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Technology for later in life – our new exploration

I’m delighted that we are starting a new exploration on behalf of the Nominet Trust, into how people can use digital technologies to prepare for and enjoy later life. It’s on the same lines as our earlier work about young people and digital technology, which you can see here.
Dan Sutch of Nominet Trust explains why we are exploring this topic:

You don’t have to look far to find repeated stories of the problems facing people in later life, from access to adequate care, health and well-being and of course financial challenges. There are now more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 16.  With increased life expectancy, those we categorise as ‘older’ can span an age group that stretches from 55 years of age to 95 and above. ‘Old age’ though can describe people in good health or poor health, active, sedentary, lonely or the leaders of their communities.  With over 40 years of difference between the lower and upper ends of this age-span, this presents significant implications for not only the quality of life older people can and should expect, but for the economy at large.
It is increasingly clear that innovation in policy and practice will be needed to ensure that societies respond effectively to the challenges presented by an ageing population. But which approaches will have the most impact?
Everyday at Nominet Trust we hear stories of how digital technology is being used to address social challenges: stories of how technologies are being used to provide new forms of access or support; enabling people to undertake activities that they otherwise couldn’t be involved in, or enabling people to overcome a particular barrier or challenge.  At the same time, we’re continually looking to understand how else digital technology can be used in new ways to redesign the ways we tackle social challenges – and this is at the heart of this programme of work.
In this European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity it seems well-timed to explore how the imaginative use of digital technology can help us build a more social, active future for our growing ageing population. We believe that digital technology can offer us new, more effective approaches to build and strengthen vital social ties that will help people to remain independent and engaged in later life. Which is why we’re looking to find ways that digital technology can be used to redesign the ways in which we support older people to overcome the challenges they’re facing – and in particular we’re interested in understanding the most fertile areas for social investment and action to improve older people’s quality of life.
So with this in mind, with the help of David Wilcox et. al., we are embarking on another crowdsourced exploration. Once again, we are looking to the many organisations, individuals, researchers and actors who are active in this field, and are looking to learn from them as we develop this work. It’s one of the reasons why we’re developing this programme in the open and hope that many people will contribute and help shape a shared understanding of the opportunities for using digital technology to best support older people.

By the end of November 2012 we aim to have a provocations paper with some key messages, background resources, and a network of people who may wish to continue exploring. We are running a workshop in London on October 23, and there will be news about that shortly (Update: more info here).
To start the discussion – and invite your contributions – we have created an open Google doc which you can add to. Here’s a few of the starter messages you’ll find there.

  • Think about how technology may be useful in a wide range of situations, for different people, later in life – rather than “technology for older people”
  • Having a lifetime of experience may leave some people fixed in their ways, and others with inspiration and time for new explorations. Attitude to life may influence attitudes to technology.
  • We can use technology anytime in life to support activities for well-being, like connecting, being active, taking notice, keeping on learning and contributing. The focus later in life will be shaped by circumstances, personal interests and attitudes.
  • Long familiarity with older technologies like television may provide easy routes for using developments that extend their use. However, familiarity with mobile phones may lead to the easy adoption of tablets. Where people lack confidence, start with something they already understand.
  • The open, sharing nature of social networks may not appeal to people more used to a culture of keeping things to themselves, friends and family. On the other hand, there may be some experiences people now feel ready to share if there is trusted space to do that.
  • The challenge of making the benefits of technology easy to understand, and devices easy to use, is important for all ages. Older people may be a good place to explore what works well.

We’ll also be looking for stories of how people in later life are using digital technology for staying in touch with family, developing new interests, finding entertainment, creating videos, using smartphones and tablets. We want to explore the particular opportunities digital technology may offer – and the challenges in using it later in life.
Here’s how you can join in the exploration.

In addition, we have created an online space at our new social learning network site, kindly created by Dave Briggs. It is open to anyone interested in this field, and we hope that the network may wish to continue after the end of this exploration. View the space and join in here.
The exploration is being carried out on behalf of Nominet Trust by David Wilcox, Drew Mackie, Steve Dale and John Popham. Contact us here or just drop a comment.

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.
Summary of links

Developing a culture of digital citizenship with young people

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.

£150,000 Working Well challenge now launched by Design Council with Nominet Trust

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 We’re looking for partners and ideas to address these challenges, and look forward to working with you to do so.

Community Voices: how digital media can engage, enable and empower

Kim Townsend is Community Voices Outreach Manager with the Media Trust, and when we met up recently at the community enablers workshop I asked if Kim would like to share maybe 10 learning points from her extensive experience with their innovative projects. It turned out just five gave us a wealth of insights – including digital media isn’t just for young people, as this photo shows.

