Resources for exploring social media participation

[Summary: a quick linking list of social media & youth engagement resources, cross-posted from Youth Work Online]

I’ve just been running a short session at a meeting of the South East Participation Project around how different social media and social network sites can be used in youth participation. The session gave me an opportunity to put together some new slides and a list of resources capturing learning from recent projects about the need to look at more than just Social Network Sites – but to think about how a wide repertoire of tools and online facilitation approaches are brought together to support engagement and inclusion. You can view the slides below (may not make massive sense without the speaking with them – but hopefully give some insights) or scroll on for a list of links and resources.

We discussed a wide range of resources in the session, some of which I’ve tried to capture links to below.

Online tools

Video-making tools: powerful for ‘context-setting’ (explaining a participation opportunity); promoting projects; and as a way of capturing young people’s views and getting voices heard.

Useful links: Shared Practice Through Video guide; Example of video to promote projects; Discussion on using video; Suggested kit-list with cameras;

Survey tools: you can link people to online surveys – or some surveys can be embedded within Facebook and blogs to get structured input from young people. Think carefully about the design of online surveys.

Useful links: SurveyMonkey for online polls; Look for Poll and Voting applications to add to a Facebook page; SMSPoll for text-message surveys; Practical Participation can offer support designing and hosting online surveys; Google Forms also offers a free and effective way to create quick survey forms.

Online mapping tools: to communicate information, or for campaigning.

Useful links: the MyMaps feature on Google Maps (see the one page guide here) can be used for collaborative map making; Google Sketch Up can be used to make 3D models for Google earth; OpenStreetMap can generate free maps of your area for printing & working with; TacticalTech on Maptivism

Collaboration tools: for group work across distance.

Useful links: iEtherPad offers a quick-to-set-up places to collaborative write a document in real-time. Google Documents allows a group to all share and collaborate on spreadsheet(e.g. Budgets) or other documents. Zoho collaborative docs and Huddle collaboration space both have Facebook applications that let you create a ‘virtual office’ within Facebook for a project.

Social Network Sites can be the hub for many engagement projects. They provide a space to connect with young people; to share media from other tools; to promote opportunities to engage; to campaign for change and more.

Some local areas will have private ‘social networking spaces’ within the local authority or schools – such as SuperClubsPlus or RadioWaves which practitioners may wish to explore as environments to work with. If exploring engagement in the wider environment of existing social network sites then more links are below.

Working with social network sites:
There are many resources to help practitioners explore the use of social network sites such as Facebook. The following were mentioned in the workshop:

On e-safety issues take a look at The Byron Review for the wider context, and resources from ChildNet such as Digizen.
For those exploring the development of applications Safe and Effective Social Network Site Applications might also be of interest.
If you have young people interested in Internet governance issues – check out the HuWY project.

Taking it further
The Youth Work Online network and the Network Participation networks are places to explore these issues more.

RightSpace: Holding on and moving forwards

Right Space Video Wall[Summary: If you’re involved in promoting the rights of Children and Young People, and you’re an advocate for youth participation, join in the RightSpace debate]

What is going to happen to youth participation over the next few years?

On the one hand we’ve a government promising massive spending cuts*; and on the other hand, quite genuinely (I hope) talking about localism and transferring power back to communities. Whilst the coalition agreement is woefully lacking in any recognition of the rights and agency of young people, some policy proposals are creating new spaces for civic engagement and participation – whether that’s from open data and transparency; or the encouragement of cooperative and social enterprise structures for the delivery of services.

Later this year, Practical Participation will be involved in an event, RightSpace, that’s trying to explore where participation has got to – and to look to the future of rights-based youth participation. My colleague Bill Badham is already at work heading around the country talking to people about their experiences of participation, their learning from the past, and their fears and visions for the future. You can see video clips from those conversations, join in the conversation, and find out more about  the RightSpace event taking place in Sheffield in October over on the dedicated RightSpace website.

