Submission to the Internet Governance Forum

Late last year I had a great experience participating in the Internet Governance Forum. The IGF is a UN sponsored international ‘forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue’ on issues linked to the Internet. That could be anything from issues of how Internet access and infrastructure is being made available across the globe, to filtering and blocking policies, to how people’s rights are being respected or promoted online. Clearly the topics discussed at the IGF have a big impact on young people – and it was great to hear so many people talking positively at IGF about the need to listen to youth. However, as I explored in this earlier post, there were times when the positive words about listening to young people could be seen to fall short of a reality, and times when it wasn’t clear exactly what was meant by including ‘youth’. So, as the IGF operates an open process for planning it’s meetings, I’ve prepared the following submission from Practical Participation which has just been sent in to the IGF organisers.

Youth Participation in the Internet Governance Forum: reflections

IGF09 Sharm El Sheik was Practical Participation’s first experience of IGF. We were involved in supporting young people from Egypt, and fellows of Diplo Foundation to use social media to record and report on aspects of IGF09, and supporting young people involved in creating the ‘Youth Corner’ newsletter.

We welcome the increasing involvement of youth in the Internet Governance Forum’s meetings and activities – and the strong statements made at IGF09 recognizing the role of young people. The following reflections are offered to support the continued involvement of youth in IGF. Our reflections are offered both IGF MAG, and to the wider IGF community.

A clear case for youth participation

The argument for youth involvement in IGF is clear. Youth make up an increasing share of the world population, and form a majority of Internet users in many countries and contexts. Yet youth can end up excluded from national and international decision-making structures that affect the Internet. The right of under 18s to be listened to and taken seriously by decision makers is set out in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The Internet does not belong to either youth or adults, but is a shared responsibility – requiring youth and adults to bring together their complementary skills, experiences, ideas and insights to safeguard the present and potential value of the Internet.

Recognize the diversity of children, young people and adults impacted by Internet Governance decisions, and to be engaged in IGF.

‘Youth’ are not a homogenous group. Children (0 – 14), Youth (15 – 24), and young adults (25+) have diverse experiences of the Internet, and are affected by Internet governance issues in many ways.

Whilst youth are often labeled ‘digital natives’, the technical skills and digital experiences of youth are as wide-ranging as those of adults. Whilst some youth are making use of the Internet to advance their careers and important causes, other youth lack opportunities to develop the practical and critical skills needed to benefit from the opportunities the Internet can offer.

It is vital that IGF is equipped to listen to the real and varied experiences of a diverse range of children, young people and young adults – and to take into account the specific needs of particular groups when engaged in dialogue on Internet Governance.

It should be recognized that youth contributing to IGF are not ‘representatives of all youth’, but they are experts in their own experiences – able to offer specific insights and ideas that can lead to better Internet Governance.

Increasing involvement

We encourage IGF to continue to accept the participation of self-motivated young participants, but to also continue to reach out to include a wider range of young people – including those who may not have existing experience of Internet Governance, and paying attention to the involvement of all three youth age ranges:

  • Children (0 – 14)
  • Young People (15 – 24)
  • Young adults (25+)

Youth involvement in IGF should not be limited to involvement in those issues seen to particularly affect youth (e.g. child safety), but should enable youth to play a full role across all areas of IGF that impact upon their present and future experiences of the Internet.

We encourage IGF to pay particular attention to ensuring the voices of young women, and young people from minority groups are present at IGF.

Meaningful & inclusive dialogue

We encourage IGF to explore different formats for workshop sessions in order to enable deeper dialogue and to make a number of IGF sessions more accessible to children, young people and young adults.

  • For example:
    In a long session, consider including a short break (Approx. 10 minutes) in the middle to allow small-group discussions amongst people sitting near one-another.

    This can give time for those who may be struggling to keep up with all the discussions to ask questions of other participants – and can help to build person-to-person dialogue between participants.

  • For example:
    Rather than inviting workshop participants to ask questions of a panel, allow delegates (youth and adults) to share the story of a particular experience of an Internet issue. The panel and floor can then consider the implications of these experiences.

    For children and young people who may not have a ‘policy position’, or a organizational agenda on specific Internet Governance issues that affect them, this form of conversation based on grounded experience can help ensure the inclusion of younger voices and insights in key debates.

