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Young people explain how social media worked in co-designing with BIG

Charlotte Tizzard, Big Lottery Fund web editor, provides an update below on the co-design process with young people that we reported earlier. Charlotte asked young people for their views – and in the video Dharmendra Kanani, England Director, and some of the team also talk about the process. Their insights are going to be really useful in our wider exploration of young people and digital engagement.

In January 2012, the Big Lottery Fund began the process of recruiting twenty 16-25 year olds to work with them on designing their next investment in young people. This sort of engagement reflects our desire to ensure that our investments in England are informed by what we call People Powered Change.

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.

BIG co-designs its new investment with young people, openly

One of the big advantages of open explorations like our current one, compared with more closed research methods, is that you can rapidly see what other explorers are doing, build on their work, and perhaps join up.

Big Lottery Fund - with whom we worked last year – are now undertaking an even more ambitous exploration with a group of 16-25 year olds (pictured above) to see what will benefit other young people in England. During 2012 and 2013 BIG will be investing funds “in ideas that will inspire young people in need to build on their strengths and make a difference to their lives and communities”.

They are not just asking young people for ideas – they are going some way to co-design their investment plans.

Throughout March and April, twenty young people will help develop the investment. They will be presented with evidence on issues like poverty, education, unemployment and mental health and will discuss how each issue affects the lives of young people. The team will also capture learning from the process and use social media to enable other young people and those working with them to have their say.

The young people involved will benefit from training and support from BIG staff and will gain new skills and valuable experience. They also have a unique opportunity to meet other young people who want to make a difference.

Their team blogger Reanna Vernon, 21, has already posted a number of pieces on the BIG blog. Reanna reports that the design team met recently and reviewed work of groups looking at theories of change and social media:

Using the input of these two other groups, the design team were able to spend the weekend exploring the issues young people and those who work with them had highlighted as priorities for the investment. These were:

  • Unemployment
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Young people’s portrayal in society

I asked each member of the design team why each area should be a priority for BIG.

Daniel (18, Essex) explained youth employment should be a priority area: “If BIG can do just a little part to show the opportunities that are out there, maybe young people will be more motivated.” He highlighted that it is important to “stay positive and find a role model who can guide you” when looking for work.

For Vicky (20, Birmingham), tackling mental health issues is key, as they are “such a complex issues and can affect everyone – we really need to get to the heart of the matter.”

Discussing the negative media image of young people, Topes (20, London) told me, “It’s a major issue as the media has influence over everyone and no matter which paper you read, you rarely find a good story about young people.”

Jashmin, (23, London) agrees that the media could do more to combat negative perceptions: “The media only ever put out the most catchy story… they just gave a basic story of a hero and a villain without exploring the underlying issues, which really doesn’t help.”

BIG staff will be along to our meeting next Thursday, and involved in further discussions, so there’s great scope for collaboration. It looks as if the BIG process will yield a lot of insights into the real concerns and needs of young people. Jonny Zander, in his recently post, gives us a useful framework for thinking on what we mean by “engagement”. John Popham offers some initial insights into the benefits of digital. I think we’ll be hearing more on Thursday from Alastair Somerville about the Birmingham SkillxShop and app.

So – only a few blog posts into the exploration, and already things are joining up. That’s the other advantage of exploring openly – you gather momentum along the way, and write the report as you go.