SMSPoll – Accessible big screen voting

If you're looking for a way to run a quick mobile phone based consultation – or you've been wanting to use interactive voting at a conference or participation event – but haven't been able to afford expensive e-voting equipment – then you might want to take a look at

 The service (which I just discovered this evening and have only briefly tested) lets you set up quick polls – which anyone you tell about them can vote on by sending a text message to a UK number. The results are updated in near real-time on the website – meaning you can get an 'ask the audience' style effect if you project the graphs that SNSPoll generates onto a big screen.

It's free for small polls (25 votes or less) and is very cheap for larger polls (from £5 month). 

When using it with groups of young people you would need to think carefully about any text message costs it might lead to – but even so – giving each young person £1 toward text message costs and having a few mobile phones to loan to those without them (or more likely, with no credit) at an event could potentially overcome those barriers.

If you do make use of SMSPoll – then I'd love to hear about how it works for you. Or if you've used any alternative systems perhaps you could share details of those and how they worked in the comments…

Online consultation on science and society

Thanks to tweets from Dave Briggs and a blog post from Simon over at Puffbox I've just been exploring Steph Gray's quite fantastic innovations over the Science and Society consultation website.

Not only does the site work hard to make a complex consultation more accessible through the use of video introductions and a blog format – but it sets the consultation free, and let's any visitor select questions from the Consultation to make available on their own websites via a custom widget – which feeds information right back into the core consultation.
So – bloggers, schools, youth services – anyone with a web presence where they can add in a little widget code can help their users and audience engage with the Science and Society consultation in a manageable way.

For example, the widget below (you may not see this if viewing in an RSS reader – so click through to the main post to take a look) displays a couple of questions I thought readers of this blog might be interested in answering.

Science and Society: your views

Please visit the Science and Society consultation site to join the debate.

This approach of enabling citizens to easily take, remix and re-publish government consultations to their networks is worth exploring in many more contexts – not least in promoting positive activities, enabling young people to take, remix and share information about positive activities in their areas with their networks.

Engaging young people with learning disabilities

The Participation Works blogging platform platform may still be a noticeable omission from the Participation Works Network for England offering – but it's good to see a few more comment articles coming through from PW, particularly when they are sharing some great insights.
In this report from the North West Participation Workers conference, PWNE co-ordinator Natalie Jeal shares her reflections from the event, including a pointer to a new research website from Mencap and the OU – and including tips about how to engage young people with learning disabilities in participation work. The tips include:

  • Writing minutes and agendas with BIG text and no long words
  • Using pictures and symbols where appropriate to tell the story
  • Using creative methods instead of just talking
  • Making the most of frequent breaks
  • Introducing a jargon wall so any complicated words can be explained later on
  • Ensuring young people have time to prepare properly so sending out agendas and activities in advance, even to providing Dictaphones so pre-recorded questions can be used during interviews or formal meeting

I can't emphasise enough the importance of thinking about accessibility and creative methods when planning any participation project or opportunity. With the rise of photo sharing websites like Flickr it's easier than ever to find images and quickly put together visual resources – and thinking carefully about ways to remove jargon from any documents not only helps those with learning difficulties – but helps make the participation process more accessible to just about everyone involved.
One area I'm keen to learn more about is writing and creating online content in more accessible ways – as being aware of the literacy levels and particular abilities of participants in online consultation and participation opportunities is no less important that being tuned in at in-person events – and hopefully I'll get the chance to explore that on some projects coming up soon.

Presenting in second life tomorrow

I've never been entirely convinced that Second Life has a big role to play in campaigning, participation and public sector activity (it seems to fail both on counts of being intuitive and accessible to new users, and in being somewhere with a large existing constituency of people to work with…) although seeing Wheelies on the short list of the UK Catalyst Awards, and with Google's launch of Lively perhaps virtual worlds will have more of a role to play in the future.


