Tag Archives: social network sites

Social Network Sites & Social Change Communication

Picture 32[Summary: the ‘Future Connect’ paper on Social Networking and AIDS Communication has just been published by Communications for Social Change Consortium]

Back in February I mentioned a project I was working on with Pete Cranston for AIDS2031, through Communications for Social Change Consortium (CFSC). We were tasked with taking a global look at how young people were engaging with social networking, and what opportunities and challenges that created for HIV/AIDs communicators in communicating with young people.

We finished the paper back in April, but it’s taken a while for it to make it’s way to being available online. But it now is – and you can find the full report to browse, or download as a PDF here.

Whilst we put the report together in the context of work for AIDS2031, and many of the case studies and examples have a HIV/AIDS element to them, my hope is that the full report also provides useful input for anyone exploring how young people in the UK and beyond are engaged with social networking.

In particular, you can take a look at:

The report also includes a full section looking comparatively at social networking by young people in South Africa, UK, Brazil, India and Thailand as well as our attempt to look forward to unfolding trends and future possibilities.

This hope is that this report is only the first step for further work by CFSC and Pete Cranston looking at tracking emerging trends in the use of social networks for social change communication – so all feedback and comments, and ideas for future developments, are most welcome.

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?

How can Facebook fight AIDS?

[Summary: help us explore the role of social networks in the fight against AIDS]

The world has been managing the global AIDS epidemic for more than 25 years. 2031 will mark 50 years since the first report of AIDS. While great strides have been made, there are persisting as well as emerging challenges that must be addressed.

aids2031 is not about what we should do in 2031, but what we can do differently now, to change the face of the pandemic by 2031.

aids2031 is a consortium of partners who have come together to look at what we have learned about the AIDS response as well as consider the implications of the changing world around AIDS.
AIDS2031 Consortium

The world is changing. The way people communicate is changing. And AIDS communicators are thinking about how they need to respond.

    How are Social Network Sites changing the way people communicate?

    How are Social Network Sites developing in different ways in different countries and communities?

    What are the implications for AIDS communication and AIDS communicators?

Those are some of he questions I’m exploring on a research project led by Pete Cranston, and commissioned by the Communications Sub-Group of the AIDS2031 Consortium. And we could do with your help.

We know that Social Network Sites means many different things to different people – and that they are adopted and used in different ways in different communities. Only some of that it written up in literature, and our on-the-ground research partners can only cover four of five different countries and contexts. So – whether you work with local government in a UK inner city, you’re using social networks to connect with friends and family in countries across the world, of you’re not using social networks at all – we would really value your insights.

Take a look at the four questions on our project blog and please do take a few minutes to offer a comment or two.

(This is a short-term research project, so the blog is only open until the end of Feb – and we hope to share some of the initial research findings from the blog soon after.)

E-Safety. Moving from restrictions & messages to critical questions

Moving from messages to questions

Moving from messages to questions

[Summary: Practical questions to use in e-safety education when working with social media and social networking sites]

Later this month the House of Lords will be spending two and a half hours discussing young people and social networking sites in a debate initiated by Lord Toby Harris. As Shane McCracken has pointed out, a focus on “the adequacy of safeguards to protect [young people’s] privacy and interests” risks as debate leading towards legislation to restrict and control how social network sites function or young people’s use of them. However, even if Shane’s more hopefuly scenario of “increased awareness about the need to educate young people and parents about internet privacy issues” results, we could still end up heading in the wrong direction.

Far too often e-safety education places it’s focus on communicating ‘safety messages’ which are either counter-intuitive to the active social network using young person (‘don’t share any personal information online’) or which end over-detailed, complex or in contradiction with the way social network sites operate (‘use a nick name’ – ‘but it asks for a real name’). Plus, being aware of a safety message and putting its content into practice are two very different things.

In a project I’ve been working on for the Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board E-Safety Subcommittee we’ve tried to explore how, instead of a focus on safety messages, we can use critical questions* to structure education about safe use of social media, whilst promoting the opportunities that new technologies offer at the same time. Using a critical questions approach can enable professionals to facilitate young people’s own exploration of safe and effective uses of new media, without the professional needed to be a new-media expert.

Here’s the current working draft of our question-bank:
All these questions were designed be asked in the context of some form of purpose driven online-communication – such as using a blog, social network or social messaging tool to run a campaign on a local issue. The questions are divided into six sections.

1) Think about: the idea

  • What are you trying to communicate?
  • Why?

2) Think about: intended audience

  • Who are you doing it for?
  • Who might also be interested in what you have created/posted/shared?
  • How long do you want it to be available online for?
  • Do you want to allow others to copy and remix it? Or should it be covered by copyright?