  • For example:
    Increase the links between Remote Participation and Workshop sessions, and allow people in the workshop room to also type their questions into the Remote Participation space, for them to be asked by a chair watching the Remote Participation channel.

    For some children and young people (and adults too) who may not feel as confident in forming and asking their question verbally, this can support their contributions.

We also encourage the continuation of other activities around IGF for youth-adult interaction and dialogue.

  • For example:
    The ‘Digital Diving’ activity in the youth corner at IGF09 involved short (20 minute) conversations between one young person, and one adult participant at IGF. In these conversations, each person was invited to talk about their day-to-day experience of the Internet. We found these sessions provided important opportunities for young people and adults to gain better understandings of each others online experience. Activities and opportunities like this could be extended to support young people and adult IGF participants to reflect on the different Internet Governance issues that affect them.

Capacity Building

We welcome the creation of a Dynamic Coalition on Youth to act as a network for many youth participants in IGF. We welcome investment from the IGF community in capacity building for youth to participate in IGF.

We encourage IGF, and other Internet Governance institutions to also reflect on developing their own capacity for engaging with youth. From our experience working with the ‘Hear by Right’ standards for the participation of children and young people in organizations (, we know there are many ways in which organizations and institutions can make small adaptations to their practice to become far more inclusive of the voices of children and young people.

Tim Davies

Director, Practical Participation Ltd.

14th January 2010

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Two opportunities to explore social media & work with young people

[Summary: Two day course, and six-month action learning set on social media in youth work and youth participation] (Reposted from Tim’s Blog)

Getting started with digital youth work, or with using digital tools in youth participation, can seem daunting to many. It’s not enough to just talk about how digital skills are essential assets needed in the youth-serving workforce, or to point to tools and approaches that professionals should be using. Training opportunities, capacity building, and ongoing action learning to inform that training are all needed. Which is why I’m really pleased that 2010 will see the return of two key opportunities.

1) Social Media and Youth Participation Action Learning Set

Building on the Action Learning Set I co-facilitated last year, this six-month (one meeting a month) action learning supports participants who are working to increase their own organizations engagement with social media. Through expert inputs, workshops and shared action learning projects with peers – the action learning set aims to develop the skills of individuals, and the capacity of organizations, to engage with social media in youth participation.

Last year’s set resulted in a printed and online guide; and supported a wide range of local projects – ranging from those focussing on social media and youth engagement around commissioning, to projects supporting the use of social networks to engage young people in care in decision making.

You can find out more about this year’s action learning set (first session taking place at the end of January) and details of how to book in this flyer: Social Media and Youth Participation Action Learning Set

2) Two-day training for Youth Work Professionals

After a successful pilot, Katie Bacon will be leading a number of two-day trainings in 2010, on ‘Social Media for Youth Work Professionals’. Katie & I have developed the course together, and initially we’ll be running a number of sessions in partnership with LECP Training.

This two-day training is designed to support youth professionals from a wide range of backgrounds to develop their understanding of social media and how to use it as a tool in their work. Including hands-on activities to learn to use different social media tools – it’s a practical training that grounds the use of social media tools in professional values and practices.

You can read about the pilot training day in this reflective blog post from trainer Katie Bacon, and keep an eye on the LECP Training network for details of when the public course dates are announced (join the network to get training alerts).

We’re also exploring how this training might be offered as in-service training in individual local authorities, or offered on a regional basis – so if you might be interested in having Katie and/or I come to train with your service/region, then do get in touch.

I’m also hopeful that 2010 will bring the completion of a couple more digital youth work resources I’ve been working on. More on that some other time…

Creating a Right Space

Update: Booking form now available for 26th October 2010 Event: Book here.

A new project in partnership between Practical Participation, Investing in Children, Durham and the Centre for Social Action, De Montfort University.

Totally Draft LogoIn times of political, social and economic change how do we hold onto the progress that has been made to promote social justice for young people? How do we deepen the practice of listening to and involving young people in dialogue that leads to change? As organisational structures shift and practitioners are working in more challenging environments –  how can we create space for children, young people, practitioners and managers to reflect and learn together?

These are some of the questions we want to explore through a new project in 2010 in partnership with Investing in Children and the Centre for Social Action at De Montfort University – and involving a wider community of practice of people involved in work with children and young people.

