5-Stars of Open Data Engagement?

[Summary: Notes from a workshop at UKGovCamp that led to sketching a framework to encourage engagement and impact of open data initiatives might contain]

Update: The 5 Stars of Open Data Engagement now have their own website at http://www.opendataimpacts.net/engagement/.

In short

* Be demand driven

* * Provide context

* * * Support conversation

* * * * Build capacity & skills

* * * * * Collaborate with the community

The Context

I’ve spent the last two days at UKGovCamp, an annual open-space gathering of people from inside and around local and national government passionate about using digital technologies for better engagement, policy making and practice. This years event was split over two days: Friday for conversations and short open-space slots; Saturday for more hands-on discussions and action. Suffice to say, there were plenty of sessions on open data on both days – and this afternoon we tried to take forward some of the ideas from Day 1 about open data engagement in a practical form.

There is a general recognition of the gap between putting a dataset online, and seeing data driving real social change. In a session on Day 1 led by @exmosis, we started to dig into different ways to support everyday engagement with data, leading to Antonio from Data.gov.uk suggesting that open data initiatives really needed to have some sort of ‘Charter of engagement’ to outline ways they can get beyond simply publishing datasets, and get to supporting people to use data to create social, economic and administrative change. So, we took that as a challenge for day 2, and in session on ‘designing an engaging open data portal’ a small group of us (including Liz StevensonAnthony Zacharzewski, Jon Foster and Jag Goraya) started to sketch what a charter might look like.

You can see the (still developing) charter draft in this Google Doc. However, it was Jag Goraya‘s suggestion that the elements of a charter we were exploring might also be distilled into a ‘5 Stars’ that seemed to really make some sense of the challenge of articulating what it means to go beyond publishing datasets to do open data engagement. Of course, 5-star rating scales have their limitations, but I thought it worth sharing the draft that was emerging.

What is Open Data Engagement?

We were thinking about open data engagement as the sorts of things an open data initiative should be doing beyond just publishing datasets. The engagement stars don’t relate to the technical openness or quality of the datasets (there are other scales for that), and are designed to be flexible to be able to apply to a particular dataset, a thematic set of datasets, or an open data initiative as a whole.

We were also thinking about open government data in our workshop; though hopefully the draft has wider applicability. The ‘overarching principles’ drafted for the Charter might also help put the stars in context:

Key principles of open government data: “Government information and data are common resources, managed in trust by government. They provide a platform for public service provision, democratic engagement and accountability, and economic development and innovation. A commitment to open data involves making information and data resources accessible to all without discrimination; and actively engaging to ensure that information and data can be used in a wide range of ways.”

Draft sketch of five stars of Open Data Engagement

The names and explanatory text of these still need a lot of work; you can suggest edits as comments in the Google Doc where they were drafted.

* Be demand driven

Are your choices about the data you release, how it is structured, and the tools and support provided around it based on community needs and demands? Have you got ways of listening to people’s requests for data, and responding with open data?

** Provide good meta-data; and put data in context

Do your data catalogue provide clear meta-data on datasets, including structured information about frequency of updates, data formats and data quality? Do you include qualitative information alongside datasets such as details of how the data was created, or manuals for working with the data? Do you link from data catalogue pages to analysis your organisation, or third-parties, have already carried out with the data, or to third-party tools for working with the data?

Often organisations already have detailed documentation of datasets (e.g. analysis manuals and How To’s) which could be shared openly with minimal edits. It needs to be easy to find these when you find a dataset. It’s also common that governments have published analysis of the datasets (they collected it for a reason), or used it in some product or service, and so linking to these from the dataset (and vice-versa) can help people to engage with it.

*** Support conversation around the data

Can people comment on datasets, or create a structured conversation around data to network with other data users? Do you join the conversations? Are there easy ways to contact the individual ‘data owner’ in your organisation to ask them questions about the data, or to get them to join the conversation? Are there offline opportunities to have conversations that involve your data?

**** Build capacity, skills and networks

Do you provide or link to tools for people to work with your datasets? Do you provide or link to How To guidance on using open data analysis tools, so people can build their capacity and skills to interpret and use data in the ways they want to? Are these links contextual (e.g. pointing people to GeoData tools for a geo dataset, and to statistical tools for a performance monitoring dataset)? Do you go out into the community to run skill-building sessions on using data in particular ways, or using particular datasets? Do you sponsor or engage with community capacity building?

When you give people tools – you help them do one thing. When you give people skills, you open the possibility of them doing many things in future. Skills and networks are more empowering than tools. 

***** Collaborate on data as a common resource

Do you have feedback loops so people can help you improve your datasets? Do you collaborate with the community to create new data resources (e.g. derived datasets)? Do you broker or provide support to people to build and sustain useful tools and services that work with your data?