Hope to see you there…

*I’m reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine right now, and feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the narrative of cuts being spun; so whilst questioning the spending cuts in this post – do think we need a far more critical debate about the arguments for ‘massive’ cuts – and some of the positive and ethical alternatives.

How to use multimedia tools to engage children and young people in decision-making

[Summary:Trying to undo a bit of scarcity thinking from the voluntary sector: this time, PW How To Guides]

A long time ago I wrote a resource for Participation Works called “How to use multimedia tools to engage children and young people in decision-making”. The work was funded through a Big Lottery Fund (BLF) grant to Participation Works to support the third-sector with youth participation, and all the published resources were being made available freely online.

It seems that since that grant has ended, Participation Works have decided to restrict free online access to all the digital copies of the resources that BLF money funded, including the guide I wrote: they now want to charge for it.

I don’t. I didn’t write it to be sold. I wrote it to be shared and on the understanding that it would be freely available online. So you can grab your copy here: How to Use Multimedia to Engage Children and Young People in Decision Making (PDF)

[Update 22nd July 2010: With much reluctance I have had to remove the download link to this guide. It was my hope that this blog post would (a) ensure the continued availability of a resource which was written for free dissemination; (b) register my feeling that Participation Works had breached the trust on which the original writing of this resource was based and ensure that others were not suffering from that breach of trust also; (c) provide a gentle provocation to encourage PW and others to think about the messages they are sending out to the sector. Sadly, it does not seem that the Participation Works Consortium took it in that spirit.

I bear no ill-will towards members of the Participation Works Consortium. It is possible some interpreted my posting of this guide as a ‘competitive’ or aggressive act and an act of  Practical Participation. It was neither.

This is my personal blog, and whilst I don’t draw a strict distinction between personal and company posts – intended this post in a personal capacity, expressing my belief in the importance of openness, abundancy thinking and values-based practice. If any offence was caused to any individuals or organisations – my apologies.

For potential users of the guide: I believe the How To guide contains some useful concepts, although it’s technical content is now out of date. If you are interested in the topic of the guide, and can’t find other resources that support your practice, please get in touch as I hope to be able to put together a freely available Creative Commons resource on this topic in the near future.]

It’s only a basic resource, and you will no doubt find lots more information online in space such as Youth Work Online but I thought it important to make sure it did remain freely available on the web.

(As a serious point: it’s pretty worrying to see how many voluntary sector organizations, particularly infrastructure organizations, are shifting into scarcity thinking right now – imagining that by starting to charge, or charge more, for resources in a time of scarcity they will be able to sustain the same old work. A time of scarce financial resources is no time to start restricting your reach by putting in pay-walls. It’s time to build and innovate on legacies of work, not to try and commercially exploit them. Perhaps this is easier to say when freelance and I’m used to the uncertainty of the future – but organizations with a social mission need to remember that the missions are bigger than the organizations – and it’s social change, not organizational maintenance that should come first…)

Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers

Today saw the launch of DFID of ‘Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers‘ – a new guide created through the work of the DFID Civil Society Organizations Youth Working Group and a young team spanning the UK, Nepal and Uganda, to act as a resource supporting Development focussed organizations and funders to explore how young people can participate as actors in development, rather than just as subjects of development interventions.

You can browse the entire guide online (another little bit of Practical Participation Drupal work) or download a copy from the guides website.

Skills for public voice & participation alongside skills for social media

Eszter Hargittai was in the Oxford Internet Institute earlier today sharing her research findings on the role of skills and socio-demographic factors in influencing levels of use of the Internet – and particularly web 2.0 spaces.

Implicit in Eszter’s argument was a relationship between the diversity of Web 2.0 use and democratisation. The presentation highlighted how socio-demographic factors, and particularly gender, can have an impact on the extent to which different groups contribute to public online spaces such as YouTube and Wikipedia. It’s not enough to give access to the web, and to web 2.0 for the imbalances in who is speaking and expressing their views through these online platforms to be challenged. Skills matter in addressing the imbalance.

