Javelin Park: What’s in the Information Tribunal ruling?

[Summary: exploring on a local open contracting campaign victory and it’s implications for contract transparency]

On Friday, the Information Rights Tribunal ruled on the appeal by Gloucestershire County Council against an earlier ruling by the Information Commissioner that the contract for a large PFI (Public Private Partnership) project to build an waste incinerator at Javelin Park near Stroud should be substantially published.

Campaigners have been fighting for access to the contract since 2015, when their first Freedom of Information Request was refused. Although we discovered earlier this year that the contract text had been accidentally put into the public domain by the Council failing to properly apply all the redactions they have been arguing for to an earlier FOI response, the Information Tribunal ruling is important in that it:

  • Sets out clearly the Tribunal’s view on the sections of the contract and it’s schedules that should be in the public domain (almost all of it);
  • Sets out clear reasoning applicable to other UK contracts – supporting the idea that there is a strong public interest in the text of contracts, and that exceptions for commercial confidentiality should be minimal;
  • Provides support for the idea that contract text should be proactively published.

You can find a copy of the ruling here, but, as it runs to 67 pages I’ve pulled out a few of the key points below.

(A) The basics

In paragraph 6 – 21 the Tribunal helpfully describe the background of the case – which involves a 25-year Public Private Partnership contract involving the build and operation of a Waste Incinerator, with an estimated overall contract value of £500m, and annual capacity of up to 190,000 tonnes.

The original request for an unredacted copy of the contract was made under the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) – and was fought by the council on the grounds of Intellectual Property Rights, and Commercial Confidentiality.

(B) The arguments

Below is a non-exhaustive summary of arguments explored in the tribunal report (from the perspective of a non-lawyer trying to sense-make):

(1) Environment Information Regulations vs FOI? The council argued that sections of the contract should be considered under FOI (slightly weaker access rights) instead of Environment Information Regulations. The Tribunal ruled that the contract, as a whole, fell under EIRs (Para 39 & 40) as it, as a whole, represents a measure with substantial environmental implications.

(2) Commercial confidentiality? The council argued that large sections of the contract, including pricing and volume information, were commercially sensitive and their disclosure could pose a risk to both the private contractor, and the council, in terms of impacts on any future tendering activity.

In paragraph 44 the tribunal provide a useful discussion of EIR Regulation 12(5)(e) and the difficulty of working out to what extent an adverse effect of disclosure on economic interests of parties need to be established to justify confidentiality. However, the arguments of the Tribunal hinge much more on Schedule 23 of the contract itself, which was headed “Commercial sensitive contractual provisions”, and which was cited in the contract (§84.1) as the list of items that should be kept confidential by the parties.

A large quantity of the redactions sought by the Council, and which they appears to have spent over £200,000 fighting for (based on transactions to their lawyers in the Spending over £500 data), are not contained in this schedule.

Whilst it therefore appears the contract did follow good practice of agreeing from the outset any sections that could be subject to confidentiality, the Council did not follow this in actually applying redactions.

(3) Public interests in disclosure? The Tribunal evaluated each of the redactions sought by the council, and tested (a) whether confidentiality could be reasonably expected under the contract clause and schedules referring to this; and (b) whether there was, in any case, a public interest in disclosure.

Paragraphs 57 – 59 discuss the basis of public interest are worth quoting at length:

“§57. …Concerns have been expressed about the EfW technology chosen by the Council, which those against it say may involve harmful emissions and toxic waste left over from the scrubbing process. Planning concerns have been expressed about the height, mass and design of the plant and the increase in heavy road traffic which will be caused along with consequential air pollution. Although we are not in any position to assess the merits of these concerns, they are clearly genuine and not frivolous.

§58. The Contract itself is a PFI contract involving the expenditure of a great deal of public money over many years;… We can, we think, take judicial note of the fact that the PFI model is itself controversial, with legitimate concerns expressed about bad value for money, opacity and the tendency to load expenditure on future generations. Further, it is said that the structure of the Contract, by requiring the Council to pay for a certain amount of waste to be incinerated (the so-called “take or pay” arrangement) may have tied the Council in to supply a quantity of waste which is not viable in future and may have negative environmental effect of discouraging recycling…

§59. Given those considerations, in our view there was a significant public interest in the disclosure of the entire contract, in the interests both of transparency and accountability, ie the enable the public to be informed as to exactly what the Council had agreed on their behalf and its long-term consequences and to hold it properly to account, in particular through Council elections.”

On the issue of whether sections of the contract can be selectively disclosed, the Tribunal state:

§59. “… We make clear that we are not suggesting that the exercise is an ‘all or nothing’ one all we are doing is recognising that the provisions which the Council seeks to withhold are part of a greater interlocking whole and must inevitably be seen in that context.”

They also draw attention to the Local Government Transparency Code 2014 and the presumption in there of proactive disclosure – something I cover in this post.

They further draw attention to the fact that, when the original request was made in March 2015:

“§61…”the controversy was particularly intense and there was a danger that the whole Contract would have to be terminated at a cost, according to the Council of up to £100 million. At that stage, in our view, the Council’s obligation to act transparency was particularly strong as was the public interest in the exact position in relation to the compensation payable in so far as the Contract contained relevant provisions.”