The project will have its own online presence at soon, but to get discussions started, take a look at the two video clips below from Liam Cairns and Bill Badham, and use the comments below to share your reflections on the issues discussed.

We look forward to more dialogue with you in the RightSpace in 2010.

Liam Cairns discussing Children’s Human rights

Bill Badham on key themes for RightSpace


20 20 vision: children’s human rights in focus

On 20 November 2009, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child celebrated its 20th birthday. No longer a teenager, it has become since its birth in 1989 the most universally accepted and ratified Convention the world has ever seen.

But what are its achievements and what are the challenges that lie ahead for its full implementation across the UK? This was the subject of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England’s (CRAE) annual children’s rights conference.

At the conference I was’ live tweeting’ with the #crae tag and sought to capture some of the main themes and draw out key issues as identified by delegates. Over the coming months, this dialogue will continue to help clarify the way ahead at a time of policy and probable political change. Add your reflections as we paint a larger picture and build toward a national conference in the early summer in partnership with Investing in Children.

The driving message throughout the conference was that for 20 20 vision, children’s human rights focus is the vital perspective for change.

Sir Al Ainsley Green, outgoing first England Commissioner at 11 Million, is convinced we have reached the tipping point for children and young people’s human rights in England, with the launch of Working Together, Achieving More.

But he was not suggesting complacency! For example Mosquito devices that hurt the ears indiscriminately of the young, against which there are no regulations at all. “If there was similar targeting of elderly people with their scooters or Zimmer frames there would be outrage,” he said.

Sir Al’s threefold challenges are our government’s treatment of asylum seekers and deporting child refugees, our treatment of travellers and, third our juvenile justice system. “These are regimes that are brutal and not fit for purpose,” he concluded.

Other pressing concerns from contributors and delegates included:

  • Young people from CRAE’s Get Ready for Geneva project noted that all of their 14 recommendations appear in the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s legally binding Concluding Observations to the UK government – but what’s changed beyond the chance to have a say?
  • For another young panellist there is outrage at government’s blanket belief that age discrimination does not affect under 18s. “Government is quite frankly wrong. The Equalities Bill should come into force at birth.”
  • Tackle the education gaps caused by poverty, disability and being in care – these are the three education rights challenges for Christine Gilbert, HM Chief Inspector for Education at Ofsted.

And for delegates, what were their top three rights issues affecting children and young people?

  • Beings not becomings; better informed on children and young people’s rights and learn from change achieved – Ginny Morrow (;
  • Protect the advances of last 10 years, push for socio-economic equality and tackle youth justice wholesale – Lisa Payne (;

Add your comments on government progress and the key challenges ahead.

What was clear was that, despite the challenges and disappointments of recent years, we may look back and see this 20th anniversary as a high tide of achievement for children and young people’s human rights in the UK, with the tide of policy and positive politics on the retreat.

On the larger canvass, concluding panellists therefore urged for backing for the current Private Members Children’s Rights Bill, seeking wholesale incorporation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law. If this seems wishful thinking, Professor Francesca Klug pointed out the years of lobbying before the European Convention on Human Rights became the Human Rights Act in the UK in 1998.

So happy birthday UNCRC! Professor Klug set the challenge for the coming few years which may yet see a retreat, not just against children and young people’s rights but human rights for all citizens. In this context, she urged that children and young people’s rights do not become a separatist movement, but one held and championed within a wider human rights framework which holds the “vision for society based on ethical norms,” rooted in “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the mother & father of all human rights instruments.”

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Five reflections on moving the youth participation into the Internet Governance mainstream

Photo Credit: Youth Reporters at IGF09

Photo Credit: Youth Reporters at IGF09

Since the key role of young people as leaders was written into the WSIS Geneva declaration, there has been some level of involvement of young people in the Internet Governance Forum.

This year has seen more youth involvement than ever – laying some strong foundations for future involvement in this forum, and other internet related fora.

There is clearly appetite for more youth involvement – which is a very good thing.

Picture 27

Soundbites Retweeted. A deeper analysis offered here.

Yet good youth participation requires careful thought – and so to try and offer a bit of deeper perspective than the much re-tweeted soundbyte I shared earlier today, voicing frustration at the lack of nuance in conversation about ‘youth’ in the main session – I offer five (hopefully) constructive considerations on effective youth involvement in events like the Internet Governance Forum.

