Monthly Archives: April 2012 - Page 2

What engagement may really mean

Jonny Zander is an engagement specialist and one of the founding director of Kaizen Partnership, a training and consultancy company that specialises in the community sector. Here Jonny expands on his contribution to our ideas and messages document, which will frame our meeting next Thursday. Overall process here, exploring how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities.

I think this enquiry, commissioned by the Nominet Trust is both timely and important, and I very much like the inclusive approach being used by David and Tim to crowdsource thoughts and ideas ahead of the event this week.

Here are a 3 background areas that I think worth considering in the framing of this discussion about engagement. I am really looking forward to the discussion on Thursday and hope that this contribution adds to the thinking and planning process.

What is meant by “engage”?
I think it will be important to define what is meant by “engage” as this will radically determine what support is needed and how digital technologies can facilitate this. To some people, engagement is about sharing info and sourcing views, to others it is about action. The working definition we use in Kaizen is:

“Engagement is the process by which an opportunity is presented so that it reaches and appeals to the targeted people, who make a choice whether to take advantage of it. Needs and barriers are identified and addressed so that they can participate effectively.

I realise this is a bit long, but then again I do think engagement is a complex concept and each element in bold plays an important role. While on the subject of definitions, it would also be helpful to clarify what age bracket is being included in the term young people, and what is meant by community.

What will young people do when they are engaged?
If engagement is a process leading to some kind of action or participation, then I would suggest it could be helpful, for thinking and design, to cluster the different types of action, as different technologies can support different types of activities. In our work on engagement within Kaizen, we cluster into archetypes of participation, and these could be a useful place to look from in this discussion (or not!). We have identified 5 core archetypes as summarised in the table below:

Here are some examples of websites that link to different archetypes:

Recognising diversity and complexity
Young people are not a cohesive group, any more than old people, British people, men/women or any other demographic. There is incredible diversity within the youth population and it would be a mistake to assume that all young people think alike, or can be engaged in similar ways, with similar motivators. Building in processes and platforms that favour and support complexity will help to reach a more diverse range within the community, and I think digital technology has incredible potential to do this.

An example of this is an idea that has interested me for a while which involves the engagement potential for using multiple skins of websites. This would allow for information and opportunities to be presented in ways that appeal and work for different types of people (young and not so young).

A contribution on young people and digital technologies

I think it’s great that two people I have a lot of admiration for, David Wilcox and Tim Davies are working together with an organisation I also think is great, Nominet Trust, to explore the potential for new technologies to support young people in engaging economically and socially with their communities. See here for details.

Ahead of the meeting, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts from my own experience.

I think there are three key issues that need to be addressed in this sphere, these are (in no particular order):

  • Harnessing the natural curiosity of young people;
  • Helping young people develop the confidence to produce their own digital material; and
  • Improving the digital skills of youth workers and other professionals who work with young people.

Curiosity – I’ve been capturing and distributing video using mainly mobile phones, and, more recently, the iPad, for a number of years now. Most lately, the Celebration 2.0 project has taken me out of the usual milieu of conferences and community events, into public celebrations. And in those environments, there are generally more young people around. Now, I’ve been video streaming and doing similar things, using the iPad and a mobile phone. I often find that doing this can elicit some interesting reactions. Among adults that can mean suspicion. People who are quite happy to talk to the kind of big cameras that film-makers and TV companies deploy, and pose for the local newspaper photographer, can suddenly get nervous and tetchy when a mobile phone or iPad is pointed in their direction. There are two reasons for this; the first is that many people still are unaware that small, portable devices are capable of producing good quality video, so they don’t believe I can be doing anything serious with it; the other reason is that many remain uneasy about being exposed on the internet, believing all the myths about misuse of content.

On the other hand, the predominant reaction of the young people I’ve encountered in these situations has been curiosity. They are often intensely curious about what I’m doing, want to know how I’m doing it, and what equipment I am using. In the context of the internet, adults often try to dampen down that curiosity, tempering it with, sometimes understandable, concerns about security and privacy. But I think curiosity is generally a good thing, as long as it doesn’t lead into dangerous territories. So, we need to harness this curiosity to develop safe environments in which young people can experiment and push barriers back. I think it is that curiosity which leads to innovations and we need to ensure young people can make the most of it before it is ground out of them by life and over-cautious adults.

Confidence - There’s a lot of twaddle talked about “digital natives” and the Facebook generation. While it is evident that there are more people, including young people, than ever before creating their own media content, enabled by the proliferation of available tools; content creation is still very much a minority activity. Mass-produced TV and Radio are decreasing factors in young people’s lives, and it is being replaced in many cases, by peer-produced content. But, to run away with the idea that all young people are pumping out content to the world, would be to misrepresent what it happening. Most young people are watching material generated by their peers, but, by-and-large, it is a case of large audiences for a small number of producers.

