Here’s the slightly belated news that Nominet Trust recently announced funding of more than £1 million for the first round of projects under the Digital Edge programme.
You can see the background provocation paper here that helped inform the programme, written by socialreporters, Tim Davies, Alex Farrow and me. Some terrific projects are under way, bearing out the innovative ideas we discovered during our exploration. There’s now another call for proposals, which you can see here.
Following an unprecedented number of applications, the Trust has awarded 14 organisations more than £1 million to support their work in using technology to improve young people’s participation in society.
With close to a million young people unemployed and prospects for full time employment bleak, internships and other low-paid work placements have become a vital way to boost employment prospects. But expensive rent or travel costs often prevent young people from taking advantage of such opportunities.
Room for Tea, one of the 14 organisations receiving funding, connects guests in need of short-term, affordable accommodation in London with hosts who have a spare room in their homes. This project has the potential to benefit young jobseekers while also reducing the social isolation often felt by older people living on their own. Nominet Trust investment will enable Room for Tea to develop its online platform and expand its reach to a wider number of potential young beneficiaries.
Catch22 is another organisation that has been approved for funding. Their project comprises an app that encourages young people to make a positive contribution to their community – such as keeping their neighbourhood clean – and in the process helps them to discover and develop the soft skills and confidence needed when applying for a job.
Annika Small, Nominet Trust CEO, commented: “Digital technology offers new ways for young people to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents. Importantly it can help young people to connect with the wider community, whether that is active participation in their local neighbourhood or contributing to an online group. This in turn can boost their skills and confidence which will help when it comes to applying for a job.
“At Nominet Trust, we are excited to be supporting so many forward-thinking organisations. From creating new forms of online skills exchange and reward, new connections that increase young people’s access to resources and networks of support, or new ways of showcasing talents and experience to future employers, these projects are demonstrating how digital technology has the potential to broaden young people’s horizons and improve their social and economic participation.”
Over the past few months we have been blogging our exploration, designed to inform the Nominet Trust’s new investment programme focussed on how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities.
The Digital Edge is a £2 million investment programme to fund new ideas for using digital technology to improve young people’s economic and social participation.
Digital technology offers us the opportunity to engage young people in new, more meaningful and relevant ways and enable their participation in building a more resilient society. Yet we need to focus on approaches that take advantage of digital technology to create the greatest value to young people and our wider communities. We need to develop young people’s talents and opportunities and equip them with the confidence, skills and motivation to address the social challenges that they and future generations face.
The first deadline for Stage 1 proposals is 1st August, after which you will be told whether to submit more detailed proposals for stage 2 by 5th September. Support is available ranging from, say, £2,500 up to over £250,000 for larger projects – but there is no fixed upper of lower limit. The following organisations are eligible:
schools, PTAs, universities or other educational establishments
statutory bodies e.g. local authorities
commercially-run organisations that run as social enterprises
other grant-making bodies to make awards on our behalf
The Challenges facing young people: a summary
Area 1: Digging deeper into the problems and addressing the root causes
Far too often economic and social issues are dealt with at a surface level. For example, concerns of youth unemployment might lead to a focus on the fact that young people are not finding jobs to apply for, or are not getting the jobs that they do find and apply for. This can drive responses based around providing better job information, or writing better CVs. These are of course not bad things (and there’s still space for innovation to increase their impact), but they don’t get to the roots of the problem, and they don’t lead us to new spaces for innovation.
Digging deeper involves listening to the diverse lived experiences of those affected by a social or economic challenge, and incessantly asking ‘why?’. What underlies the barriers that are keeping young people from accessing sustainable livelihoods, or from getting involved in local community decision making and action? What are all the different factors that might be involved?
Area 2: Exploring the changing landscape and the nature of engagement
A lot of the professions and services that have a role to play in supporting young people’s economic and social engagement have been around for a long time – founded well before the advent of the Internet. We firmly believe that informal education, youth work, housing services and community development, amongst others, continue to have vital professional skills and values to contribute.
