Article 13 and the miniLegends

alupton Twitter: Thanks to everyone for comments n support left at now closed class blog.I'm watching with interest on Twitter the unfolding discussion about the decision by the South Australia Department of Education and Children Services to ask for the closure of Al Upton's class blogs (the miniLegends).

Minilegends Blog

The miniLegends blogs were written by 8 and 9 year old students in Al Upton's class as part of their learning. Last year Al invited international edubloggers to offer to mentor members of his class by leaving positive comments on their individual blogs.

Sue Waters suggests the order to close the blogs was due to parental concerns over use of young people's photos:

What happened was a few parents became concerned over the use of student images on blogs and potential for cyberstalking because global adult mentors were interacting students. Al had followed all the right procedures and obtained parental consent.

Whilst ensuring young people's protection from significant harm is crucial, the United Nations Convention on the Rights balances protection, provision and participation rights – and as I watched the issues unfolding this morning I thought I should take a look to see what the convention might have to say. So, here's Article 13 from the UNCRC.

Article 13 (Freedom of Expression)

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order , or of public health or morals.

Australia is a signatory to the United Convention on the Rights of the Child. It would be interesting to see how the Committee would respond to the sorts of limitations on young people's expression and information seeking that are becoming all to common because of parental or policy makers irrational fears of the unknown*.


(*I'm not saying all fears are irrational. There are rational fears and concerns. I'm only worried about the cases where fears that are actually irrational (i.e. don't stand up to rational scrutiny) are causing problems.

Philosophical Consultation: Independent Asylum Commission

[Summary: Thought experiments for consultation prove their value in complex decision making]

Citizens Speak LogoYesterday evening I took part in a 'Peoples Commission' as part of the Citizens Speak consultation on Asylum and Sanctuary in the UK organised by Leicester Intercultural Communication and Leadership School (where my wife, Rachel, is the project officer). The People's Commissions have been designed to be held by any small group of citizens – with the results of each local commission fed back into the deliberations of the Independent Asylum Commission who will be publishing a report and making recommendations for the UK Government on Asylum policy later this year.

To hold a commission, all that was needed was a space to meet, and a copy of the commission toolkit (and short PDF). And I was struck my how the toolkit, produced by Dr Julian Baggini, editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine, and Jonathan Cox, Co-ordinator of the Independent Asylum Commission, was a paradigmatic example of carefully planned, well structured and deceptively simple complex consultation in action.

The tookit consisted of three parts:The Citizens Speak Peoples Commission Toolkit

  1. Part 1 was a thought experiment. Practical philosophy in action – asking participants in a commission to consider some tough issues, but in a way that at partly strips away, partly brings into relief, the many preconceptions and predjudices (both in favour of, and against a strict Asylum system) that participants may hold on the issue of Asylum.

    The thought experiment included three parts, the first of which was to discuss and conduct a straw poll on the groups responses to this scenario:

    "You’re on a ship crossing an ocean. Three days out of port, in the middle of the open seas, the ship is hailed by a small boat with three people on board. They request to come aboard, saying that they are not safe in their home country and had no choice but to sneak out. The captain comes to you as the passengers and asks your advice – should he let them on the ship or not?"

    Observations and Learning: Thought experiments have a really important role to play in exploring tricky issues and getting a group to establish conversations prior to tackling tricky issues 'for real'. I already find thought experiments to be useful in my own reflections and writing, but I'll be looking at where I can experiment with the use of thought experiments in consultation work in future.

  2. Part 2 asked participants to decide from a series of statments about asylum whether they agreed with them or disagreed. The toolkit specifically encouraged participants to check that the principles in the 'agree' pile were interally consistent – and sanctioned the rewriting/ammending of principles so that the group felt comfortable with them being in the 'agree' pile, or being consistent with other principles.

    Observations and Learning: It would have been tempting in designing a toolkit for others to run a consultation to say 'Decide on the principles as they are written, and only as they are written', or to fail to provide guidance on making sure the principles were consistent. But by allowing principles to be adapted – the discussion in our group could flow much more easily – as we weren't arguing over the semantics of the given principles, but were able to adapt just one or two words across them all to make sure they represented what we really felt.