3) Think about: the impact of the information or media you are sharing

  • What difference do you want it to make?
  • What other impact could it have?
  • Could anyone get upset because of it?
  • What good things could happen because it it? What bad things could happen?

4) Think about: identity
Thinking about how you have/will share this information or media:

  • Is it/will it be linked to personal information about you? Who can see that information?
  • Do you just have one identity online, or are you a different person in different spaces?

5) Think about: interaction
Thinking about information or media that you have shared:

  • Who are you connecting with through it? Do you know them? Is it ok if you don’t know them?
  • Can people leave comments and feedback on it?
  • How would you respond to a comment from someone you don’t know?
  • How would you respond to a comment that said something hurtful or aggressive to you, or to a friend?

6) Think about: each other

  • What would you do if a friend shared a photo or video of you online that you didn’t want shared?
  • What would you do if you had shared a photo of someone and they asked you to delete it?
  • What would you do if someone you know was spending all their time talking to someone online who they have never met?
  • What would you do if you were worried about your friends being bullied?

Using critical questions

Whilst these questions don’t give explicit safety messages – in encouraging young people to develop their own understand and literacy with digital tools they are designed to act as a vehicle for exploring safety messages. In Brent I’m hoping that, with continued development, they will form the backbone of a programme encouraging young people to develop their digital literacy whilst creating and sharing online content about their local area.

Draft structure for the Content Creators programme

Draft structure for the Content Creators programme

However, I believe that moving from a ‘safety messages’ to a ‘critical questions’ and a ‘literacy building’ frame of engagement with social networking and social media also has other implications:

Some questions for you

I’ve not yet had chance to pilot and evaluate the critical questions framework in depth – and I’m keen to make sure it continues to develop to be as useful as possible in ensuring young people take up online opportunities in safe and effective ways. I would really value feedback from anyone working on e-safety:

  • In your experience, how well equipped are the young people you work with to respond to these sorts of critical questions about their online activity?
  • Are there other key questions you would add to get young people to consider issues not raised above?
  • How would these questions work with different age groups? In our experience is there an age range for whom safety messages, rather than critical literacy building, is the only option?

*Critical questions – as in ‘constructive criticism’ or ‘questions that make you think and re-evaluate activity or behaviour’.

Safe and effective social network site applications

[Summary: Inviting feedback on first public draft of working paper about developing social network site applications for young people that can be effective and engaging, whilst also promoting safety and limiting risk to young people (PDF)]

Update 18th May 2009: Version 1.0 of the paper posted here.

For the Plings project – concerned with promoting positive activities to young people – Social Network Sites (SNS) offer amazing opportunities. One of the main ways people find out about positive activities (the football club, dance group or arts society for example) is through word of mouth. So if you can feed information about positive activities into SNS, and increase the flows of information about positive activities through the networks of young people already active there, you could potentially have a big impact on young people’s awareness of activities they could take part in.

Take a look at the slidecast below to get an idea of how a Social Network Site application could work:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sns)

Of course, local authorities and professionals working with young people have a duty not only to make sure young people are aware of the positive activities available to them, but also a duty to keep young people safe from harm – and Social Network Sites can be places of risk as well as of opportunity. Which is why public and third-sector organisations engaging with SNS shouldn’t just copy the ‘viral marketting’ and often aggressive tactics of commercial SNS application builders – but need to develop a clear ethical and risk assessment framework for engaging with Social Network Sites.

I hope that this working paper which I’ve put together for the ISP/Plings project can go some way to starting off that development.

‘Safe and effective SNS applications for young people: considerations in building social networking
applications for under 19s’
aims to build a coherent foundation to support public and third-sector engagement with SNS through application building by:

  1. Unpacking the reasons why we need to treat young people differently;
  2. Exploring the features of Social Network Sites which lead to both amazing opportunities, and potential risks;
  3. Clearly identifying the risks to young people within the Social Network Site space;
  4. Proposing three levels of response that should lead to safe and effective application building;

The document also includes an outline risk assessment framework.

The three responses proposed are:

  • Abiding by ethical principles – and designing applications on the basis of principles derived from law, a respect for young people’s rights, and existing principles from professional practice;
  • Having a clear risk assessment in place for all projects - to make sure potential risks are identified and design decisions or resources put in place to limit potential harm to young people;
  • Building safety in – and creating applications which empower young people and encourage general safe online behavior.

So, if you’re exploring the use of Social Network Sites to engage young people, whether in positive activities or participation opportunities – or if you’ve got experience of e-safety or Social Network Site applications please do take a look at the ‘Safe and Effective SNS for young people’ working paper and share your reflections, questions and feedback.

