How to use multimedia tools to engage children and young people in decision-making

[Summary:Trying to undo a bit of scarcity thinking from the voluntary sector: this time, PW How To Guides]

A long time ago I wrote a resource for Participation Works called “How to use multimedia tools to engage children and young people in decision-making”. The work was funded through a Big Lottery Fund (BLF) grant to Participation Works to support the third-sector with youth participation, and all the published resources were being made available freely online.

It seems that since that grant has ended, Participation Works have decided to restrict free online access to all the digital copies of the resources that BLF money funded, including the guide I wrote: they now want to charge for it.

I don’t. I didn’t write it to be sold. I wrote it to be shared and on the understanding that it would be freely available online. So you can grab your copy here: How to Use Multimedia to Engage Children and Young People in Decision Making (PDF)

[Update 22nd July 2010: With much reluctance I have had to remove the download link to this guide. It was my hope that this blog post would (a) ensure the continued availability of a resource which was written for free dissemination; (b) register my feeling that Participation Works had breached the trust on which the original writing of this resource was based and ensure that others were not suffering from that breach of trust also; (c) provide a gentle provocation to encourage PW and others to think about the messages they are sending out to the sector. Sadly, it does not seem that the Participation Works Consortium took it in that spirit.

I bear no ill-will towards members of the Participation Works Consortium. It is possible some interpreted my posting of this guide as a ‘competitive’ or aggressive act and an act of  Practical Participation. It was neither.

This is my personal blog, and whilst I don’t draw a strict distinction between personal and company posts – intended this post in a personal capacity, expressing my belief in the importance of openness, abundancy thinking and values-based practice. If any offence was caused to any individuals or organisations – my apologies.

For potential users of the guide: I believe the How To guide contains some useful concepts, although it’s technical content is now out of date. If you are interested in the topic of the guide, and can’t find other resources that support your practice, please get in touch as I hope to be able to put together a freely available Creative Commons resource on this topic in the near future.]

It’s only a basic resource, and you will no doubt find lots more information online in space such as Youth Work Online but I thought it important to make sure it did remain freely available on the web.

(As a serious point: it’s pretty worrying to see how many voluntary sector organizations, particularly infrastructure organizations, are shifting into scarcity thinking right now – imagining that by starting to charge, or charge more, for resources in a time of scarcity they will be able to sustain the same old work. A time of scarce financial resources is no time to start restricting your reach by putting in pay-walls. It’s time to build and innovate on legacies of work, not to try and commercially exploit them. Perhaps this is easier to say when freelance and I’m used to the uncertainty of the future – but organizations with a social mission need to remember that the missions are bigger than the organizations – and it’s social change, not organizational maintenance that should come first…)

5 thoughts on “How to use multimedia tools to engage children and young people in decision-making”

  1. Hi Tim – I think you know I’m not a fan of Participation Works, frankly there are far far better ways the funding invested in them could have been used to support young people. However I will make a slight defence of their decision to try & charge for resources albeit respecting your own right as the author to choose to make your work freely available and also respecting the principals behind your motives (that I share – in principal).

    Funding seems to go in patterns – years ago it was ’empowerment’, then it was ‘partnership working’, more recently it seems to be ‘sustainability’. Mostly I agree with the pressure for non profits to seek to generate income and be less reliant on funders, but as ever with these things the balance is often not right and I think the pressure placed by funders on organisations to create income streams (often done by tapering off funding or simply removing options to continue funding) is most likely the cause of this kind of decision by PW.

    What’s needed is to help organisations understand how sharing can be a viable business model in itself. I’ve been in the situation of moving from a funded programme to having to become self sufficient and it’s very difficult to move from a position of being able to give things away or heavily subsidise them to then charging full cost for things that often you’re not entirely comfortable charging for (or charging so much for).

    On the flip side we were providing training in youth participation for a long time before PW existed and that work was one of our main income streams… and then along comes an organisation with considerable funding and lots of weight offering training in youth participation for free. No surprises the demands for the work we were doing with adults quickly dropped off. Having both attended courses on offer by PW, and having our own Trainers involved with PW events I don’t think I’m in any way exaggerating to claim that what we had offered was far more effective – but much as you hope quality counts for something, the bottom line is it counts for little when people are deciding whether to pay for training or take what is freely available.

    So there are different sides to how the decisions to charge can affect what is available.

    Now the last time I openly criticised Participation Works I got a swift rap on the knuckles as apparently it’s not the done thing if you’re supposedly a “partner” organisation. That contact was in fact only the third time I’d ever had any contact from them though so maybe now I’ll be honoured to get a fourth 😉

  2. @mas I certainly recognize that charging can be part of organisational sustainability models – I have to grapple regularly with how to fund the work I do also.

    In this specific case however, I have an objection to resources, funded through charitable money to support participation development and available online as part of that, being restricted from online distribution, which has a near to zero marginal cost, as soon as the funding ends.

  3. but where do you draw the line? You could argue on that basis that everything they do was started through charitable money – and they may well argue that without now charging those things will cease to exist.

    If we are going to challenge the protective culture we need to be able to suggest viable alternatives, and that’s very difficult given both the pressure on sustainability and also that while there are people & organisations are willing to pay there’s sense in charging.

    The zero cost issue for distribution I guess is the same argument now being grappled with by publishers of ebooks and online news sites.

    The other factor to consider is that if PW are successful in generating revenue this way arguably they reduce the burden on future charitable funds and in doing so that may benefit others – presumably too their structure requires any profits to be invested towards youth participation – although both these are tenuous given their overall running costs compared to the income they’re likely to generate selling leaflets for a quid.

  4. Hey Mas

    I would draw a distinction between revenue from the sale of resources; and revenue from offering new services.

    If you want to create a resource because you have a charitable mission to support a sector, and you believe the sector needs that resource, there are essentially two options:

    1) Create it before having funding, and recover the costs of creating it by selling it;

    2) Get it funded up front and then distribute it freely;

    In (1) you may get to a point where the costs of creation are covered, and at this point you may choose to either make a short-term profit from the resource to up-front fund a sector resource, or cross-subsidize other work; or, if your core focus is on spreading learning in a sector, it may be better to at that point make the resource freely available.

    My ‘scarcity thinking’ criticism is of of charities moving from (2) to charging – rather than focussing on creating new resources and offering new services to raise funding – continuing to contribute to the sector, rather than drawing in funds to maintain old business models which, exactly like music industry models etc, are not fit for purpose in a digital era.

    So – I do think we have to suggest viable alternatives – but I also think it’s important to be clear that alternatives need to be based on core values, not solely market models….

  5. I agree with Tim’s post. We have all heard a lot about the need for social change recently and if we are to preach the value of being part of a community, participating and learning to young people we shold be leading by example.

    Where we will all no doubt find ouselves in financial difficulties in the years to come this is the perfect opportunity to show what can be acheived by working and learning togther, not the time to resirict each others ability to improve opportunities for children and young people by charging for valuable resources.

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