    That the toolkit could allow principles to be adapted may have quite a lot to do with the way responses from People's Commissions are not feeding straight into a written report, but are feeding into the deliberation of the Independent Asylum Commission. However, having carried out 'put this list of principles / statements in order' type excercises before – and having been strict on them not being modified – I'm encouraged to rethink that in future – and to be open to the learning that comes from letting go of the components of the process a little more.

  3. Part 3 was a short excercise to decide upon appropriate language for describing Asylum seekers. There is not too much to say here, apart from perhaps to report that our People's Commission felt 'Sanctuary' to be a far better term than Aslyum. Also of note was that the form where responses were noted down provided clear space for extra comments alongside a record of how many people had voted for each term. Again, it would be easy to miss out a good comments box.

I'm sure that not everyone will have come away from taking part in a Citizens Speak People's Commission with as positive a view as I have (we were admitedly a small group – making discussions easier) – but I do think there is a lot of interest and to learn from in how the process was designed (and that's not just me as a Philosophy graduate trying to drum up the 'thought experiment' business, honest!)

Of course, the test of any consultation excercise is in the difference it makes – and I'll be eagerly waiting to hear how the Independent Asylum Commission to the input they'll have gained – and to hear their recommendations for future UK Asylum policy and practice.

Independent Asylum Commission on Citizen Speak process also includes a discussion space over on Friction TV.)

Registration open for UK Youth Online gathering – May 17th 2008

With encouragement and fantastic support from Dave Briggs, I finally got a chance this afternoon to put together a more accessible homepage for the BarCampUKYouthOnline all ready for you to register to join us and take part…

BarCampUKYouthOnline - Sign Up Screen Grab

We want BarCampUKYouthOnline on the 17th May 2008 to be an accessible informal gathering for all who are interested in:

  • Online information services for young people
  • Supporting young people's online interaction and activity
  • Researching young people and the internet/blogging/social networking etc.
  • Developing online tools and platforms for young people
  • Exploring online technologies in education and participation
  • Young people's civic engagement online
  • School councils online (Primary et. al.)
  • On-line video and web radio with young people
  • And more…

…to be able to come together, get into some practical and theoretical discussions, plan some action, and generally go away again better networks and with a better shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by a digital generation.

Whether you're a:

  • Youth worker;
  • Web developer;
  • Participation worker;
  • Youth website manager;
  • Reporter or broadcaster;
  • Content commissioner;
  • Researcher;
  • Young person;
  • Activity and campaigner;
  • Youth website manager;
  • or anyone else interested in the BarCampUKYouthOnline themes

We're hoping you'll feel you have something to contribute, and something to learn from the event. We're expecting we will have a bit of a techie focus at the event – but that we'll also be very much looking at how the digital realm affects the lived lives of young people – so, rather than the conventional BarCamp 'add your name to the wiki' sign up system, if you head over to the UK Youth Online page you should find a form where you can signal your intention to join us…

How will the event work?

1) As we get a sense of the level of interest we'll aim to track down a suitable venue in London (suggestions & help welcome…)

2) We all gather at the venue on the 17th May 2008 and we collectively set an agenda – a series of possible discussion streams and sessions based on the interests of those who are present.

3) You choose the discussions you want to take part in – join them, and see what happens

4) Throughout the day you build networks, ideas for action, new learning etc. As much of that learning as possible gets logged by bloggers, video bloggers and an active team at the event.

5) At some point later in the day we draw to a close and head off to the pub / some social venue where networking can continue…

6) Who knows?

Any questions? Do drop me a line or join the Google Group and ask away…

3 reasons for involving young people: reasons matter

[Summary: why should you be involving young people? – And once you know your reasons – what impact do those reasons have on the nature of their involvement?]

Can you hold an event about children and young people without children and young people being there?