Yet, over the last 25 years, the internet and digital technologies have become woven into the fabric of our everyday lives and have catalysed seismic social and economic shifts, changing the landscape that young people are growing up in, and the environment for services that support them.
Many services providing support to young people have struggled to engage with these digital shifts in the past, held back by underinvestment or by fears about the risks of online spaces. Yet, there is a growing recognition that this needs to change, and innovation is needed to bridge the gap between current practice, and the needs and potential of a digitally connected world.
Area 3: Renegotiating professional practice
Digital technology can enable, amplify and extend different forms of support for young people. Adding a digital edge to a service might allow it to take advantage of economies of scale to reach many more young people than a non-digital service; it might open up opportunities for more interactive and personalised support; or it might empower young people to take greater direct control of situations that affect them. Those impacts won’t come from the technology alone, they will also come from the way a service is designed, and the values built into it.
Youth work has a number of powerful core values – from the idea that you should ‘start from where young people are, and go beyond’ that calls for a balance of ‘support’ and ‘challenge’ for young people; through to the ‘voluntary engagement principle’ that seeks to secure young people’s consent to any engagement.
Community development workers, careers advisors, educators and entrepreneurs all bring different core values with them, but it’s important to articulate those values and to see how they interact with new technological environments. For example, the idea of building relationships is also key to youth work, and whilst some digital technologies can be used to support practitioners to develop more sustainable and effective supportive relationships with young people, other technologies might be used to replace relationships with independently accessed media content.
Area 4: New forms of employment and reward
ACEVO’s Commission on Youth Unemployment8 calculated the ten year cost of youth unemployment (from higher benefits, lost taxes, and lost economic activity) to be £28 billion. With 260,000 young people currently unemployed for over a year and a further 200,000 unemployed for the past six months, the economic and social cost of youth unemployment creates a stark challenge that needs to be addressed.
There are already many ways of accessing paid employment beyond a single, full time role. Some successful young people put together their own careers and livelihoods from a mixture of freelance work, self-employment, part-time contracts and spending time working on independent and unfunded projects that they care about, or volunteering in their communities. For many of them, the Internet has been fundamental to this sort of working: from providing a marketplace to promote their services, to giving access to cheap and on-demand tools for online banking and managing their accounts.
With only around 200,000 vacancies for over 2.4 million people unemployed in early 2012, the loss of the option to pursue full-time work is not something to be celebrated. But in a changing economy we need to think about how we are preparing young people to secure a decent living, and to be able to make positive choices about how they use their time, talents and resources.
Sangeet Bhullar is executive director of WISE KIDS, which promotes innovative, positive and safe Internet use. In this contribution to our exploration, Sangeet emphasis the importance of going beyond digital literacy towards digital citizenship – both for young people and those who seek to support them.
From my experience over the years of working with young people and the adults who work with or care for them, to help them use the Internet more effectively, innovatively and safely, the following are some of the key issues I think those seeking to engage youth with digital technologies need to consider:
As has been mentioned before youth are not a homogenous group, and therefore, one of the first things I would say is we need to understand where young people are at – listening to them, understanding their motivations and behaviour, their particular ‘youth culture’. This varies according to many factors including age, regions, socio-economic status etc.
We also need to be able to assess their digital competency and knowledge, skills and confidence, and work with them to co-create programmes which help them develop their interests – and which also develop their digital literacy skills (as defined by the Knight Commission)
Digital literacy means learning how to work the information and communication technologies in a networked environment, as well as understanding the social, cultural and ethical issues that go along with the use of these technologies. Media literacy is the ability to access, analyse, evaluate, create, reflect upon, and act with the information products that media disseminate.
The Knight Commission have identified digital and media literacy as essential for democracy and civic engagement and believe that successful participation in the digital age entails two kinds of skills sets – digital literacy and media literacy.
Those seeking to engage youth with digital technologies would also do well to help young people develop a culture of digital citizenship as defined by the ISTE (and the social, emotional, leadership and digital competencies associated with these). From my own work in this area, I feel that digital literacy skills, which should focus on the creative and effective use of digital technologies, also need to explore the topics of ethics, responsible use, appropriate boundaries, privacy and legal issues. Whilst many people think that young people are fairly competent in their use of digital technologies, there are still gaps in this knowledge, which if addressed, could help them use them more effectively.
