Tag Archives: youth

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.

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…

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

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.

Non-formal education goes WWW project

Non-Formal Information Goes WWW Image

I came across Andreas' work at nonformality.org when he added to the reasons why youth workers should be blogging. And now Andreas and the team at the National Youth Agency of Estonia are taking the initative to kick start even more dialogue about how the informal learning sector across Europe can get far more engaged with the web by pulling together a Networking Seminar in Tallin, May 30 – 31, 2008.

From the Seminar flyer:

The context – why?

Non-formal education is an exciting way to learn: full of opportunities to be discovered – but not very well recognised at times. The internet is an exciting place to learn, too: full of different opportunities to be discovered – but also quite lonely and confusing at times. Imagine the power unfolding when the two come together!

This networking seminar wants to offer time and space to people, groups, teams, initiatives, projects, and organisations who bring together non-formal education and the world wide web. There is surely something we can learn from each other! And there might be something we could do together, too…

The timing – why now?

In recent weeks and months, more and more websites have emerged about and around non-formal education and learning. It seems to be the right time for bringing them together for an exchange of experience and some dreams about the future!

The aims – what for?

The networking seminar aims to offer space and time:

  • to get acquainted with different web-projects and initiatives about or for (raising awareness on) non-formal education and learning,
  • to discuss the role and potential of these projects and initatives for the recognition and valorisation of non-formal education and learning, and
  • to explore needs, potentials and strategies for co-operation between such initiatives and projects in the future.

I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to make it (it's a little tricky to just slip in a trip to Estonia whilst pledged not to fly in Europe…) but it would be great to see some representation from England there. Perhaps we could host a bit of a pre-discussion to feed into the seminar at BarCampUKYouthOnline which is taking place just before on the 17th May.

I've attached the full flyer to this post below. Deadline for applications is the 26th March 2008.




Attachment: NFL goes WWW call and application-1.doc

Facebook groups vs. Facebook pages


I’ve been working on series of strategy options for engaging young people in local democracy activities through Facebook. The two key platforms for engagement that support some level of dialogue appear to be Facebook pages, and Facebook groups. So I though I’d try and get a sense of when you would choose one over the other.

If you were looking to host a discussion between young people and local councillors on Facebook – which would you use?

Below are the notes I’ve drafted on the topic so far…

Pages of Groups?

Groups or Pages?

Both ‘Facebook pages’ and ‘Facebook groups’ offer a way of promoting activities and of hosting a discussion between different Facebook users. Both can have a discussion wall, and discussion forum. Both offer ways of Facebook members affiliating with them, with that affiliation optionally displayed to a members ‘friends’ (creating a viral marketing effect). They are, however, subtly different:

Groups

You can create a Facebook group for just about anything. They can be used as serious discussion forums, virtual petitions where membership indicates support for a cause, a space for sharing photos and videos or a way of subscribing to get messages from an organisation (amongst other things).

As the creator of a group you gain control over which features of the group are enabled, and whether it is visible to all members of Facebook, or is closed and visible only to invited Facebook members. Facebook groups are never visible to non Facebook users.

Users of Facebook can ‘join’ your group and then post messages on the ‘wall’ or in the ‘discussion forum’ (which allows for threaded discussions). As the group owner you can send a message to all your group members – this will appear in their Facebook inbox. You can also invite group members to events created through the Facebook event system (which allows RSVP guest lists etc.).

Pros

  • Facebook users are familiar with groups
  • You can send messages to group members
  • They are marginally easier to set up and manage than pages

Cons

  • Groups are only visible to Facebook members
  • Groups cannot have extra applications added to them
  • You generally have to visit a group regularly and to use the messaging feature to keep discussions flowing.

Pages

You can create a ‘Facebook Page’ for any entity such as a club, youth council, youth project etc. Unlike groups which have ‘members’, and which are only visible to logged in Facebook users, most of a ‘Facebook Page’ can be visible on the wider internet to those without a Facebook account, and have ‘fans’.

