Voicebox – making the most of engagement

VoiceBoxThe process is depressingly familiar. Someone asks you to fill in a survey for research or consultation. They take away your results – and – in the rare cases where you ever hear of the research/consultation again – you see that your responses have been written up as part of a dull report, full of graphs made in Excel, and likely to sit on the book shelves of people whose behaviour betrays the probability that they’ve not really read or understood what was in the report.

Which is why it is refreshing to see the (albeit well funded) Vinspired team doing something rather different with their Voicebox survey of 16 – 25 year olds. Here’s how they introduce the project:

Journalists, politicians, academics, police and parents all have a point of view on what the ‘kids of today’ are like.

But has anyone ever asked the young people themselves, and not just in a focus group in Edmonton, but in an open and transparent way and on a national scale? And has anyone done anything smart, cool or fun with that data, that might, just might, make the truth about young people be heard?

These questions were the starting point for Voicebox; a project which aims to curate the views of 16-25s, visualise the results in creative ways, and then set that data free. Over the coming months, we’re going to try to find out how young people spend their time, what they care about, how many carry knives, what they really think about the area they live in and much more.

But not only are they breaking up their survey of views into manageable chunks, and giving instant feedback on the results to anyone filling the survey in – they are opening up the data they collect through an open XML API and CSV downloads, so anyone can take and use the data collected.

Plus – to make sure responses to the question ‘What do young people really care about?’ make it in front of decision makers – they’re planning to wire up the responses to a robot, ready to hand-write out each and every response as part of an installation in Parliament.

Of course, it’s not often that your budget stretches to custom-built flashy survey applications and internet-connected-robots when you’re looking to gain young people’s input into local issues or policy making. But what Vinspired have done with VoiceBox does raise the questions: how will you make sure that you really make the most of the views young people give you? Any how will you get young people’s views in front of decision makers in a way that makes them tricky to ignore?

Certainly two questions I’m going to be asking myself on any future consultation or engagement projects I work on…