1 It’s about people and communities first, technology second.
When the department for Communities and Local Government first launched Community Voices back in 2008 it was originally called Digital Mentors. Media Trust won the bid to deliver the programme and after some deliberation with CLG we decided to change the name to Community Voices to reflect our belief that any intervention into communities needed to be about people first and the tools being used second (in this case digital media, but we believe the same would go for any type of project – sport, arts, gardening etc).
What is more we believed that in order for community media projects to work well they needed to be conceived and lead by the communities themselves. Our approach was to empower communities to lead their projects themselves through training, mentoring, funding, and outreach support, and thus sustainability was built in from the core.
This idea has served us well over the past three years and we have seen many communities grow and achieve some amazing social outcomes through digital media. For example 71 year old Margaret from St Helen’s applied to us for support for her and her friends from the ‘Monday club’ at Morley Way Community Centre to get online for the first time. Her application explained how they had heard about online technologies but didn’t know how to access them and so they felt left behind. Because the application came from the community themselves there was a good demand for the computer classes that we supported them to organise. Fifteen ladies attended weekly classes for 6 months and are now able to do online shopping and be more in touch with their friends and families as you can hear them talk about in this film.

I don’t think that there would have been the same result if this had been a top-down process instead of a bottom-up idea.
2 Support is more valuable than funding
During the first two years of Community Voices we piloted several difference levels of funding, £1,500, £7,000, and £14,000. At the end of the two years we found that the difference each community made to their lives, and the quality of the media product produced, didn’t differ greatly between the funding levels. What made the biggest difference was the community drive as mentioned above, and the level of support they received from volunteers and our Outreach Manager. In an independent evaluation we had done the recipient communities themselves said that the outreach support they received was the most valuable of all the types of support we offered them.
Media projects in themselves don’t actually cost that much to do, a lot can be achieved with low cost equipment and sharing local resources. But for a community who have never used digital media before, someone to guide them through the decision making process of things like what equipment to buy, how to run their project, how best to get an audience for what they have produced, and how to avoid the common pitfalls is invaluable.
3 Digital media isn’t just for young people
There seems to be an assumption that digital media and young people go hand in hand, so much so that I think digital media projects for older people are sometimes overlooked. One of the project ideas that I always think is quite sad is young people using digital media to interview older people in the name of intergenerational work. To me, that is just reinforcing a stereotype that digital media is not for older people it’s for young people.
Some of the best digital projects we have supported are run by older people. For example, Vintage Radio, a community radio station for the over 50s in Birkenhead, which was set up by and is run entirely by over 50s. They have built such a name for themselves that they now run training for young residents of the YMCA where they have their studio. This reversing of the stereotype is incredibly powerful I think! Watch Lynda’s story of her involvement here.

We have also supported a group of older people in Reading who wanted to learn music technology and form their own band. Learning to play musical instruments on iPads has made a huge difference to their lives as they explain in this film.

4 Sometimes community tensions will get in the way
I’ve worked with some communities whose answer to anything always seems to be ‘yes’. These communities are so inspirational and their ‘can do’ attitude means that they achieve such a lot. But not every community is naturally like this. We’ve all been a part of groups where tensions are apparent, and they stem from the fact that everyone cares so much about the cause they are involved in, which in itself is no bad thing. I have worked with some communities, though, where factions have become apparent, friendships have been broken, and members have left the group because of these tensions. Managing this dynamic is tricky, and ultimately it does affect the project at hand. A light touch is always the best in these situations I have learned, after all, for us this is a job, but for the people we work with it is their lives. Ultimately the happiness and empowerment of the people involved is the main goal and if digital outcomes have to be put to one side to achieve this then so be it.
5 Flexibility is key
For people who are overcoming barriers in order to use digital technology, and who are using it to speak out about issues personal to them they need their own time and space to develop their projects. Activities may not always happen to plan, and outcomes may not be achieved exactly on time, but allowing the project to be community lead and to develop in the communities’ own time is key. The outcome can still be incredible, even if it is late according to your timescale. One such project I have worked with is a youth club for people affected by HIV and Aids who wanted to make an animated film. It was important to them to make sure everyone was involved and that the young people were able to tell their stories, this was a long process and has meant that the film has been made slightly late according to the timescale of Community Voices, but as you’ll hear in this audio the result has been incredible.

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.

