Civicus Assembly in Review

The Civicus Youth Assembly has left its mark on the Civicus World Assembly in this statment, presented to delegates in the closing plenary (as well as in young peoples contributions throughout the event).

At one point – with the TerraViva news reporting a 'Youth Rebelion' , and many of the young delegates at the world assembly disaffected and despondent – it looked like the positive step of inviting young people as active participants to the Civicus World Assembly 2007 was going to be seen as a bad mistake. But, the dedication of a core of young delegates to bring a positive youth voice to the centre of the Assembly, a committment to collaboration that far surpasses that seen between many NGOs, and late nights huddled round a laptop screen meant 2007 can be seen as a significant step forward for Civicus, laying the foundations for further and deeper youth engagement in furture World Assemblies.

This said, the process that led to the young peoples declaration was far from perfect, and throws up crucial learning and a reminder that in all participation, especially young peoples engagement – holding the right principles at the core of all planning is crucial.

The notes below try to explore some of the difficulties youth involvement in the World Assembly faced, and to suggest some possible (but not definitive) approaches to tackling these. The tone is of contructive criticism, and I should start with the strongest celebration and commendation of Civicus's strides forward in making it to this point, bringing together an impressively diverse group of young people and committing to the involovement of developing involvement of younger generations in it's work.


Workshops at speed: going deep enough

The challenges began in the Civicus Youth Assembly – a two day gathering of 130 young people from 65 countries. Day 1 of the programme consisted of near-back-to-back hour long workshops exploring particular issues in development. However, these sessions simply led into a short feedback plenary, and the issues discussed in them were not woven into the later programme in any way. Such short workshops gave neither the space for an introduction to an issue for the unitiated, nor time for in-depth discussion by those already aware of or working on the issues – and without a clear outcome led many participants unsatisfied.

Suggestion: Create a speed-learning series of interactive introduction presentations (given by participants) where a breadth of issues can be covered in 15 minute slots, and then invest two-to-three hours in longer in-depth sessions exploring a limited number of issues in depth – with a clear 'question' for those sessions to consider.

Participation needs principles

The lack of clarity about purpose continued to dog day 2 of the Youth Assembly, and the three-hour session on 'participation' – far from resolving the challenges – deepend the problems and left a legacy of confusion which hampered youth involvement in the rest of the World Assembly. The Participation sessions in the Youth Assembly programme were introduced as a chance to explore three different methods of participative dialogue – and with external fascilitators the group was split arbitarily into three. I can only reflect on the sub-group I was in, but therein the piecemeal issuing of instructions meant that by the end of an hour of break-out time, we 'discovered' that we were to perform a tableaux communicating a bullet pointed 'issue' affecting young people, and that this issue was to feed back into selecting a set of youth priorities out of the Youth Assembly. Not only were the methods chosen inappropriate for the short time available (trying to develop participative drama in 20 minutes with an international group) but we were given no clear idea of where our inputs were to be used.

Comment: All participation should be based on core principles of openness, informed consent and transparency. Where there is not time for a process to be used effectively, it should not be used. Where a question is asked of participants (e.g. 'Identify the key issues facing young people in your area?'), it should be clear how the answers will be used – and what other questions they go towards answering ('E.g. What are the top issues for young people globally?') – and if this isn't possible prior to the first questions being asked, there should be opportunities to modify answers when the 'big picture' is introduced.*

I was greatly disappointed by the Participation Sessions at the Youth Assembly – as they were a real missed opportunity. That the '9 point list' they led to lacked legitimacy was, however, the spark for young people to really come into their own as effective collaborators, salvaging the 9 points and bringing a coherence to them in the World Assembly… and more on that in a moment.

Suggestion: The idea of a set of outcomes from the Youth Assembly needed to be build in from the start, and open to negotiation throughout. Processes suited to the outcomes sought should have been used, and participation made a 'thread' running through the Youth Assembly, not something that can slot into a three-hour session.