In the broader sense of digital literacy, we should also be helping young people explore the way changing digital and web technologies are affecting society, culture, politics and more, and mediating the development of skills and competencies to help them develop their own sense of this digital space, and their place in it.
This means that those who seek to engage youth with digital technologies need to develop their own digital literacy skills and develop a good understanding of how businesses and individuals are using digital and web technologies for benefit (or not). It would also be good if they could showcase examples of where youth are already using the web and digital technologies for advocacy, personal and community benefit and developing a positive online presence.
We started the process with an open online document that generated over 30 suggested messages, both on the How To of using digital technology, and the issues to think about when engaging 16 – 24 year olds. We took the messages into a workshop with 30 young and older digital innovators in London, and came out with 10 prioritised messages. Driven by the idea of ‘social reporting’ as a process of bringing together and curating content that has already been generated, we then set out to find existing online material that could be used to expand on those key messages, and Alex Farrow has been working hard to put together 10 ‘storify’ posts (see below) that capture and curate key content – both gathered through the online document, tweeting and the workshop, and from going out and searching the web for relevant academic research and social media snippets.
The goal was for these storify posts both inform the write-up of a short paper summarising the messages, and for them to act as an extra resource that could ‘show not tell’ those interested in the messages what the mean. For example, it’s pretty hard to capture what co-design is in 300 words of prose, but in a couple of short video clips, photo-rich blog posts, and pithy tweets, it should be possible to communicate a more rounded picture. Alex Farrow has been hard at work curating content, and we’re getting close to that goal, although it’s turned out more challenging than we expected to track down snappy online content to illuminate the key messages*. So – we’re really after your help to really make sense what it means to blend online and offline in supporting young people, or to use games to engage (or any of the other messages below). Here’s how you can help:
Take a look at one or more of the storify posts below…
Tweet us additional examples, quotes, links or comments using #DTYE or to @alexjamesfarrow, @timdavies or @davidwilcox. We’re particularly keen on good short video clips or slideshows that help make sense of the messages. Good tweets might be used directly in the storify posts, so clear and concise summaries of ideas very welcome.
Using the comment box below each Storify post, give any feedback, comments, thoughts on the blog.
Pass on to others who you think have something to add
Whilst the final draft of the provocations paper that Nominet Trust will be printing up will be completed in the next week or so, we’ll keep adding to the storify posts, which will be linked to from the paper, so ongoing input and ideas are really welcome.
Background post: Meeting the challenges: young people in the UK What challenges are young people facing in the UK today? At our workshop event in April 2012 we sought to dig behind the headline challenges to understand the underlying issues that social innovators might be able to address.
Blend online and offline Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.
Use games to engage Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.
Address the innovation gaps in the back-office Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.
Support young people to be creators, not consumers Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.
Co-design with young people The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.
Consider the livelihoods of the future Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living.
Use technology to personalise services Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.
Be network literate and create new connections Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.
Recognise the diversity of youth Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.
The Design Council in partnership with Nominet Trust have just launched the Working Well Design Challenge. Designers and youth organisations are being invited to join forces to design, build and launch new digital products and services that help young people develop their talents and earn a living. Two of their team joined us at our DYTE workshop and we’re really excited to see some of the themes from the day reflected in the challenge call for entries. Here Mike Smart explains more about the Challenge, and below Dan Sutch explains how Nominet Trust is developing its wider range of investments, informed in part by our exploration here.
With record numbers of 16-24 year olds not in education, employment or training, there is a serious need to improve how we support young people to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, jargon such as ‘NEET’ not only does many a disservice, but presents the situation as a problem of economic policy rather than an opportunity to do something practical to help.
Design Challenges bring designers, manufacturers and technologists together to demonstrate how design can turn challenges into opportunities. In this instance, we’re offering three teams £50,000 each to design, build and launch digital products and services that offer young people new opportunities to participate in society, both economically and socially.