Respecting the importance of emerging community enablers

One of the interesting side discussions sparked at the workshop we ran last week – on how community enablers can use digital tools – was with Eileen Conn, who has developed a very illuminating model of how local residents, groups and agencies interact. Eileen is a little unusual in being a community activist, in south London, who also worked for many years in Government.
Eileen suggests that agencies and organisations that have paid workers operate mainly in vertical, hierarchical mode, because of the accountabilities and procedures inevitably involved, while citizens and small groups operate more horizontally, through relationships. Here’s one of Eileen’s slides:

Trying to work together can be challenging. In my experience residents can get pulled into formal committees and panels where they may be uneasy and end up cut-off from those they are meant to “represent”, while “officials” can find the way groups operate rather frustrating. After an earlier interview – which you can see here – I wrote:

Eileen suggests we should consider the distinction in physics between matter and energy waves – where organisations with staff are the matter, and informal groups are more like energy. Drawing on complexity theory, Eileen suggests thinking about a “social eco-system dance” in which some relationships are primarily vertical hierarchical, and others horizontal peer-to-peer. That may be more useful than bottom-up and top-down.

The problem is that community development workers may be co-opted into the hierarachy – a charge made by Nick Massey of Forever Manchester, who I reported here … which led to further discussion and rebuttal here.
Anyway, the issue surfaced again last week when, as part of the workshop, we invented some local community enablers. That was a generic term I used to cover the various types of community organisers, builders and development workers increasing operating in neighbourhoods. Background here on different models.

One group invented enablers who were “home grown” – that is, they emerged from the local community rather then being part of an external intervention. Eileen makes the point in this interview, after the workshop, that in developing models for community enabling we should pay attention to this emergence. As I reported in my earlier post about the workshop, there’s a bit difference between the development of action in an area that emerges naturally over time, and that which may be accelerated/imposed by external interventions. Anyone who is being paid will have targets and timetables to meet.
This may be also be important when we consider the role of digital media. As Eileen remarks towards the end of the interview, once we came to that part of the process in the workshop there was a tendency to throw in all sorts of tools … even though we had spent a lot of time focussing on the need to be clear about the tasks, and the preferences and capabilities of those involved.
Perhaps thinking about media ecologies in relation to the social eco-system will be helpful. There’s an interesting blog on that here.

Digitally enabling the fictitious communities of Slapham

Our exploration into the skills, roles, and approaches of community enablers – and how they can use digital tools for network building and neighbourhood change – took a big jump forward last week with a workshop of some 20 people to play through these issues in the fictitious town of Slapham.
Local community organiser Mark Parker hosted our event at the recently-rebuilt Cambridge House in Southwark (a terrific venue), and my colleague Drew Mackie tweaked the Slapham game that we first developed for Community Matters, and then used in a workshop with the Forever Manchester Community Builders.
Over five hours we developed stories about what was happening in the four neighbourhoods of Golson, Tarley, Blaybeck and Stobben – and how the community enablers Beatice, Dave, Hawa, Matt and others were helping citizens collaborate to tackle the challenges there, using a mix of methods. This is a first report with the material we generated, to allow participants to add their thoughts if they wish. I’ll do more detailed analysis later.

I started off with a short presentation using some of these slides from the Manchester workshop, including the one above. The main point is that in any situation it is best to consider the context, the purpose you are trying to achieve, the people who will be involved, and only then the nature of the processes and methods that may enable action. Otherwise you may jump to the latest shiny tool. We describe  the process in detail in the book Social by Social.
That’s fine in theory – but how to help people work out what it means in practice? That’s where the Slapham game comes in. Here’s how it was played:
We split into four groups, each taking one of the neighbourhoods on the map below. Scroll down for neighbourhood descriptions.
Slapham Neighbourhoods
There were then three stages to the game:

  • First, groups read the scenario and added extra material to their adopted neighbourhood, including the assets and issues. They then passed this extend scenario to the next group – who inherited the challenges.
  • The groups then took the neighbourhoods that were passed to them and created two characters: community enablers who would help local people address the issues. We asked for names, a cartoon if possible, history, skills, character traits and a summary of what they were trying to achieve.
  • Thirdly, the groups examined a set of cards with tech tools and chose those that the community enablers might use. These were the same as the cards we used in Manchester, coded for personal, group and public use, and rated as basic, intermediate and advanced.

Social reporting game cards
I asked each group to do a short presentation about  their area and enablers, and also captured reporting back on the technology plans. Apologies for the quality of the video in the Stobben tech report back – glare whited it out. I have created a gallery of all flip charts as well.