It’s important for all the stars that they can be read not just with engaging developers and techies in mind, but also community groups, local councillors, individual non-techie citizens etc. Providing support for collaboration can range from setting up source-code sharing space on GitHub, to hanging out in a community centre with print-outs and post-it notes. Different datasets, and different initiatives will have different audiences and so approaches to the stars – but hopefully there is a rough structure showing how these build to deeper levels of engagement.

Where next?

Hopefully Open Data Sheffield will spend some time looking at this framework at a future meeting – and all comments are welcome on the Google doc. Clearly there’s lot to be done to make these more snappy, focussed and neat – but if we do find there’s a fairly settled sense of a five stars of engagement framework (if not yet good language to express it) then it would be interesting to think about whether we have the platforms and processes in place anywhere to support all of this: finding the good practice to share. Of course, there might already be a good engagement framework out there we missed when sketching this all out – so comments to that effect welcome too…



Ammended 22nd January to properly credit Antonio of Data.gov.uk as originator of the Charter idea

What does successful e-participation look like?

[Summary: expanding on scribbled notes from a recent workshop on e-participation]

A few weeks ago I took part in the YouthPart launch workshop in Berlin at the kind invitation of Nadine Karbach. YouthPart is a new project, led by the German International Youth Service exploring e-participation for youth engagement. I was there to give a short 10-minute input on some elements of youth e-participation in the UK (slideshare slides here). During one of the break-out discussions, I was on a table exploring the question “What does successful e-participation look like?”. 

At first, the discussion centred on the fact that the success of e-participation should be measured just the same as the success of any participation: for Practical Participation that would mean can we measure what’s changed (doc) for the people involved and for the wider community. But there also developed an interesting thread of questions about the unique success criteria that we could apply to e-participation projects, particularly e-participation for young people. Some of the questions that might point us towards success criteria that I jotted down here:

  • Was the platform and process selected appropriate?
    Did it set reasonable expectations about the decisions that were being made, and the scope for influencing change? Did it give people the freedom to express their views on the issue at hand? Did it keep discussions adequately focussed? Did it allow you to give participants feedback on what changed as a result of their input? Was  it cost effective? Did technical problems get in the way of people participating?

    Whilst e-participation isn’t just about the platform, choosing the right platform for the right process matters. It is often tempting for e-participation projects to try and build their own platforms (I’m certainly guilty of going down this route in the past), but more often than not, there are good tried and tested platforms out there: the trick is in finding the right one and pairing it with the right process and facilitation support.

  • Did your e-participation tilt the balance of power in favour of young people?
    Young people often face significant inequalities of power when it comes to participating in policy making: whether explicit (not being able to vote; not given a shared role in decision making), or implicit (lack of experience makes it tricker to make your point; limited time to engage with an issue because of pressures of school or college make ‘competing’ with full-time lobbyists and advocates difficult etc.).

    Good e-participation should address these power imbalances, and should work to rebalance power in young people’s favour.

  • Is it inclusive?
    Have all the groups affected by the decisions being made been able to input? Have you seen a diverse range of views and opinions? How could you choice of platform or process exclude particular groups? Have you reached out in a range of communities? If you have been reaching out through social networks, how have you checked that you are not just going to easy-to-reach networks?

    E-participation often involved disintermediation of the youth participation process: young people are invited to input directly into discussion and decision making, without facilitation in groups or from workers. That can make for a more inclusive process, but it can also leave some people out.

    E-participation might need to be part of a blended strategy that involved online and offline working. Reaching out to different groups is just as important online as offline.

  • Are the parameters of your e-participation transparent, and open to critique
    Lawrence Lessig’s idea that ‘Code is Law‘ highlights that in digital environments the limits we set to what can be done can act as firm, but often invisible, restrictions on our actions. Whereas in a face-to-face workshop that asks people to fill in boxes on a flip-chart with ideas someone can scribble ideas in the margins – outside the set boxes and categories – the digital world often doesn’t offer these opportunities. Whilst in a face-to-face setting someone can more easily question the way of workshop is being facilitated if they feel there is a bias in it – that’s often harder to do when the ‘facilitation’ is coded into an e-participation platform.

    Thinking critically about the constraints built into an e-participation platform, and making sure you are sensitive to participants questioning your assumptions about the parameters is important.

  • Does this e-participation project increase the chance of the organisation/young people creating change next time?
    One of the big observations of workshop participants was that bad participation experiences can put people off civic engagement for life; but that you can’t expect every participation experience to lead to change clearly enough or fast enough to satisfy many young people engaging with a participation opportunity for the first time.

    So, if you’re not sure your project will lead to a satisfying and positively reenforcing experience of change for young participants, should you try starting it at all? Or should you avoid building expectations you might risk seeing crushed? Well – one way to guide the design of a project might be to think: it should have the maximum chance of making change this time, but it should also build participants capacity, skills and opportunities to create change in future.

