Post your policy: e-safety, online youth work, e-participation

[Summary: Towards a pack of practical guidance for youth workers and participation workers using Social Network Sites]

I’ve just shared a copy of my latest attempt at putting together guidance notes for youth sector professionals exploring safe and effective engagement with social network sites, created as part of a series of training for youth services and other youth sector organisations that I’m currently preparing to pilot*.

You can grab a copy of the five-page document over on the Youth Work Online website. But, rather than just read the notes I’ve put together – I would love it if you could share any existing e-safety and e-participation policies or guidance you’ve put together in your organisation. There has a been a lot of discussion in the ‘Policies, guidelines and boundaries for interacting online‘ thread on Youth Work Online about what a good policy or guidance note might look like – but as yet we’ve had no draft policies or notes shared in full. It’s time we changed that.

*If your organisation might be interested in piloting a one-day workshop on ‘Safe & Effective use of Social Network Sites in Youth Work/Participation Settings’ then do drop me a line.

(Update: It seems some Local Authorites have trouble accessing the Youth Work Online website (and some even have trouble accessing this blog…). If that is preventing you accesing the document mentioned in the post above, or preventing you sharing a policy or document you would like to share, drop me a line…)

Promoting positive activities – a strategy game

A game for planning positive activity communication tools
A game for planning positive activity communication tools

I love the social media game model. It works in so many contexts.

So, over at the Plings blog you’ll find the ‘Plings Out Game’, or in more general terms – a planning game for exploring different communications tools that youth services could use as part of promoting positive activities.

Instructions and cards to download available.

E-Safety. Moving from restrictions & messages to critical questions

Moving from messages to questions
Moving from messages to questions

[Summary: Practical questions to use in e-safety education when working with social media and social networking sites]

Later this month the House of Lords will be spending two and a half hours discussing young people and social networking sites in a debate initiated by Lord Toby Harris. As Shane McCracken has pointed out, a focus on “the adequacy of safeguards to protect [young people’s] privacy and interests” risks as debate leading towards legislation to restrict and control how social network sites function or young people’s use of them. However, even if Shane’s more hopefuly scenario of “increased awareness about the need to educate young people and parents about internet privacy issues” results, we could still end up heading in the wrong direction.

Far too often e-safety education places it’s focus on communicating ‘safety messages’ which are either counter-intuitive to the active social network using young person (‘don’t share any personal information online’) or which end over-detailed, complex or in contradiction with the way social network sites operate (‘use a nick name’ – ‘but it asks for a real name’). Plus, being aware of a safety message and putting its content into practice are two very different things.

In a project I’ve been working on for the Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board E-Safety Subcommittee we’ve tried to explore how, instead of a focus on safety messages, we can use critical questions* to structure education about safe use of social media, whilst promoting the opportunities that new technologies offer at the same time. Using a critical questions approach can enable professionals to facilitate young people’s own exploration of safe and effective uses of new media, without the professional needed to be a new-media expert.

Here’s the current working draft of our question-bank:
All these questions were designed be asked in the context of some form of purpose driven online-communication – such as using a blog, social network or social messaging tool to run a campaign on a local issue. The questions are divided into six sections.

1) Think about: the idea

  • What are you trying to communicate?
  • Why?

2) Think about: intended audience

  • Who are you doing it for?
  • Who might also be interested in what you have created/posted/shared?
  • How long do you want it to be available online for?
  • Do you want to allow others to copy and remix it? Or should it be covered by copyright?

3) Think about: the impact of the information or media you are sharing

  • What difference do you want it to make?
  • What other impact could it have?
  • Could anyone get upset because of it?
  • What good things could happen because it it? What bad things could happen?

4) Think about: identity
Thinking about how you have/will share this information or media:

  • Is it/will it be linked to personal information about you? Who can see that information?
  • Do you just have one identity online, or are you a different person in different spaces?