We’re thrilled to have partnered with Nominet Trust to run this challenge. No young person should be forced into a bad job, unpaid work experience or unemployment, whether because of the current economic climate or a poor start in life. I’m especially excited that this challenge allows us to bring together the power of technology to challenge and disrupt existing ways of working, with the ability of designers to make products and services useful, useable and desirable. We all know that digital technology has revolutionised the way we discover and act on opportunities – everything from finding our way around to keeping in touch has been radically altered by the internet. However, if it wasn’t for designers making that technology simple and easy to use, the digital revolution would never have happened.
Working Well follows on from a number of previous Design Challenges. Recently, our Living Well With Dementia challenge recently resulted in five innovative products and services that have been critically acclaimed by dementia specialists and the design community. In the past we’ve also tackled violence and aggression in A&E departments, improving patient privacy and dignity, and reducing health care associated infections in wards.
This is an exciting opportunity for designers and youth organisations to really make a difference to the lives of young people in the UK. We’re looking to hear from people with expertise either in design and technology or working with young people. So if this sounds like you, then download the call for entries through our website and apply before the 20th June 2012.
Dan Sutch writes:
Nominet Trust is developing a programme of social investment to address the challenges faced by young people in participating socially and economically with their communities. This grants and investment programme will seek to support new approaches to using digital technology to re-design ways of supporting young people.
As part of this, the Trust is working with a range of partners to identify the most significant challenges as well as exploring a range of approaches to using digital technology. Through research and co-design; partnerships and project funding; evaluation and reflection, these key challenges will be refined and developed as we seek to ensure this programme creates the greatest value in addressing these social challenges.
Working Well a partnership with the Design Council; Digital Makers in partnership with NESTA and Digital Edge all contribute to this programme with a shared goal of better supporting young people to engage socially and economically with their communities through the use of digital technologies. More details of each partnership and the challenges they’re seeking to address will be available soon at www.nominettrust.org.uk. We’re looking for partners and ideas to address these challenges, and look forward to working with you to do so.
As the digital bod in the team, I was excited about the prospect of using social media to reach a new audience for BIG and get young people from all over England sharing their views, issues and solutions. With BIG’s already strong Facebook and Twitter followings, it felt like an easy enough task to engage a few hundred extra people.
Five months later, the young people have come up with their initial priorities for funding and are now helping us launch our first new investments. Social media and other technology have been an integral part of the process, and along the way we’ve learned a lot about what works, and more vitally, what doesn’t, when using tech to engage young people.
The power of social
February was fast approaching, and a week before the deadline we had received only a handful of applications from young people wanting to take part. We had already emailed all our contacts working with young people, so we decided to Tweet and Facebook the opportunity out to the world from BIG’s main accounts. One week, 80 applications and a very satisfying Google Analytics graph later, we realised the power that lay in the networks of organisations and individuals who were connected to us online, many of whom we had never met or even heard of.
As we felt social media was so important, we decided to have a dedicated social media team within the group, working alongside those young people responsible for analysing and discussing priorities for the investment and those working on evidence and learning within the process. So a group of seven young people were chosen, based on their interests and experience, to lead the social media effort. Following an initial get-together and planning session, this team worked virtually, keeping in touch with the other teams via phone calls and a closed Facebook group. One of the wider team recently described the social media campaign as “the powertool pushing our agenda forward,” but how successful has it really been?
I spoke to Craig Blake, 20, from Essex, a member of the social media team, about how he felt the campaign had gone.
Overall, I feel that the social media campaign has been a very big success. We have managed to outreach more than we first anticipated. A large percentage of young people use these sites on a regular basis, so it has been a free, efficient way to market the process to other young people.
The group’s initial brief was to share what we were doing and collect views and opinions from young people and youth organisations about the biggest issues they faced. This was quite a broad message, but Craig and the team were able to ensure it was targeted by using their existing networks and fan bases.
This allowed us to keep the campaign small-scale and precise, saving us time and effort and avoiding irrelevant requests.
Although the team didn’t receive the volume of responses they had expected, some deep and insightful evidence was gained through conversations with other users, and over 100 young people responded to a SurveyMonkey designed by some of the team.