However, as discussion at the presentation explored, if our concerns are of democratisation, social justice and equality, then the the skills that need to be promoted are far wider than technology skills, or skills to work with social media.

Skills to exercise public voice and to participate in community (online and offline) are arguably prior to the skills to use technology for public expression.

Both as we measure engagement online, and as we work to promote online engagement – keeping in mind a focus not only on digital skills, but also on general skills of public expression, interaction and dialogue is key.

For those working with young people and communities then that perhaps adds up to encouragement to address digital skills as part of wider civic skill-building programmes such as ‘Act by Right (now online as a free resource BTW)’ rather than to address digital skills and social media in isolation.

Commissioning Connexions – Consultation in Bradford

Buying Bradford Connexions[Summary: Just launched Buying Bradford Connexions consultation for young people. Please help get the word out…]

Commissioning is big news right now. Many services for young people are now provided through commissioning arrangements, and competitive tendering. That can lead to a shift in the ways in which young people’s voices influence service provision – and it can open up new decision making spaces where young people’s participation is a must.

When the Commissioning & Contracts Manager in Bradford got in touch to ask if Practical Participation could help them to develop ways of getting young people’s input into the Commissioning process – I was interested to explore the possibilities for blending online and offline engagement – reaching out to a wide range of young people, but also getting in-depth engagement to take place structured around the commissioning process. At first I thought, with my impending return to MSc study, that the job was too big to take on – but, with Bill Badham joining the Practical Participation team in September (more on that soon…) and working in partnership with our friends at YouthBank UK – we’ve been able to put together a plan for young people’s engagement in Commissioning the new Connexions Bradford service & to identify a few opportunities to experiment with new methods along the way too.

So – yesterday, and after a week of development, I pushed the button to launch as a participation space to gather the views of young people from Bradford and surrounding areas into the Connexions service.

(If you happen to work in, or around Bradford – or know anyone who does, your help in getting the message out about this new participation opportunity would be much appreciated)

And in the interests of shared learning – a few more notes on the project below… Continue reading “Commissioning Connexions – Consultation in Bradford”

Impossibly narrow & leadership 1.0

[Summary: a critique of ‘Impossible and Necessary’ by Sir Michael Barber and some remarks on leadership]

I try, as much as possible, to engage in debates in a constructive way, and to avoid anything that might be construed as a rant. I find arguing for and working for things I believe to be right to be preferable, in most circumstances, to spending time arguing against those with whom I may share general goals, but may differ on methods and approaches. Demonstrating the positive alternative is oftentimes more powerful than trying to undermine the status-quo.

However, criticism and critiques have their place, and last week I found myself distinctly at odds with the presentation the ‘Impossible and Necessary’ pamphlet on the future of education. So – herewith follows a series of arguments against, in the hope still or making a constructive contribution to discussions.

Impossibly narrow
Sir Michael Barber’s speech ‘Impossible and Necessary’ was launched as a NESTA Pamphlet on Tuesday morning (though the only online copy I can find is a transcript of Michael’s original speech on which the Pamphlet is based here). For all the NESTA introduction of the pamphlet as a key statement of important challenges for the future, both the pamphlet itself, and the presentation of it’s key messages offered by Michael on Tuesday, turned out to be woefully narrow and lacking in progressive thought.

Whilst it contains one or two good recommendations: encouraging more team-teaching and ending the dominance of the single teacher as master of their domain in a single classroom; and calling for a greater focus on teaching quality rather than on teacher numbers; ‘Impossible and Necessary’ is otherwise unimaginative, adultist, and for a paper which highlights the importance of ethics, lacking in an appreciation that schools are, right now, far from egalitarian environments.

Michael’s essay uses an imagined ‘intergalactic audit commission’ to highlight progress and change on earth over the last 250 years, and to highlight challenges for the future.

Adultism is not a good place to start
The concept of adultism is captured well by this 1996 quote from Jenny Sazama “Young people are systemically mistreated and disrespected by society, with adults as the agents of the oppression. The basis of young people’s oppression is disrespect.”