5) Think about: interaction
Thinking about information or media that you have shared:

  • Who are you connecting with through it? Do you know them? Is it ok if you don’t know them?
  • Can people leave comments and feedback on it?
  • How would you respond to a comment from someone you don’t know?
  • How would you respond to a comment that said something hurtful or aggressive to you, or to a friend?

6) Think about: each other

  • What would you do if a friend shared a photo or video of you online that you didn’t want shared?
  • What would you do if you had shared a photo of someone and they asked you to delete it?
  • What would you do if someone you know was spending all their time talking to someone online who they have never met?
  • What would you do if you were worried about your friends being bullied?

Using critical questions

Whilst these questions don’t give explicit safety messages – in encouraging young people to develop their own understand and literacy with digital tools they are designed to act as a vehicle for exploring safety messages. In Brent I’m hoping that, with continued development, they will form the backbone of a programme encouraging young people to develop their digital literacy whilst creating and sharing online content about their local area.

Draft structure for the Content Creators programme
Draft structure for the Content Creators programme

However, I believe that moving from a ‘safety messages’ to a ‘critical questions’ and a ‘literacy building’ frame of engagement with social networking and social media also has other implications:

Some questions for you

I’ve not yet had chance to pilot and evaluate the critical questions framework in depth – and I’m keen to make sure it continues to develop to be as useful as possible in ensuring young people take up online opportunities in safe and effective ways. I would really value feedback from anyone working on e-safety:

  • In your experience, how well equipped are the young people you work with to respond to these sorts of critical questions about their online activity?
  • Are there other key questions you would add to get young people to consider issues not raised above?
  • How would these questions work with different age groups? In our experience is there an age range for whom safety messages, rather than critical literacy building, is the only option?

*Critical questions – as in ‘constructive criticism’ or ‘questions that make you think and re-evaluate activity or behaviour’.

A manifesto for online youth work?

[Cross-posted from Youth Work Online here]

Audience Interaction via Skype
Audience Interaction via Skype

Late last year I had the pleasure of speaking a couple of times with Anne Õuemaa and her tear from Tartu’s youth service in Estonia as they were putting together their ‘Youth Worker in the Cyber Jungle’ conference. I even had the chance to present to the conference via Skype and to talk to some of the Tartu youth work team afterwards about plans they are developing to create local social networks where interaction is encouraged to boost young people’s self esteem through affirmation from peers.
True to a commitment to shared learning, the notes from the Tartu conference are now online, and you can find them all (in english) here.

As I browse through the conference notes I found ‘Guides of online youth work’. But as I browsed the 16 points drawn from the conference they struck me not so much as guidelines but almost as a manifesto for youth work and the web. You can read the PDF here, or, take a look below and share your thoughts on this embryonic manifesto…

International Youth Work Conference „Youth Worker Found in Cyber Jungle“
November 18-19, 2008 at Dorpat Convention Centre in Tartu

On the basis of conference materials

An active participant probably got a lot of new thoughts from the conference about
online youth work, why do we need it and where to start. To help you remember all
the things you have learned the conference team has prepared an overview of
possibilities and guidelines of online youth work. Would you like to add anything
here? Have a great time reading and implementing what you have learned!

1. First of all you have to get over the ancient belief that adults know better
than youth themselves what is good for youth!
Get to know the world of
the new generation! The new generation consists of young people who
demand and expect openness, honesty, constant innovation and development.
They think differently from their parents. If for parents the Internet is another
world, then for youth it is the World.

2. Use new technological means in a new way when working with youth!
New technological means need to be used in a new way. There is a danger of
representatives of the old generation falling for old methods while using
means of new media. This is not very helpful because old methods don’t work
with new means. Previously used communication channels enabled to create a
situation where information was held by one person who presented it to others.
However, the Internet works slightly differently as a communication channel –
there are no hierarchies there, information may be got right from the source
and it is selected on the basis of genuineness. The main communication on the
Internet takes place between individuals.