By Jeffrey Ball -, of course you can, but should you? Many people in youth participation might say young people must be involved in all events about them – the idea that from a young person's perspective 'You can't talk about us without us'. Personally I think we should start from an assumption that young people should be involved, and should have to argue against it if neccessary, rather than always having to argue for young people's involvement. However, when we do argue for young people's involvement – the reasons we give for youth involvement matter – and have an impact on the selection of young people to be involved and the role they should play.

Below I'll offer three candidate reasons for involving young people – and I'll sketch out what I think their upshot might be for the nature of young people's involvement that is suitable in a particular context. This is very much a work in progress, and should not be taken as a definitive set of views:

Three reasons for involving young people and their practical consequences…

1) To address the oppression of young people: rights and justice

Far too often young people are excluded either simply because they are young or because their preferred methods of working and communicating do not fit neatly into formal 'adult' structures.

Many of the decisions that are taken about young people's lives do not involve them. Where adults can often take control and reject decisions they do not agree with – young people often do not have such opportunities.

Young people have a right under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to be involved, listened to, and to have their views taken into account – in decisions that affect them.

If we are serious about tackling the general exclusion and oppression of young people – and the particular exclusion of some groups of young people – we have to lead by example and to include young people as partners in all we do.

The Upshot
ILO Meeting - By soham_pablo - young people most affected by the decisions you are making.

Provide extensive support for these groups and design inclusive processes throughout your events and engagement that bring adults and young people onto a 'middle ground' where they can work together.

Young people participate as 'experts by experience' in their own lives.

The process should test adult ideas against young peoples concrete stories about their own lived experience.

If it is tricky for a particular group to participate directly – support other young people (see Reasons 2) to act as advocates on their behalf.

2) Making better decisions: prudential and practical

What may sound like the idea solution from an adult's perspective may not be from a young person's perspective because:

1) It's very tricky to remember what it is like to be young and undergoing rapid processes of cognitive, physical, social and emotional development;

2) Youth is a rapidly changing social phenomena – and the norms and practices which should govern 'interventions' in young people's lives need to be constantly renegotiated with young people now;

3) It's a very different picture from the 'inside' as opposed to from the 'outside' – and the dynamics of how a politic of programme is implemented could make or break it;

Involving the voice, views, responses and ideas of young people will enable us to make better policy and implement better practice in better ways.

The Upshot
Recruit a diverse group of young people with an understanding of the decisions and issues you are working on.

Provide training and support for young people to understand the processes you are working through and the challenges you are facing. Seek to make the processes you are working through as accessible as possible (e.g. avoid jargon, use visual methods, keep things to the simplest level you can whilst still engaging with the complexity of the challenges you face).

Young people participate as those offering 'insights' into the contemporary lived experience of young people.

Work with these young people as partners and 'critical friends' helping to develop your idea further.

OR (Combining this with Reason #1)

Resource (offer training, teambuilding time etc.) the group of young people you are working with and actively hand power over to them. For example, power to decide on funding and to act as commissioners or co-commissioners.

3) Developing fresh talent: forward looking and developmental

Young People at Voices for Change 2006Creativity is not something people learn, it something they are trained out of.

Providing opportunities for young people to participate addresses the inbuilt 'age discrimination' in the common 'seniority' requirements for participation in many conferences and formal processes.

Allowing young people to gain positive experiences in a formal arena of sharing their views, ideas, experience and innovation builds their capacity to be realistic and practical change makers in their own communities – linked into intergenerational networks that can support them to make a difference.

The Upshot
Recruit young people with existing skills and expertise in the area you are focussing on.

Offer them some additional support to understand the context and structure of the process they will be involved in – and offer opportunities for them to reflect on learning from the process.

Young people participate as equal partners in the process – with their voice no more or less listened to than anyone else present.


So to return to the question in the opening: Can you hold an event about children and young people without children and young people being there?

I'd love to hear your thoughts…

What is Youth Led Development?

[Summary: two short video interviews about Youth Led Development]

This weekend I had the pleasure of facilitating at the Department for International Development/Civil Society Organisations Youth Working Group 'Advocacy Action Planning Residential' alongside a fantastic team of young facilitators and supported by Daniel Smith from BYC.