It’s not good then to find that, in the few times young people are explicitly referenced in Impossible and Necessary it is in phrases loaded with stereotype and prejudice.

“…last year, I read that computers will soon have the learning capacity of a toddler. That’s a lot of learning capacity, as any parent knows. It’s also a lot of tantrums. I fully expect, a few years from how, to read that computers with have the learning capacity of a teenager and no doubt stay in bed until lunchtime.”

I would hope a vision for the future of education would be centred on understanding and respect for children. I would expect at least that it wouldn’t be reinforcing and playing on prejudice. But not so in Impossible and Necessary. How can we support and enable young people to learn if we don’t respect them?

Focus on education as an abdication of responsibility
It is also worth pointing out that the majority of the looming crisis and problems Sir Michael gets his intergalactic audit team to identify in the first part of the Pamphlet are ones created or increased by his generation. Thus, the claim, with words in the mouth of the intergalactic auditors that to resolve them there is just on thing “you can do – just one – really, really well. Educate every children and young person on the planet better, much better, than you’ve ever done before because they are your sustainable future” reads somewhat as an abdication of responsibility for taking tough decisions about big issues now.

Yes, younger generations do need to learn in order to be part of creating a sustainable future. But:

  1. It’s about our future. A shared future. Which includes adults and young people.
  2. Sir Michael’s generation shouldn’t be thinking that improving education, and leaving the problem solving to future generations alone is the ethical thing to do. There are things that those in positions of power should be doing to challenge crisis of climate and conflict right now. Educating for the future is part of it. But there are many other parts – and parts which might demand of adults right now that we make sacrifices to safeguard our sustainable future.

We have had ethical innovation – but schools are lagging behind
In talking about Impossible and Necessary on Tuesday, Sir Michael focussed on his ‘equation’ contained in the paper: E(K+T+L) where: K = Knowledge, T= Thought, and L = Leadership, all bracketed by ‘Ethics’. The argument being that good education involves each of K, T and L, but also requires ethical education. Sir Michael suggested that whilst the last centuries have seen massive technical innovation, ethical innovation has lagged behind. In part, this claim is defensible: we do need to rethink our models of ethics for a networked society in which authority is far more distributed.

However, we have had ethical developments over the last 50 years, not least the establishment of a global framework of Human Rights, and of Children’s Rights. Yet few schools are environments in which an culture of respect and rights is pervasive. Sir Michael’s intergalactic auditors do highlight and praise the “changing place of women in society”, but fail utterly to highlight the continued failure of schools to respect young people’s right to be listened to in decisions that affect them. This is about far more than the developments in yearly student satisfaction surveys and occasional school councils that the panel at Tuesday’s event cited as evidence that school were becoming more democratic. It is about a shift in the culture of schools.

You cannot prepare ‘innovators of tomorrow’
The culture that fails to give young people ownership of their own learning, and to see them as equal partners (or indeed, the key partner) in the learning process with teachers, is further expressed in the idea that we need to equip young people as ‘innovators of tomorrow’.

In the same way that citizen education can not be effective when we do not allow young people to be citizens now, innovation education is unlikely to thrive unless we see young people as innovators right now, not just innovators in training for the future.

It starts and ends beyond the classroom
Perhaps at the heart of the narrow vision in ‘Impossible and Necessary’ is that is never sets foot beyond the classroom. It ignores that young people live the majority of their lives outside schools, and that education is not a task that takes place 9am – 3pm weekdays. The panellists suggestion on Tuesday that the solution is to increase the amount of time spent in school (and indeed, extended schools policy is encouraging this) demonstrates a woefully limited understanding of many young people’s lives. Schools will remain important settings and catalysts of future learning – but if we’re thinking about education for the future, we need to start in communities, in workplaces, in supporting parents and in many other places – not just the classroom.

Accountability and intangibles
On the first page of Impossible and Necessary we find the sentences:

“You are aware, of course, that in England we inspect almost everyone. And in case that’s not enough we audit it too. We’re the regulatory specialists”.