3. Take into account that today it is easier to be in the same network with
youth than ever before!
Virtual networks start having an impact on
communication, and an assessment presented by an individual may acquire
monetary value. As mentioned before, the structure of virtual communication
networks is no longer hierarchical. The parents of a youth in a communication
network are on the same level as the youth’s friends.

4. Get to know the life in virtual worlds! Get to know the principles of
communication in virtual worlds and use them when working with youth!
Youth and the Internet will go together now and forever, and all kinds of
youth work should be based on the Internet.

5. Get to know the possibilities of information technology and dangers
arising from them!
Remember that life is constantly changing! If you want to
cope and keep your knowledge up to date, you have to move towards life!

6. Use the Internet environment in work with youth keeping their needs and
interests in mind!
If we are unable to generate adequate materials in Estonian
on the Internet, then the current generation will not feel sad about it, they will
manage their business in English from then on. If we are unable to generate
enough knowledge and entertainment on the Internet, then youth will use the
knowledge and entertainment produced by others. The only way is to change
with the times and to go to a place with youth work where youth already is and
try to provide them the information which is interesting and important to them.

7. Tell youth about possibilities and dangers of the Internet and teach them
how to avoid dangers by using the possibilities!

8. Teach youth some source critical attitude, i.e. how to distinguish valuable
information from less valuable!
Digital nomads do not need as much
information as they need help finding the information, assessing its reliability
and interpreting it.

9. Support involvement of youth! The new generation has not grown up in
front of TV. As communication on the Internet is always two-sided, they have
been able to have a say in things and express their opinion since they were
children. That is what involvement is all about. The concept of the Internet
favours involvement. Youth get involved because it is interesting for them.
Create conditions in virtual worlds so that youth could get involved and create
content in respect to subjects that matter to them!

10. Turn the web environment you use for working with youth into the one
which favours intercultural learning!
Create possibilities for presenting
different cultures on the Internet! Translate the information into the mother
tongue of the users! This is how information is transferred from one
community to another and they can get to know each other better.

11. Teach youth, including youth with special needs and other minority
youth, how to present themselves positively (on the Internet),
i.e. how to
play the cards so that it suits best for the youth! In the long run we will be
communicating with persons not a colour of someone’s skin or a wheelchair.

12. Develop the computer park of your youth centre and create possibilities
of communication in virtual networks for youth
, regardless of their
mother tongue, cultural background, special needs, possibilities, etc.

13. Give a child the freedom to test what he has learned on the Internet!
Create a trusting relationship so that the child can turn to you when he has
questions! Just like you don’t follow your child in streets to check, if he is
crossing the street with a green light, in the same way you don’t have to check
on your child on the Internet all the time.

14. Use means of the Internet and virtual worlds when communicating with
youth and motivate them to communicate and act in real life, too!

Although virtual realities may be important, nothing can replace real contact
with a person. Online youth work supplements youth work in real life but it
cannot replace it.

15. Support the developing of self-concept and self-confidence of a youth and
his ability to put his foot down because this is ensures coping in all areas
of life, including virtual worlds.

16. When planning your resources, please take into account that online youth
work takes time and commitment and the work will never end!
yourself constantly and be a role model for youth and your colleagues! All
virtual channels only work if they have a purpose and if their creators use
them to exchange their everyday messages.

I’ve left comments on this post, but if you are a member then please do leave your comments over on the original post on Youth Work Online.

Safe and effective social network site applications

[Summary: Inviting feedback on first public draft of working paper about developing social network site applications for young people that can be effective and engaging, whilst also promoting safety and limiting risk to young people (PDF)]

Update 18th May 2009: Version 1.0 of the paper posted here.

For the Plings project – concerned with promoting positive activities to young people – Social Network Sites (SNS) offer amazing opportunities. One of the main ways people find out about positive activities (the football club, dance group or arts society for example) is through word of mouth. So if you can feed information about positive activities into SNS, and increase the flows of information about positive activities through the networks of young people already active there, you could potentially have a big impact on young people’s awareness of activities they could take part in.