One of the key themes running through the residential promoting wider funding of, support for, and research into the impact of, Youth Led Development. Too often in international development, young people are perceived as a 'problem to be solved' rather than a 'resource to be developed' and as leaders of change. Much as Positive Youth Development (PYD) models seek to convince policy makers to see young people as an asset rather than a problem in domestic youth policy making, the idea of Youth Led Development (YLD)* seeks to convince planners and funders of international development initiatives and schemes to draw upon the lived experience, enthusiasm and energy of young people to contribute to creating positive change in some of the most challenging settings in the world.

[*Ok – the language does confuse things a little – so for clarity: In PYD we're talking about the developmental journey of an individual, in YLD we're talking about development as in 'developing country']

Of course, to really get to the bottom of what Youth Led Development is all about it's best to ask people who are in the know – so I got out the video camera and took the opportunity to speak to Anna from Y-Care International and Deborah from Voluntary Service Overseas.

And if you prefer to read rather than watch – this definition written around the 2005 World Youth Congress captures some of the story:

What is Youth-led Development (YLD)? Simply, YLD is community projects devised and implemented by young people under the age of 25. They are generally grass-roots, small in size, and carried out mostly, but not exclusively, by youth volunteers. And why do we think YLD so essential to achieving the MDGs? Because nature dictates that youth have energy to spare and the eagerness to use it. Worldwide, young people are already dedicated to addressing their communities’ needs. And, because we young people are so keen to learn, we are happy to take our wages in experience rather than cash salaries. Thus, YLD offers the most cost effective development action. YLD also massively benefits the youth who do it. They learn invaluable project management, fund-raising and leadership skills, hugely boosting their employability. Being part of a successful project builds a young person’s confidence and raises their self-esteem to stratospheric levels.

And to close this post – a quote that my colleague Sarah Schulman uses as her e-mail signature:

“This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” Robert Kennedy.

RSS to Newsletter Maker – A pitch to the Social Innovation Camp

[Summary: looking for a tool that will make it easy to take Web 2.0 information sharing into the physical world of flyers, leaflets and posters…]

Newsletter Maker

It was a conversation with Espen Berg from the U8 Global Student Partnership for Development this weekend that finally convinced me to get around to pulling together various thoughts I've been thinking lately about the need for a tool that bridges the Web 2.0 <–> Paper 1.0 divide. Espen was telling me about work he is exploring with a number of others, seeking to make Web 2.0 accessible in low-bandwidth environments – realising that many of the benefits of the information revolution (2.0) are not readily available to a large proportion of the worlds population. Whilst many of those people lacking access are in developing nations – a lot are also right here in Leicester, Social Innovation Camp Logoand in cities across the UK – and one the best ways to build at least a temporary bridge across the digital divide seems to me to be with a printer and a bit of paper.

So I've just pitched the idea below into the Social Innovation Camp to see where it could go…


A tool to take web snippets, RSS feeds, social bookmarks and other online media and to easily assemble these in printable leaflet, flyer and poster formats. Making online information available in a non-digital format ready for copying, faxing, posting, sticking up on a notice board, and generally sharing amongst those who prefer to/can only recieve information offline.

Something like a cross between MS Publisher and NetVibes for print, it would need to handle:

  • Collecting snippets from across the web;
  • Agregating and allowing selections to be made from RSS feeds;
  • Editing & formatting of content to make it coherent when on paper and you can't follow the links;
  • Layout and preparation for printing of information;

Ideally such a tool would also allow templates newsletters / posters / flyers to be shared and worked on collaboratively – with the capacity for creating one-off publications, and regular publications, which would auto-update on the basis of RSS feeds etc.

What social need does it address?

The digital divide. (And the 'social media divide'). Whilst the web has made it easier than ever to share information, that sharing is only accessible to a limited number of people.

Creating a bridge between the online and offline worlds can make sure information shared through social media channels is:

a) Available to those without access to the technology;

b) Available to those with access, but who are not yet comfortable using social media technologies;

At present, a lot of people are missing out on a lot of information – and a lot of the potential of information sharing is being lost – because the sharing is taking place in online spaces that are not accessible to everyone.

What’s new about it?