This list is by no means a definitive set of considerations for e-participation projects (and in coming to write them up I notice they’re a little more abstract and in need of further clarification than my scribbled notes from the workshop suggested), although I hope they point to a number of elements worth exploring. What criteria would you use to measure the success of an e-participation project?



A simple story, but a complex strategy

[Summary: A short post of reflections by way of contribution to the Youth Policy Symposium on Participation]

I’ve just been tuning into Howard Williamson’s introductory speech at a Youth Policy Symposium on participation taking place in London today and tomorrow, convened by the Open Society Foundations and the British Council, with help from friends at CYEC. Nicolo from YParticipate summed up Howard’s talk in the following tweet:

“We need a simple story to tell about youth participation, and a complex strategy to implement it”

Which seemed as good a provocation as any to offer some thoughts and connections on that simple story, and complex strategy.

Children’s Human Rights

In the RightSpace project we explored the importance of shifting from a narrative based around ‘exceptionalism’ of children and young people, to a focus on the fundamental rights and personhood of children and young people, and the rights to be involved in decision making that flow from that.

A recognition of the personhood of young people, and a recognition that there are systematic patterns of discrimination against children and young people in society (which Adam Fletcher of Freechild labels ‘adultism‘ highlighting their similarity to other ‘isms’ of racism, sexism, castism, and ageism), cannot be met only by changes to systems and institutions, or by the introduction of policies – but requires – as other isms do – a change of individual and societal attitudes towards those discriminated against.

There are at least two aspects to participation rights:

  • A right to be heard, and to influence what happens to me as an individual – far too often talk of participation jumps straight in with a focus on large-scale collective decision making, ignoring the many domestic and seemingly mundane contexts in which the views of children and young people are not taken into account. From the moment we can communicate we can express preferences about a situation: from decisions about what to eat, to where to live, to what should happen in a family. These preferences may not be perfectly formed (whose are?), and in general in any social decision making there are many people’s preferences to weigh up. In good decision making, negotiation over preferences leads not only to a decision, but to a transformation of the preferences involved as well. The fundamental simple story of participation is that whenever there is a decision affecting children and young people, they should be part of the negotiation around it.
  • A right to participate in collective decision making – which might simply be direct negotiation with more actors, or, more often, involves ‘representatives’ discussing issues on behalf of a wider constituency. In global (or even national and local) decision making the groups involved tend to be far from demographically representative of wider populations, and the procedures by which people are selected to participate in these systems have inherent bias against young people being equally likely to be selected to participate. Sometimes this is because of particular structural properties of youth (having had less years to gain certain key experience), and at other times it is down to discriminatory attitudes (implicit or not) of adultism. However, we also have to recognise that many other groups are systematically excluded from these decision making fora (and even when young people are included, it is often only a particular sub-set of young people to do get included – the bias towards young mens participation over young women’s in some contexts being one example). To promote children and young people’s participation in collective decision making on the basis of rights and democracy, without promoting deeper forms of democracy which seek far wider inclusion than those we conventionally operate with is inconsistent.

This suggests that whilst one simple story might be tricky, there are two simple, but radical, narratives we can draw upon in advocacy for youth participation:

  1. Children and young people, are people;

  2. We need deep democracy open to all to participate as equal parties in negotiation;

But what about a pragmatic story?

The story above, about what youth participation is and should be, is liable to charges of idealism. However, unless advocacy for children and young people’s participation is based upon deep principles, we will continue to have many stories: many different pragmatic reasons for youth involvement, and many different ‘strategies’ for promoting participation that flow from them. As I wrote in 2008, having different pragmatic reasons for young involvement is ok, providing you match your engagement approach to the goal. But a foundation in common principles is useful to identify when an youth participation project is an attempt to move towards a realisation of principles of young people’s rights, and principles of deeper democracy, or when projects are uncritically replicating existing power structures and co-opting young people into undemocratic decision making.


If finding a simple story is challenging, finding strategies for promoting and evaluating participation is also.

However, rather than further dissertation on strategy, I’ll simple point to two tools I’ve found immensely helpful in strategic approaches to participation:

  1. Hear by Right, co-written by Practical Participation co-director Bill Badham, Hear by Right uses an organisational change framework which puts shared-values right at the centre, and provides a simple model for addressing a wide-range of organisational issues that support participation – from addressing participation in job descriptions, to involving young people in governance.

    I ran the shared learning website for Hear by Right for a number of years (now sadly discontinued by The National Youth Agency) as a space for people to share their journeys in promoting participation within their organisations.

    Perhaps the one strategic weakness of a Hear by Right approach in the way it was most commonly implemented was that a focus on organisational change could allow organisations to see participation as something done by a particular part of the organisation, rather than working more explicitly to challenge the adultist attitudes of staff and stakeholders right across the organisation.