The articulate are over-empowered by poor processes

Credit: Steven Giron (I'd welcome other Youth delegates reflections on the story of the declarations development – as I had thrown myself into the wider World Assembly by this point, and was only on the periphery of the declaration drafting)

As confusion about the 9-points developed in the Youth Assembly participation sessions grew during the World Assembly, a number of Youth Delegates began work to redraft the points and work them into a coherent declaration. Without clear meeting space of sceduled contact of youth delegates, the group that formed was relatively ad-hoc, although it was collaborative and sought to include all those who were interested in taking part. This fluid group worked through Thursday and late through the night on Friday – regularly checking in with a wider group of youth delegates to gather suggested changes to the text of the document. The final declaration was an immensly positive product.

However, I have the strong impression that the strongest influences on that text will be the voices of the most articulate in the group – those with the stongest English, and the greatest experience of 'essay writing'. This is not to say that other voices did not impact the declaration – but it does suggest that in the absense of an inclusive and well designed participation process, the articulate and confident voices shape the text.

Comment: Participation processes need to be concious of power and influence and how to be inclusive in light of the way in which language skills, experience and confidence will impact on these. We 'fell back' on creating a declaration, because we didn't create the space to explore other possible products of the Youth Assembly and youth involvement in the World Assembly – and had we really engaged with creative participative processes we may have ended up with a very different mark left by young people on Civicus 2007.

Adults need induction too

“There is a mix of interest, dis-interest, enthusiasm, confusion and resentment about young peoples' presence here.” Whilst young people had a two-day induction to the World Assembly through the Civicus Youth Assembly – 'adult' delegates had little induction to the youth presence. As a result, most delegates were unclear on what young people had to offer to the Assembly. I've considered the different rationales for involving young people in this post here and it strikes me that some induction to help all delegates understand the different forms of and values in intergenerational dialogue would contribute to more effective youth involvement in future.

Suggestions: More 'induction' or scene setting information is needed for all delegates about youth involvement (at least while we are in this transition period before youth involvement is fully mainstream…). That might be as simple as a page in the printed programme giving a welcome, or it might be some specific sessions on youth participation and engagement early on in the World Assembly programme. Perhaps a young-delegate hosted 'youth hub' as a physical space in the delegates lounge would help create a structured meeting of generations that could break-down barriers throughout the assembly…

Briefings are important

I've just found a copy of 'Civil Society Legitimacy and Accountability' in my bag which I picked up from outside a session at the Assembly on one of the last days. After reading just three pages I've already got a far better handle on the accountability focus of the events – on the problems the assembly was addressing. Why didn't I read this before? Well – partly because Youth Assembly delegates were not briefed on the briefings – and when we discovered that reading them would be helpful – we couldn't get hold of them…

Suggestion: Make sure Youth Assembly delegates get clear information about all the briefings and papers that might be relevant – and if if is felt these are too involved to be 'light background reading' – explore whether some of the 'Youth Assembly' induction can be used to unpack key issues before the main Assembly – so that a youth perspective can be input into the discussions of these papers…

Get creative and intercultural

I have a confession. I left the World Assembly a day early. Youth Hostels are great places to stay most of the week… except Fridays… then the singing till 5am can cause tiredness in even the most resilient… and turning up to a really interesting sounding session on two hours sleep, only to find it is three-hours of dry presentations is enough to finish anyone off.

The World Assembly brings together over 100 different nations, and many more cultures – so why is there so little creative space? Space for storytelling, music making, visual arts and craft activities. On Thursday I went on a 'learning exchange' to the Village Story Telling Centre and in the informal space that afforded had some of the best conversations of the whole Assembly, significantly leading to some of the strongest networking I was a part of.

Suggestion: Create creative spaces around the World Assembly. Rooms or corners where people can gather around the arts and share in informal conversations and relationship building that strengthens the bonds of civil society, breaks down cultural and intergenerational barriers, and, um, well, is fun.

Keeping the Conversation Going

I took part in a few discussions on the Civicus Assembly website forum before the event, and I tried to encourage social media use at the Assembly – but by-and-large I've found the Assembly appears, at least from the persepective of a non-member of Civicus, to be a storm of networking activity, in a year of relative calm. Social media could provide a powerful way of laying the foundations of conversations before the event, continueing conversations beyond the event – and helping make sure networking is structured and supported.