They also argue that what matters is not how much of the text of a contract is in the public domain (the council argued that 95% of the text was public from the 1000+ pages of documents), but the substantives of that text. The tribunal state:

“In our view, the fact that the public authority has disclosed some information in the past cannot be relevant to the issue of whether they should have disclosed more.”

On the majority of individual redactions evaluated, the Tribunal find the public interest overwhelmingly supports publication. Paragraphs 74 – 216 go through the contract redaction-by-redaction, schedule by schedule, providing the reasoning for each decision. Where redactions are upheld, this is down to their information being included in the schedule of confidential information, and the Tribunal finding no substantial public interest in disclosure (though in some cases they still express puzzlement as to why redaction might be required).

(4) Impact on future procurement? In paragraph 72 the Tribunal consider arguments from the Council and UBB that disclosure would prejudice future procurements, and prevent the Council getting the best deal. They state:

“§72… We cannot accept such a case. Any potential contractor seeking to do business throughout the EU must be well aware of the duties of public authorities in relation to environmental information. We do not accept that they would (or should) complain or change their behaviour in response to a disclosure of information by the Council or any other public authority which was required by the EIR (or indeed FOIA)…”

(5) Intellectual property protection? The council invoked a separate argument for Schedule 33 which covers the sale of electricity generated from the plant. The mechanism by which this is to happen is fairly opaque, and appears to involve as-yet untested deals for ‘power off-take’. The Tribunal note that they were not “…given a very clear explanation of how this was all going to work…” (§212), but that “…Mr Mawdsley [(the council officer responsible)] [hoped] to sell the contents of Schedule 33 to other local authorities.”

The council argued that the Schedule was their IP, “based on copyright , database rights and the law relating to trade secrets.”.

The tribunal dismiss this, and in a damning paragraph note:

“§216. So far as the public interest is concerned, we agree with the Commissioner that, if relevant, it favours the disclosure of Schedule 33. The Council expressly accepts that there is a public interest in transparency about its plans to sell electricity for wider use; in our view it is a weighty public interest. On the other hand, we remain unclear as to how the Council’s or UBB’s negotiating position with third parties will be damaged. As to the wish to protect the confidentiality of legal and technical details that are novel in order to sell them on to other local authorities, even assuming that Mr Mawdsley is not being overoptimistic about the potential for the Council to make money in this way, we do not think that there is a particularly great public interest in the Council being able to commercially exploit a scheme which is apparently designed to avoid the normal regulatory regime.”


I’m not sure to what extend Tribunal decisions set precedents for others – but it seems to me there are strong arguments here that supports the positions that:

  • Where contracts are made that commit public money – the public have a right to know the detail of those contracts;
  • Contracts need to be treated as a whole, and redactions kept to a minimum;
  • Only redactions agreed in advance, and set out transparently in a clear schedule should be allowed;
  • A public party cannot claim intellectual property over a negotiated contract text;

Now that we have official access to the substantial majority of the Gloucestershire Incinerator contract, the challenge ahead is to work our what of the damage done by the Council Cabinet and contractors unaccountable actions over the last 18 months can be challenged, and undone. Access to documents is ultimately just one part of a wider open contracting journey.

(C) Other things of note

There are a few other elements of note I jotted down whilst reading through the judgement.

  • The claim made to council on 18th Feb 2015 that it could cost £60m – £100m to cancel the contract appears to be based on calculations from officers, and/or Ernst and Young which have not been published by the authority (perhaps another EIR or FOIA request will be needed here…). The Tribunal ruling refers in Paragraph 27 to a document from Ernst and Young presented to Cabinet in November 2015. However campaigners reading the unredacted contract cannot find the substantiation for the cancellation costs being so high before the facility is operational. It appears breakage before the plant is in operation could cost substantially less than the break-points once it is up and running – and possibly even lower than the £30m the Council has subsequently committed from reserves to cover shortfalls in the project.

  • Fighting disclosure has potentially cost the council much more than the hundreds of thousands spent on legal fees. Now that the contract model can be scrutinised, and alternatives explored, it may turn out that delays have led to potential cancellation of the contract

  • Mr Mawdsley, the council officer who has been pushing the Incinerator contract, comes in for criticism from the Tribunal. In paragraph 73 they note “Mr Peiro’s [UBB staff member] evidence was inevitably likely to be rather partisan, and, although he is an official and was giving evidence on behalf of a public authority, we are afraid we reached the view that Mr Mawdsley’s evidence on behalf of the Council was also rather partisan. We were surprised at the failure of each to attach any great importance to clause 84 and Schedule 23 or to the Transparency Code… We accept the submission of Mr West at para 78 of his final submissions that Mr Mawdsley’s evidence was ‘…so far-reaching as to be unconvincing, in particular in relation to matters such as Access Road Disruption Events”.

What next?

I’ve tried, at least in section A and B above to summarise rather than analyse. But, as I’m posting this on a personal blog, if I might here be forgiven a personal and partisan point…

If you are in Gloucestershire and concerned about this – the Tribunal made a good point: elections are a key mechanism to hold the Council to account – and all the Councillors who voted for the Incinerator on the basis of bad information, or secrets known only to Cabinet, are up for re-election on May 4th.