  2. The Matrix of Participation (a copy is in this post) which sets out a grid of participation methods, and uses the (contested) ladder of participation to highlight that participation is not a one-dimensional thing in organisations or communities. Just having formal structures for participation is not enough, they need to be linked to other forms of participative structure – allowing a range of ways for children and young people to be involved in decision making.


The question of “What changes?” has already come up in the Youth Policy Symposium (as I watch on the webcast). A big elements of later versions of the Hear by Right tool was a focus on collecting stories of change as a means of ensuring participation was not just tokenistic, but led to visible and measurable change. However, if participation is based on the principles I’ve suggested above, of personhood and democracy, the fundamental question is not necessarily “what has changed?”, but is “who was empowered in the negotiations?”.

Youth participation often seeks after fast change: after all – the time in which one can be ‘officially’ part of youth participation structures is a limited one – and we all want to see change as a result of our actions. But sometimes all democratic decision making has to face that decision making in diverse groups is complex, time-consuming and difficult.

As I write I realise the role of change in participation is something I need to give more thought to, but at least we can separate out two key questions:

  • What has changed on the substantive issues children and young people were bringing to the table?
  • What has changed in making the decision making environment more inclusive, and more deeply democratic?

Too often we mix up those two questions.

A changing world

This post has already become longer than I’d planned, and raised various issues I need to go and explore more. But I want to also mention the importance of recognising the global, digitally connected nature of the world we are living in when developing any strategies for promoting participation.

Although early days of utopian thinking about the democratising potential of the Internet are passed, it still has phenomenal potential (and existing impact) as a tool for creating new forms of participation, models of negotiation, and spaces where ageism and discrimination can be challenged.

I hope discussions at today’s Youth Policy Symposium will help develop further visions for participation in the 21st century and will explore not only formal structures, but also more fluid ways of children and young people participating in public debate and decision making.


Brief practical notes on open data and activism

Flip Chart from CAAT Conference[Summary: Context, links, resources and ideas for working with open data in campaigning organisations and/or third-sector contexts.] (See other open data posts here.)

The rough notes below come from an short open session discussion held at the  Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) annual gathering last Saturday exploring how open data could be useful to a campaigning organisation. A PDF copy is here: Open Data and Campaigning.

Background & Context

The last 18-months have seen an impressive array of policy initiatives and practical actions leading to the release of datasets from governments in the UK, the US and across the world in open and re-usable formats online. Datasets ranging from the location of educational institutions, to details of taxation and government spending, have been brought together in data portals such as data.gov and data.gov.uk.

The open government data ‘movement’ has three broad constituent parts:

  • An open Public Sector Information (PSI) movement – drawing upon economic arguments to call for government data to be released and made freely re-useable. Often drawing upon comparisons between EU context where government collected data is copyright and restricted, and the US where government datasets are more open and large industries have developed on the back of them (e.g. Weather data; Geodata etc.).

  • A transparency movement – linked to Access to Information and Freedom of Information movements – calling for the release of data in the interests of democratic empowerment, or data to be used in particular contexts and settings.

  • Digital government & semantic web computerization movements – focussed on the potential for innovation and more efficient working when data is made available for computer processing: and working to build open networks of knowledge across the Internet though linked-data approaches.

Many different groups can be found within the open government data ‘movement’ – from groups calling for aid transparency, to SME companies seeking to address what are seen as unfair data monopolies.

Policy context:

(See Open Government Data & Democracy report for a full timeline)

  • The http://data.gov initiative in the US proceeded from Obama’s first executive order on taking power as President.
  • http://data.gov.uk in the UK was initiated by Gordon Brown in 2009.
  • Since coming to power in 2010 the Coalition Government in the UK have continued to push open data initiatives – thought with a slightly different ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’ framing.
    • A requirement has been placed on local authorities to publish all spending over £500 by January, listing supplier and spend.
    • Government departments are under a similar requirement for all spend over £25,000, and have been asked to publish senior staff pay details and internal organizational diagrams.
    • Francis Maude has spoken of the need for a ‘Freedom of Data’ act, and has called for all responses to Freedom of Information requests that contain data to provide that data in machine-readable forms (i.e. Excel spreadsheet rather than print-out of PDF files…)
    • Aid Transparency has been high up the government’s development agenda.
  • The World Bank have released significant amounts of their data as open data.
  • Australia, New Zealand and many European countries have ongoing open data initiatives and campaigns.

Beyond government data

It’s not only government supplied data that is of interest to campaigners:

  • Projects like TheyWorkForYou.com and PublicWhip.org generate structured data about politicians voting records by ‘scraping’ parliamentary records;
  • Data Journalists (led by innovators at The Guardian amongst other places) publish their research as open accessible spreadsheets of data that others can re-use.
  • Some NGOs and community organisations are publishing open datasets.

Why data?

One of the key properties of data is that it can be easily manipulated by computer – allowing datasets to be combined, visualized, explored and used in many more ways than a written report or printed document can.