Reanna, 21, from Manchester, also a member of the social media team, volunteered to blog on behalf of the group. This involved her coming to more face-to-face meetings with the team analysing the evidence collected and coming up with priorities.
I’ve used social media to support this process by blogging about what the team has been doing to try and make it more accessible for young people to read. I’ve learned a lot about blogging – how to take a back seat, listen to people and write it up in a way which is accessible to everyone. I found it challenging as I didn’t quite realise how much time it would take!
Reanna’s blog has been great in allowing the team to give their own perspective, while utilising BIG’s wide audience to shout about the significance of this process. The posts have received some lovely comments and been viewed by hundreds of people.
Promoting team spirit
Within the wider group of 20 young people, a private Facebook group has allowed close working between teams and individuals. Unlike picking up the phone, social media allows you to share information with whole groups of people. Whether or not they pick up and respond to your message is another matter. For the BIG staff team, Facebook has been a great way to get important messages out to the group and get quick responses from the young people. George Poole, 17, from Cornwall said:
A very daunting prospect from the start was that we were from all over the country – to communicate with all those people from different places in an efficient way felt like it would be difficult. That’s where the Facebook group has been great. I’ve been able to say, ‘I’ve got this meeting, what questions should I ask?’ Having feedback and new ideas on this from people has been amazing. I’ve had a place I can go if I need help with something. It’s really helped promote the fact that we are spread out all over the country yet working tightly as a team.
Micah, 16, from Croydon also felt it was really valuable:
Having the group has been a really critical part of the project. I didn’t have email addresses for everyone, but we were all on Facebook, even the staff. We’re all on there anyway, and the group focused on what we’re doing helped a lot. You can post more views with the public one and have other young people sharing their issues and how it affects them, and their ideas for solutions. You get such a wide variety of good and bad views.
There was a lot of internet research going on and when team members found great articles, case studies and evidence, they found it so easy to post them online for others to see and comment on. However, the group was used more by some than others, and one of the young people believes this is partly due to the feeling of being ‘watched’.
Some people have been really active on it which has been really helpful and encouraging. But some conversations haven’t gone on there as we know the team is watching – it hasn’t been as honest and open as it could be.
Nothing beats face-to-face
For some members of the team, seeing information shared on the group led to frustration and a feeling that they were out of the loop. They had not all been at the same meetings and had not been filled in individually, making it harder to ask questions. The fact that social media conversation is often very one way was highlighted by Craig as a limitation of the outreach campaign.
I feel that we could have got more views from young people if we had the chance to physically intercept them at events or projects. Social Media could have complemented this. By attending events we would have been able to get views from young people face-to-face. This would have allowed us to ask challenging questions to people on an individual basis and enable us to tailor the questions so that we get the best possible answers.
The opinions collected from the hundreds of young people the group spoke to formed a vital part of their evidence base. Perhaps a more focused effort on meeting with young people in wider range of real-life settings may have benefitted the breadth of evidence and engagement the group achieved.
It’s individuality of conversation that social media lacks. I can read your Facebook status, but I know you are talking to the world. I have to proactively choose to hear myself addressed and respond, and that’s quite a big step for any individual. It was through the whole-team face-to-face meetings that we were able to communicate to the young people the value we placed on their work, and that they were able to tell us frankly what they thought of how we were running the process and how we could improve it.
Confidence and the fear of ‘saying something wrong’ seem to be a barrier to young people engaging via social media. We have seen much wider use of the closed group than the public page, which indicates that even our team, who are never shy to say what they’re thinking, might not be so confident sharing their views online.
The problem of access
During the process we came across one major barrier to using tech to engage young people. It’s easy to assume that all young people now have access to the internet – but we soon realised that’s just not true. A couple of team members have limited access to a PC, and many of them don’t have smartphones. However, with some training and information on how to get online, some of the young people have really grown and learned new skills. One of them, who I helped to set up a Facebook account, told me:
I found it hard at first as I’m not very good at computers. But over the past few weeks it’s been really good to get involved and see other people post things. It’s been really good to see what’s going on in different areas.