You can send updates to fans, but these will only be displayed on the side of a users homepage when they log-in, rather than appearing in their inbox. This means they are likely to get less attention that messages sent to group members.

You can add some ‘applications’ to pages, similar to the way you can add applications to your Facebook profile. For example, you could add an RSS application to your page that would pull in the headlines from your blog, or from another discussion board, to display on your Facebook page.

Here is an example page created for Practical Participation.

Pros

  • Can be visible on the wider internet to non-Facebook members (although only Facebook members can interact with them)
  • You can add applications
  • Facebook presents you with visitor statistics to let you know how many visitors you pages are getting.

Cons

  • ‘Updates’ sent to those who decide to be a ‘fan’ of your page are lower key than messages to group ‘members’.
  • Facebook users are less familiar with pages than they are with groups.
  • Visitors still need to be a member of Facebook if they want to join in discussions on your page message board.

When would you choose one over the other?

If you were looking to host a discussion between young people and local councillors on Facebook – which would you use?

There are many factors that could decide between pages and groups. However, in this case my leanings would lead me to choose:

  • Pages if I wanted a long-term public record of the dialogue, and wanted to engage young people via Facebook over the longer term
  • Groups if I wanted to quickly host a discussion with those already on facebook, but without building a presence on Facebook right now.

What would your choice be?

Developing a BarCampUKYouthOnline

Young People: CC Image: 'thaas loomoo 128' - www.flickr.com/photos/70021771@N00/216760345

There are a lot of people working on supporting young people through the internet, or supporting young people to engage with the internet.

Whether it's the web officers who run local and national youth websites, the people encouraging online campaigning and volunteering, the youth team at Direct Gov, the students and academics studying young peoples identity and interaction online, the youth workers working out how to support young people online, the policy makers thinking about sensible response, the developers of services targetted at young people, the consultants and bloggers thinking about what social media means, or indeed young people themselves – there are a lot of people with important perspectives and experience and questions around:

  • Online information services for young people
  • Supporting young people's online interaction and activity
  • Researching young people and the internet/blogging/social networking etc.
  • Developing online tools and platforms for young people
  • Exploring online technologies in education and participation
  • Young people's civic engagement online
  • And a whole lot more…

Well, inspired and encouraged by the success of BarCampUKGovWeb, and after lots of conversations with folk, I though we could probably do with a BarCampUKYouthOnline to draw together some of those threads, to bring together some of the people interesting in exploring these threads, and to build some networks and ideas for action. So let's organise it.

Provisionally I've put in 17th May 2008 as the date for the event – but that's about all that is decided so far. If you're interested in attending, getting involved in planning, or just finding out more – drop me an e-mail, edit the Wiki and join the Google Group mailing list. It would be great to have you on board… :)


Notes:

BarCamps are self-organised dynamic conferences created by the participants. The name is misleading, they've not officially got anything to do with alcohol.

Young People as I'm thinking of the category is broadly 11 – 19 year olds – although that's not a strict boundary on what we can talk about.

Update

I'd originally proposed 3rd May 2008 as the BarCamp date – but on realising this was a bank holiday weekend – am suggesting a switch to the 17th May.




Attachment: BarCampUKYouthOnline.doc

BarCampUKGovWeb – What should I be talking about on young people, government and web 2.0?

Whilst I'm on the topic of upcoming conferences and events, two days before I'll be exploring how various speakers think we should keep young people safe online, I should be at BarCampUKGovWeb – an altogether different sort of event.

BarCampUKGovWeb

A BarCamp “an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos, and interaction from attendees.” Participants are encouraged to contribute short sessions to the event – and I've just been thinking about the sorts of sessions I could present.

The BarCampUKGovWeb focus is on:

…creating a shared understanding and commitment to the vision for UK government web activity and helping establish the UK government Digital Network to bring together the community of webbies within central government and the wider public sector.