Where to find data

For official government data – the guardian’s World Government Data Search looks across a range of data catalogues like http://data.gov.uk. Find it at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world-government-data and search for keywords or topics of interest to you.

You can also search http://data.gov.uk direct to browse data my department or topic.

http://ckan.net/ provides a catalogue of open data from many different sources – including government data, NGOs and research projects. It is a good place to ‘register’ any open data you create. It is also wiki-like, meaning any user can edit the records – allowing the creation of ‘collections’ of data on a particular topic: e.g. ‘arms trade’.

ScraperWiki.com provides a collection of ‘scrapers’ which collect structured data from unstructured data-sources (i.e. make open data where the original publisher didn’t provide it). For example, generating a dataset of hospitality received by UK Government Ministers, originally only available as a large collection of different word documents is now here: http://scraperwiki.com/scrapers/government-meetings-with-external-organisations-ne/ and available for download (Update: it’s also now available from http://transparency.number10.gov.uk/)

If you are looking for a particular dataset – it can be worth asking in the data.gov.uk forums, or using the #opendata hash-tag on Twitter.

Data on MPs and voting records is available from www.theyworkforyou.com in the UK, and the PublicWhip.org project collects more detailed voting records and makes them available.

When data isn’t available

Try using the Public Data Unlocking Service to request that data is proactively published: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/unlocking-service/opsipage.aspx?page=unlockindex

If using the Freedom of Information Act to request data, remind the recipient of Francis Maude’s policy statements on the need to provide machine-readable data in return.

If the information is available on websites, but not as structured data – consider putting a request on http://www.scraperwiki.com for someone to build a tool to screen-scrape the data.

Consider using any of the ‘data competitions’ (e.g. http://openup.tso.co.uk) as a higher-profile way to ask for a dataset: emphasizing the government’s focus on accountability through transparency in other sectors such as local authority spending and aid.

Use the facts you can find from datasets like COINS (http://data.gov.uk/dataset/coins) to better structure Freedom of Information requests or crowdsourcing activities.

Explore ways to ‘crowd-source’ the data by calling on campaigners and supporters to find out particular facts – and to enter them into shared online spreadsheets (e.g. using Google Spreadsheets and Google Forms you can create an easy way for people to collaboratively input into a shared document – which can be instantly published online). Crowdsourcing tools like Ushahidi can also be used to develop projects such as http://WhereAreTheCuts.org – crowdsourcing reports of public spending cuts.

Working with data

Working with data scares many people – but it can start off very simply, but there are many approaches – including:

  1. Using data-driven websites such as http://TheyWorkForYou.com (MPs speeches and voting) or http://WhereDoesMyMoneyGo.com (government spending) which have taken government data and made it available in more accessible forms.
  2. Downloading and exploring a single dataset – many datasets can be opened in spreadsheet software like Excel. Sort and filter the columns to look for interesting information.
  3. Visualise the data – using a tool like IBM Many Eyes where you can upload simple datasets and explore a range of different ways of presenting the data.
  4. Building a mash-up – using tools like Google Spreadsheets and Google Fusion Tables, or Google Refine (available for free download) to explore and combine datasets.Google Fusion Tables will allow you to upload any spreadsheet, and, if it contains place names, quickly ‘geocode’ the data for displaying on a map. You can also combine two datasets – matching on any shared keys (e.g. MP name; Town name; Constituency) to build larger datasets.
  5. Holding a hack day – hack days like those organized by Rewired State bring together developers (coders/geeks) and people with problems to solve and spend one or two days of concerted effort creating ‘hacks’ (rapid prototypes) which address those issues, often using open data.For example, a hack-day could look to generate visualizations concerning arms licenses (CAAT Specific), or to create tools that support campaigners to get information to use when writing to MPs. (Update: We could have a campaigning strand at the Oxford Open Data Hack Day on 4th December if there was interest)
  6. Commissioning open data-based tools – developing hack-day created prototypes, or other ideas, into full working tools.

  7. Training activists in using data – through workshops and hands-on activities. (I’m mid way through developing a training workshop at the mo… suggestions of groups to pilot with welcome…)
  8. Releasing datasets – from in-house research or crowd-sourced data – and inviting supporters to use the data in creative ways. For example, putting researched data into Google Spreadsheets and, much as the Guardian Datablog does, sharing links to that data whenever posting news stories or website pages based upon it.

Going further

Search for the #opendata community on Twitter; or the ‘Open Government Data’ mailing lists run by Open Knowledge Foundation. Most of the links above will also provide access to further practical and background information on open government data.

