitators will do their best to make your new session idea take place.

We usually end the day at a local coffee shop or pub for those who can stay in London a bit longer. Coming to London the night before? Post in the Youth Work Online forum to find other people to meet up with?

Logistics

Location

The event is talking place at Hub Kings Cross – easily accessible from Kings Cross and St Pancras mainline and underground stations, and on major bus routes. Full directions are available here. Check thetransport for London website in advance for notice of any tube closures on the day of the event.

Lunch

Lunch is provided and will include meat and vegetarian options. If you have any other special dietary requirement please let us know. If you can, do bring a dessert to share – pack of scrummy biscuits or cake(s).

WiFi

There is WiFi available through the venue. Details will be available on the day.

Twitter Hashtag & Online Network

We’re using #cgen11 as the Twitter hashtag for the event.

Notes, photos and video from the event can be posted at: http://www.youthworkonline.org.uk

Questions & Contact Details

Before the event you can contact us via tim@practicalparticipation.co.uk or info@katiebacon.co.uk

Sponsors

This event is taking place as part of the Youth Work Online Month of Action supported by a Nominet Trust UnLtd Better Net Award.

Nominet Trust UnLtd Better Net Awards

The event is taking place in partnership with Hub Kings Cross.

Hub Kings Cross

The event has been sponsored by:

Online Youth Outreach

Online Youth Outreach

Practical Participation

Practical Participation

More Open

MoreOpen

 

Does a Facebook focus do us any favours?

[Summary: Reflections on going beyond Facebook in online youth work. Reposted from the Youth Work Online blog]

When I started out researching Youth Work and Social Networking in 2007 I really wanted to look at ‘Youth Work and the Internet’, but the needs of focussed research meant the boundary was drawn to look specifically at social network sites. At the time, a considerable number of young people were on Bebo and MySpace, and only certain groups were using Facebook, which had not-long opened it’s doors to everyone – having started out restricted to students at selected Universities. Talk of social media would range over a wide range of tools – from YouTube and video sharing, to still take in ideas of online chat and instant messaging, and niche photo-sharing or art-sharing websites. Now when I talk about young people online, the conversation far too often becomes ‘Young people on Facebook’.

There is a tension. The youth work idea of starting where young people are means that Facebook may well be a natural starting point. Bebo and MySpace are all but gone, and Facebook is the starting point for many young people’s online lives. Yet, Facebook is not all there is to the Internet, nor should it be. I’ve undoubtedly been guilty at times of ‘promoting’ Facebook as an youth work setting and writing about online youth engagement in very Facebook centric ways. Facebook is a youth work setting; and it does offer powerful tools for youth engagement. But as well as starting where young people are, youth work principles also encourage us to ‘go beyond’ – and to work with young people to explore alternatives and to be critical about the dominance of Facebook.

What does this mean in practice?

  • When we think about young people’s media use and online lives – we should be careful not to focus entirely on Facebook.In a presentation today by Stephen Carrick-Davies on how young people in a london Pupil Referral Unit are using the Internet Stephen emphasized “For Internet, read Mobile Phone” and highlighted the messaging and social networking taking place through Blackberry Messenger.
  • We should mix-and-match different online engagement tools. Even if there is a Facebook point of contact with a project, there might be other more open tools for hosting other elements of interaction and conversations.
  • I’ve long advocated for making blogging platforms the ‘home’ of any open access online content, with an ‘outpost’ taking the content into Facebook. Facilitating in the online space might involve encouraging young people to move from closed discussions in Facebook, to discussions in blogging spaces or on discussion lists – reflecting in the process on the different impacts of each technology choice.
    I’ve watched a recent process with interest where a discussion has moved from an open Ning network into a Facebook group. The velocity of discussion has increased in the Facebook group – but different voices are coming out stronger.
  • ‘Going beyond’ in digital youth work isn’t just about moving from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator’ of digital content, but also from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator’ of digital spaces.
  • Whilst it is hard to establish any sort of online network that will ‘compete’ with Facebook, the process of setting up and running online discussion spaces (or even just exploring how to create pages and other spaces within Facerbook) can help young people gain critical skills for thinking about the online environment. And even if we don’t create Facebook replacement spaces, we need to raise awareness of the wider potential of the open Internet – beyond centralising and dominant media platforms.

I realise some of this is pretty demanding stuff. How many practitioners would feel they have the digital skills right now to set up and manage their own online spaces – working with open source software and servers to make space. Yet, if I go back to youth work values, and a vision of informal education as helping young people to be empowered in a digital world – it’s exactly some of these skills that workers and young people may need to be exploring together.

What do you think? Do we focus too much on Facebook?

 

(Image Credit – Webtreat ICONS Etc)

Skills for the job: digital literacy

In the lead up to the Youth Work Online Month of Action I’ve got an article in Children and Young People Now’s ‘skills for the job’ section, talking about digital literacy. Here’s how it starts:

A lot of what we hear about young people and the internet is focused on e-safety. But digital literacy is about a lot more than that. Digital literacy involves being able to navigate the digital world – making the most of the many opportunities it provides for accessing information, creating connections, having a say, being part of communities and developing skills and knowledge for now and for the future.

