Youth Online Participation and Consultative Processes: Report on a pilot project in "Better Futures”

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This report describes a pilot project commissioned by the New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Youth (The Hon Graham West MP) and the NSW Department of Community services (DoCS) to explore and test the use of online social networking technologies for the purpose of engaging young people in civic affairs. The project team consisted of members from DoCs, The Office of the Minister, The national Transport and Logistics Centre (TALC), the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the NSW Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP), the NSW Youth Advisory Council and Small World: Social Media Experts (a social networking and new media company). Stakeholders’ consist of the commissioning bodies, the project team and the young people in the regions identified. The aims of the pilot project were to: Explore how online social networking technologies can be used to engage young people aged 9-18 to better inform NSW government decision making Use the NSW Better Futures programme framework in the Central Coast and North Coast NSW regions of DoCS as the focus for the pilot project to see if and how young people would engage in making decisions about expenditure in their local areas under the framework Propose a list of projects selected by young people in Central Cost and North Coast NSW for funding by the program. The pilot involved a field study in the two regions which took place from mid January to the end of April 2009. It was conducted in both electronic and physical spaces in six phases, beginning with face-to-face interviews with young people to gain insight into potential areas in which the proposal money could be used and to learn about their online behaviour patterns. From this information a short list of proposals was developed. The short list comprised of five areas young people viewed as important: 1) environmental issues such as awareness-raising and activities such as planting more trees, 2) provision of spaces for young people to hang out, 3) provision of skate, surf and BMX competitions and workshops, 4) access to sporting equipment and 5) under 18 music events with local bands and artists. An interactive online game was designed to encourage young people to express their preferences on the proposals in the short list. A “viral” campaign was then developed and implemented to attract young people in the regions to the game and to encourage them to vote. By experimenting with different engagement strategies – that integrated the use of a website, digital media, social media sites such as MySpace, Bebo, and YouTube, blog and forums, local radio, TV and school newsletters announcements – the pilot project attracted and motivated young people to express their preferences about youth projects to be funded by DoCS in the “Better Futures” program (for 9-18 years old) in the two targeted regions. In two months (mid February until mid April 2009) 8,200 “friends” were created; there were approximately 70 visitors per day to the website and 2,026 young people voted for the nominated projects. Learning from the project included: - That young people will engage with NSW government decision making through social networking sites - That overall all young people in both regions voted for music events as their first preference. - That only the MySpace poll was able to identify the regional affiliation of voters. IP addresses and other geographic screening mechanisms were not as effective as anticipated. The MySpace poll indicated that there were regional differences with the second and third choices in the North Coast being places for young people to hang out and expenditure on environmental issues and the second and third preferences from the Central Coast were sporting competitions and equipment. - As participation and voting occurred largely in response to activity generated in the targeted areas by the campaign it is likely that voting or any other participation from young people outside the areas targeted is extremely low. - That further development of voting instruments and other participatory tools is required to enable deeper analysis of the ranking of votes and the geographic location of participants. The pilot project was deemed to be very successful by the majority of project team as much was learned which will inform the development of future youth online participation projects. Young people were attracted participate through their social networking sites and engaged in decision making via interviews, online comments and various voting tools. The trial was able to indicate that music events were the most popular of the projects proposed and the MySpace tool was able to identify regional differences for second and third preferences. Young people responded positively by voting and in comments.
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Hull, Daryll
Cecez-Kecmanovic, Dubravka
Kennan, Mary-Anne
Nagm, Fouad
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