I only discovered this local case when my wife, Rachel, started getting involved in local Green Party conversations, and pointed out the work our Green County Councillor Sarah Lunnon was doing to push for open contracting, and to challenge the secrecy of the Incinerator contract. We were both astonished to see the County Council being so reckless with public resources and our local environment – and to see them so opposed to transparent and accountable politics.

It spurred me into reading as much as I could of the information that was available on the contract – but Rachel has taken it a step further – and is standing as Green Party candidate for Minchinhampton Division in the upcoming County Council elections.

There is ultimately the chance that we could change the balance of power in Gloucestershire – voting out the Tory administration that’s made these reckless decisions – and getting in a progressive coalition who can work to undo the damage. So – if you happen to be local to Minchinhampton, Thrupp or Chalford: please support Rachel. If you live elsewhere in Gloucestershire: make sure you get out and vote on May 4th, and use your vote for a progressive candidate who will commit to open contracting, and to stopping this one wasteful incinerator deal.

And if this is all too parochial… think about the contracts your local authority has signed you up to. Have you looked to see that they really work in the public interest?

[Note – typos in transcription from the original judgement are my own. I’m working from a printed copy, awaiting access to digital copy from the Tribunal website]

The Digital Edge – Nominet Trust announce new funding challenge

[Summary: New funding opportunity from Nominet Trust, shaped by messages from the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration]

The Nominet Trust have just announced a new £2m funding challenge focussed on support for young people. Here is how they describe it:

Nominet Trust is launching a programme of social investment to address the challenges faced by young people in participating socially and economically with their communities. This call for applications aims to seek out new approaches to using digital technology that re-design ways of supporting young people. We’re looking to invest in partners and ideas that address the challenges we have identified, and look forward to working with you to do so

A number of the areas of interest in the challenge have been shaped through the Digital Technology and Youth Engagement exploration which David Wilcox, Alex Farrow and I have been working on for Nominet Trust over April and May: seeking out key messages on opportunities and approaches for digital technology to be used supporting young people’s economic and social engagement in communities. The four areas the challenge looks to address (headings are from Nominet, reflections are my own) are:

  • Digging deeper into the problems and addressing the root causes going beyond surface solutions to find new spaces for effective innovation. Our exploration highlighted the plural ‘causes’ is important: there is often not one root cause to be addressed, but a diversity of issues needing a diversity of approaches. Roots spread out underground, so as we dig we need to explore multiple pathways and many spaces for innovation.

  • Exploring the changing landscape and the nature of engagementMany of the models for youth engagement, or offering support to young adults, were developed in a pre-Internet era and haven’t really been updated, save from digitizing a few processes here and there. Looking at how digital technology has changed the context of young people’s lives (whilst many of the concerns of youth and young adulthood remain pretty consistent) can highlight opportunities for new forms of support and social and economic engagement for young people – not driven primarily by a desire to save money or streamline, but by an interest in making engagement more effective in an Internet age.

  • Renegotiating professional practiceI’m really happy to see this element in the challenge, as it provides a great opportunity for practitioners in Youth Work, Community Development and other youth-supporting professions to put forward projects that start from their professional values, but consider how these can be applied in new contexts. In a recent digital youth work workshop in Helsinki with Verke, CFDP and YouthPart, we started to sketch out a shared understanding of Digital Youth Work that started to consider what a renegotiation of youth work practice could involve, drafting the description below:

The Internet is playing a powerful role in shaping the lives of young people today: as a source of information, as a social space, and as a key part of everyday life. Youth work is a process of engagement with young people, supporting young people to make positive choices and shape their own futures, and to actively participate in communities and societies. Digital youth work is values-led practice working with young people that takes account of the digital dimensions of young people’s lives. It might be delivered through digital tools, using online environments or mobile communication; it might blend together physical and digital communication and collaboration; or it might take place face-to-face, but aware of and addressing issues raised by the digital world. 

The ethical values of digital youth work are rooted in voluntary engagement, empowering young people, and working from the interests, needs and concerns of young people. Digital youth work is necessarily a multi-professional field, involving a range of existing practitioners, and requiring us to develop new forms of practice and new roles. Digital youth work include specific online services (for example youth counseling delivered by professional adults), as well as facilitated peer-to-peer learning and engagement.

Digital youth work is a key part of supporting young people’s digital citizenship and securing the rights of everyone to participate fully in contemporary everyday life and its environments. 

The renegotiating professional practice element of the Nominet Trust challenge invites proposals that “support different professions… [to] test out and learn new approaches for engaging with young people?”, and there is real potential here for some action learning in different professional fields to feed back into scaleable change in the way support and engagement opportunities for young people work.

  • New forms of employment and rewardI like to think of this last element of the challenge as creating the space for some more radical rethinking of solutions to the current economic crisis. Although the challenge is a little narrower than the ‘Consider the livelihoods of the future’ message in the Provocation Paper (PDF), in getting beyond the idea that ‘economic engagement’ means getting into a full time job, and thinking about “ how we [prepare] young people to secure a decent living, and to be able to make positive choices about how they use their time, talents and resources”, there is hopefully space here for innovations that challenge a work-consumption treadmill, and explore with young people the social, as well as economic value, of work.

