The 97ers and social activism

I have worked with self-taught young programmers (aged 18 and under) in Young Rewired State since 2009; and in 1997 I gave birth to my own little digital native, and in 2002, another. My passion for learning, observing and being amongst networked communities in various forms, means that I have begun to see some interesting trends and patterns that are fascinating, and I am going to write a series of things about this. Here is the third (the first is here and links on to the second) and in this series I refer to the 97er. By this I mean child born in 1997 OR LATER: The true digital natives.

When I was a child, when I was cross about something I had to wait until I was a grown up to do something about it. This is no longer the case for 97ers.

As I said in my previous post on 97ers and Identity:

97ers are split personality teachers and consumers from as early as seven years old, if not earlier

They are also activists with access to immediate knowledge, discovery and research tools across living and historical communities that have never been available to those generations that came before them. They may have no understanding of democracy, governance or Government, no concept of activism or protest, but what they do have is the basic human ability to discriminate (not as in “discriminate against”, but apply their own judgment of right and wrong) and 24/7 access to what is happening in the world.

Of course these young people are no different to those that went before them in nature, and outraged gossip is as delightful to them as it has always been

gossip girl

… but now they see acid attacks in Pakistan, war-mongerers in the Congo, inequality across borders and seas. And they talk and share videos, news articles, Facebook pages, blog posts, hashtags and campaigns and they have a voice.

Online Advocacy Campaigns(I love this photo, creative commons from Flickr, but the dude who is presenting his slide refers to the story-telling. The story-telling that 97ers use to verify identity as well)

Imagine growing up knowing that your voice counts…

… and that every single person has the ability to activate their communities. Because every person in the digital space has a community, a social network and to 97ers this is completely normal, this is all they have ever known. If they don’t like something they will protest, loudly, in the online space, find campaigns to support their feelings and advocate them to their friends.

People say constantly that online activism makes no difference to what happens on the ground, liking a Facebook page does not stop an acid attack, nor give food to the starving. No it doesn’t, of course not, the other activities those charities and movements have access to at the moment do that. Online activism raises awareness of plights. But for the purpose of this blog post, what the online activism does is to reach the 97ers. They are aware, they will share and their understanding of social and personal responsibility is as much a part of their maturing and growth as traditional education.

The 97er armchair activist

So we can see that the 97ers have grown up with a natural expectation that they have a voice, that they can rally crowds, and almost without thinking they highlight things that trouble them and call on their friends to also be outraged. The outraged teen is tomorrow’s politician, entrepreneur, activist, connector. This has always been the case, but with the digital natives this means big change is coming.

They learn the power of their own voice through the constant value measures attached to followers, retweets and likes. They can measure in real time whether something they have said has chimed with their intended audience, and they adapt and learn how to ensure that the stuff they really care about gets seen by as many people as they can possibly reach.

Not only are they very skilled in reaching their audience, they do this for fun in their social time. And so they are growing up with social responsibility and an expectation of voice as a core part of their being. They have known nothing else.

Once these 97ers hit the post-education world and shatter into the people and positions they will become in business, politics and life (not that far away… 2020 is my guesstimate for the receding-sea-pre-tsunami of 97ers affecting everything we know) they will continue to do what people have always done: activate their networks. But for the 97er who really knows how to activate their networks, and has grown up doing so but now can move into positions of control over what happens as a result – then we will see big change.

A thought for pondering

We all know how we change our behaviour when we know someone is watching and judging what we do. For the 97ers they have grown up in an open world, their social space is open. Their behaviour is shaped by immediate applause or boos across social media. They validate beyond the family (in a different way, of course).

When the 97er is the war-mongerer, acid-attacker, abuser how will their behaviour adapt?

Only the 97er will be wily enough to second-guess and expose that, we (the pre-97ers) need to move into the role of supporter, mentor, offline guardians of everything they will see, face and do. But we will never be able to have this instilled as a part of our core as much as they will. So we must listen as much as we teach.

This is a generation without borders, and separate governance of countries and regions has no effect here, and this is important to remember.

Read previous posts on 97ers here:

The first post where I try to define them

97ers and Identity

For those used to assuming that this applies to GenY, or The Millennials, here is a clarification

Digital life story

Recently people have been surprised at my reticence to rave publicly on stage, in interview or over coffee about social media.

“But”, they cry, “you are so active on twitter”.

To my slight shame I did do an email interview with a kind lady from New York about the Internet, social media and democracy today – but that was because she was nice – not because I considered myself any kind of expert – I just put in my 2pth and I did point out that she should be talking to those with political science degrees who were also active online – rather than me.

I thought it might be easier if I just explain through a story why I feel the way I do.

The story

During the Easter holidays I took my children to Morocco on holiday. I didn’t book online as I had had a disastrous experience doing so previously; and anyway I have a friend who is a whizz travel agent and can always beat any online deal, she knows me and what I like and always comes up trumps. I called her, she emailed me the holiday choices, I emailed back my preference, pay online, get the e-tickets, check in online and we fly away.