Unfortunately, this intensive training and support is not something we can offer more widely. The team also expressed some concerns that some of the young people most in need, who we most need to hear from, might not get a chance to get involved via social media as they simply can’t access what we’re doing online. Abi, 16, from Devon told us:
This process could be improved by getting more young people who are affected firsthand by the themes we have chosen – for example unemployment – to come in and have input. It would be great to hear directly from a wider range of young people.
This is what BIG plans to do as we move forward with our investment plans.
On the other hand, some of the technology we have used has allowed young people to share their views in new ways. We have been using Miituu, an app that allows you to record a questionnaire and leave someone alone with an iPad to record their answers. We were surprised by the clear, candid responses we got from the team each time we met as the young people were so much more at ease than they would have been with a large camera, pushy interviewer and microphone in their faces. Jenna, 23, from Liverpool said of the app:
It’s a great way to interview people in a way that allows them to really express their opinions in an informal 21st century way.
Check out our YouTube channel to see some of the videos we have produced from Miituu footage. Miituu has also allowed us to map the journey of the team, which will be extremely useful in evaluating this process.
As we move into the summer and more consultation meetings, presentations to the BIG England Committee and national launches, we will be providing further training to help the team use their social media and online skills to promote the products of this intense but brilliant process to the media. We’re expecting to learn a whole lot more too! Keep an eye on our Facebook page, Twitter feed and the big blog for more.
One of the people we really wanted to come to our DTYE event – on how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities - was Eugenie Teasley, who set up Spark+Mettle. It is a highly innovative aspirations agency focussed on “preparing young people who do not have the connections or the resources themselves to map and launch a career that they will love”. The young people aren’t participants – they are co-creators of the programme.
Unfortunately for us Eugenie was in South Carolina at the time, so on her return we invited her to review the top ten messages from the event in the light of her experience.
Here’s a video in which Eugenie explains how the Spark+Mettle Star Track programme blends Benjamin Franklin’s self-improvement programme with an understanding of flourishing as determined by Cambridge University’s Institute of Wellbeing … and then her reflections.
I’m really energised by the messages that have emerged from the Young People and Digital Technology exploration project so far. Too often online interaction for young people is either narrowly social or unengagingly pragmatic; I’m thinking Facebook and Blackboard. The digital space is a thriving one—in fact one of the only bustling, growing ecosystems during these economic doldrums. So to encourage fresh approaches to connect young people and technology is something I value and champion.
It was in the Young Foundation’s report Plugged in, untapped (2010) that I first came across the phrase ‘digital homophily’—something I’d seen time and time again but not named. There’s this tension about the internet: although it has the capability of being a democratising tool, it is currently not bridging many socio-cultural chasms. In fact—for the most part unwittingly—it has a tendency to widen them. Those who’ve learned how to develop broad networks, to research thoroughly and to engage meaningfully online are in a happy place. But for young people who don’t have extensive networks, the internet is a place to reinforce their offline peer community, and to engage with the brands that influence them.
I launched Spark+Mettle a year ago to explore ways to turn this tendency on its head. My aim was to work with young people from tough backgrounds to help them flourish and fulfil their potential. Star Track is a year-long incubator programme that shapes, supports and accelerates the emerging talent in young people. Unlike many similar programmes, the method for the pilot has been to harness digital technology and, working collaboratively with young people, to understand how it can enable them to fulfil their potential.
I confess this method came out of practical, personal considerations: I had just had a baby and was ensconced in Brighton, not much able to trundle around the country. But I desperately didn’t wanted the programme to be confined to where I was—the need in Brighton for this sort of programme is considerable, but still considerably less than elsewhere. Going a digital route then seemed to be a wholly practical one—a risk, but one that’s paid off. It’s been great for co-creators: one pair “hangout” each week (as above) when one’s in Essex and the other Edinburgh; we’ve teamed young people in York and Bristol with London counterparts. That’s pretty liberating. The fact that it is not location-based has been a huge plus for our team and volunteers too—people are able to commit to us and to the other logistics of their lives. We’ve had team members dial into their sessions from Singapore and New Zealand.