Take a look at the slidecast below to get an idea of how a Social Network Site application could work:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sns)

Of course, local authorities and professionals working with young people have a duty not only to make sure young people are aware of the positive activities available to them, but also a duty to keep young people safe from harm – and Social Network Sites can be places of risk as well as of opportunity. Which is why public and third-sector organisations engaging with SNS shouldn’t just copy the ‘viral marketting’ and often aggressive tactics of commercial SNS application builders – but need to develop a clear ethical and risk assessment framework for engaging with Social Network Sites.

I hope that this working paper which I’ve put together for the ISP/Plings project can go some way to starting off that development.

‘Safe and effective SNS applications for young people: considerations in building social networking
applications for under 19s’
aims to build a coherent foundation to support public and third-sector engagement with SNS through application building by:

  1. Unpacking the reasons why we need to treat young people differently;
  2. Exploring the features of Social Network Sites which lead to both amazing opportunities, and potential risks;
  3. Clearly identifying the risks to young people within the Social Network Site space;
  4. Proposing three levels of response that should lead to safe and effective application building;

The document also includes an outline risk assessment framework.

The three responses proposed are:

  • Abiding by ethical principles – and designing applications on the basis of principles derived from law, a respect for young people’s rights, and existing principles from professional practice;
  • Having a clear risk assessment in place for all projects – to make sure potential risks are identified and design decisions or resources put in place to limit potential harm to young people;
  • Building safety in – and creating applications which empower young people and encourage general safe online behavior.

So, if you’re exploring the use of Social Network Sites to engage young people, whether in positive activities or participation opportunities – or if you’ve got experience of e-safety or Social Network Site applications please do take a look at the ‘Safe and Effective SNS for young people’ working paper and share your reflections, questions and feedback.

Exploring further
This first public draft of the paper is hopefully just a starting point of a deeper exploration on building positive SNS applications. In particular:

  • The ISP/Plings project will be seeking to operationalise some of the learning in this paper, so it’s proposals, and the feedback and comments on it should have an opportunitity to be explored in practice over the first half of next year…
  • I’ll be leading an exploration of using applications for youth participation as part of the Local Government Information Unit Action Learning Set on SNS and Youth Participation. (N.B. Application deadline extended until 9th Jan 2009 in case you wanted to come along… but have not yet had chance to register…)
  • If there is enough interest – then I’d love to host a seminar on SNS applications and youth engagement early in 2009 – exploring both this paper, and emerging practice from the field. If you would be interested in taking part do drop me a line (tim at practicalparticipation dot org dot uk) or leave a comment on this blog post.
  • All comments and feedback on the paper are most welcome. Again, e-mail or comment below…

Sharing learning from the Plings project…

[Summary: I’m going to be blogging for the Plings project – exploring new ways of collecting and sharing positive activity information for young people]

The Plings project has been one to watch for a while. Exploring new ways of collecting, processing and sharing information for on positive activities for young people.

Local authorities are under a duty to provide information on the out-of-school activities in a local area  young people can get involved with – but collecting and disseminating all that information is a big challenge.

Plings, built by research cooperative Substance, is an open source project that has been seeking to pilot and explore ways of semantically aggregating and then distributing that data, through XML feeds, iCal widgets and other mash-ups. Now that Substance has won the contract to lead the DCSF funded Information and Signposting Project, they’re going to be accelerating the development of the Plings project, and working with 20 local authorities to generate stacks of shared learning about collecting, processing and sharing positive activity information. This week has already seen the data from Plings made available via DigiTV, and I’m in the midst of scoping how positive activity information could be shared through Social Network Sites.

And if I can keep up with all the learning being generated, I’ll hopefully be blogging as much of it as possible over on the Plings blog.