In any case, tomorrow I'm heading down to Maidstone to share a little at the Kent Innovation Showdown about the possibilities for using social media in engaging service users, citizens and communities in the design, development and delivery of better services. And the presentation is also being broadcast in Second Life – so do feel free to drop by and join in. I'll be speaking at around 14.40 till 15.20pm.
You can also drop by the same location (Second Life URL) to see the following presentations. The one at 13.40 looks like the most interesting for those, as me, interested in hearing a bit more about what second life has to offer to local authorities.

02 – Introduction to Mobilisation (11.05 – 11.35)

IBM – Team Collaboration (11.45 – 12.20)

New Line Learning Academy – Online Curriculum (12.30 – 13.00)

Second Places – Virtual Councils (13.40- 14.15)

Five-to-nine volunteering

I found myself on a commuter train on the way to 2gether08 on Thursday morning.

Literally hundreds of, most probably very bright, people around me were heads down, buried away in Sudoku puzzles or reading the Metro – occaisionally checking their phones or Blackberry's.

What if we could find some way of harnessing that cognitive surplus – and providing volunteering/pro-social crowd-sourcing opportunities that commuters could dip into at five-minutes-to-nine, just before they got stuck into their nine-till-five?

Just a thought…

Photo credit: Rule of thirds by pfig

We could really do with most of those (.com)

Show us a better way screenshot Wow. If you've ever wondered why government should release it's data for communities to mash-up and turn into useful things, then take a look at this list. An array of many quite fantastic ideas.

Browsing down the ideas already submitted to the Cabinet Office's public-data mash-up competition there are so many ideas which I really want to see turn into realities (amongst the obligatory regular selection off slightly off-the-wall and odd ideas as well of course).

Go take a look – and if you've got an idea for something that you could do if more government data was released into the wild then head on over and submit it a) to call for the data to be released, and b) to stand a chance of winning £20k to take your idea to the next level.

Opportunities for young trainers with Participation Works

My work in youth participation really got started when the fantastic Bill Badham (Who incidentally is right his moment is somewhere cycling three times up a mountain in France to raise funds for a youth centre in Birmingham. Go sponsor him.) created four part-time jobs in The National Youth Agency Participation Team for 16 – 24 year olds to become co-trainers in equipping local and national government to include young people. Being one of the young members of that training team was a great experience for me – so I'm always delighted to see the model spreading.
Flyer Participation Works are recruiting young trainers to help in delivering their programme of support and training for third-sector organisations. Here is what they say:

Participation Works runs a national programme of training for organisations working with children and young people. Two of our one-day courses, Ready Steady Change and Building a Culture of Participation are delivered by a team of Associate Trainers (some of these Associates are young people).

Participation Works is offering this opportunity to enable young people with potential to develop the skills and confidence to join the Associate Trainers in delivering the training courses.

We will be recruiting young people to join the team initially as trainees, who will take part in a comprehensive learning programme. This programme will give trainees access to accredited learning, development opportunities and ongoing support. Travel costs will be paid during training, and once trainees are delivering training they will be paid up to £120 a day.

What skills and experience do I need?

You will need to be aged 16-24.You don’t need to have experience in training others, but you will need to demonstrate….

· Enthusiasm and commitment
· Being keen to learn and develop training skills to a high level
· Being happy to travel around England
· Ability to work with others
· Some knowledge of community, voluntary or faith sector organisations
· Passion for children and young people’s involvement in decision making
· Awareness/ brief understanding of ICT
· And finally, free time to get involved – We anticipate this will be about 10 days over 6 months (including 2 residential weekends and 6 days – some weekdays, some weekends).

Find out more on the Participation Works website – and do pass details of this opportunity on to any young people who you think might be interested.

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Pitching for Detached Youth Work 2.0

[Summary: Can you help us scale up training, process and practice innovations to take us towards Youth Work 2.0]

I’m on the way home from two days of 2gether08 festival. It’s been an intense two days of idea exploration and this afternoon I took advantage of a design clinic session from Think Public to focus down some of the ideas I’ve been exploring with others over the festival into a 3 minute ‘pitch’ to the assembled crowd at the closing plenary. Well, at least, that’s what ended up happening. Here’s a bit of an overview of how it happened:

A diary entry from Thursday 3rd July 2008.