Out of the ten messages that have emerged from the DTYE conversations, there are three that resonate particularly strongly with what we’ve been doing over the last few months.
The first is around the concept of blending online and offline. All our co-creators and team members met, in person, during an assessment day in October. That formed a strong basis for the developing online relationships. We have quarterly lunch parlays during which we all meet, and bring in a number of volunteers to connect with our young people on a variety of projects. The most recent one we held was a huge success. The online/offline blend is mutually reinforcing. And in fact, although I appreciate the benefits of game-based approaches, for the group of young people we target (those who have spark and some degree of mettle but lack the connections and resources to get to where they deserve to go) it is the human-to-human interaction (online or offline) that is key.
I’m also borderline fanatical about co-design – whether it’s with the users or other providers, a multi-brain mash-up is surely an intuitive approach for generating successful online content and design. We were looking for a title for the young people on our Star Track programme: ‘participants’ was too passive for us. The title ‘co-creators‘ came from them. “As we learn from it, we are also shaping it,” said Suraj Rai. I can’t say it any better. For each session I provide a learning aim, a flourishing theme and a suggested list of questions, discussion points and (online) sources of information. I share these with the agents and co-creators and they are left to adapt the discussion to their particular needs, interests, experiences or aspirations. Beyond the session, there are suggested research and reflective activities, but again these are highly adaptive. They blog their responses which we aggregate on our Tumblr. At every stage the co-creators are feeding back to us about the programme design—what’s working and what isn’t. We adapt accordingly. If it doesn’t work for them, then it doesn’t work. We’re excited to be in a state of flux, and to keep that flexibility integral to our structure, however we grow.
The final message that I connect with is around network literacy. It comes back to my earlier point on digital homophily. We shared the Young Foundation’s finding with our co-creators. They agreed with it. Now they’re conscious of it. And our programme deliberately strives not only to reinforce the strong, beneficial peer-to-peer connections but also to help our young people develop the means of connecting with a much wider group, including people from different generations, backgrounds and places. It’s one of the elements of the programme that they enjoy the most and get the most from. What’s key, for me and for the organisation, is that the benefit goes two ways. The UK is shamefully silo-ed. I don’t aim to improve social mobility—not because I like class schisms, quite the opposite. Improved social mobility, to me, means allowing a small number of people to climb the ladder. I’d like to get rid of the ladder.
The digital space seems to be the perfect environment to foster a new, non-hierarchical, complex and interwoven society. But it’s not there yet. Getting young people involved in harnessing technology to fulfil their potential is vital to breaking down the hidden social, cultural and economic barriers that prevent them from doing so offline. Spark+Mettle is a small potato, but we’re excited about what we’ve achieved so far, and we’re keen to engage with anyone who has similar aspirations. Together maybe we can really do something.
… to help local authorities, charities, retailers, service providers and campaign groups, amongst others, to explore the new opportunities that the digital world offers for engaging and empowering citizens and consumers. Digital engagement is not only important for organisations in the public, private and not for profit sectors, it also has the potential to change how individuals and communities live and interact. Taking part in local decision-making or discussing future policy can make a real difference to how people think about themselves and their role in society.
The website aims to help users decipher which technology-based methods are best-suited to consumer empowerment activities such as campaigning, consulting and collective action. It is one of the most comprehensive, categorised collections of digital engagement methods on the web and includes over 140 links to examples of them in action.
The website will help public engagement professionals to explore the full range of ways to engage consumers effectively, and think wider than social media or web-only methods. The Digital Engagement Cookbook examines methods from webinars and online forums, to serious games and crowdsourcing, and everything in-between. It offers practical examples and detail on putting the methods into practice. It also gives in
The Digital Engagement Cookbook site has been created for Consumer Focus by Dave Briggs and Fraser Henderson of KindofDigital and ParticiTech. I know both, and have great respect for their expertise in this area, which may colour my judgement! It is certainly a terrific resource, and as someone working in the field I delighted that they and Consumer Focus have done the hard work of assembling, categorising and linking methods.