The game certainly produced a lot of lively conversations during the day, and discussion afterwards. I’ll do a further post on one with Eileen Conn, which I found particularly interesting. Among the points I took away were:

  • Several groups invented enablers who had lived in the area … and their approach could be quite different from those were introduced from outside.
  • There’s a bit difference between the development of action in an area that emerges naturally over time, and that which may be accelerated/imposed by external interventions. Anyone who is being paid will have targets and timetables to meet.
  • Technology can increase the divide between initiatives in a community, because of the different levels of access and skills people have.
  • It is important to use a mix of communication methods, and also to aim to join up the online and face-to-face networks that evolve. The people who are active online are not necessarily those who are active in local projects, and vice-versa.
  • Technology should be used to complement and enhance community activity, not drive it. There’s a danger that those who are familiar with tech tools will push forward with their favourites.
  • However, technology can substantially speed up developments, if used appropriately.
  • We should not believe that young people who may be using Facebook personally will favour that for group use. They are as likely to use Blackberry Messenger for that.

On reflection, we should have offered groups a wider range of both tech and non-tech methods – as we have done in other games. By only offering tech solutions we distorted the plans.
While groups were highly creative in developing tech-enhanced plans, covering one or two years, these were probably unrealistic in practice. Several people made the point that you won’t know what methods to use in the longer-term until you have got started.
In  practice the way that tech tool are used will be highly specific to any situation, enabler and local people … and we need to do far more to explore that complexity in practice.
Overall I think the session worked well – but I’m keen to get more comments from participants!

  • People generally said it was a lot of fun, a chance to meet new people with similar interests, and a creative way to explore the issues.
  • The game was a good way to emphasise “start with context, people, purpose – don’t jump to the tools”
  • We generated a lot of material that we can analyse further
  • The community enabler characters were great … and will find their way into the next version of the Slapham scenario. Drew and I are developing Slapham as a virtual lab for a range of games.

We’ll be talking with Mark and others about the potential for a further large event. Meanwhile, if you wish to run a session yourself do feel free to download the material and go ahead. If you get in touch, Drew and I will be glad to provide some additional guidance … or come and run it with you if you have some budget.
Finally, a big thank you to Mark and Cambridge House for hosting, and to everyone who came and contributed so much on the day.
Update: Interview with Eileen Conn: Respecting the importance of emerging community enablers

Update 2: since 2012 Slapham has become Slipham. You can see here how it as used in May 2016 to explore the role of community connectors in helping older people find services and opportunities in their community.

Joining forces for community enabling

My earlier post Knitting up a strong community – starting with its strengths sparked comments from Emma Lees and James Derounian. Both took issue with some points I had added to the main report – which was about asset based community development – from an article by Nick Massey. Nick contrasts ABCD and community development. James has guested blogged here before, and responded very rapidly to my suggestion that he draft a post. Here’s he challenges Nick – and endorses Cormac’s call for different styles of community enabling to join forces. Further background here. James writes …
This post responds to comments from Cormac Russell and Forever Manchester’s Nick Massey and their promotion of an asset based approach to community development. I guess very few would argue with the central tenet of “starting with what you have, welcoming new people into the community, taking a citizen-led rather than professionally-led approach, building relationship power.”
And Cormac has a graphic and memorable way with words: For example about the importance of social justice and welcoming in “the stranger at the edge”. Similarly the idea of paid and unpaid community development workers offering a “halo of support”. So far so anodyne. Interesting too, is the contention – which I agree with – that communities typically may generate about 100 ideas for their improvement. Of which some 50+% are self-directed, that is things that a community/residents can do for themselves. Interestingly this echoes research that I & colleagues did in 1996 looking at “Parish appraisals – a spur to local action?” (appraisals were the forerunners of Parish Plans and now Neighbourhood Plans). In which we concluded that community-generated ideas “most readily carried into effect tended to be those whose implementation lay largely in local hands (1996: 326). Furthermore about 53% of actions were “directed at the local community itself (the parish council, community groups, local people in general (p.320).
I also very much take to Cormac’s key question for community developers/organisers of all hues: “what did you not do this week that enabled citizens to step up?” Absolutely – the paid/unpaid organizer/developers is servant to community members and majority aspiration. Get in or get out of the way! And no argument at all with the 6 strengths of community-based working:

  1. Build on strengths ABCD
  2. Shared core values
  3. Commitment to social justice
  4. Citizen-led action
  5. Power through relationships
  6. Shared ‘calling’

It’s really Nick’s assertion that sticks in the craw! That traditional “community development is driven through formal meetings, is agency-led and engages with at best 20% of local people in their communities, usually people who work within established, well-organised and properly constituted groups. This leaves over 80% of people remaining on the outside who would never engage in this way.”
I just don’t recognise this portrayal of community development. Furthermore, why are we not talking and sharing more along the lines of interrogating the contention (which I instinctively) believe that:
Community Development + Community Organising = a DIY brighter community future
Join forces – don’t reinvent or schism!