I’m looking forward to seeing the ideas and innovations that result from the challenge. The first deadline for Phase 1 proposals is 1st August, and support is available ranging from £2,500 up to over £250,000 for larger projects. So – head over to the Nominet Trust site to find out more and think about putting forward your project ideas…


Challenging Myths about Young People and the Internet

[Summary: Workshop report from the Internet Governance Forum, Nairobi, 2011]

I facilitated a workshop at this year’s Internet Governance Forum on the topic ‘Challenging Myths about Young People and the Internet‘. The workshop report is available on the IGF Website, and also available to read below. I hope it can act as a useful resource in any policy work around young people and the Internet. Both the USA IGF, and Child Net’s Youth IGF Project held their own discussions and debates on the topic of ‘myths about young people and the Internet’ in the run up to the forum, and it seems to work well as a discussion format to dig deeper to understand young people’s online experiences.

I also shared some of the myths from the workshop in a recent keynote to the EU Safer Internet Forum, the slides from which you can also find below.

Workshop 92: Challenging Myths about Young People and the Internet

Claims about youth are central to many Internet Governance discussions. However, many of the claims made about youth and the Internet are based on myth and misperception rather than on reality.

Myths come in a variety of forms. Some are compelling, but mistaken claims: intuitively plausible, but not backed by evidence and research. Others are based on stereotypes or distorted media coverage given to issues. Other myths are propagated by those with vested interests or particular agendas, seeking to secure support for their cause by making exaggerated claims.

Workshop 92 provided a space for constructive dialogue about how we should understand claims made about young people in Internet Governance. Contributions from ten panellists and the floor addressed a wide range of  myths or misunderstandings about young people and technology: highlighting where we need to think more deeply before making Internet policy based upon generalisations about children, young people and young adults.

This report looks at the myths in turn, before reporting some general points from discussion at the end. The Youth Coalition on Internet Governance will continue to develop a resource based on these myths to offer as an input for future IGF sessions. A number of the myths draw on headings from a list of common myths put forward by danah boyd.

The Myths

Myth: Young people are either digital natives, or digitally naive (Sheba Mohammid)

Our descriptions of youth and technology are frequently polarised with youth described as opposite extremes: either as digital natives, with ubiquitous understanding of technology, or digitally naive, and in need of protection. This can lead to technology projects ignoring the need to do work on pedagogical systems and educating youth; or it can lead to responses that perceive only the need for control and protection of young people online.

There is limited dialogue between those who describe youth as ‘natives’ and those who focus on youth ‘naivete’. The tendency to pigeonhole young people into one category or the other prevents us from developing a deeper understanding of diverse youth experiences of networked media, and how individuals can have different experiences at different times and in different spaces.

Talking about ‘digital natives’ or ‘digital naivete’ may have intuitive and rhetorical appeal – but whenever speakers use these phrases, they gloss over the reality of young people’s online lives and can lead to unhelpful policy responses. The following myths explore in more detail the subtleties that we need to bring to our discussions.

Myth: The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place (Alannah Travers)

“There are dangers online, as in the real world, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad, or only dangerous and never good.” 

Starting from the assumption that the Internet is inherently a dangerous place can have negative impacts on policy. It’s important to develop skills and resilience to protect yourself, and, as with crossing the road, once you’ve learned to manage the dangers, you can be secure and safe.

Myth: The Internet is a free playground for youth (Max Kall)

“The myth is that youth regard the Internet as a free and anarchic playground where they can do whatever they want, and actions can unfold in whichever way they desire. Young people can spend hours and hours on social networks, gaming, and the myth is that young people think it’s all free. It’s all open and whatever you do, it does not yield any negative consequences. 

The opposite is actually the truth. For many young people the Internet is everything but free.”

Youth are frequently aware of the possibility of surveillance from law enforcement authorities, companies, employers or just from teachers or parents, and this can lead to ‘chilling effects’, limiting freedom of expression and democratic participation on the Internet.

The impact of these chilling effects vary from country to country, with a BBC survey finding that up to 49% of people in ‘democratic countries’ agreed with statements that the Internet is not a free space, rising to 70% is some countries. One workshop participant highlighted self-censorship by bloggers in the Congo. By contrast, in France and Kenya, the BBC survey found that 70% or more of people did regard the Internet as a free space. As with any claim about youth and the Internet we need to question the geographic and cultural specificity of the claim. Regardless, the levels of young people feeling inhibited in their free expression of political views online should be a cause for concern.

Myth: Youth don’t care about privacy (Kellye Coleman and Connor Dalby)

“…there is a myth that youth don’t care about privacy. I think youth do care but at the same time youth don’t fully understand what privacy means.”

Young people value education that empowers them to make positive privacy choices, where reasons are given for why certain privacy behaviors might be important: “If the why of privacy is shared I think we as young people can become more empowered and invested in taking actions to protect ourselves.”.

Education based on ‘fear tactics’ is less likely to be popular amongst young people: “[Scare tactics] are the wrong way to go about it. You are scaring youth to not share things they should be sharing, great things, or [scaring them to] stop using the Internet or social networks altogether. The best way to go about it is teaching about settings, not trying to scare them too much but teaching them good things that we can improve.”

Cutting through myths about youth and privacy is complicated by the ambiguity of the term. Threats to privacy can be many and varied, and different people may value particular aspects of privacy differently: some willing to trade their personal data for services from Internet companies, others seeing this as a threat to privacy. Young people’s views on privacy in particular situations, such as whether Amazon’s personalised recommendations are a positive or negative thing, are as diverse as those of the adult population.