Having said that, I think the big challenge for anyone seeking to use digital methods and the cookbook is, first, how to plan an overall engagement process, and then secondly how to blend online and other methods: the top message from our recent event.
There are links on the site to others providing guidance on that, but at the moment there isn’t really any integration with overall engagement process methodology. I’m guessing that trying to do that as well would have been quite a challenge.
Maybe the next step is for engagement practitioners to take a look, and reflect on how they could enhance their processes by drawing on the cookbook, and hopefully collaborating on some next stage development if that is planned.
Any ideas on how we might do that as part of our exploration here?
This Thursday we brought together a fantastic crowd of 25 thinkers, social entrepreneurs, funders, youth workers and young people at the RSA in London to explore some of the messages that had been emerging so far in our Young People and Digital Technology exploration.
In a packed two hour session we took some headline challenges faced by young people (youth unemployment; lack of youth influence of local decision making), and dug a bit deeper into them to find underlying challenges and unmet needs. With that as our context, we looked at the messages identified so far, which had been printed out as cards, and discussed them in groups to see how they might be relevant to the challenges.
I’ve just been working through all the notes from Thursday, and by looking through all the cards (which people could rate for importance), looking at which messages were chosen as relevant, and looking at the messages which have had attention in the online document so far, I’ve pulled out what look like the top-10 themes for us to explore further. Each message includes a brief summary, and then a link off to more details where you can also directly add to our working document – adding key questions for us to address in our follow up explorations, or sharing links to examples we should explore and draw upon.
This list is not set in stone, and might still change quite a bit before the final write up (you can make the case for changes in the document too…), but here’s the list as it stands today (the numbers are from the original set of cards):
Planning a project that will use digital technology to address key challenges that young people face? Think about how you might:
19. Blend online and offline Digital and online innovations don’t only have to be delivered online. Online tools can support local community building and action – and projects should plan to work both on the web, and in local or face-to-face settings.
6. Use games to engage Adding an element of gaming to your project can provide the incentives for young people to get engaged. Collecting points, completing challenges and competing with others can all spur young people on to get involved and stay involved.
7. Address the innovation gaps in the back-office
Not all digital innovations have to be about directly using technology with young people. Putting better tools in the hands of frontline workers, and intermediaries who work with young people can create the biggest benefit.
17. Support young people to be creators, not consumers
Digital technology can enable young people to be content creators: “youth can learn video making, digital engagement etc. – and if it aims to be social and community focused – imagine the possibilities!”. Many youth don’t take advantage of digital opportunities for creativity – and action to support them to do so is important. From creating multimedia content, to providing feedback on the good and the bad – young people can be involved in shaping digital resources developed to support them.
3. Encourage co-design/co-design with young people The only way to create services for young people, is in collaboration with young people. User-centred design, agile and iterative design methods all provide ways for young people to be involved through the process of creating innovative solutions.
4. Consider the livelihoods of the future Digital technology is not just about easier ways to find a job: it changes the nature of work. Home working, portfolio working, freelancing and co-operative business structures are all enabled by the Internet. Better CVs and job information won’t solve the unemployment crisis: we need to use digital technologies to create and support new ways of working and making a living. 18. Use digital tools to enable peer-to-peer learning In the Internet age education doesn’t have to be top-down, digital tools allow for peer-to-peer learning: helping people come together to teach, learn and collaborate. 24. Use technology to personalise services Digital technologies can be used to aggregate content from multiple sources, and customise an individuals experience of online information. Young people out of work or education are not a homogeneous group: and have many different needs.
30. Be network literate and create new connections
Although young people might be using online social networks like Facebook all the time, the connections they have to inspiration, role models and opportunities for volunteering, education or employment can be limited. Think about how digital tools can help you to map out networks, and to make new connections that broaden the horizons and increase the resources accessible to young people.
30. Recognise the diversity of youth
Who are the young people? Although there are many similarities across the 16-24 age group, there are also some key differences in how they use technology.
We had a terrific session today at the RSA – where we were discussing how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities – as you can see from this quick collection of tweets from inside and outside the room, and video report back from discussion. More here on the event.