Suggestion: If pre-event materials make clear reference to online discussion spaces, or social bookmarking 'tags', and the conference programme re-iterates those messages – then over time a 'social media' aspect to Civicus could emerge as a key element of the communication, discussion and networking mix…


These notes – long as they are – are just a brief summary of reflections… and I'll hopefully be able to develop more points in future posts soon…


*I'm aware I'm guilty of breaching all these principles in a number of participation processes I've planned – and some I've only become adequately aware of through being on the participant side of a poor participation process. Sticking to these principles is challenging – but its a challenge I shall be renewing my committment to meet since by experience in Glasgow.

Young Practioners and Stakeholders – two engagement agendas – not one…

I'm currently at the Civicus World Assembly, which, for the first time this year, has included the Civicus Youth Assembly.

The Youth Assembly has brought together 130 young people from 65 countries, spending two days before the main assembly exploring global issues, and inputting into the main assembly. The Youth Assembly is a positive step for Civicus on the journey to meaningfully engaging young people in its work, challenging age-based discrimination and drawing on the innovative spirit of youth* – but it also illustrates how essential it is that the rational for engaging young people is clear in each context when it is explored.

There are at least two ways in which young people might engage in the Civicus World Assembly.

Firstly, as young practioners, involved in the same daily struggles and facing the same set of problems as 'adult' world assembly delegates. That is, involved in the building of civil society organisations, in the provision of service, in the development of new sollutions.

Secondly, young people might be involved as young stakeholders, affected by the work of 'adult' delegates and their organisations. That is, service recipients, involved in day-to-day personal struggles, or representing** communities facing practical struggles in claiming their own rights to healthcare, employment, food security and civic engagement.

(Of course, these are not mutually exclusive – one can be both a service deliverer, and a service recipient – but we are interested in the 'role' through which a young person may be selected for involvement in a participation process)

The role in which young people are invited to engage in the assembly alters the role which they should play.

Young practioners may need training and support in contextualising issues – with the aim of them participating in shared problem solving, knowledge sharing and work-based-networking with 'adult' delegates.

Young stakeholders may need space to critique the ideas presented, make claims of adult delegates on behalf of their selves and their communities, and, within the right processes, to contribute to the generation of innovative sollutions to shared problems.

(Again we are not dealing with polarities – but the difference is important)

If the agenda is a 'young stakeholders' agenda – then it arguably only makes sense without a broader stakeholder involvement agenda. This agenda is an important one… but I'm not clear that bringing a large population of 'on-the-ground' stakeholders to the Civicus Assembly would be the most productive or coherent approach.

As far as I understand the work of Civicus at present, the second 'young practioners' agenda fits best. If this is the case – then if follows that (in the longer term at least) the distinction between 'young delegate' and 'adult delegate' should be broken down. Rather, it should be recognised that to fully participate in shared problem solving at the assembly, some individuals may need more 'induction', more space to be introduced to particular issues and more training or support to be heard against the already confident voices. There will be a higher number of young people in this group of individuals – but the group will not exclusively be young.

On Sunday, young delegates at the World Assembly will make a presentation in the closing plenary… at the moment that presentation suffers in part from a confusion about the role of young people at the assembly… though it is heading in the right direction. And how that presentation is received should take us further to understanding the rationality on which Civicus is seeking to deepen its engagement with young people.


*A suggestion that youth has a monopoly on innovation would provide some alternative rationality for their engagement. But of course, such a suggestion would be flawed. And in-so-far as young people have greater capacity for innovation, we should be seeking to learn from them so that we can all become more innovative – and innovative, creative problems solving becomes the domain of all…

**I'll blog more on the concept of respresentation at some point soon…

Are we talking participation here? Starting a model

The topic of this years Civicus World Assembly is 'Accountability' and I've just been in a plenary session looking at Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and accountability.

During the session I was more and more aware that many of the ideas being explored were those I would understand as issues of participation – rather than accountability… and so I got scribbling trying to put together a model that helps me make sense of how Accountability and Participation relate to each other.

Draft Accountability---Participation Model

It's very much in draft (word version attached) – but the key intuitions are that:

  • Accountability and Participation are part of a broader process of democratisation
  • Accountability should be about the move from activity by CSOs that has the hallmarks of misconduct or bad practise – to activity that is at the least ethical and not harmful to the interests of those a CSO says it seeks to help
  • The move from ethical and non-harmful activity, to best-practise and effective activity, is a movement of participation and the tools of participation are those we should use here.