But Impossible and Necessary isn’t opposed to that regulation and inspection. It want more. In talking about it Michael Barber argued that a false dichotomy underlies the implicit claim that “because you can’t measure everything, you should measure nothing”. But, whilst that is true, what you measure nearly always distorts where energies are directed – and if some of the things we value can’t be measured, we need to be careful that our measurement of other things does not take our eye off important intangibles.

Accountability can be achieved without reducing all education to numbers, and shifting ownership of educational attainment from the learner to schools and state.

More leadership 1.0
L for Leadership is a key part of Sir Michael’s equation for education E(K+T+L). Leadership is a popular topic right now, with the launch this week of the National Body for Youth Leadership (branded ‘The Youth Of Today‘). But both The Youth of Today and Sir Michael’s focus on ‘Leadership’ appear, in spite of a passing recognition that there are different models of leadership, to remain as reductive, individualistic concepts.

In fact, I think the problem is predominantly in the equation of ‘the ability to get things done’ with ‘leadership’ – and the attempt then to subsume within the concept of leadership all those things which relate to getting things done. Convening, co-ordinating and catalysing are all ways of getting things to happen. In the networked world it is ever clearer that things are achieved not only through top-down leadership, but by participation in self-organising networks and co-operative structures. Often-times getting things done in these contexts is not about gaining power, but is about giving up control and power and trusting people.

A sense, and capacity for, efficacy – and being part of creating change – is key. But if we reduce our desire for all people to have this to talk of leadership – we greatly impoverish the debate.

In closing
I realise now that one of the reasons I rarely write in critical mode, is I’m not sure how to resolve a critique. Should I offer a positive vision? That will take not just a little more writing. And this is too long already.

Can social networks bridge the participation gap?

[Summary: Online social networks have a role to play in bridging one off engagement with more structured forms of participation.]

A bit of scene setting

Image from Hear by Right book (p.g.7)

The ‘Ladder of Participation’ which asks organisations to consider the depth of youth participation in particular activities will be familiar to many people in youth engagement. Using Hart’s Ladder of Participation you can assess whether a youth council is acting as a genuine structure for youth empowerment, leading to young people and adults sharing decisions and creating change – or whether it is really a tokenistic gesture, creating the illusion of participation whilst adults are actually running the whole show.

But youth participation is not just about youth councils and young mayors. Good youth participation offers young people the chance to get involved and influence issues that affect them in a wide variety of ways, from one-off input into feedback and complaints processes, through to more structured engagement in the governance of organisations. On it’s own the ladder of Participation doesn’t show the full picture. That’s where the ‘matrix of participation’ comes in.

It’s a tool I’ve been using in training sessions for years, having first discovered in whilst working with Bill Badham delivering Hear by Right training. However, as far as I can tell we’ve never written it up online (though it is written up in this book which you can search inside with an Amazon account (search for ‘matrix’)).

The matrix of participation includes Hart’s Ladder of Participation on it’s vertical axis, and adds a horizontal axis consisting of different participation approaches, running roughly from one-off, short term or informal approaches on the left, to more structured and long-term approaches on the right.

Organisations can map the different participation opportunities they provide against both their level of participativeness, and against the type of approach they represent.

The matrix is particularly useful to encourage organisations to consider whether they are offering young people a spread of engagement opportunities, and our experience is that attempts to just provide opportunities at one side or other of the matrix is unlikely to lead to sustainable and effective youth participation which leads to positive change for young people.

An observation: the gap in the middle
When Bill Badham joined us at the April meeting of the Youth Participation and Social Network Sites Action Learning Set he led the group in using the matrix of participation (plus some post-it notes and a big sticky sheet) to put together a big visual representation of the different participation approaches in use amongst the 20 or so local authorities participating in the learning set.

Standing back from the wall where this matrix had been put together during the lunch break we spotted something interesting. The participation methods shown were clustered on the left and right of the matrix, and things were thin in the middle.