Myth: The Internet is the ‘great equalizer’ (Matthew Jackman)

On the one hand, the Internet is a place where anyone could start a business, or choose to express themselves. On the other hand, “if you want ask someone where they would find videos they would clearly say YouTube…We find a monopoly website which control whole sectors.”

Just because the Internet presents great possibilities for access to information that doesn’t mean that everyone can access and make the most of it.

“…the Internet has potential to bring equality but with so many barriers with access, be it disability or affordability and censorship …[in practice it doesn’t]”.

However, we should be careful about assuming that disabled people, for example, are not only at all. One delegate reminded the workshop that young disabled people often rely on the Internet as a first port of call for information and resources, confounding the common assumption that they are not online. Projects and policies need to address barriers to the the realization of the equalizing potential of the Internet.

Myth: All young Nigerians as cybercriminals (‘Gbenga Sesan)

“I’m sure everyone here has probably, not even probably, has, received an e-mail from somebody who claims to be a Nigerian prince.”

The stereotyping of a whole nation can have profound consequences on the young people who live there. Young Nigerians are locked out of e-commerce opportunities as services like PayPal block the Nigerian market. Young Nigerians seeking to participate in online discussions can find their e-mails deleted by spam filters. And “this myth prevents the world from knowing what exactly is going on with young Nigerians on the Internet”, such as the 2011 mobile-phone based election monitoring application development by young Nigerians, or recent investment into Nigerian online businesses.

The association in popular conciousness of Nigeria with cybercrime is a modern stereotype: but a particularly harmful one to youth and one that needs to be challenged.

Myth: Social media is addictive (Dan Skipper)

Claims about youth ‘Internet addiction’ or ‘addiction’ to social media are common in policy debates, and at the Internet Governance Forum: often leading to polarised arguments. Although a small number of people may exhibit “compulsively driven behaviour with negative consequences” in relation to the social media, and many young people prefer not to be without access to social media for long periods, general claims about youth Internet addiction are based more in rhetoric and myth than in evidence; and a focus on ‘addiction’ can divert a focus on important issues such as whether people are enjoying a great enough diversity of online experiences.

“I think social media is not addictive, just a luxury people enjoy using so you could in a way argue anything is addictive if you are saying social media is addictive. If you play a sport and you love playing and you play it every chance you get, same with being on social media.  If you enjoy social media, you use it as much as you can. I don’t think you can say it is an addiction.”

Myth: Young People are all creating their own online content (Gitte Stald)

It is commonly claimed that the Internet allows young people to become ‘content creators’, yet The EU Kids Online Research has found that very few young people are actually creating their own content online. “What the majority do is very mundane, and not creative.”

This can be seen as a missed opportunity both because young people are not exploring creative skills, and because it is recognised that there is a lack of good quality content for young people online – and peer-created content could help address this.

Myth: The digital is separate from the real world (Naveed-ul-haq)

Discussions of ‘cyberspace’, or ‘the virtual world’ or even ‘spending time online’ often have an implicit assumption that the digital world is separate from the real world. But for many young people (and adults) it is more accurate the say that the digital world is simply an integral part of the real world for many people.

“The most important thing that we do in our real world is communicate. How do we communicate with others and with people around us and talk about digital world? There are five billion mobile users: so we cannot say that digital world is separate than real world.”

However, policy makers, parents and teachers often frame discussions with an artificial divide between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ which doesn’t reflect the reality of young people’s lives, increasingly including the reality in developing world contexts too, where mobile phones mean everyone is carrying a connection to the digital world around with them.

Taking forward discussions

Delegate noted that simply presenting the myths challenged in the workshop would be a useful input to future IGF debates: allowing workshops planned in future to avoid framing debates around myths, and to ask better questions. Particular themes included

The importance of evidence

The session highlighted that two forms of evidence are vitally important. Firstly, high quality statistical evidence (particularly from studies using shared methods to promote International comparison) helping us to understand the prevalence of a wide range of online issues – from safety issues, to freedom of expression issues – and helping us to see the local variations in issues of importance at any particular time. We need evidence to help both highlight difference between contexts as well as commonality. Secondly, we need evidence and input from a diverse range of stakeholders, including diverse groups of children, young people and young adults – able to offer insights into the varied online experiences and opinions of youth.

The diversity of youth experience

The workshop discussions demonstrated that challenging myths and generalisations requires us to engage with a diversity of views and approaches to address key Internet issues. We were reminded that “we’ll not have one answer that fits all… what might work in developed countries might not work in developing countries”, and a debate between young panelists and delegates highlighted the range of different views held on whether censorship, web blocking and filtering was every appropriate.

A shared responsibility

One delegate issued a challenge to young people to think about how they can work to dispel myths about youth and the Internet, and another mentioned the possibility of using social media to challenge myths. The importance of challenging myths in local and regional debates was also raised.

Next steps

The Youth Coalition on Internet Governance (www.ycig.org) will continue to develop resources based on the workshop transcript and report.

