Nominet Trust announce The Digital Edge – £2 million challenge fund

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 Trust has now announced the programme - and here is how they describe it:

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.

You can download the call for applications here, and read Dan Sutch’s post here about how they launched at the Hay Festival.

Below is the Nominet Trust summary of the challenges facing young people, informed by the provocation paper written by Tim Davies, Alex Farrow and me. Tim Davies has provided his own commentary here.

I strongly recommend also taking a look at the background research developed into 10 Storifies here by Alex Farrow.

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:

  • charities
  • not-for-profits
  • community groups
  • 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.

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