Tag Archives: Participation

Building democracy: feedback and engagement on track

One of the biggest complaints about engaging in local democracy is that things never change.

Which isn't true. Things do change – but public institutions are notoriously bad at telling people what has changed – and at keeping the people who first raise an issue or who are interested in an issue engaged throughout the (often necessarily) long process of policy making and taking action.

And that is why I've long been musing about the possibility of an issue tracker for local democracy. And why I've floated the idea over on Building Democracy.
If you're interested in how we can improve engagement right along the policy making process in local democracy – then do pop over and take a few minutes to read the idea and let me know what you think.


Building Democracy is another call for ideas along the lines of Show Us a Better Way – this time focussed on developing stronger democracy and with £150k to invest in some of the best ideas.

I would also encourage anyone else with ideas about improving the democratic process to head over and float their ideas. In particular, I've found that the link between youth participation and developing deeper forms of democracy that empower all citizens regardless of age is often underplayed – so it would be great to see both young people, and youth participation practitioners pitching in with their ideas.

Over on the Youth Work and Social Networking blog

I've tried to keep the plethora of reflections and shared bits and pieces from the Youth Work and Social Networking project over on their own blog – but I'm aware some people have been expecting me to post them here also. So, here is a quick run-down of some of the posts, documents and resources you will find over on the Youth Work and Social Networking project blog.

There are also a number of others posts pointing to recent research and online resources.
The final report of the Youth Work and Social Networking project will be launched on th 26th September in London – so if you would like to be at that (or at the UK Youth Online un-conference the following day) then please do get in touch. 

Roaming wild with web cams: video camera consultation

I was down in Devon last Friday at the county's fantastic Kongomana youth festival. Alas, however, I wasn't there to chill out and enjoy two days of activities and socialising. I was there along with Carl and Russel to find out what young people thought of Devon County Council using social network sites for youth participation (all part of the Youth Work and Social Networking project, and building on work I've been doing over here).

I'll share more later on about how we used magnets, the side of a bus, and little cut up bits of Bebo on cardboard to ask young people about the sorts of policies, rules and safety guidelines the council should use. For now, I just wanted to share a few quick reflections on using cheap video cameras for consultation.

What we did:
Devon County Council got hold of 5 Busbi Video cameras (£29.99) each which we could hand out to young people throughout the day.

The cameras are very simple to use, with an on/off switch, and big red button to start and stop recording. Even more useful, they've got a space where the battery compartment is (they run off AA batteries) where you can stick a question onto each camera so that the camera operator can read it.

We used questions such as 'What three words do you think of when I say Bebo?' and 'How could councils use Social Network Sites to help you get your voice heard?'.

During the chaos of running our paper-based consultation on social network site policy we were handing out the cameras to groups of young people to borrow for 5 to 10 minutes to go and interview their friends with the question on the back of the particular camera they had borrowed.

That way, so the theory went, we could get in views from a far wider range of young people. And the responses would be young people talking to young people – without the usual young person <–> strange adult dynamic that can occur during quick consultation exercises.

What happened:
Kongomana - Video Camera ConsultationThe cameras were borrowed and the cameras came back. Throughout the day groups of young people were taking the cameras to go and record things.

We had to help one or two groups get started using the cameras – and had to keep turning them off as they almost always came back still turned on and draining the batteries (although the batteries all lasted).

We didn't get chance to watch any of the video coming back in until we were packing up – and the first few clips I watched were not very promising. Mostly video clips of the grass as people were running places with the cameras.

However, as I watched through the rest of the clips I found a lot of really good content. Simple questions like 'What three words do you think of when I say Bebo?' had gathered a lot more responses that 'How could councils use Social Network Sites…' – but between the five cameras there was a lot of content, and, importantly, content that we hadn't been hearing from standing around and talking to young people in our more static consultation activity.

Unfortunately, because we were at a festival event, and because I wanted to keep the video interview activity as quick for participants as possible, we didn't ask each young person if they would be happy for their video clip to go online – so I can't share the actual clips with you. However, I did write up responses to the question 'What three words do you think of when I say Bebo?' and then ran them through Wordle.net to give this tag cloud (the larger the world, the more often it was said):

What did we learn about the method?

  • Young people talking to young people offers real insights: a lot of things came across in the video clips that didn't come across in our other conversations. Young people talking to their peers often do so in a more relaxed way. There is a lot of joking around in the clips that came back – but also a lot of really good comments and remarks that provide great insights.



  • Keep the questions simple: test out your questions first on the young people you expect to take the cameras round and interview people. If you need to provide any clarification of the question – then it won't work in this method.

  • Even point-and-shoot needs some guidance: I had hoped that the video clips we captured might be usable to edit together into a video report of the consultation. However, whilst the audio on most of them was usable – the video clips were rarely framed well (and often were super-close-ups or cut people's heads off). In the future I'll try to add some sort of guide onto the screen of the cameras to show how to frame a show (a circle showing where someones face should be in shot for example).


  • Bring spare batteries and memory cards - we were only running the consultation for a couple of hours – so managed to just use one set of batteries and memory cards per camera. But if you were running for longer – be ready with spare batteries and ready to swap out the memory cards (The Busbi Video cameras record onto cheap SD cards) so that the cameras can stay in use.