2pm. Standing outside the Think Public shed at 2gether08 festival wondering whether or not to approach them and take up my booked slot exploring Youth Work 2.0.

2.10pm. Decided to step forward. Talking to Think Public team, and with Raj from the Innovation Exchange. Trying to explain what youth work is again and to sketch out the challenges facing youth workers such as:

  • filtering and blocks;
  • a skills/confidence gap;
  • technical issues with social network tools that limit interaction between under 18s and over 18s or that make it tricky for a professional to prove their professional identify in the space;
  • a lack of clarity about exactly what codes of conduct should apply to interaction in young people’s spaces online and how it works to ‘go to where young people are at’ in the online space;

2.30. Got it. Detached youth work is far easier to explain than general center based work – as there is no real formal education parallel for people to get sidetracked onto. We’re going to focus on detached youth work 2.0.

2.35. Building a story about the problem; the opportunities; and the possible solutions (training, negotiate with young people the code of practice for youth workers in SNS space; develop support for young people’s peer-education).

Raj brings us back to a conversation from yesterday and to a story that draws out the online detached youth work contribution. “Detached youth worker on MySpace notices mention of recent gun/knife crime on young people’s profiles. Becomes aware that many are thinking of carrying knives. Invites those young people to in-person local workshop / group work sessions / event. Sends personal notes to one or two with signpost to useful resources. Suggests that people might form a SNS site group to campaign against knife crime – and after a while drops in a note about how the young people who have joined that group could apply for Youth Opportunity Funding to promote it locally. As worker has been present for a while, there is already an established relationship with the group to enable this to happen.”

2.40. 2gether08 team approach. Do we want to pitch? Raj has to head off. I’m on my own… erm – go on then, let’s pitch this idea.

2.45. We need some graphics. Panic to find images online. In the end we take a photo of my ‘social media on little bits of paper cards’.

2.50. Practicing a three minute pitch. We’ve got to go and practice at 3.20.

3.20. In the cloak room with other people pitching for rehearsals. Meet Jonnie Moore who will be chairing session. Realise that as we’ve chucked out the cloak room volunteers we’re going to have to keep getting people’s coats for them whilst trying to practice. Invite the cloak room volunteers back in. Run through pitch in my head. Getting rather nervous.

3.45. Steve Moore suggest we hold the pitching sessions in the open air. Sounds good. Less pressure. Start to feel more relaxed.

3.55. In the open air. Heavens open. Ah.

4.15. Rain isn’t stopping, so back to plan A. Pitching in the Theatre. Heat levels and humidity in the theatre at oppressive levels. Now nervous again.

4.35. Time to pitch. Stand up and give a three minute overview of:
What detached youth work is

  • What the possibilities for detached youth work online looks like
  • What the blocks that hold it back are
  • The need for (1) training; (2) youth-adult negotiation about youth work 2.0; (3) support for peer led work online.

4.38. Positive noises from the audience. Seems to have gone ok. Certainly has helped me clarify some of what we need. Pitch over. I think it was being caught on video. So perhaps I’ll share that soon.

4.55. Listening to other people’s pitches. They all end with a really clear ‘call for action’, or ‘request for help’. I didn’t have that in my pitch very clearly. Hmmm, missed opportunity? But I’m not sure what my call for help would have been.

5.30. onwards. Great conversations flow after the session. Still not quite as focussed on youth work as I want… but useful none-the-less.

20.24. Writing all this up. Realise that we’re going to be doing (1) in Rotherham in a few weeks, and (2) is coming up as part of the Youth Work and Social Networking project when I’m down in Devon at the end of July. Hmm, looks like we might already be building the solutions. But on the very local level. Now all we need is a model to scale all this up.

Ah-ha that was the call for help/action that I missed. What I need is help to scale this stuff up. Any offers?

What is youth work anyway?

Credit: The NYAToday's discussions at 2gether08 brought me back again to a realisation that youth work, and wider informal education, is not on very many people’s radar.

When we talk young people and education, conversations very quickly turn into conversations about schools and colleges – capturing only a small part of young peoples education. Only 9 minutes, in fact, of every hour in young people’s waking day is spent in school (and that’s just for the young people who are actually in school…).