Exploring further
This first public draft of the paper is hopefully just a starting point of a deeper exploration on building positive SNS applications. In particular:

  • The ISP/Plings project will be seeking to operationalise some of the learning in this paper, so it’s proposals, and the feedback and comments on it should have an opportunitity to be explored in practice over the first half of next year…
  • I’ll be leading an exploration of using applications for youth participation as part of the Local Government Information Unit Action Learning Set on SNS and Youth Participation. (N.B. Application deadline extended until 9th Jan 2009 in case you wanted to come along… but have not yet had chance to register…)
  • If there is enough interest – then I’d love to host a seminar on SNS applications and youth engagement early in 2009 – exploring both this paper, and emerging practice from the field. If you would be interested in taking part do drop me a line (tim at practicalparticipation dot org dot uk) or leave a comment on this blog post.
  • All comments and feedback on the paper are most welcome. Again, e-mail or comment below…

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…

Youth Work and Social Networking – interim report out

Picture 16 Just a quick pointer to the Interim Report of the Youth Work and Social Networking project I've been working on with Pete Cranston over the last few months.

This turned into a far longer report and piece of work than I'd anticipated – but I hope it sets out some clear foundations for the next phase of research – working on the practical 'How To' of moving from where we now, to a place where an effective youth work perspective and practice in responding to online social networks is in place.

You can read more on the project blog over here…. and I'd really welcome any feedback or reflections through the comments or by e-mail.

Three observations on policy responses to youth and social network sites

Ofcom Media LiteracyOn Friday Ofcom published their Media Literacy Audit on UK children's media literacy (thanks to Jackie Marsh for the link). As I was reading the Executive Summary, one paragraph in the section on content creation and online social network sites caught my attention:

Among many [young] social networking site users there is a lack of awareness of, or concern about, potential safety and security risks. Many feel that they are immune to any potential risks, and that even if they were to have problems, they would be able to deal with them.

It's worth just picking that apart briefly:

  • 1) The first part, "a lack of awareness of, or concern about, potential safety and security risks", is something we can address. The architecture of sites, the information made available to young people and informal learning opportunities can help young people to become aware of possible pitfalls and dangers in the use of social network sites.

    That said, amongst young people there is a lack of awareness, or concern about, many potential risks. To know whether there is a clear case for increasing young people's awareness of risk we need:

    a) to know if young people are comparatively less aware of risks on social network sites as opposed to risks of equal severity in the offline world (e.g. risk of becoming a victim or crime, risk of sexual abuse by a known adult).

    b) to decide whether the risks to young people are severe enough to prioritise making young people acutely aware of them.

    In the same way that internet filters are often guilty of 'overblocking' (filtering out good content along with the bad) – awareness of potential risk is 'overblocking' – it creates a fear of caution that not only prevents individuals engaging in risky behaviors, but it also has a tendency to make individuals cautious and risk-averse in their take up of potentially very beneficial opportunities.

  • 2) "Many feel that they are immune to any potential risks,". Put simply: don't all teenagers believe they are invulnerable? By way of a more sustained argument – adolescence is a time of risk-taking in which young people's brain chemistry is geared towards feelings of invulnerability. We should take this aspect of youth as more or less a given, rather than a problem that needs to be 'solved' through information and awareness campaigns.


  • 3) Young people believe that "even if they were to have problems, they would be able to deal with them." From the way this sentence is phrased, I take it that the authors consider this to be a concern.

    It's not obvious, however, that a large number young people believing they can deal with the problems they encounter should be of concern. Again – we need to know a lot more to make a sensible policy decision. In particular, we need to know whether those young people who believe they would be able to deal with problems actually could.

    If is exactly an increase in the number of young people who believe they would be able to deal with problems (and actually would) that we need. Increases in young people's resiliency and ability to address negative outcomes of risky behaviors as early as possible should be our core positive indicator in looking at online safety.

    It is worth noting that we can't accurately test how many young people actually could deal with 'problems' online by asking them about their responses to a theoretical question and comparing this to adult ideas of 'best practice' in such cases. Young people's coping strategies may be adopted on creative patens that adults would not necessarily recognize as sensible responses to a given problem. That adults do not immediately recognize them as sensible or effective does not immediately mean that they are not.

Ofcom's paper is research report – and does not make policy recommendations. However, the research often reflects and directs policy concerns – and I hope in the above I've managed to at least point to a number of potentially problematic assumptions or implicit beliefs that are often active in the direction of policy responses to youth and social network sites.