Knitting up a stronger community – starting with its strengths

Several interviews and articles have given me further insights into the asset-based approach to community development – one of the main philosophies I’m reporting in the exploration of community enabling. Here’s a round up, with links to resources at the end. It reinforces earlier insights from our People Powered Change exploration.
Last week in Surrey the Lower Green Community Community Association, which is part of the NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge programme, organised an ABCD workshop with Cormac Russell.
Jenny French, LGCA secretary, had been impressed by Cormac’s approach at a workshop in Manchester which I reported last year.
Cormac gave us some great stories and presentations – including reference to the work in Thornton Heath – and in this interview Jenny explains how the approach has worked in Lower Green. It’s about finding what people need, what others can offer, their aspirations, and then making the connections.

In a class to learn English, the teacher asked what people liked to do in their spare time … they said knitting … so this led to the Knit and Natter group where people both learned the language and produced some great knits. These could have been sold, but the group decided to offer them to men in a local hostel as a way of giving back to the community.
The arts group took off well, learning to make things together … then decided they would join in the knitting. As Jenny said you can knit up a new set of relationships all for little more than the price of a ball of wool. “It’s been fantastic – that people knitting together is actually knitting community”

At the end of the event I asked Cormac if he could summarise the essence of ABCD. He emphasised starting with what you have, welcoming new people into the community, taking a citizen-led rather than professionally-led approach, building relationship power … all things demonstrated very practically in Lower Green.
Cormac also said that he felt there was great scope for the various community building and organising approaches to find some common cause.
Earlier I had spoken to Matthew Bowcock, who is chairman of the national Community Foundation Network, as well as deputy chairman of the Community Foundation for Surrey

Matthew says that we could do a lot more to share stories in communities by using social media. When I asked what stories he was hearing, in visits around the country, he said that on the one hand people might be pessimistic if they were relying for change on traditional approaches of agency-led development and funding.
On the other hand, he found people optimistic and energised when they looked at the strengths they already had in their community … and sought funds only when they could do no more themselves.
He said that many community foundations were changing the way that they operated – shifting from administration of national funds, to the development of communities of engaged local philanthropists. Overall this was part of a tide of change, where people recognised a contract between themselves and their community, with rights but some obligation to give back.
In a blog post for New Start Magazine, entitled The Big Sobriety, Nick Massey applauds the asset based approach to community development – while warning that funding is also essential.
Nick is chief executive of Forever Manchester, which is a community foundation that raises money and distributes it to local people and groups trying to make a positive change in neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. It has the first team of ABCD community builders in the country – as I reported here. Nick writes:

Traditional public sector and foundation-led funding have succeeded only in creating dependency among targeted communities. Providing resources on the basis of need simply underlines the perception that only outside experts can provide real help. Therefore, the relationships that count most for our local residents are no longer those inside the community, those neighbour-to-neighbour links of mutual support and problem solving. Instead, the most important relationships have become those that involve the expert, the local authority, the health provider, the funder.
This virtually ensures a cycle of deepening dependency, particularly with funders, as problems must always be worse than last year, or more intractable than the next neighbourhood, if funding is to be renewed.
It’s a ‘find it, fund it, fix it’ culture. It’s unsustainable and it’s time to change it… it doesn’t work.

Nick adds:

Traditional community development is driven through formal meetings, is agency-led and engages with at best 20% of local people in their communities, usually people who work within established, well-organised and properly constituted groups. This leaves over 80% of people remaining on the outside who would never engage in this way. ABCD is about new ways of working that appeal to this wider audience.
Three months into community building in Lostock, Manchester we have engaged with 100 local residents whom we had never met before, all now talking about what they can do together. That is ten times more people than we engaged with in the local area partnership there in the last three years.
We are already seeing that local people are starting to think about what they can do for themselves. But still while they wouldn’t think twice about raising money for Children in Need or Comic Relief, it remains out of the norm for them to think about raising money for themselves, for their own simple yet exciting ideas.
ABCD is about conversations and talents, and we see our role in coordinating these, connecting neighbours and looking with them at future ways of funding their ideas, often from within. This is where our community building team are starting their work.

I’ll be gathering resources and interviews about other community enabling approaches. Meanwhile, Tessy Britton has a valuable analysis of participatory paradigms here, leading towards her Creative Collaborative approach.

Update: James Derounian responds in a guest post Joining forces for community enabling