It aims to make publishing on paper move able to move at least somewhere closer to the speed of Web 2.0. Initiatives on bridging the digital divide have tended to focus on bringing people to the technology so that they can access information and services. This looks to make it easy to take the information directly to people in formats and spaces that are accessible to them.

What inspired you?

Realising the amount of information I have at my fingertips is not accessible to many of those I'm working with, meeting with & campaigning with on a day to day basis. Realising its information they could really do with having access to. Realising that if they had access to the information, they could join in many more conversations and I could learn a lot from them. And realising that asking them to learn to use social media spaces is not the only solution.

Image based upon IMG_1435 by vovchychko under Creative Commons Licence.

Three response to risk (and an exploration of online safety and Positive Youth Development)

PYD - A different logic[Summary: Extract from a draft literature review on Youth Work and Social Networking – looking at different responses to risk – and the role of Positive Youth Development responses in particular]

I'm in the middle of putting together a literature review on young people's Online Social Networking, and the possible roles and responses for Youth Workers to take to this emergent phenomena. In the literature review I'm seeking to tread a balanced path between talk of opportunities of Online Social Networking, and talk of risks – so this afternoon I've been looking to construct for a good model to use in pursuing a balanced exploration of responses to online risk.

I'm sharing the draft of that model here for two reasons:

  1. I'd really welcome feedback on whether this captures the relevant distinctions adequately – or suggestions for other models I should look at / adopt / consider.


  2. Going through this process demonstrated to me the value of the Positive Youth Development approach in giving a policy logic (see the 'a different logic' slide in this presentation) that can push us back beyond the obvious interventions (digital media literacy building) to more holistic capacity building interventions and support for young people (building core competencies, self-belief etc.).


    I realise I've not offered an argument or evidence for the PYD model being appropriate below (that will hopefully come in a later part of the literature review which I'm yet to draft) – and I wanted at this point to offer an opportunity for those familiar with other theories of intervention that operate at level (C) where I have PYD in my draft to suggest/explain them as alternative theoretical frameworks here.

So, here's the draft:


Draft extract from a literature review on Youth Work and Social Networking (Feb 25th 2008)

The safety is children and young people is a high priority for the UK Government and is an integral theme running through Every Child Matters and Youth Matters, most recently resulting the Staying Safe Action Plan (2008) which notes the "new opportunities for children to come to harm" from the internet in particular. In exploring possible responses to risks of Online Social Networking drawing a distinction between three different types of response is useful:

A) Managing the source of risk:
The Staying Safe Action Plan adopts a dialogue of 'safeguarding', managing risks and creating safe environments – changing and engineering the setting to remove these emergent risks so that young people are exposed to as few instances as possible where harm may result.

B) Addressing directly related skills and knowledge:
Where a risk management approach identifies and focuses on controlling and limiting the source of a risk, it is also possible to respond to concerns about risk by focussing on resourcing and equipping the person potentially 'at risk' to respond appropriately. Becta, in their report "Safeguarding children in a digital world" (2006), recommend developing and delivering "e-safety education and digital literacy skills". Digital literacy, it is suggested, will help young people to:

"…become safe and responsible users of new technologies, and allow them to be discriminating users of both the content they discover and the contacts they make when online."

Such digital literacy approaches address themselves at increasing young people's skills and knowledge directly related to the source of risk – in this case, the internet. However, as Bober and Livingstone (2005) argue in the UK Children Go Online report:

"Opportunities and risk go hand in hand: there is a strong, positive association between opportunities and risks – the more children and young people experience the one, the more they also experience the other, and vice versa."

The suggestion here is that building young people's digital literacy increases their effective use of the internet, but also increases their exposure to risk.

C) Addressing wider capacities and responses to risk:
Positive Youth Development (PYD) responses to online risk, by contrast to digital literacy building approaches, would seek to take a holistic look at all the relevant factors that could lead exposure to risk to impact negatively upon young people's development and thriving (Davies and Schulman, 2007). They would then propose developmentally appropriate capacity building interventions that may at first appear only loosely connected to the risks that first raised a concern. For example, a Positive Youth Development programme may design activities to build young people's self confidence and self-esteem across a variety of settings and with a variety of peers and adults in order to address concerns about young people's self-publishing of potentially harmful information online.