I suspect that we should be careful about 'concept creep' that overextends the concept of Accountability – as we may find ourselves taking our eyes off the key challenges in answering the linked questions (but questions that may have different answers…)

  • Who are CSOs accountable too?
  • Who should be the participants influencing and affecting CSO activity?


Attachment: Conceptual Framework.doc

Disability and children’s rights

I'm blogging from the opening plenary at the Civicus World Assembly. (Will try and post some notes and quick reflections as battery allows…)

Speaker Venus Ilagen from Disabled People's International has just put forward a challenge to ask whether the needs of, and accounability to, disabled children features highly enough in talk of Children's Rights, Women's Rights and in other rights dialogues.

Reflecting upon the recent UK draft report on the UN Convetion on the Rights of the Child – it strikes me that Venus has a strong point. An exploration of the rights, and excercise of rights, by young people with disabilities was not a strong thread in the draft. Do we give strong enough attention to the rights of children with disabilities?

Should we be looking at the recent UN Thematic convention on the rights of people with disabilities to see if it speaks to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and helps us draw a stronger focus on the rights of the most excluded of the most excluded?

Tagging the Civicus World Assembly

I'm currently up in Glasgow at the Civicus Youth Assembly, just about to start at the Civicus World Assembly and I've not yet seen much use of digital technologies to share ideas and media, and to build conversations between participants. We've finally just got use of wireless internet here today (after two days of the Youth Assembly disconnected) – and there is a larger 'Net Cafe' space opening up tomorrow when the 900-strong full World Assembly really gets going – and I'm hoping there might be some suggested use of social media.

However, in case there isn't, I've decided to experment with how social media use can be catalysed. Can social bookmarking, photo sharing and back-channels work effectively at non-techie conferences? What is needed to make them work? Is there value in making it work?

I'm starting off by seeking to encourage use of two tags for agregating links and content:

Youth Assembly: civicusya2007

World Assembly: civicuswa2007

The two key places I'm thinking content may emerge are (here and here) or Flickr (here and here) – but then with the international nature of the delegates I'm concious there may well (indeed will be) complete alternate social media communities which delegates from different countries are used to…

I've put together two quick summary documents on tagging / social bookmarking that might help kick start things (if I can find somewhere to get them printed).

Social Bookmarking (2 page HowTo):

Tagging the assembly: (1 page summary)

Laptop battery and hostel wifi permitting I'll try and post a few updates soon on how the experiment goes….

Open Working and Participation

Over the past few weeks at a team led co-ordinated(?)/fascilitated(?) by Simon Berry from ruralnet|UK and including a really diverse and interesting selection of innovators, thinkers and actors have been putting together an £1.2m Open Source bid to the Office of the Third Sector to run an 'Innovation Exchange' (i.e. the bid has been developed in a way that allows anyone to contribute and potentially feed into it's contents…)
I've made a few comments on the website, and reviewed and commented on version 4.2 of the bid document. And it's a real demonstration of the openess of Simon and the core team for the bid that my comments, and those of others, have been very clearly worked into the bid and the workplan it would lead to.
The experience of contributing to a collaborative document with the Open Innovation Exchange has got me thinking again about all the different policies, strategies and documents that organisations write about young people, without young people having the chance to be involved in them. Would an Open Innovation Exchange model work for the creation of these documents? What if every strategy a Children's Trust wrote was created in an online collaborative environment and young people had the chance to comment, edit and shape the document?
I'd like the updated Map and Plan sharing spaces [E.g. 1, 2, 3] on the Hear by Right website (coming soon…) to go someway towards 'open sourcing' the Hear by Right process, and allowing greater space for children and young people affected by a particular Hear by Right process to see and act on the 'documents' it generates – but I also think there are broader needs for us to explore open document creation across the world of youth participation.
Of course – there would be challenges fascilitating access to the technology and the context so that young people could meaningfully input – but providing open strategy creation didn't replace other methods of engagement – it would surely be no bad thing. Not least because if the organisations that are looking to engage young people turn to more open working across the board, then the journey to young people influencing decisions within them is, potentially, a lot more straightforward.

