Tag Archives: action learning set

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…

Can social networks bridge the participation gap?

[Summary: Online social networks have a role to play in bridging one off engagement with more structured forms of participation.]

A bit of scene setting

Image from Hear by Right book (p.g.7)

Image from Hear by Right book (p.g.7)

The ‘Ladder of Participation’ which asks organisations to consider the depth of youth participation in particular activities will be familiar to many people in youth engagement. Using Hart’s Ladder of Participation you can assess whether a youth council is acting as a genuine structure for youth empowerment, leading to young people and adults sharing decisions and creating change – or whether it is really a tokenistic gesture, creating the illusion of participation whilst adults are actually running the whole show.

But youth participation is not just about youth councils and young mayors. Good youth participation offers young people the chance to get involved and influence issues that affect them in a wide variety of ways, from one-off input into feedback and complaints processes, through to more structured engagement in the governance of organisations. On it’s own the ladder of Participation doesn’t show the full picture. That’s where the ‘matrix of participation’ comes in.

It’s a tool I’ve been using in training sessions for years, having first discovered in whilst working with Bill Badham delivering Hear by Right training. However, as far as I can tell we’ve never written it up online (though it is written up in this book which you can search inside with an Amazon account (search for ‘matrix’)).

The matrix of participation includes Hart’s Ladder of Participation on it’s vertical axis, and adds a horizontal axis consisting of different participation approaches, running roughly from one-off, short term or informal approaches on the left, to more structured and long-term approaches on the right.

Organisations can map the different participation opportunities they provide against both their level of participativeness, and against the type of approach they represent.

Matrix of Participation

The matrix is particularly useful to encourage organisations to consider whether they are offering young people a spread of engagement opportunities, and our experience is that attempts to just provide opportunities at one side or other of the matrix is unlikely to lead to sustainable and effective youth participation which leads to positive change for young people.

An observation: the gap in the middle
When Bill Badham joined us at the April meeting of the Youth Participation and Social Network Sites Action Learning Set he led the group in using the matrix of participation (plus some post-it notes and a big sticky sheet) to put together a big visual representation of the different participation approaches in use amongst the 20 or so local authorities participating in the learning set.

Standing back from the wall where this matrix had been put together during the lunch break we spotted something interesting. The participation methods shown were clustered on the left and right of the matrix, and things were thin in the middle.

Matrix with a thin middle

Already participants had been talking about how many of the more structured participation methods to the right were limited in their efficacy because they only managed to attract certain groups of young people who did not reflect the diversity of the young people the organisations worked with. And this got us thinking.

Participation methods towards the middle of the matrix are really important. It is through involvement in events; in creative projects; and in short-term activities that many young people can develop the confidence to express their views and can build the networks with other young people and with supportive adults that enable and encourage them to then get involved in further participation. The middle of the matrix is a key point on young people’s ‘pathway of participation’. Without opportunities to gain experience, information and develop networks – many young people (and often the young people we most need to hear from) may never go on to speak up in forums where they could have power to make serious change happen.

Bridging the gap: online social networks
Online social networking is not a cure all. But it seems that it could have a role to play here.

Right now, young people engaging in participation on the left of the matrix of participation, in one-off participation opportunities have few ways of connecting this engagement to longer term involvement in participation. Filling in a paper form to provide feedback on an activity and handing it in can often feel like a participation dead end.

But what if, instead of just handing in feedback, young people were encouraged to digitally provide their ideas for improvements to a service, and were to vote for the ideas supplied by other young people (see tools like UserVoice)?

And what if young people taking part in survey and small-scale engagement were offered an opt-in opportunity to connect with the person who will take forward action based on their input, so they can continue to engage with further questions that crop up as a policy or practice comes to be implemented?

And what if young people who want to express their view on a single issue could do that by joining a group within a social network, in the process coming to discover the other issues their peers are working on – and becoming part of a shared network with young people already involved in formal participation structures?

Not all young people will go on to ‘leap the gap’ themselves and move from one-off engagement to sitting on a youth forum or governance board (nor should they), but perhaps some will – and perhaps, equally importantly, those young people who take part in formal participation structures will have ways of keeping connected with the issues that matter to their least advantaged peers, and will be better able to represent the views of others and to advocate for improvements that benefit those most in need of change.

How are you blending online and offline social networks into your youth participation practice?

Using SNS in youth participation – action learning set

[Summary: take part in a six-month action learning set around social network sites and participation…]

(Update: The registration deadline has been extended until 9th January as we, erm, got the publicity out a bit late…)

Earlier this year I spoke at an event organised by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) exploring the role of Social Network Sites in youth participation. The event (which also coincided with the UK Youth Online unConference) was packed out – and there seemed to be a lot of interest in exploring more how we can use social media and online social networking tools in local democratic engagement, and to enable young people to influence chance in the organisations that affect their lives.

