Knowing what workers need to know – and when they need to just get out the way…

Just been in a fantastic keynote by Brian Loader on 'Cultural displacement or Disaffection? Reassessing Young Citizens, New Media and Civic Engagement' (which I believe is the topic of his chapter in his recent edited collection). I think for a sense of the presentation – it's probably best to point to the book – as I'd be hard pushed to capture everything in notes.

However, an interesting discussion emerged in Q&A. Stephen Coleman related experiences of how the 'operating at a distance' enabled by internet technology (e.g. in online contributions to select committees and online MPs surgeries) supports those who might not be confident to contribute in person to input into the political process. I asked afterwards if this applied to young people – with a positive answer. What is most interesting, however, is to look at whether 'operating at a distance' changes the need for worker support. We know young people often identify their desire for youth worker or adult suport in order to input into decision making when we're looking at in-person participatoin. But do some groups who want support in person find they don't need or want it 'operating at a distance'? In Stephen's example of women contributing to a select committee on domestic violence – it was found that some women were only confident to use the 'at a distance' methods with their refuge support workers and trusted others. I imagine the picture may be the same for some groups of young people – but more exploration would certainly be of interest.

This gets me thinking. Identifying:

  • what skills workers and adults need to support young people in taking advantage of the opportunities created by online interaction,
  • when workers and adults should just get out of the way

seems key to making sure e-democracy leaves no-one behind, and allows all groups to make the most of the opportunities potentially opened up…