Connected Generation 2011 – unConference on digital media and youth

I’m just coming to the end of the formal Youth Work Online Month of Action where I’ve been working to explore ways of taking forward action to promote digital skills, literacy and practice amongst professionals and volunteers working with young people. Lots to blog about it in the coming weeks, but for now I just wanted to let you know about the most important bit of the month, which, due to somewhat slack organisation on my part, is in fact taking place on the 21st May rather than this weekend: Connected Generation 2011 – the annual free unconference of the Youth Work Online network – open to anyone working with young people wanting to explore digital dimensions of their work.

Booking is now open – and more details are below…

Header Image

The annual event for anyone exploring digital dimensions of work with young people.

The Connected Generation unConference is back for 2011 on 21st May at The Hub Kings Cross, London.

This one-day free open space event brings together practitioners from youth work, participation and voluntary youth projects with digital media developers and experts to share ideas and practice, to explore what the digital world means for young people’s lives, and for services seeking to support young people as they navigate growing up in a connected world.

The agenda for the event is set on the day, and built around the ideas, experiences and questions that participants bring. Topics at past events have included: understanding young people’s digital media use; creating an online presence for your youth project; digital literacy; keeping young people safe online; creating policies and guidance for practitioners; social media tips and tricks; identifying the right tools for the job; social media for youth participation and local democracy; building websites with young people; virtual volunteering; mobile technology for youth work; and much more.

This years event is running in partnership with social innovation specialists Hub Kings Cross and is hosted at the inspiring Hub venue in central london (2 minutes walk from Kings Cross Tube and Railway station), and offers new opportunities to connect digital youth work themes with ideas of social enterprise and innovation.

Register now for your place!

Comments from participants at Connected Generation 2010:

  • “Great event, good organic feel to it, how conferences should be!”
  • “A brilliant opportunity to find out about what other professionals and young people are doing with social media.”
  • “A real get together of great knowledge from great people!”
  • “Inspiring”

New to open space events?

An unConference is created by the participants – and it works best when everyone comes prepared to offer a session. Your session could be a short presentation of a project you have recently worked on using digital media for youth engagement; or it could be a topic for discussion; or an issue you want to get the insights of others on.

When you register you have the opportunity to suggest a session you may offer; and on the day Tim Davies will facilitate an agenda setting session where we gather together ideas for sessions. We will then break out into spaces around the Hub Kings Cross

If you’re never been to an unConference before and are wondering what to expect – here is a rough outline of what the day might look like:

  • 10.00am – Arrive, coffee and introductions
  • 10.30am – Suggesting Sessions – participants will be invited to announce and introduce sessions they would like to run during the conference. These will be assigned to a time-slot and break-out room. There will be around 6 break out spaces, allowing 30 different sessions to take place during the day.
  • 11.00am – Parallel Session 1 – some of the sessions just announced will take place and you can choose which to take part in.
  • 11.45 – Parallel Sessions 2 – more sessions taking place
  • 12.30 – Lunch – Pizza & salad
  • 13.15 – Parallel Sessions 3 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.00 – Parallel Sessions 4 – more sessions taking place
  • 14.45 – Break and review – A change to check if any new ideas for sessions have arisen throughout the day so far, and to plan in a few extras
  • 15.00 – Parallel Sessions 5 – a last round of sessions
  • 15.45 – Plenary – come back together to share learning from the day and present findings to our invited panelists.
  • 16.45 – Close

You will get to take part in at least five sessions on key topics in youth engagement and new technology. You are free to move between Open Space sessions – using ‘The Law of Two Feet’:

  • If you are not contributing to, or taking anything away from a session, you may find there is another discussion you can move to;
  • If you find a topic you want to discuss is not being covered, you have to opportunity to suggest a new session to explore it – and the facilitators will do their best to make your new session idea take place.

We usually end the day at a local coffee shop or pub for those who can stay in London a bit longer. Coming to London the night before? Post in the Youth Work Online forum to find other people to meet up with?



The event is talking place at Hub Kings Cross – easily accessible from Kings Cross and St Pancras mainline and underground stations, and on major bus routes. Full directions are available here. Check thetransport for London website in advance for notice of any tube closures on the day of the event.


Lunch is provided and will include meat and vegetarian options. If you have any other special dietary requirement please let us know. If you can, do bring a dessert to share – pack of scrummy biscuits or cake(s).


There is WiFi available through the venue. Details will be available on the day.

Twitter Hashtag & Online Network

We’re using #cgen11 as the Twitter hashtag for the event.

Notes, photos and video from the event can be posted at: http://www.youthworkonline.org.uk

Questions & Contact Details

Before the event you can contact us via tim@practicalparticipation.co.uk or info@katiebacon.co.uk


This event is taking place as part of the Youth Work Online Month of Action supported by a Nominet Trust UnLtd Better Net Award.

Nominet Trust UnLtd Better Net Awards

The event is taking place in partnership with Hub Kings Cross.

Hub Kings Cross

The event has been sponsored by:

Online Youth Outreach

Online Youth Outreach

Practical Participation

Practical Participation

More Open



Sprinkled stats and the search for data…

[Summary: Data-driven vs. data guided change-making. Reposted from the new Making a Difference With Data website]

I woke up to a tweet this morning from @YoungAdvisors pointing me to their new ‘Big Book of Stats’ and ‘What’s the Real Cost of Cutting’ resources – bringing together statistics from across the youth sector in a quick-to-skim PDF.