  • The cameras may not come back – we had one camera that took a long time to get back to us (we had almost given up on getting it back). Loosing the camera would have been a disappointment – but we would have also lost all the clips recored on there. Thats why for some events you may want to have memory cards in rotation so that whenever a camera gets swapped over you change the memory card and save a copy of the footage captured up to that point onto a laptop etc.

How could the idea be developed?
I'm keen to try using the same method again – but also to explore other ways of putting recording equipment into young people's hands with simple prompts – and then seeing what comes back.

I could imagine recording a short 'introduction to an issue' clip on the memory cards of the Busbi Video camera (the camera has a play button which plays back the last clip) and then sending the cameras in the post to young people across and area with a spare memory card. Young people would be invited by the video introduction to create a clip in response to the issue in question – and would be asked to send back that memory card.

I'd love to hear ideas from others about how to develop this peer-to-peer recording for consultation sort of model. What have you done in the past? Or what sort of thing would you like to do?

(Disclaimed: I have used an affiliate code on links to the Busbi Video on Amazon. There are other cheap digital video cameras on the market – and if you've got access to more durable kit already – the this method could work with that also. I just happen to have used the Busbi and found it to do the job for what I wanted).

Chain Reaction: tapping into the innovation potential of young people

Chain Reaction is a conference/collaboration/networking event taking place in London from the 17th to the 18th November this year – part of the Prime Ministers Council on Social Action. It's aiming to bring together people with ideas for positive action on social change to 'Connect', 'Collaborate' and 'Commit' to action.

And I was rather encouraged to see that in response to the question 'Who should come' they make explicit that this isn't just for the established great and good of the emerging social innovation conference circuit.

Chain Reaction is for social leaders — people who, regardless of where they work or live or how old they are, see a social problem and do something about it.

 

But not only that – they back it up with the fee structure. Take a look at this:


Category 1 day 1 day (inc. VAT) 2 days 2 days (inc. VAT)
Business £397 £466.48 £715 £839.66
Government / Public Sector £247 £290.23 £445 £522.41
Third Sector £97 £113.98 £175 £205.16
Under 21 £10 £11.75 £18 £21.15

 


£18 for a ticket if you are under 21 – as opposed to £715 for a business. That is getting the incentives and the priorities right!

 

 

So if you know young people who have been exploring positive ideas for action on social change – whose energy, enthusiasm and insights are much needed by events like this – let them know about it. With the wealth of experience in running projects and taking action being built through the Youth Opportunity Fund and Youth Banks, and through many other youth led projects – there are plenty of people out there who the PMs Council on Social Action really need as part of their Chain Reaction…

SMSPoll – Accessible big screen voting

If you're looking for a way to run a quick mobile phone based consultation – or you've been wanting to use interactive voting at a conference or participation event – but haven't been able to afford expensive e-voting equipment – then you might want to take a look at SMSPoll.net.

 The service (which I just discovered this evening and have only briefly tested) lets you set up quick polls – which anyone you tell about them can vote on by sending a text message to a UK number. The results are updated in near real-time on the website – meaning you can get an 'ask the audience' style effect if you project the graphs that SNSPoll generates onto a big screen.

It's free for small polls (25 votes or less) and is very cheap for larger polls (from £5 month). 

When using it with groups of young people you would need to think carefully about any text message costs it might lead to – but even so – giving each young person £1 toward text message costs and having a few mobile phones to loan to those without them (or more likely, with no credit) at an event could potentially overcome those barriers.

If you do make use of SMSPoll – then I'd love to hear about how it works for you. Or if you've used any alternative systems perhaps you could share details of those and how they worked in the comments…

Engaging young people with learning disabilities

The Participation Works blogging platform platform may still be a noticeable omission from the Participation Works Network for England offering – but it's good to see a few more comment articles coming through from PW, particularly when they are sharing some great insights.
In this report from the North West Participation Workers conference, PWNE co-ordinator Natalie Jeal shares her reflections from the event, including a pointer to a new research website from Mencap and the OU – and including tips about how to engage young people with learning disabilities in participation work. The tips include:

  • Writing minutes and agendas with BIG text and no long words
  • Using pictures and symbols where appropriate to tell the story
  • Using creative methods instead of just talking
  • Making the most of frequent breaks
  • Introducing a jargon wall so any complicated words can be explained later on
  • Ensuring young people have time to prepare properly so sending out agendas and activities in advance, even to providing Dictaphones so pre-recorded questions can be used during interviews or formal meeting

I can't emphasise enough the importance of thinking about accessibility and creative methods when planning any participation project or opportunity. With the rise of photo sharing websites like Flickr it's easier than ever to find images and quickly put together visual resources – and thinking carefully about ways to remove jargon from any documents not only helps those with learning difficulties – but helps make the participation process more accessible to just about everyone involved.
One area I'm keen to learn more about is writing and creating online content in more accessible ways – as being aware of the literacy levels and particular abilities of participants in online consultation and participation opportunities is no less important that being tuned in at in-person events – and hopefully I'll get the chance to explore that on some projects coming up soon.