Quite a few projects I worked on over the last year have linked with UK Government web activity in one way or another. It's ranged from trying to provide youth-focussed content for government websites, pulling data out of Local Direct Gov or capturing video interviews with civil servants. And as the focus of most of my work is around young people's participation – I thought I would sketch out four possible mini-sessions linking 'young people, government and web 2.0' for the BarCampUKGov audience. You can see my four ideas pasted in below.

If you've got any other suggestions for topics – or want to suggest developments to any of the below – do get in touch using the comments below.

From an e-mail to the Google Group

Possible sessions

1. Protection and provision
Exploring issues around making sure under 18's are included, not excluded from the online civic space.

A bit theoretical – but with big practical implications.

2. Local names and national services
Using a case study of the Youth Opportunity Fund – a national programme, with a unique name (chosen by young people) in each local authority area – but for which we were trying to run a national publicity campaign working with (the then) DfES and DirectGov. Touches on technical issues linked to Local DirectGov – and organisational issues about policies for where content is hosted.

A very practical case study.

3. Working in partnership with government to consult and promote new policy
A couple of case studies of small scale projects for government (predominantly DfES) delivered by The National Youth Agency consulting with young people, or leading discussions and information-sharing about new policy with the field – incorporating the use of social media. Looking at how the social media element mostly 'just happened' – with logistical and policy issues being resolved along the way… and looking at whether this can be replicated – was the product of right people, right place, right time – or was enabled at the cost of
having a lesser impact.

4. Young people, online identity and the database state
I'm aware of at least one local authority building their own Social Networking website linked to the local Connexions database (holding personal information about young people). What happens when young people's online interaction comes within the ambit of the database state? Could we see social networks being linked to ContactPoint and other child protection databases? What about for over 18s?

Probably a bit of a theoretical discussion starter at the moment (unless I can work something up a little more in time for the BarCamp)

If I get chance to put together a full presentation for the BarCamp then I will, of course, share it here. And I'll aim to at least blog at/after the event on any discussions arising from the sessions I'm in.

A third side to the media-box

With more funding that ever around for video and multi-media projects with young people, is the focus of the funding spot on, or missing a trick?Media Box Logo

Media box has £6m of government funding to give to "creative media projects involving film, television radio, online, print and multi-media". Government is talking about these projects as ways of addressing the negative media portrayal of young people, and often we hear about how they equip young people with skills for jobs in the media. However, if we really want to support young people to challenge negative stereotypes in mainstream media, and to participate as citizens in an ever more networked world, we need to do more than to create one-off videos or to train a small group to work in media jobs. We need to focus the core of our funding on building media literacy*.

Media literacy is "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms" (Aufderheide, 1993; Christ & Potter, 1998 in Livingstone, 2004). Sonia Livingstone (in the 2004 journal article Media Literacy and the Challenge of New Information and Communication Technologies) explains "Learning to create content helps one to analyze that produced professionally by others; skills in analysis and evaluation open the doors to new uses of the Internet, expanding access, and so forth". She goes on to say:

"In advancing policy, it would clarify matters to disentangle three arguments: [(a)] the pedagogic argument that people learn best about media through making it; [(b)] the employment argument that those with new media skills are increasingly needed as the information sector expands; and [(c)] the cultural politics argument that citizens have the right to self-representation and cultural participation." (Pg 7. Letters added and not in the original)

It seems that Media Box and other recent projects are strong on (c), and have a focus on (b) but are missing enough of a focus on (a), on how supporting young people to make media can help build their literacy for future access, analysis, evaluation and creation of media. (a) doesn't just happen. Really good learning about the media through making media needs space to be created for reflection as well as action creating media, and it needs to be focussed on process as well as product. I don't doubt that many projects with Media Box funding do have an implicit element of learning about media through making – but making sure all projects have this 'third side of the box' could, I believe, really enhance their long term impact in young peoples representation in the media*.

 

*I realise there is a piece of this story missing. How does increased media literacy lead to more positive portrayal of young people in the media? Another post to come soon on that question – particularly looking at how social media literacy in a world of user-generated-content is a key element.