I got in touch with Gary Buxton, Young Advisors Chief Exec to ask a few questions about the stats:

Q: What inspired your to collect the figures you have gathered?
When times are tough its even more important to share and collaborate.  Our social goals are about creating good opportunities for young people. Having charities, social enterprises and young people all replicating work is distracting and reduces everyone’s ability to deliver. If we all shared a little bit more, we’d all be greater than the sum of our parts.

Q: How easy was it to find the data and numbers you needed?
Both pieces were pretty difficult to pull together.  It became a bit of an evening hobby! Stats came from old NYA policy briefings, NCVYS, Twitter, Facebook, Private Consultancy Companies, New Economics Foundation, Prince’s Trust and government sites etc etc.  I still really want how much it costs when a young person is excluded from school!

Q: How are you now planning to use these figures?
We use the stats for writing bids and helping the young people we work with write bids and presentations that are well informed and referenced.  Knowing your data helps young people make reasoned and compelling solutions to community problems.  We wanted to open the data to others who might find it helpful so everyone can work smart and not hard, keep delivering great work, but most of all, make a good case to decision makers, councillors and MPs about how important investing in young people is and the risk of pulling funding from services that young people regard as important.

As the ‘Sprinkled Statistics’ recipe over in the Open Data Cook Book suggests, sometimes using open data is as simple as backing up an argument with the numbers – with no need for fancy visualisation or mash-ups. Resources like Young Advisors Big Book of Stats can make that easier for other groups.

But, as Gary notes, even just collecting the statistics you need from government reports, let alone getting access to raw data to slice and explore it in different ways, can be tricky. And as Paul Clarke questions in a blog post today, is getting the data always the most important part of campaigning for a change? Whilst we might imagine there are clear ‘facts’ about the cost of school exclusions, or patient to nurse ratios, these statistics do not come solely from direct measurement, but are based on calculations from different datasets, and, importantly, rest upon definitions (what is an exclusion; what counts as a direct or indirect cost of exclusion; do you count all the time a nurse is on the ward, or only the time they are available for patient care (not paperwork). As Paul puts it:

…does the cause need the data? Does the search for data delay the obvious? Could the open data revolution sometimes obfuscate more than enlighten? While we’re arguing over reporting standards, boundary definitions and data feeds, real people are hurting and starving.

So where does this leave us? Having access to statistics, data and figures at a local level can certainly help strengthen those advocating for change. And knowing the numbers can inform bids, proposals and smarter working. But perhaps key here is to see campaigning for change as ‘data guided’ and ‘data backed’ rather than ‘data-driven’.

Making a difference with data means knowing how to use it as a tool, but one amongst many in the change-makers toolbox.

Skills for the job: digital literacy

In the lead up to the Youth Work Online Month of Action I’ve got an article in Children and Young People Now’s ‘skills for the job’ section, talking about digital literacy. Here’s how it starts:

A lot of what we hear about young people and the internet is focused on e-safety. But digital literacy is about a lot more than that. Digital literacy involves being able to navigate the digital world – making the most of the many opportunities it provides for accessing information, creating connections, having a say, being part of communities and developing skills and knowledge for now and for the future.

Developing young people’s digital literacy needs professionals to engage with the online world – supporting young people to move beyond narrow use of a few social networking websites or apps – to discover the full potential of the internet as a global information resource. It also involves the development of critical skills – enabling internet users to choose what information to engage with. One key part of digital literacy is to know when to multi-task, when to focus, when to be connected, and when to disconnect.

You can read the full article over on the CYPN Website.

In the upcoming Month of Action we’ll be focusing a lot more on these themes – working to build broader networks of practitioners focussed on all aspects of the digital world for young people.

P.S. I’m still on the lookout for a venue for the Month of Action’s unConference. We’re looking for somewhere in London, available on Saturday 16th April, with good Wifi, room for 100 people in break-out spaces, and crucially, either free or low-cost. If you know someone who could sponsor the event by sharing their venue/offices/meeting rooms for the day, do get in touch.

Digital Futures – Trends in Technology, Youth and Policy

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

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

Continue reading “Digital Futures – Trends in Technology, Youth and Policy”

Youth Work Online: Month of Action?

[Reposted from the Youth Work Online Network which I help run]

The Youth Work Online network was set up out of our first unConference gathering of people interested in online work with young people. Since then, the youth work online community has grown massively, and across the country (and Europe, and the rest of the world) practice in using social media and the web to engage with young people has really moved on.

But, there are still challenges. Digital & social media skills are rarely part of standard training for practitioners working with young people; policies still often focus on blocking access, rather than promoting positive use of technology; yhe technologies young people use are constantly developing, and it’s hard to keep up.

So, in 2011 lets do something different: let’s really move youth work online forward.

With some seed funding from UnLtd Better Net Awards, we’ve got the opportunity to hold a Youth Work Online ‘Month of Action’. Here’s the basic idea:

Over the four weeks between 14th March and 8th April 2011 members of Youth Work Online are invited to set up local events and activities to promote understanding of digital work with young people, building up to a national unConference on/around the 8th April.