Tim Davies, Practical Participation (tim@practicalparticipation.co.uk) can offer consultancy, training, workshops and support for organisations exploring the use of open data in campaigning. Please do get in touch to explore more…

Advocacy & accountability in a changing public sector…

[Summary: Reflections on the Children’s Rights Officers and Advocates 2010 conference – and some thoughts on the details of a re-engineered state…]

I spent a few days last week at the annual conference of CROA, the network of  Children’s Rights Officers and Advocates, supporting delegates to discover and use different social media, and facilitating an open space session. The Twitter logs from the days of the conference give a flavour of the themes and discussions, and you can find video interviews with a number of participants over on Blip.tv including an interview with Tim Loughton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, after his hour-long presentation and Q&A session at the conference (MP3 recording).

Like just about any public sector conference taking place right now, a lot of the discussion focussed on an uncertain future for services supporting young people. However, one theme that started to develop, if not fully, was the increasing importance of advocacy as state services shift from top-down management to ideas of bottom-up accountability. As the website of Action for Advocacy put’s it “Advocates and advocacy schemes work in partnership with the people they support and take their side”. Children’s Rights Officers and Advocates are often working with young people in care, or in touch with the care system, supporting individuals to be heard in decision-making that profoundly affects their lives, and working with groups of young people through fora such as Children in Care Councils, to ensure systems and provision are up-to-scratch and improved.

Where a lot of the focus of recent years has been on improving systems and processes through collective participation, with the axing of central targets and a push for greater localism, there is a new focus on holding services to account on the local level. However, when you are in a crisis, a tough situation, or a conflict with services, securing a good outcome from the processes you’re individually engaged with, let alone holding wider systems to account, can be incredibly challenging. For bottom-up accountability to work, advocacy support has to be accessible to those who can’t speak up for themselves, and individual advocacy also has to be connected to collection action on accountability.

That’s going to need a number of developments:

  • Advocates will need to develop their skills in holding government systems to account within new environments. We had an encouraging open space session at the conference looking at how advocates could develop their role as both users and creators of open government data – using data such as the cost of providing care in different contexts to secure young people’s rights to quality care and education provision. After that open space slot, I’m hoping to take part in an open data workshop with CROA members some time in the near future so we can explore how open date fits into advocacy in more depth.One challenge, however, to advocates as key actors helping secure outcomes for young people is that many (most?) are employed by their local authority, and if the best channels for securing change are ‘outsider’ channels, how might advocates semi-‘insider’ status in the authority affect or complicate their ability to use new routes to secure changes for children and young people?
  • ‘Participation work’ needs to focus on building the capacity of young people to input into local priority setting; and to track how well authorities are keeping their promises. A real fear expressed at the CROA conference was that some local areas don’t put a high priority on children in care at all, and with the loss of national requirements, securing good quality care for young people could become more challenging. Participation work has often focussed on engaging young people in thinking about issues within ‘The Children’s Plan’, rather than focussing on wider strategies and priorities. Just as the RightSpace video from Liam Cairn’s talking about the importance of a dialogue of Children and Young People’s Human Rights replacing a focus on the exceptionalist idea of ‘Children’s Rights’, there is a real challenge for youth participation work to recognise itself as part of a broader capacity building for civic participation – enabling and empowering young people to operate as citizens now, influencing priority setting and playing roles, individually and collectively, in holding services accountable*.

(*I’ve focussed on the accountability dimensions of the changing public sector here; but connections should also be made to the role young people can play in social innovation and collaborative work to create change).

As the public sector is ‘re-engineered’, it seems vital to focus on the details that matter for socially just outcomes to be secured…

Youth Leadership in a Digital Age: An Internet Governance example

The launch of the Young Foundations new report “Plugged in, untapped: Using digital technologies to help young people learn to lead” was rather serendipitous. I saw an e-mail announcing it’s launch just as I got back from the final session of The Internet Governance Forum, where, for the past 48 hours, the ‘Dynamic Youth Coalition on Internet Governance‘ had been living up to it’s name and demonstrating the power of digital media in supporting effective youth-led collaboration.

First some history
For those not familiar with it (which, alas, is most people), the Internet Governance Forum is a UN Sponsored multi-stakeholder body set up in 1996 after the World Summits on the Information Society, focussed on discussing issues of ‘Internet Governance‘. In practice, that means that every year, over 1000 people from across the world get together for a week, with participants from governments, companies, non-governmental organisations and independent individuals to engage in dialogue on topics ranging from the underlying technologies and policies of the Internet infrastructure, to copyright and intellectual property online, child protection, language issues on the web, increasing Internet access, and ensuring the Internet operates in way that is pro-development and pro-developing world.

The open nature of The Internet Governance process means that there are no rules prohibiting youth involvement, and over the first five years of the forum, and, particularly over the last two years, children, young people and young adults have come to play an increasing role in the event: facilitated through projects like Childnet’s Youth IGF programme, or the Hong Kong Youth IGF run by NetMission, but also coming to the forum independently.

In the closing stock-taking session of the IGF, participants can speak to those assembled to share views on the issues discussed and, this year, focussing on the future of the forum.