The challenge of change and network building

I'm currently involved in establishing a network of consultants and practitioners working on embedding youth participation (called The Enfusion Network).

For the network to function at its best, we need to encourage practioners and consultants to engage with an open working style that allows the benefits of a network to emerge.

But as Seth Godin's post on bananas suggests… (and as our experience working to encourage organisations to embed young peoples engagement backs up…) 'selling' and encouraging change is tough.

But if we're serious about the need for Enfusion (which we are). And if we're serious about avoiding 'organisation building' and making sure that we have a responsive network that really serves to aid improved practice and impact in youth engagement (which we are), then we need to stick at it.

We've just had a working weekend to explore the next steps for the network, and from that I think our core challenges are:

  • To keep our vision focussed on creating connections between practioners and consultants focussed on embedding youth engagement in organisations and communities – and to find ways of clearly keeping that focus while being open to allow interdisciplinary connections to emerge…
  • To find creative ways of engaging potential network members in Enfusion – both showing the value of making small changes to working patterns in order to be able to engage through the network, and through creating positive opportunities for connections to be made (developing on from our conference calls and coffee house chats…)
  • To find sources of funding and ways of becoming sustainable that don't rely on 'organisation building' and allow the network to remain agile and effective, responding to the needs in the field for critical discussion space, networking space and reflection space.

We're going to be working on meeting these challenges over the coming months, so all pointers and suggestions most welcome…

What I’m working on…

As I'm intending to use this space to try and blog some useful reflective content arising from the different things I'm currently working on – and as those things are mostly what are preventing me timewise from blogging about them – I thought a quick post just introducing them might be in order (and would help me post on them without extra introduction in future…):

In Action

  • Actions Speak Louder dissemination A celebration of youth-led grantmaking and projects. After supporting young people in the run-up to the awards ceremony I'm now working to share stories from the 15 winning projects online with the main aim of increasing awareness of the Youth Opportunity Fund and Youth Capital Fund.
  • Hear by Right website -first developed three years ago – I'm revamping the Hear by Right website on top of a Drupal framework. The site is a shared learning resource for users of the Hear by Right organisational mapping and planning tool for young peoples involvement in decision making – and includes a database of shared examples of mapping and planning from organisations using the tool. I've almost got the technical back-end in place… and I'm aiming to have it online by July.
  • Enfusion Network – a developing network for Youth Participation Consultants. I've build version 1 of the website here and we're meeting this weekend to review how the network will continue to develop. We're contrained on resource at the moment (so far we've built everything without funding…) but the potential for the network is really exciting, and there seems to be strong demand for a space connecting

In Development

  • GrantMaker – last year I delivered a national management information system for the YouthBank grant making network – and I'm working now on a more general version 2. It's designed to support small grant-making panels in capturing the information they need for effective operation and evaluation – and to help provide management information to funders. Mike (aka. Lionfish) is mostly working on the code – and we're going to be ready to start some user-testing soon… (if you're involved in a grantmaking panel, youth opportunity fund/youth capital fund etc. and would like to be part of the beta… get in touch…)
  • Social Media & Productivity Tool Training -I'm developing a training programme designed to help organisations update their online skill-sets and explore different social media and online productivity tools. More information soon…
  • University Applications – I'll be going to my (belated) graduation next week – and so it seems about the right time to think about further study. I'm currently thinking about something focussed on global ethics and applied moral/political philosophy – but I'm also interested in exploring the possiblity of a research masters around youth-led microfinance and grant making…

Not an exhaustive list… but a start…

A lurker no longer…

I've been holding off on starting a personal blog – preferring to contribute to particular discussions that are already out there online… but more and more I find ideas, resources and bits and bobs worth sharing that fall through the gaps of the other spaces I participate in.

There may not neccessarily be any prior coherent guiding theme for what ends up here, other than these posts being linked to thinks I'm personally thinking about or working on. Hopefully that will be enough of a rational for this space to be useful as an log of goings on, and an archive of generally useful things.

I've also been holding of getting a personal blog because I've not had time to get the design right, or get it all tidied up and looking how I want it… and – I've still not had the time yet… but here it is.