(1) Avoid determining the outcome of dialogue by the way you set it up

The way you frame a discussion has a big impact on the outcomes. When working with groups (youth or adult) who do not have prior experience of an issue – then the choice of inputs to discussion has a big impact on the outcome.

Instead of a ‘dialogue on e-safety’, perhaps hold a deliberative dialogue on living in a connected world – with inputs both on online safety and on benefits of the web. We need to think carefully about how to equip those who do not work already in Internet Governance areas to participate in discussions of Internet Governance.

(2) Identify the role in which young people are participating

Young people can participate in events in many different ways. As developers of technologies. As experts in their own experience, able to offer additional insights into a debate. As researchers. As campaigners. As policy makers. As learners, and as teachers.

Allowing younger participants to participate as ‘young developers’, ‘young internet users’, or ‘young researchers’ (etc.), rather than as simply ‘youth’, helps us to recognise the diversity of young people, and the complex contributions of young people to the Internet.

It also helps us recognise that young people are equal actors with older adults in many contexts.

(3) Recognise the systematic exclusion of young people & work to overcome barriers to participation

One reason to promote participation for ‘youth as an age group‘ (rather than any other conceptualisation of youth) is a recognition of the systematic exclusion and disenfranchisement of young people in many contexts.

However, systematic exclusion is not reversed by simply giving young people a platform (though this is a start) if the power asymmetries and knowledge asymmetries between young people and adults are not considered and addressed.

These asymmetries can be addressed both by capacity building (but that capacity building has to take into account (1) and make sure it is framed in broad terms), and by careful design of engagement processes and activities*.

(*In particular, a serious engagement with youth participation involves choosing new modes of conversation asides from the classic speaker-panel set-up)

(4) Recognise that no one individual or group can ‘represent’ a generation.

A simple point. But too often the views of one individual are talked of as ‘the voice of youth’.

Representation has three substantive main forms: statistical representation (where an individual presents an average / most common view based on clear evidence); representing a group (where an individual has a mandate from a population/organisation they are representing); representing an exemplar view (where a view ‘represents’ one example of simplified possible view).

Knowing when someone is representative (and in what way), and when they are representing their own views only, is important.

(5) Build on foundations of the years before

Some great foundations for youth engagement have been laid, both at WSIS and previous Internet Governance Forum gatherings.

Wheras older participants, in formal job roles related to Internet Governance, may have a history of being at each relevant summit and meeting leading up to an IGF – young people often only get to experience one or two events and lack the opportunity to build strong personal networks and social capital resources for influencing discussions.

Making sure that each year can build on what has gone before, and can help younger groups to gain cumulative understandings of the issues and opportunities of events like the IGF is key to the continued productive involvement of diverse individuals and groups of young people.

I offer these considerations written on the spot and as a newcomer to IGF – and I very much welcome reflections, dialogue, critique and other thoughts on participation in large and open events such as the IGF.

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Social Media – Youth Participation in Local Democracy

Social-media-youth-participReposted from Tim’s Blog

One of the curious things I’ve discovered in seeking to equip practitioners to engage with social technology is that, the more I explore about digital media, the more I end up creating printed resources, or at least, resources based on a book/handbook structure.

That’s the case with a new resource that was published today by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) that is the product of learning from the Network Participation action learning set I co-facilitated earlier this year.

Drawing on theory and case studies explored during that action learning set, ‘Social Media – Youth Participation in Local Democracy‘ is designed to step through some of the issues that practitioners need to consider in exploring the use of social networks and social media in youth participation.

It’s available to order from the LGIU Website, and for online purchase via Central Books.

(P.S. If you’re interested in more practical resources to support youth engagement and youth work uses of digital technology – keep your eyes open, as I’m in the midst of working on a new toolkit hopefully ready early in the New Year…)


Emerging on the web

The previous one page site.

The previous one page site.

Somewhat ironically, for most of it’s existence, Practical Participation hasn’t had much of a website of it’s own.

We’ve been busy interacting right across the web – but our own site was a little neglected.

But as the Practical Participation team changes – with Tim stepping back for a year of full time study at the Oxford Internet Institute, and Bill Badham joining as co-director to drive forward all things youth participation and children’s rights, we thought it was time to get a web presence properly up and running.

So, here it is.

Part about us. Part portfolio. But most of all, through this blog, a space where we hope to share useful and practical ideas and resources, and constructive critical thought.