Positive Youth Development does not suppose all risk to be bad – and indeed suggests that navigating some risks can be an essential part of positive adolescent development. It's concern is with equipping young people with the resiliencies, competencies and development assets that ensure exposures to risk do not have a lasting harmful impact on an individuals thriving.

Youth Work Responses:
Youth Work in the UK, of the form advocated by Bernard Davies, broadly takes this holistic developmental approach – although it tends to situate its interventions in a sociological framework focussed on the group and community rather than an adolescent development/PYD framework which focuses on the social individual. Positive Youth Development potentially offers a dialogue and rigorous evidence based framework in which to explore and articulate how particular developmental interventions and supports for young people can more effectively address many of the concerns about risk that drive policy makers, parents, managers and practitioners to adopt the sort of limited risk management (A) and educative (B) interventions noted above.



As mentioned above, I'd really welcome your feedback on the model, and in particular, on the appropriateness of including PYD as part (C).

Small ideas that scale

[Summary: Could the Innovation Exchange be about a festival of small ideas that scale…]

Photo Credit: David WilcoxOne of the bits of blogging I struggle with most is getting the opening paragraph right. So let me instead quote David Wilcox (and borrow his photo of the event in question):

Earlier this week John Craig and colleagues, who are developing the Third Sector Innovation Exchange, invited a bunch of us along to share ideas over wine and pizza on what it takes to make collaborations work…. The Innovation Exchange is being funded by the UK Government to “find new ways to connect innovators in the third sector with public service commissioners and other investors and help them to work together to develop their work”.

I was part of that bunch, and given David and John have both shared their reflections on the evening already, I thought I should catch up and do the same.

One of the big questions that seems to face the Innovation Exchange, in light of the massive potential for innovation in the third sector and public sector, is where to focus. Cliff Prior of UnLtd shared a number of powerful stories about innovative 'movements' that have succeeded in creating dramatic changes, such as the re-invention of the House Association sector, and the shift to safe and soft playgroupd surfaces massively reducing childhood injuries. Primarily these succeeded, Cliff suggested, because of the passion and drive of their leaders and supporters. But it is not in incubating and supporting these forms of 'mass innovation' that I think the Exchange has most to offer. Rather, as David Wilcox captures in the idea of innovation 'thingies', it is in supporting the 'small ideas' that the most work needs to be done. And as John has blogged, it's growing and scaling these sorts of particular innovations (rather than 'growing innovation in general') that the Innovation Exchange will have a focus on.

So what are these small ideas that scale? What are the 'thingies' and 'widgets' the third sector and public sector need?

They might be processes. They might be technologies. They might be ways of getting people togther, or better ways of measuring impact. They might be tools for sharing knowledge, or practical gadgets that just make life on the front line that bit easier. They could be anything. The key is that they unblock the blockages, and make bigger things happen. I'm rather excited by the potential for such sorts of innovation to make a real difference for the most excluded young people.

So here are a few of the 'small ideas that scale' that occured to me during the discussions on Tuesday:

  • Developing skills for designing consultation games– games can make complex decision making processes more accessible to excluded young people. Using a 'game' or scenario to consult with a group of young people can ensure that everyone is involved, regarless of literacy and numeracy issues – and it makes sure participation is not just about hearing the voices of those who can fit into standard models of meetings and presentations.
  • Getting youth workers blogging – and building the ideas of keeping a shared reflective journal into training.
  • Knowledge management for youth participation projects – knowledge is power – and far too often we don't support young people moving on from participation projects to share the knowledge and experience they've aquired with their peers. Challening the 'boom and bust' cycle of participation projects could happen through introducing techniques for better knowledge management.

    That could be a technology driven process using video and blogging, or it could be, as Cliff Prior suggested, promoting the idea of youth forum chairs having a 'pre-chair' year to shadow the current chair, and a 'post-chair' year to mentor their successors.