Opportunities for young trainers with Participation Works

My work in youth participation really got started when the fantastic Bill Badham (Who incidentally is right his moment is somewhere cycling three times up a mountain in France to raise funds for a youth centre in Birmingham. Go sponsor him.) created four part-time jobs in The National Youth Agency Participation Team for 16 – 24 year olds to become co-trainers in equipping local and national government to include young people. Being one of the young members of that training team was a great experience for me – so I'm always delighted to see the model spreading.
Flyer Participation Works are recruiting young trainers to help in delivering their programme of support and training for third-sector organisations. Here is what they say:

Participation Works runs a national programme of training for organisations working with children and young people. Two of our one-day courses, Ready Steady Change and Building a Culture of Participation are delivered by a team of Associate Trainers (some of these Associates are young people).

Participation Works is offering this opportunity to enable young people with potential to develop the skills and confidence to join the Associate Trainers in delivering the training courses.

We will be recruiting young people to join the team initially as trainees, who will take part in a comprehensive learning programme. This programme will give trainees access to accredited learning, development opportunities and ongoing support. Travel costs will be paid during training, and once trainees are delivering training they will be paid up to £120 a day.

What skills and experience do I need?

You will need to be aged 16-24.You don’t need to have experience in training others, but you will need to demonstrate….

· Enthusiasm and commitment
· Being keen to learn and develop training skills to a high level
· Being happy to travel around England
· Ability to work with others
· Some knowledge of community, voluntary or faith sector organisations
· Passion for children and young people’s involvement in decision making
· Awareness/ brief understanding of ICT
· And finally, free time to get involved – We anticipate this will be about 10 days over 6 months (including 2 residential weekends and 6 days – some weekdays, some weekends).

Find out more on the Participation Works website – and do pass details of this opportunity on to any young people who you think might be interested.

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Is your council prioritising positive activities?

Thanks to Nick Booth for a pointer to this website where you can see which of the 198 National Indicators that central government sets for Local Authorities your council has chosen to focus on. Local Authorities have each had to choose 35 priority indicators that their performance will be measured against.

As Nick points out, the site isn't anywhere near as user friendly as it could be, but it does let me link to specific indicators. So, take a look at see:

There are a number of other indicators that apply to young people – and you can either search on the Local Indicators Site to see which 35 indicators your local authority is focussed on, or you can put put the three digit indicator number (i.e. 001 for #1, 078 for 78 or 112 for #112) at the end of this URL:

http://www.localpriorities.communities.gov.uk/NIResults.aspx?NIRef=NI%20

I'll try and put together a comprehensive list & mash-up of the data if time allows next week

Consultation games in the real world

I've explored the role of games in consultation before, but never bringing together the mix of playful real-world games, person-to-person interaction, and digital consultation and dialogue in quite the way that the process Kevin Harris describes in this recent blog post on 'Community engagement by treasure hunt'.

Kevin combined a quiz-book based treasure hunt around the site of the library due to be redeveloped with opportunities to speak to architects, chances to text-in ideas and an invitation to record reflections in the quiz-book. Kevin writes:

A key advantage of the treasure hunt was that it avoided those inactive ‘pools’ and conceptual congestion that you can get, where people stand around repeating the same points based on their own advance agenda. We have tried in the consultation exercises so far to be clear about what is negotiable and what is not, to avoid the risk that people get frustrated asking for something that is not on offer for whatever reason.

Another point is to see it more in terms of engagement than consultation. The exercise was only partially about the latter and we hold no presumptions about the depth of comment to be found in the eBooks and certainly not in the SMS exercise. These devices and processes are part of the mix of engagement which goes on and hopefully will strengthen and bear fruit

The whole excercise looks like a brilliant exercise in creative and playful consultation, building the constraints of a process in from the start, and equipping people with ongoing tools for future dialogue.

I'll certainly be looking at how I can learn from this sort of creative consultation in future.

(eBook image from Kevin's blog)

An invitation to UK Youth Online gathering: 17th May 2008

BarCamp UK Youth Online - 17th May 2008[Summary: you are invited to join in a free informal conference to talk about young people, the internet, opportunities, challenges, and change]

I've been struck again this week by how many people are thinking about young people's use of the internet, and the opportunities for engaging with young people online – but also by how disparate much of the action to move forward on those thoughts is.

More than ever we bring together the different threads of work to see if:

  • We can shared learning between different groups;
  • We can foster conversations across professional boundaries and between sectors;
  • We can build stronger shared understandings of where the world of young people online is heading;
  • We can find spaces to pool efforts and have a bigger impact;

That's where the BarCamp style gathering 'UK Youth Online' taking place on the 17th May comes in. And you're invited. (download your invitation here…)

And you're invited to let others know about it too.

(Oh, and if you do have any links to possible London venues we could use for the event please do get in touch. We're looking for somewhere with space for 50 or so, a couple of break out rooms and internet access. BarCamp's are participant organised gatherings, so right now we're on the look out for where we actually gather…)




Attachment: UK Youth Online – Gathering and conference – 17th May 2008.pdf