Developing young people’s digital literacy needs professionals to engage with the online world – supporting young people to move beyond narrow use of a few social networking websites or apps – to discover the full potential of the internet as a global information resource. It also involves the development of critical skills – enabling internet users to choose what information to engage with. One key part of digital literacy is to know when to multi-task, when to focus, when to be connected, and when to disconnect.

You can read the full article over on the CYPN Website.

In the upcoming Month of Action we’ll be focusing a lot more on these themes – working to build broader networks of practitioners focussed on all aspects of the digital world for young people.

P.S. I’m still on the lookout for a venue for the Month of Action’s unConference. We’re looking for somewhere in London, available on Saturday 16th April, with good Wifi, room for 100 people in break-out spaces, and crucially, either free or low-cost. If you know someone who could sponsor the event by sharing their venue/offices/meeting rooms for the day, do get in touch.

Youth Social Networking – myths and realities…

[Summary: Extract from an article exploring how online social networks have become part of the landscape of many young people’s lives]

I was recently asked to write an article for the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI)’s Freedom From Fear magazine on young people’s engagement with social network sites. You can find the full article over here, which outlines some of the history and wider context of social networks, but, following a kind tweet from Noel Hatch, I thought it might be worth reproducing on particular section below: a section inspired by my experience at the 2010 Internet Governance Forum when I heard strong versions of each of the statements in bold below used as core premises in arguments about aspects of Internet policy, rarely countered by more balanced assessments of whether these statements really held up as valid generalisations.

Opportunities and risks: Myths and realities

(Taken from F3 Magazine, Connected Generation: Young People and Social Networks)

The challenge in thinking about the impacts of social networks is to cut through reactions based on unfamiliarity or fear, to identify the risks and opportunities they create and, equally as important, the changes that new technologies make to the background conditions of what constitutes a viable policy response to any concerns that they do give rise to.

So what of the different concerns. Are these myths or reality?

- Young people are wasting time on social networks. Many young people can certainly end up spending a lot of time on social networks, though often this is multi-tasking time, doing other things as well as being online or linked to a network by phone. Some young people do identify that they want to spend less time in front of Facebook, or on a particular network. Howard Rheingold has written of the importance of helping young people develop ‘attention literacy’ to know when to tune out from the flow of conversation in online networks and to focus on other tasks. The Digital Youth report noted that time spent with digital media can be effective informal learning time, and many young people will explain that they were using SNS to get help from friends with projects or homework or even using networks to help them find employment.

- Young people don’t believe in privacy and are over-sharing. The 10 billion photos and thousands of status updates every minute on sites like Facebook show that SNS users share a lot of content about themselves online. Some have argued that this leads to the end of privacy. Whilst most social network sites offer some privacy features, users may leave their content open to anyone to view, and it can appear as if they do not care about privacy at all. danah boyd describes how much of this arises from individuals having an ‘imagined audience’ who they think are reading/engaging with their content – when the real audience may be quite different. However, danah also describes how many young people adopt sophisticated strategies to manage their privacy. There are both risks and benefits to new forms of SNS-enabled online transparency: risks of identity theft or of state surveillance of individuals are, for many, set against benefits of sharing in online communities, or being visible in ways that can bring better job prospects or other opportunities. Privacy isn’t dead; but it is constantly evolving.

- Social networks expose young people to dangerous ideas or groups. Undoubtedly the ability for anyone to publish content through social media spaces means there is a lot of negative and potentially harmful content available – and some young people do come across and engage with this content online. Gangs may use social networks to organise, and the way in which most networks only moderate or check content when it is reported to them as problematic means that a lot of harmful content can exist openly relatively undetected by authorities. But just because content is on YouTube or posted somewhere on Facebook, does not mean it is right in front of everyone – most young people never voyage far on a social network from the spaces where their friends are – but some undoubtedly may end up in more harmful ‘dark alleyways’ of the networks.

- Young people are at risk from sexual predators and abusive adults through SNS. There have been high-profile stories in a number of countries about cases of sexual abuse of young people facilitated by contact on social network sites. In sidelining adult gatekeepers, social networks can facilitate contact between young people and abusive adults – although the absolute number of cases of Internet-mediated harm is small in comparison to the number of young people abused by adults known to them from their family or local community. Research from the Crimes Against Children Research Centre in the United States(11) suggests that those vulnerable to online abuse are often the young people with existing vulnerabilities offline too.

One simple way of understanding SNS is as ‘amplifiers’. They can amplify the opportunities available to young people with existing positive connections and opportunities; but they can also amplify the vulnerabilities of the vulnerable. Offering vulnerable and disadvantaged young people support to develop the skills to get the most out of online social networking may turn out to be an important role for those who work with them.

Returning to the earlier metaphor of SNS as new public squares (or, to extend the metaphor, whole towns with public and private spaces), they do present some particular policy challenges. Most social networks services are privately owned by companies with commercial goals for the networks – they are ‘privatized public space’. They are also global spaces, making it difficult for national norms of regulations to be applied to them. That is why innovations in governance remain a pressing issue, and a topic that has been discussed at The Internet Governance Forum over recent years, including by the Youth Coalition on Internet Governance.

What do you think about these suggested myths and realities? Do they match with your experience or insights? What other common perceptions about social networks need to be explored in more depth?