  • A financial/organisational 'container' for youth led projects – anyone who has run a student society probably knows about the six-month period of trying to transfer the bank account mandate that occurs every year. And if you're under 18 and trying to run a bank account for a group, well, it can be near on impossible.

    But if young people are to be setting up and leading their own local projects and enterprises, making them sustainable, and handing them on to a new group, then there could be a role for a youth-friendly financial system that makes handling the organisational sides of running a youth project just work – freeing up time for actually running the project.

What small ideas would you love to see the Innovation Exchange explore? (You're welcome to use the comments below, or you can, of course, blog them direct to the Innovation Exchange…)

P.S. David handed me the Camera to interview John Craig after the conversations. Here's what John had to say.

P.P.S. Sorry about the close up John. I was trying to avoid the background noise, but, erm, should have probably been standing a little futher back.

Social media options: Facebook groups for an online election dialogue

[Summary: shared learning/pointers from explorations of facebook groups as a platform for dialogue]

Picture by SmallKid Design - copyright NYAIn response to a number of questions I've had recently about how Social Networking sites could be used for youth participation and engaging young people in local democratic dialogue, I've been exploring a range of different options. To capture my learning, I though I would try and write up my explorations in the form of a number of strategic 'recipes'.

The scenario I have in mind is a local Youth Parliament election, or the election of a Children's Champion – where, over a limited time period, candidates need to respond to questions from possible electors, and where there is an opportunity to foster wider dialogue about issues and challenges for change in the local area.

Yesterday I wrote up a quick exploration I'd put together of the distinction between Facebook pages and Facebook groups as tools for engagement, and so here I'm exploring a possible strategy for hosting online election dialogue using Facebook pages.

Suggestions for other possible strategies are most welcome in the comments below, and where relevant I'll look to work them up into similar 'recipes'.

Strategy #1: Host the discussion on a Facebook group

A Facebook group provides a discussion space and space for sharing media and links, which Facebook members can join and contribute to. It is only available to Facebook members – but has the benefit of taking the discussion broadly to the space where many young people are already spending time and interacting.

Create Facebook Group 1) Create a Facebook group

Be clear in the description of your group about why the group has been created, whether you plan to moderate the discussion and the groups 'best before date' (i.e. when the decisions that discussions relate to are going to be taken).

When you create a group you have a lot of control over how it looks and works. Group Options

You can choose to only switch on the features you think you will need, such as the discussion board and wall.

The discussion board allows for 'threaded' discussions where you can post questions, and encourage others to offer answers.

The wall is a quick space for group members to leave comments.

If you are sharing photos, videos and links in the group you can set those so that only group administrators can add them. If you do limit posting like this, make sure you provide a note in the group description to let people know they can e-mail you with media they think could be useful to the group (for example, they may caught a good video interview with one of the candidates on their mobile phone that could be posted to the group as a useful video).

2) Add media to the Facebook group

Photos, videos and links can all make a group a more dynamic space. A short one minute video interview with each candidate in the election can provide great stimulus for discussion.

3) Promote your group

Group Access Options

You can set your group to be Invite Only (closed or secret) or to be Open to anyone. Unless you already have all the people you would want to be members as Facebook friends, Open should be your default choice here.

Your group will have a unique web address that looks something like this:

You can share that link via websites and e-mail, and Facebook members will be able to access your group and join in the discussions.

When a Facebook member joins your group, depending on their privacy settings, people on their 'friends list' may come to read about it via the list of updates on their homepage.

If you don't have an active 'friends list' on Facebook, you may want to encourage some of the group you are working to to invite their friends to the group to kick start the membership and dialogue.

4) Keeping discussions active

When someone posts a message on a Facebook discussion board, they will only find out if someone has replied by returning to that discussion thread to check later on (unless someone replies directly to their comment, when in some cases they may get e-mail notification). This means that to keep discussion flowing in a Facebook group, you need to be an active facilitator.

