Digital Futures – Trends in Technology, Youth and Policy

[Summary: What technologies will affect services for young people in 2011? Presentation, worksheet and reflections on a workshop]

I’ve read a lot of blog posts and watched a lot of presentations about technology trends, and future technologies that everyone needs to be aware of – but they can often feel pretty distant from the reality of frontline public services trying to make sense of how new technologies affect their work. So when I was offered the opportunity to run a workshop on ‘digital futures’ at the children’s services conference of a national children’s charity, right at the start of 2011, I thought it would provide an interesting opportunity to explore different ways of talking about and making sense of technology trends.

The resulting workshop was based around

  • A persona worksheet (PDF) based on a Facebook profile asking participants to imagine a young person who might be accessing their service, and to fill in the mocked up Facebook profile for that young person
  • A presentation of five key trends (Slideshare) – each trend accompanied by an extra bit to stick onto the worksheet – as a visual reminder of that trend and to help later discussions about what the trends mean for the young people that services work with. I looked at the growth of mobile; development of applications (apps) as a key part of the information environment; the development of location based services; drivers of digital public service delivery; and open data.

  • Discussion of what the trends mean for practice – using the profiles to keep discussions rooted in the reality of young people’s lives – and to avoid us getting distracted in just talking about cool tools.

  • A suggested model for responding to digital trends. It’s far too easy for talk about young people and new technology to get bogged down in talk of risk; but equally, risks can’t be ignored. Using the UNCRC triangle of ‘Participation rights; Protection rights; and Provision rights’ I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about balanced responses.

The idea of using imagined Facebook profiles as persona’s for workshops is one I’ve used before – and it seems to work well. Participants quickly build up interesting and rich pictures of imagined young people. In todays trial of the workshop we didn’t get to go back to the profiles much in our discussions as time was short – but they did provide a useful backdrop to support critical thinking about technology trends: allowing us to talk about general trends, but accept that they affect different young people in different ways – and that we can’t assume young people are the early adopters using all the latest cool tools. Instead – we need to think about the different routes through which technology trends impact on young people’s lives.

The five trends I selected to look at are shown in the presentation below (I’ve rewritten it for the web so you can work through it with the persona sheet if you want):

I’m still looking to tweak the workshop design a bit – not least to try and make sure it leaves participants feeling empowered, rather than overwhelmed with information on different technologies, which was a risk of the short hour-long session today – but I’m hoping to develop it more – and perhaps use it as part of some of the upcoming Youth Work Online Month of Action.

Feedback, comments, critique, questions welcome.

2 thoughts on “Digital Futures – Trends in Technology, Youth and Policy”

  1. Very good presentation and I could imagine location based services taking off this year.

    It opens up lots of possibilities to find out where young people are and when they are there so a service could potentially use that data to target their service.

    Apps such as Plings on android have massive potential as that particular app informs a young person what positive activities are happening near their location.
    A few years ago a business would kill to be able to instantly tell a customer what they can offer in their vicinity so I think public services should embrace the technology!

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