So, if you’re interested in public sector mash-ups, promoting positive activities to young people, or just exploring new ways of innovating in the youth sector, please do subscribe to the Plings blog and throw in your thoughts and reflections to the comments there as the project moves forward…

(Disclosure: My blogging for the Plings project is part of a paid contract with Substance. I’m sharing news of it here as I think the learning from the ISP/Plings project will be of interest to a lot of readers of this blog.)

Participle’s Peggy – intergenerational interaction

[Summary: new application to send real snail-mail postcards from Facebook – interesting way to explore intergenerational interaction with young people]

Picture 3.pngI’ve long been interested in how the explosion of amazing networking and interactivity on the social web can bridge to the offline world of paper and pens. Well, thanks to a tweet from Alberto I just came across a great Beta project exploring exactly that.

Send with Peggy is a facebook application from Participle (put together by the fantastic MakeMode) that makes it easy to create and mail a real postcard direct from within Facebook.

Participle take the message typed on screen, and then get a postcard with the message, and with a pre-prepared reply envelope, delivered to the person of your choice. The Facebook generation can type, whilst the paper generation can write.

This probably falls into the class of one of those positive aspects of social network site to explore with young people…

(BTW – if you find this project interesting, you may want to keep an eye on some of the other things Particle is exploring around youth engagement. The fantastic Sarah Schulman has just started working with Particle to head up a new youth programme there… so I’m expecting exciting innovations to be emerging soon…)

That’s too risky – but for who?

[Summary: things local authorities might say… and why they need to think again]

You might have heard a local authority or organisation you work with say something like this:

riskcartoon.jpg“We can’t engage with young people through social networking sites – it’s just too risky.”

To which my reply is generally ‘Risky to who?’.

Engaging with social network sites may present risks to organisations. Risks of not understanding what’s going on; Risks of hearing negative feedback from young people about what the organisation is doing; and risks of being associated with negative news stories about social network sites.

And leaping into SNS without preparing staff and having policies and support in place for practitioners also creates risks of mistakes being made.

But when organisations and authorities, who have a duty to promote the safety of children and young people don’t engage – it’s young people who are put at risk.

If Social Network Sites are blocked at school, and young people encounter unsuitable content or contact that worries them whilst they are circumventing the school filters, they are less likely to raise a concern with teachers or other adults because they may worry about getting into trouble for circumventing the blocks.

If staff don’t gain an understanding of social network sites through using them then they won’t be able to support young people to engage with them safely, or to respond to potential risks proactively.

But if staff are engaged with social network sites they can identify risks before they become harms; they can become approachable adults who young people will talk to about their worries; they can help young people develop their online communities into pro-social positive spaces.

WISE Kids Webcast: a tale of four youth workers

[Summary: watch a webcast of the Youth Work and Social Networking research]

If you prefer listening to a presentation over reading a report (PDF) – then you can catch some of the key learning from the Youth Work and Social Networking project in this video from Tim speaking at the Wise Kids conference in Swansea during October.

Picture 19.png

You can find the Video here. Choose ‘Workshop B’ from the Playlist, and then select the presentation labelled ‘Tim Davies’ to watch.

This video also introduces a new way of looking at the workforce development aspect of the Youth Work and Social Networking final report – exploring different youth work responses to Social Network Sites through the stories of four different youth workers.

Plus – whilst you’re looking at the webcast – you can enjoy many other presentations from the Wise Kids conference – including a great Key Note by John Davitt about new media tools for education and learning during the morning sessions.

Innovation in Participatory Learning

If you’ve been inspired by UK Youth Online to plan a project that pilots new models of online youth work or participatory learning through digital technology then you might like to check out the MacArthur/HASTAC Digital Media Learning competition.

The competition is offering between $30,000 and $250,000 for innovations in participative learning using digital technology. The deadline is tight (October 15th) but it would be great to see UK youth sector groups putting in proposals.

I would be happy to offer free support to any UK based groups thinking about putting in a bid – just drop me a line.