Digital-era leadership
The idea of making a youth-statement in this final session (Friday 3pm) was raised in the Wednesday meeting of the Youth Coalition (Wednesday, around 3pm). During the meeting where the idea was raised, statement writing began. But not statement writing of the type I’ve experience before at youth summits, where one person sits at a laptop as others start throwing in ideas – generally leaving the editor-at-keyboard with a greater influence on the text that others. Instead, using PiratePad, a live-editing tool, young people and young adults in the room logged on and started working collaboratively on the same text.

Within a few hours a skeleton statement had started to take shape: drawing on existing statements from Youth IGF projects, pasted into the document and then drawn upon to make the final text – creating a direct link between existing statements from young people and this IGF statement (leading to the lines in the final version “We have established a coalition not to compete with, or replace many youth groups who have come to play a role in the regional and International IGF process over recent years. Instead, we want to bring together the messages from many different groups”).

Of course, many members of the youth coalition were not at this years IGF in Vilnius, Lithuania, but by sending a message to the coalition mailing list giving a link to the PiratePad, they gained the same access as people in the venue to edit the draft statement. By lunchtime the next day, gathered around laptops in the lunch-hall, editing text, chatting online and talking face-to-face, a small group were approaching a final draft. The final statement which you can read at http://www.ycig.org/ is directly the product of at least 10 different authors, and draws on the inputs of many more. The image to the right shows a different colour highlight depending on the author responsible for that element of text.

By 9am on Friday, a copy of the statement was sent ready for translation and before it would be presented; and when, at 3pm, Joonas stood up to read out the statement, I was just putting the finishing touches to a new blog design and hitting the ‘publish’ button so that anyone following the IGF closing session on Twitter of via live Webcast (which a number of coalition members were doing) could access a copy.

There were quite different opinions when we started about what a statement should contain, and how it should be structured, but the final product, imperfect as it may be, makes sense of those differences and I think presents a modest but positive step forward in youth contributions to Internet Governance. The process drew upon many different skills: convening, co-ordination and leadership from Rafik Dammac to bring together the coalition (not an easy task: serious respect due!); technology stewardship to identify a platform we could use for collaboration and to support different participants to work with the process; digital facilitation, sending messages out to coalition members on e-mail in a timely and clear way; face-to-face facilitation, such as Desiree’s fantastic work encouraging and supporting members of the Hong Kong youth IGF to input into the statement; collaborative working, from all the different authors who input; and presentation skills, from both Rafik and Joonas who presented the statement.

Learning to lead?
The work of the Youth Coalition over the last few days of the IGF has taught me a lot about the potential of technologically-enabled collaborative working. There has been some learning to lead: but more importantly, learning to work together on concrete action.

It also reminds me that whilst the Young Foundation’s new report offers some solid analysis of the opportunities of challenges of digitally enabled work with young people, it’s title is too modest: we should be focussed not so much on young people ‘learning to lead’ as we should be looking at active active innovation in how to get things done, and in what leadership is and means in a digital age. Innovation and new opportunities that we all have something to learn from…

For it’s modest title, “Plugged in: untapped” does help us on that learning journy.

RightSpace: Holding on and moving forwards

Right Space Video Wall[Summary: If you’re involved in promoting the rights of Children and Young People, and you’re an advocate for youth participation, join in the RightSpace debate]

What is going to happen to youth participation over the next few years?

On the one hand we’ve a government promising massive spending cuts*; and on the other hand, quite genuinely (I hope) talking about localism and transferring power back to communities. Whilst the coalition agreement is woefully lacking in any recognition of the rights and agency of young people, some policy proposals are creating new spaces for civic engagement and participation – whether that’s from open data and transparency; or the encouragement of cooperative and social enterprise structures for the delivery of services.

Later this year, Practical Participation will be involved in an event, RightSpace, that’s trying to explore where participation has got to – and to look to the future of rights-based youth participation. My colleague Bill Badham is already at work heading around the country talking to people about their experiences of participation, their learning from the past, and their fears and visions for the future. You can see video clips from those conversations, join in the conversation, and find out more about  the RightSpace event taking place in Sheffield in October over on the dedicated RightSpace website.

Hope to see you there…

*I’m reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine right now, and feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the narrative of cuts being spun; so whilst questioning the spending cuts in this post – do think we need a far more critical debate about the arguments for ‘massive’ cuts – and some of the positive and ethical alternatives.

Comment on government: How should I be interacting?

I’ve just been reading the commentable version of  the Coalition: our programme for government document, and, given some of the content, I couldn’t help but head for the comment box to drop in some reflections on different aspects of the proposed policies.

However, as I started to type in a comment or two, I quickly found I wasn’t certain what sort of interaction was being invited. The front page of the site states “This website gives you the opportunity to enter public discussion on the programme. We’ll take all your comments and suggestions on board and publish the Government’s response to those policy areas receiving the most feedback”, but it goes no further to explain who will be reading the comments, what sort of feedback to expect, and whether the goal is discussion between members of the public, or dialogue between the public and government.