Message membersThis can mean:

  • Making sure candidates are replying to questions in a timely way.
  • Making sure discussion topics do not get left with no replies. Even if you just post a message to point out that the questions asked have been answered in another discussion thread.
  • Using the 'Message All Members' feature to (selectively) let group members know about 'hot topics' of discussion that they may be interested in.
  • Sending direct messages to individuals who asked a very relevant question which received a reply – but where you suspect the individual who asked the question has not checked back to see the reply.

5) Rounding up

After the dialogue has taken place make sure you offer feedback to the group. You can use the 'Message All Members' feature to let group members know the results of the election, and you can edit the group to make sure this information is displayed on the 'Recent News' page.

Once the elections are over, you need to decide whether you will purpose the group and keep it running for other discussions, whether you will shut it down (change it into a closed or secret group, or even delete it), or whether you will leave it open, but will post a clear message in the Recent News and Group Description to explain whether or not you will still be checking up on new messages and discussions.

Facebook groups vs. Facebook pages

I’ve been working on series of strategy options for engaging young people in local democracy activities through Facebook. The two key platforms for engagement that support some level of dialogue appear to be Facebook pages, and Facebook groups. So I though I’d try and get a sense of when you would choose one over the other.

If you were looking to host a discussion between young people and local councillors on Facebook – which would you use?

Below are the notes I’ve drafted on the topic so far…

Pages of Groups?

Groups or Pages?

Both ‘Facebook pages’ and ‘Facebook groups’ offer a way of promoting activities and of hosting a discussion between different Facebook users. Both can have a discussion wall, and discussion forum. Both offer ways of Facebook members affiliating with them, with that affiliation optionally displayed to a members ‘friends’ (creating a viral marketing effect). They are, however, subtly different:


You can create a Facebook group for just about anything. They can be used as serious discussion forums, virtual petitions where membership indicates support for a cause, a space for sharing photos and videos or a way of subscribing to get messages from an organisation (amongst other things).

As the creator of a group you gain control over which features of the group are enabled, and whether it is visible to all members of Facebook, or is closed and visible only to invited Facebook members. Facebook groups are never visible to non Facebook users.

Users of Facebook can ‘join’ your group and then post messages on the ‘wall’ or in the ‘discussion forum’ (which allows for threaded discussions). As the group owner you can send a message to all your group members – this will appear in their Facebook inbox. You can also invite group members to events created through the Facebook event system (which allows RSVP guest lists etc.).


  • Facebook users are familiar with groups
  • You can send messages to group members
  • They are marginally easier to set up and manage than pages


  • Groups are only visible to Facebook members
  • Groups cannot have extra applications added to them
  • You generally have to visit a group regularly and to use the messaging feature to keep discussions flowing.


You can create a ‘Facebook Page’ for any entity such as a club, youth council, youth project etc. Unlike groups which have ‘members’, and which are only visible to logged in Facebook users, most of a ‘Facebook Page’ can be visible on the wider internet to those without a Facebook account, and have ‘fans’.

You can send updates to fans, but these will only be displayed on the side of a users homepage when they log-in, rather than appearing in their inbox. This means they are likely to get less attention that messages sent to group members.

You can add some ‘applications’ to pages, similar to the way you can add applications to your Facebook profile. For example, you could add an RSS application to your page that would pull in the headlines from your blog, or from another discussion board, to display on your Facebook page.

Here is an example page created for Practical Participation.


  • Can be visible on the wider internet to non-Facebook members (although only Facebook members can interact with them)
  • You can add applications
  • Facebook presents you with visitor statistics to let you know how many visitors you pages are getting.


  • ‘Updates’ sent to those who decide to be a ‘fan’ of your page are lower key than messages to group ‘members’.
  • Facebook users are less familiar with pages than they are with groups.
  • Visitors still need to be a member of Facebook if they want to join in discussions on your page message board.

When would you choose one over the other?

If you were looking to host a discussion between young people and local councillors on Facebook – which would you use?

There are many factors that could decide between pages and groups. However, in this case my leanings would lead me to choose:

  • Pages if I wanted a long-term public record of the dialogue, and wanted to engage young people via Facebook over the longer term
  • Groups if I wanted to quickly host a discussion with those already on facebook, but without building a presence on Facebook right now.

What would your choice be?