So we need to find ways of building young people’s confidence to create their own content. This will probably be a collective, rather than an individual exercise.

And this moves me on to the third point. The digital skills of the professionals who work with young people. This has long been a concern of mine, since I did some work in 2008 on the digital opportunities available to Looked After Children, which concluded that the lack of digital skills of the social workers, foster carers and others who had daily care of those young people, was a key factor in hampering their educational progress. And I’ve seen plenty of evidence since that, although things may have improved slightly, this issue is still of importance. There are, of course, some really switched on youth workers and social workers, but all too many lack the skills necessary to encourage the young people they work with to flourish in the digital arena. And their discomfort in the digital world causes them to fear what the young people, whose digital skills are often far more advanced than their own, might get up to, and thus to hold them back.

I’m really looking forward to the meeting that David and Tim are convening on Thursday, and I hope this is a positive contribution.

Brum-style employment opps: mixing empty shops, networking and an app

Here’s a fascinating set of ideas about how to combine empty shops, networking and the power of digital technology to help people share skills and find others to work with.

It came to me courtesy of our crowdsourcing programme on behalf of the Nominet Trust, and Twitter. As explained earlier, Tim Davies and I are helping explore how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities. This will help frame a later funding challenge.

As you’ll see Alastair Somerville picked up our call for ideas, via a tweet from James Grant.

Alastair then sent me a couple of documents that he developed following presentations and discussion at the recent Birmingham TEDx event  - and they are fascinating. I called Alastair and he agreed I could publish them.

One describes how empty shops could be used for meeting, learning, working, and the other is a concept for a phone app that would survey and profile people’s skills, and allow the data to be mapped locally.

The underlying idea is that the world is changing so fast it is difficult to train and educate people in ways that will slot them into jobs in offices and other workspaces. We need something much more flexible.

The established way of employing the unemployed is through Job Centres.

These places try to fit people to listed jobs. For people with little experience or specific knowledge, the process is dispiriting since it tries to rework the human to meet the task.

Perhaps, it would be better to reverse the situation.

Instead of offices that demand people come in and negotiate down their skills and interests to meet specific jobs and roles, maybe we can create places where people with shared knowledge and skills can meet up to show their capabilities and to work with others to make new types of jobs and businesses.

With Alastair’s permission I uploaded his documents to Slideshare, as you can see here. The TEDx Brum video link is here – with relevant content about 4.35. Alastair says that it was @poikos (Eleanor) discussion of Debrouillard that really set him thinking.

I hope that we may get more from the group in Birmingham behind these ideas, and they will bring to the surface others from around the country. There’s now a couple of Twitter account for the ideas - @SKILLxShop and @SKILLxShare – and we are talking about some online conferencing to take things forward.

It’s wonderful how open and generous people can be with their ideas in a crowd sourcing process … and that’s even before the funding challenge has started.

Our tag for tweets is #DTYE – digital technology youth employment

Starting a new exploration: young people using digital tech to discover new opportunities

I’ve just started a new project with Tim Davies, on behalf of Nominet Trust, to explore how digital technologies can support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities – and we need your help.

The Trust will shortly be launching a major new funding challenge on this topic, and as I explained on my blog here originally suggested a provocative paper to start discussion. I’m delighted that has now turned into a crowdsourced exercise in which we are generating some key message or propositions for discussion at a meeting in London next Thursday morning, April 12. Drop me a line if you would like an invite.

From the meeting we’ll refine and report the messages, and develop a paper. In addition we’ll be pulling together existing research, reports from events, and other ideas that might be useful to anyone developing proposals for the challenge.

There’s more detail about the process here, on the Nominet Trust site, and we have already started gathering some messages on a Google doc here, which you can easily add to. Just to give you the flavour, here’s some headlines.

  • Focus on people, not platforms: the most important investments to make are in the skills of staff and volunteers to use any tool they can for engagement
  • Be network literate and encourage the connections:  equip young people with the confidence and skills to seek out new opportunities, relationships and economic well-being
  • Encourage co-design: The only way to create services for young people is in collaboration with young people
  • Consider the emerging economic landscape: what skills will be essential for jobs in the future.
  • Digital technologies could help engage young people in local neighbourhood forums
  • The best digital innovations might be in the back-office
  • We all need to rethink what we mean by ‘communities’ if we’re to support young people
  • Forget the web: the only way to reach young people is through mobile

Agree? Disagree? Please head over to the doc and add your thoughts. We’ll be providing more updates here as the project develops.

If you have other ideas that might be worth a blog post, do drop a comment, or email me.

I’m delighted – but not surprised – that Nominet Trust are supporting the idea of an open exploration. It’s very much in line with the creative, co-design approaches that the challenge will be encouraging.

I’m posting and exploring in detail on, rather than my personal blog, because I hope we can make this the home for further explorations, after the success of our work with Big Lottery Fund.

Link summary