Which makes writing a comment difficult.

Should I be constructively unpicking policy and pointing to useful resources that, in the hands of a Minister or policy official would be useful? Should I be replying to other posters, engaging in debate with them on the strengths or weakness of their argument? If so, are they getting e-mail updates about my replies, or can threaded discussions emerge? Should I be gaming the system and getting as many people to post on the topics I feel post passionate about, given the statement that only the “policy areas receiving the most feedback” are to get a response from the Government? Will track-backs to posts (so I can write a more considered comment on policy areas on this blog) be picked up and fed into the dialogue?

All these things affect the sort of dialogue that can take place – and the nature of relationship between citizen and government that can be established. Whilst it’s positive that the new government have opted for opening up comments on the coalition plan, and Simon Dickson’s work to turnaround a basic site for such comments in a short space of time is impressive, comment boxes alone do not a dialogue make. There are bit techno-social challenges to be solved to effective online participation, and we all need to get a lot smarter in solving them.

As the Government team behind this online document, and, hopefully future online documents, iterate the development of such spaces, it would be good to see a lot more attention paid to the forms of interaction between citizen and state that are to be facilitated. Personally, I’d like to see a clear statement about exactly who will be reading and summarising the comments; how that will take place; and who the summary will be shared with. And it would be good to have something more nuanced than simply a numbers game for knowing what will get considered.

What would you like to see to encourage effective dialogue on government hosted spaces around documents like the coalition agreement?

P.S. There’s one more big problem with the current commentable coalition agreement: the moderation policy suggests wants 16s to have parental consent before posting. There is no legal basis for this and its outrageous age discrimination. By all means encourage young people to discuss issues with parents before posting – but to exclude young people who are  from posting without parental consent cannot be justified.

Money Saving Council.com?

Filed under: ideas that I’d like to explore more… but that someone else is probably better placed to take forward (with a bit of political commentary thrown in too at the end).

I’ve been dealing with quite a few local authority finance departments over the last few weeks as bookings have been coming in for the Connected Generation conference. And I’ve been somewhat startled by how much time and effort it takes for a local authority to make a simple payment for a member of staff to attend an event being run at cost.

Some of the finance systems and processes clearly have room of significant small savings to be made on every transaction – by switching to electronic communication and BACs rather than cheque for example. However, I suspect some of the other cumbersome processes I’ve come across are the result of past attempts at efficiency savings. And in some cases, there are good reasons (audit purposes etc.) for extra steps involved in the local authority process – albeit that those extra steps need not be quite as convoluted as many appear to be.

All of which got me thinking: there exists the potential for many small savings across government. But just cutting costs from on high is often counter productive – in many cases failing to create real reductions in spending, but also in many cases, leading to unintended consequences down the line.

So where is the online resource allowing government staff to share the tips and tricks they have used to reduce costs? And sharing learning about unintended consequences of certain cost-cutting approaches?

In response to a Tweet yesterday which shared this pondering, @lmbowler suggested that might be a ‘SaveMyCouncilTax.com’. Perhaps. Although personally I’m more for ‘MakeOurMoneyGoFurther.com’. I know we’re heading into a period of cuts, but I don’t need government to put money back in my pocket – I want government to be addressing social injustices and inequalities – making sure that it’s making the most of our funds: not wasting money, or taking on roles that people can now take on themselves through digitally mediated collective action, but investing in the (many) places where we still need government to be building the foundations of a more equal and happier society.

Where is DFID spending money on youth, and other interesting project data mash-ups

I was down in London again on Saturday for the AID Information Challenge – another data-focussed event, but this time looking at International Development Data.

One of the main datasets we had to work with was the DFID Projects Database – a list of all the different development projects the Department for International Development has been funding over recent years, and has funding committed to in the future. Given I’ve recently finished getting the DFID funded ‘Youth Participation in Development‘ guide online, I initially thought I would explore how to link project data to the case studies in that guide. However, I soon found myself joining in with a team of others who were trying to visualise the projects dataset in more general ways.

The result: a faceted browsing mash-up using the fantastic Exhibit framework – turning this into this.

The faceted browser means that you can select different countries (only by their country code at the moment), years, funding types or funding programmes and explore the different project funding DFID has been giving out to these.

Click through to the Map view, and where funding went to a specific country you’ll be able to see a map of where the funds were distributed. (A lot of funding goes to regions or is non-specific geographically – at the moment this just display under the ‘could not be plotted’ above the map).

Even though I didn’t work directly with the Youth Participation in Development Guide, down at the bottom of the list of facets you will find one to help explore youth-related funding: you can pull out all the projects which include ‘Youth’ or ‘Young People’ in their project titles or descriptions.

Thanks to the Publish What You Fund and Open Knowledge Foundation teams for organising the day 🙂