Through an organising group (volunteers wanted!) we’ll provide resources to support those local meetings and events – and we’ll organise a series of thematic workshops to focus on:

  • Mapping what’s out there – updating our shared knowledge base on existing digital youth engagement practice;
  • Updating education – working with training providers to explore how digital skills can be better part of the core training for professionals working with young people
  • Digital futures – looking at the cutting edge of technologies just emerging – and asking how we should be responding
  • Building the community – exploring sustainable ways to keep supporting practitioners doing digital work with young people.

And of course, will help convene the big unConference at the end of the Month. Throughout the month, we’ll be encouraging everyone to contribute shared learning to the Youth Work Online website – and we will look to set up some new ways of collecting lists of key resources and support – making it easier for practitioners to find the information they really need.

How can you get involved?

Youth Work Online is made by it’s members – so this month will only happen with your help:

  1. Add a comment to share your thoughts on the idea. Should we do this? How could we make it really useful to practitioners?
  2. Get involved in the planning groupDrop me an e-mail if you think you could spare some time for a planning meeting in January (in person or by Skype), and could help get this idea off the ground.
  3. Host an event! Interested in being part of a national month of action on digital youth work? What event(s) would you want to hold locally. Add a comment with your ideas.
  4. Help with sponsorship / venues / logistical support. The sponsorship from UnLtd will just about cover expenses to organise this month – but we’re going to need extra support to host meetings, organise the unConference and more. Think you could help out? Drop me a line.I’m hoping this can be a collaborative process – and very keen to get any local and national agencies exploring youth sector provision, training and other work on board with the process.

Head over to the original post to add your comments or join the discussion.

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…

Young people in the big society

This evening saw the first ‘Big Society Network‘ open night. The Big Society Network is a new organisation*, linked to, but distinct from, the ‘Big Society’ as a core discourse in current government policy making. The open night, facilitated as a rather chaotic open space event packed into a small space in the DCLG offices, brought together over 100 people interested in exploring what the Big Society Network was about, and how their work or issues fit with it. Big Society Network CEO Paul Twivy introduced some of the ‘big ideas’ of the Network – from creating a mutual open to everyone to join that would provide insurance for any volunteering activity, to the terribly framed ‘Your Square Mile‘ concept** – and then handed the floor to Steve Moore who led the open space.

I was in a group looking at young people in the big society, and promised to blog a few quick notes (some from my comments, others from other’s in the groups – apologies for not managing to jot down everyone’s names / affiliations) – so here they are:

  • It’s important to challenge architects of the Big Society Network to avoid institutionalised age discrimination. If a mutual is to be created – make sure anyone, however young, can be a full voting member: no arbitrary restrictions preventing under 18s or under 16s from being involved.
  • We should extend that principle to all community groups – and avoid ‘youth exceptionalism’ – where the involvement of young people is seen as a separate add-on to other structures in the Big Society. This is a theme that Bill and Liam have started to develop in talking about the shift from a Children’s Rights to a Children’s Human Rights dialogue over on Right Space.
  • We do, however, need to recognise the importance of giving young people a balance of space and support. Space to develop their skills, views and ideas. Support to engage when processes for engagement are stacked against the newcomer, or when particular young people have particular needs.
  • We need to challenge a ‘dependency culture’ between young people and support workers (by no means always the case, but a problem in some contexts). Support workers depending on young people for their jobs; young people depending on support workers when they could be developing skills to find voice, influence and involvement independently, or relying on peers and wider community networks of support. With major cuts coming to youth support, the imperative for this change may be getting stronger.
  • Rather than criticise the existence of ‘professional young people’ (or, as we could put it another way, young people who have developed skills and articulate ways of express views), we need to challenge them to go on and use their skills for the benefit of society and community. Good work with young people is a balance of challenge and support, and is grounded in an ethical world view: challenging empowered young people to look at how they can empower others, think about anti-oppressive and inclusive working, and to use their skills to advocate for wider social change. (And in the process, support time can be moved to support those young people who really need it)
  • Can we move towards rethinking the support young people get by giving them more control over it. Hand-over the budget to young people to choose what support they want to pay for from workers and members of the community.
  • With ideas developing in other areas of Big Society Network about Big Society ISAs and other funding instruments, we need to make sure that ideas of youth-led micro-finance and co-decision making with young people and adults are at the heart of the plans that emerge.
  • And last, but not least, Big Society Network needs to be thinking about how it will hear and engage with constructive and critical voices and action about it’s own plans from children and young people.

Whether or not you think the language and proposals of Big Society takes us forward, or misses the mark, how would you advocate for the role of young people in the Big Society Network and it’s associated ofshoots?

*It’s pretty important for The Big Society Network to have a strong argument of how it’s avoiding the Pareto Problem and ending up as another round of social innovation conversations, picking off the easy things to solve, but yet again glossing over the tough challenges. Some mention of picking off some of the practical barriers to all levels of action (e.g. sorting insurance problems for local action) do give some hope here, but it would be good to hear more of commitment to engaging with tricky problems rather than being broad based and blind to them.

**A short note on Your Square Mile: To claim “There Are 93,000 Square Miles in the UK – We tend to only hear about two of them: the square miles of the City and Westminster.” seems to me to reveal a lot about the world-view and perception of the world of the designers of this particular part of the Big Society Network. To define local community in direct reference to Westminster and the City, and to frame an idea of the world in such neat grid squares, ignoring the complexity of local geography, doesn’t seem like a very good start to me.