Already participants had been talking about how many of the more structured participation methods to the right were limited in their efficacy because they only managed to attract certain groups of young people who did not reflect the diversity of the young people the organisations worked with. And this got us thinking.

Participation methods towards the middle of the matrix are really important. It is through involvement in events; in creative projects; and in short-term activities that many young people can develop the confidence to express their views and can build the networks with other young people and with supportive adults that enable and encourage them to then get involved in further participation. The middle of the matrix is a key point on young people’s ‘pathway of participation’. Without opportunities to gain experience, information and develop networks – many young people (and often the young people we most need to hear from) may never go on to speak up in forums where they could have power to make serious change happen.

Bridging the gap: online social networks
Online social networking is not a cure all. But it seems that it could have a role to play here.

Right now, young people engaging in participation on the left of the matrix of participation, in one-off participation opportunities have few ways of connecting this engagement to longer term involvement in participation. Filling in a paper form to provide feedback on an activity and handing it in can often feel like a participation dead end.

But what if, instead of just handing in feedback, young people were encouraged to digitally provide their ideas for improvements to a service, and were to vote for the ideas supplied by other young people (see tools like UserVoice)?

And what if young people taking part in survey and small-scale engagement were offered an opt-in opportunity to connect with the person who will take forward action based on their input, so they can continue to engage with further questions that crop up as a policy or practice comes to be implemented?

And what if young people who want to express their view on a single issue could do that by joining a group within a social network, in the process coming to discover the other issues their peers are working on – and becoming part of a shared network with young people already involved in formal participation structures?

Not all young people will go on to ‘leap the gap’ themselves and move from one-off engagement to sitting on a youth forum or governance board (nor should they), but perhaps some will – and perhaps, equally importantly, those young people who take part in formal participation structures will have ways of keeping connected with the issues that matter to their least advantaged peers, and will be better able to represent the views of others and to advocate for improvements that benefit those most in need of change.

How are you blending online and offline social networks into your youth participation practice?

Participation Works How To Guide on Multimedia Participation

Participation Works have just published the basic How To guide I wrote earlier this year on using Multimedia Tools for Youth Participation. (Thanks for Mas for spotting it had gone online, and to Nick and Michael for the case studies in the guide)

This guide builds upon the Using Online Tools for Participation section of the PW site I put together previously.

Using multimedia tools in participation is such a broad topic, that the guide only just scratches the surface (and I’ve tried to focus on social media where possible). However, I hope it can prove useful for those who want to start thinking about how new technology can be at least part of their engagement approaches.

A veritable festival of youth and social media

The 26th and 27th September should see a veritable festival of events linked to youth participation, youth work and social media down in London. In fact, I wish I'd seen all the connections earlier to brand the whole lot as a festival.
Here's what is coming up:

  • Research launch of the Youth Work and Social Networking report (26th Sept, 2.45pm till 4.45pm) – the work that seems to have taken over a large chunk of the last six months of my time. Along with Pete Cranston, I'll be sharing what we've discovered, providing both a theoretical and practical account of how youth workers and other professionals working with young people can support young people to navigate the risks and make the most of the opportunities of online social networking, and opening up a discussion of different uses of social network sites in youth work.
    The research launch is free to attend, and if you want more details or to reserve your place, get in touch with

  • UK Youth Online open space event (27th Sept, 10am till 5pm, followed by a trip to a local pub) – on Saturday 27th we'll be opening up the agenda even more to explore all things linked to young people and social media. Thanks to the kind support of DIUS this free event will provide space for practitioners, academics, innovators, funders, managers and others interested in the impact of new technology on work with young people to gather together and explore a wide range of issues through short presentations, discussions and demonstrations.
    For more details about UK Youth Online check out the network website, where you can also register to take part.

Please do pass details of all these events on to anyone who you think might be interested.


And what if you can't make the 26th and 27th September, or if London is a bit of a trek for you? Well, get in touch and let's get planning for some more local festivals exploring youth, technology and social media…