Should councils be using Bebo/Facebook/MySpace

On Friday I attended a youth festival called Kongamana which is co-ordinated and hosted by our Youth Service.

We were there to conduct some consultation with young people about how the council could and should use social networking sites to engage with them. The process was supported and lead by Tim Davies.

We used the councils community roadshow bus, which contains 6 PCs, large screen TV, interactive whiteboard and wifi access, among other things..


However we didn’t really use much of the technology as Tim has planned an excellent “create a profile” activity, which we did by using the side of the bus with magnetic strips as well as a large table.


The process was great and was really engaging, it also got the young people to think about what a profile should really be like and also got them thinking and talking about some of the privacy issues that are often referred to when talking about SNS (social networking sites)


Luckily the weather held out and actually turned in out favour, we were non stop from the moment we started until some of the festival’s planned activities started around 3.30pm. Which was good because it gave us a break to consolidate and reflect. We had 66 young people give us there views and we got some great stuff. Tim will be pulling together some formal findings as part of his research, but to give you a flavour of the insights I gained i list a few below…

  • There is a difference between an individual “youth worker” and an “engagement activity” in terms of profile.
    When put in the context of an activity, there was a feeling that it should be more formal and with official logos etc. However reassurenace that it can be linked to and from the offical council website did come through strong especially if there are no pictures of real people (a few comments along the lines of “how can we be sure who it is) did come up a few times..
    Where as a youth worker doing youth work, would need to be themselves, after all they were saying “we know who our youth worker is and they know us” but perhaps with some formality with (youth worker) highlighted – links to and from the council’s official website would add some extra assurance around the profile being “official”. It also reassures others that we are recognising the work of youth workers in this area.
  • Young people on the whole thought it was a good idea to use these sites, this surprised me to a degree, as i had an assumption that we would get at least one comment, which said “this is our space leave us alone”, but it was more to do with not bombarding them and interfering with what they are doing in those sites.
  • Related to previous point, i perceived that there was a great deal of support for a “widget” which they could add to their profile which would inform them and there friends to consultation and engagement activities, without it interrupting them. this was also a strong theme.
  • They don’t like interruption, so anything we want to do, must not interrupt them.
  • There were clear differences in opinion depending on the age of the young person.
    Some (the younger of the groups I’d say 13-16) were very clear about ensuring security and privacy and keeping profiles “private”, although we didn’t capture their ages as part of the consultation.
    The older groups were a bit more “loose” about it, whether or not this was a real issue, or whether it was the group talking i can’t be sure.
  • What surprised me was the rivalry between SNS sites. We used bebo as an example only, but a few comments from young people talking it down as if it were for very young kids only, they preferred facebook etc…I hadn’t realised that this was just like “fashion” and if you were in the wrong space then then you weren’t “cool”. Thankfully for us, we didn’t really engage in that discussions as we said we would need to be in the right space at teh right time to get the right people.
  • We could be doing this now and doing excellent stuff if the perceived barriers were removed straight away. The young people were keen to get involved and have their say through such sites.
  • One thing that did occur to me was that i think we need to have a broader approach to this if we want to get it right.. If a “widget” is possible and achievable then it would need to be nationally available and not just developed by one council. This requires more thought, but it occured to me that it is the act of engagement which the tool provides and councils are just one organisation who would want to engage. I’m sure the PCT’s community and voluntary sectors would also like to have the same opportunity to consult. How this would work and how it would be managed i don’t know YET. But a question we need a answer to is “would a young person want a “Devon County Council application” or a “Get your voice heard application”, i know which one i feel is more useful to young people.

These are my thoughts so far. I will continue to add to this blog about this topic as it will only get more interesting as time passes.