So – the LGIU decided to put together an Action Learning Set exploring Social Network Sites and Youth Participation and I’ve been invited to put together the programme and co-lead the process.

The Action Learning Set is going to be run over six months with monthly face-to-face meetings and an online network and web-meetings in-between sessions. We’re aiming for a mixture of presentation inputs and planned workshops, and open-spaces for shared learning and working together on shared projects such as:

  • Developing a handbook resource on youth engagement through social network sites;
  • Developing policy frameworks for promoting safety and opportunity when using social network sites for participation;
  • Exploring the commissioning of custom social network site applications to support youth participation initiatives;
  • Working on how social network site participation fits into wider strategies;

Participants in the Action Learning Set will also be able to bring their own ideas for these shared projects.

Headlines from the draft programme are below, and you can view a more details on the outline programme in this PDF. If you are interested in participating in the Action Learning Set then you can take a look at details of how to sign up in this flyer (PDF). The sign-up deadline is the end of November, but I believe LGIU are able to accept sign-ups after this point.


Draft programme:
Most meetings are likely to take place in London and will run from 10am till approx 4pm – apart from the Residential meetings which will probably take place outside London and will run from approx 11am on Day 1 until approx 3pm on Day 2.

  • Friday January 23rd: Understanding Social Network Site & exploring opportunities and risks
    With hands-on sessions getting acquainted with the features that makes the emerged of SNS so exciting for youth participation and democratic engagement, and presentations/discussions covering how we can respond to the opportunities presented whilst ensuring young people are kept safe from potential online harms.
  • Wednesday 25th – Thursday 26th February (Residential): Social Media, Social Networks and Young People’s Experiences
    Effective youth engagement through social network sites needs more than just the use of the site themselves, it requires use of a wide range of social media skills such as video sharing, using RSS and alerts to keep track of conversations, and facilitation skills for online groups. This residential will include a social media masterclass to help participants identify key skills to develop in their organisations.

    We will also spend time exploring young people’s experiences of Social Network Sites, with presentations from academia, from young people and from practioners using SNS to engage with young people. Using practical activities we will explore different ways of understanding the role of networks in creating change.

    At this meeting we will start to develop ideas for shared action projects and there will be opportunities to gain support from peers within the Action Learning Set and from invited experts to help shape your own plans for youth engagement through SNS.

  • Thusday 26th March: Approaches to SNS participation: tools, techniques and methods
    Presentations at this session will focus on different ways that you can use SNS to engage young people in influencing organisations and decision making. Do you use the networks that are out there? Do you let young people lead the engagement activities, or do you build engagement around workers? Should you build your own social network site, or should you be commissioning a social network site application? We’ll have expert input and space for discussion.

    This session will also include a social media surgery to deal with follow up questions from the social media masterclass, and there will be space to work on shared action projects.

  • Friday April 24th: A strategic approach: exploring where SNS participation fits
    This session will look in particular at how the use of SNS can complement existing participation strategies and how to integrate SNS participation into wider corporate communication and organisational change work within a local authority or large organisation.

    We also plan to use a simulation game to explore using SNS in consultation excercises, and to address particular key issues in Children’s Services with input from the LGIU Children’s Service’s Network. Again, there will be time to work on shared action learning projects.

  • Thursday 21st – Friday 22nd May (Residential): SNS Participation and Digital Democracy: and sharing our learning so far
    With input from academics, international consultants and members of the UK Youth Parliament we will take a broader look at how participation through SNS fits into the landscape of digital democracy.

    We will also return to look at practical skills for using SNS with skill sharing sessions, and we’ll be looking to the future with trend-spotting activities. Much of the agenda for this session will be set by the needs of participants, and we be fascilitating a range of opportunities to actively share learning from local action, as well as our shared action projects.

  • Friday June 26th: Activism and evaluation: creating change and measuring impact
    Our final session will address how SNS can enable youth led campaigning. We will also be exploring how to measure change from youth participation on SNS, both through metrics and through capturing young people’s own assessments of what’s changed.

    There will also be opportunities to feedback more on local learning, and to identify possible future developments of the Action Learning Set.

If you’ve got any questions about the draft programme, do feel free to drop me or Jasmine at LGIU a note.


If you can’t take part in this LGIU Action Learning Set, but want to learn more about using social network sites in participation work or in youth work, worry not – I’ve also got some announcements coming up about a possible project to run some open-source online learning sets for youth workers and practitioners in the New Year…