Not all of the remaining 51 minutes of each hour will be spent in informal education, and for many young people, access to supported informal education is really limited (statutory youth services are only resourced to support on average 30% of their local 13 – 19 year old populations) – but, supported and unsupported informal education really mustn’t be forgotten and is something that, in a web 2.0 social media world, we should be paying a lot more attention to.

In formal education we generally start with a list of things we want young people to learn, and most often we deliver that on the basis of our timescales and agendas. We want young people to learn things about maths – so we make them take maths classes in school. We want young people to be safe on the internet – so we design internet safety sessions. We want young people to make the most of the web – so we tell them how to use particular bits of software. And, in the latter two cases at least, it doesn’t really have a very strong impact on young people’s behavior.

In informal education – and in youth work – we start not from where we want young people to be, but from where young people are. Instead of deciding that young people must know how to be safe online – supportive adults (or supported peer educators) who have built a professional relationship with young people through informal activities or group work sessions look out for issues that young people are facing, and design and deliver appropriate interventions at the right time. They support young people to explore the issues they are facing in the here and now, and they explore not just ‘the issue’ in isolation – but they explore the issue with young people as complex individuals and as part of peer groups.

For example, if a youth worker becomes aware of young people engaging in risky behavior online (publishing all their personal details on a social network profile page for example) they might talk to that young person – and explore setting up a group discussion with that individual and some of their peer to explore online social networking. They may go on explore the reasons people publish personal details online, and use the opportunities to explore issues such as image, media literacy or self-esteem.

Youth work is about starting where young people are: with the issues affecting young people – and is about going beyond that – support young people to explore, reflect upon and learn from the issues. It’s also about building young people’s resiliency, resourcefulness and relationships – rather than about filling up young people with knowledge and facts. And that can have a far stronger impact on behaviors than any formal education.

To my knowledge – there aren’t many online resources that offer a full picture of what Youth Work is. And given it’s localised, community driven and diverse range of approaches and contexts (from school-based youth workers and workers based in youth clubs, through to workers in targeted projects and detached youth workers on the streets) you can rarely get a full picture from asking a single youth worker.

However – it’s well worth finding a few youth workers to talk to. To explore what it is they do. And next time you think education… make sure you don’t just think schools…

For Further Reading:

Two pages on Youth Work – A brief resource I prepared for my session at 2gether08 as a hand out.

Youth Work: A Manifesto For Our Times – Bernard Davies provides one of the best recent overviews of Youth Work in this 2005 paper which has become a staple of all Youth Work reading lists.

Good Youth Work: What Youth Workers Do, Why and How – sadly not yet available online, this brief narrative pamphlet offers an insight into what it is that youth workers do which makes a difference to young people.

Infed – an archive of just about everything informal education and youth work you could hope to read – including a comprehensive history of the field.

Positive Youth Development Literature Review – Positive Youth Development theory is peripheral at present to most UK Youth Work (Youth Work in the UK has it’s roots in post World War II sociology and social theory, whereas positive youth development draws on post 1980 US ecological neuroscience) – but, after conducting a literature review on the impact of Positive Youth Development models last year I’m convinced it has a lot to offer policy thinking about the sorts of capacity building informal education interventions that can really make a difference to young people’s lives.

Attachment: What is Youth Work.pdf

New One Page Guides: twitter, tagging, crowdvine

A few additions to the one page guide series, this time developed for the 2gether festival. Blogger here mainly for people in the Talking Tech session. You can find a range of other guides here.

We've got a new overview of Twitter (PDF)

An experiment with a more image based style for an overview look at tagging (PDF).

And a How To for the CrowdVine conference social network in use at the festival.

You can find the original files for each of these guides (created in iWork Pages on the mac) below – and they are all licenced under Creative Commons so you're free, indeed you are encouraged, to take and adapt these for your needs. (Erm – it's a bit of a slow upload here from the venue WiFi – so I'll post the original files later on…)

Attachment: Crowd Vine.pdf
Attachment: Twitter.pdf
Attachment: Tagging.pdf