Whilst in Morocco, I read books that I had bought on Amazon and go to hotel notice boards to choose the trips we might like to take. I check on my iphone to see whether these trips have been reviewed and find out which ones are the best value and most exciting and appropriate for the girls and I. Excursions chosen, with additional insight from others who have been on them before, I wait for a rep in reception at a designated time to book said trips, talk through in person what is involved, pay by card, and turn up at an agreed time to go on the selected adventure.

On the coach I meet a family who have children with similar ages to mine. Whilst the children bond over their DSs and Facebook stories, I talk to the parents: Rachel and Chris. It is through them that I discover a volcano has erupted (they knew from watching Sky News) and that our journey home might be affected. Having my iphone with me I check the BBC website and call out on twitter for updates.

The information and feedback I could find in a few minutes from twitter on that bus ride intrigued and amused Chris, who was aware of twitter, but not of its value. This triggered a discussion about the world I was involved in with government and digital engagement, that later (months later) leads to me helping him find a value in twitter, simply by monitoring what customers are saying about the brand he works for.

The children become firm friends over the course of the holiday and spend some time on Facebook on our respective smartphones – building new friendships through their own contacts and mates – introducing their friends to each other online as they discover more about their lives and realise connections or common interests, even as we are away. (They also spent 90% of the daylight hours in the pool shrieking with laughter and the occasional spat – whilst us adults snored on loungers with our books from Amazon and blue drinks from the pool bars).

My super travel agent lady, meanwhile, is texting me and emailing updates on what is happening, also following how happy/worried I am from my Facebook updates. Twitter and Facebook keep me sane: I can keep colleagues, friends and family updated on what is happening where we are, and roundly take the inevitable slacker jokes – and can even crowdsource an escape route should we need one.

When we get home, we swop all contact details with Rachel, Chris and family – including home, mobile, Facebook and twitter details. The children, unsurprisingly, are online to each other the minute they all get home and onto Broadband. I share a few texts with Rachel and Chris but we are Facebook friends, so I can see without interacting what fun they are having and vice versa.

We all decide that we should see each other again a few months after the holiday, and so organise over the phone when would be a good date. Thereafter, Facebook planning between the kids went into overdrive – with bemused interception from us grown-ups. Rachel, Chris and I only communicate by phone – but again, we talk about things that we have noted the other is doing from Facebook profiles – which is nice – not stalkery.

A great weekend is had, during which I taught Chris twitter and got him set up; Rachel was not interested but enjoyed seeing what we were discovering through twitter. But it was a balance, real life, windy beaches, lovely food, friendship and stories, yes – some of which were fuelled by Facebook knowledge and inevitable discussions about the value of twitter, sometimes.

A few weeks later and I am running Young Rewired State. Seeing as a centre is based in Norwich, not a million miles away from Rachel and Chris, I get in touch through email to see if I might stay with them for a night so that I can visit the Norwich centre – as well as catch up with them. Again, they knew all about Young Rewired State through Facebook – and the children were now even more close, so it was perfect.

That visit was awesome, and we had a lovely evening talking about real life things as well as events and happenings that we already knew about each other through the third party window of social media.

And so they were a great part of YRS, an extra bonus.

Since then I have been remiss in even looking at Facebook, or catching up with anyone to be honest. Tonight I was struck by a feeling that it was time to have a catch up with Rachel and Chris again. It was an automatic reaction for me to firstly swing by Facebook to see what they had all been up to before I got in touch; for a variety of reasons, mainly to check that they were about, to check that there was not anything dreadful going on that I might interrupt and also to show that I had actually taken notice of what they had chosen to share; it’s a natural etiquette for me now.

Tomorrow I will call Rachel – and confess I have written a blog post about them – and we can all organise the next meet (this will be at mine I think, my turn, Rachel and Chris, no?!)

Moral

So, you see, it is not any hatred of social media that makes me yawn when people start asking me to speak about it – it is just that it is such an interwoven part of my life now – and I wouldn’t expect to speak about my use of the telephone (which is dreadful) nor would I particularly like to try to unravel the value of social media. It is a part of life, it is the digital part – but hey, we are all part digital now, whether we like it or not.

Why? Why not?

I get asked why a lot. Why should we do a Facebook fan page? Why should we get on twitter?

There are many sites, if you Google these questions, that will give you compelling reasons for doing so. The simple answer really has to be why not?

If people are getting information from these sources, if online journalists are reaching audiences you need to engage with through their blog posts, twitter streams and Facebook information pages, then – if you are in an organisation that can afford to be there too – then why would you not?

The question is, can you afford to be there, as much as it is can you afford not to be there?

‘Andrew Stott is trending on twitter’

I can honestly say that I never, ever thought I would read that… anywhere.

However, Andrew has been appointed as Director of Digital Engagement here in the UK, and as such, his trendiness was bound to happen.

So… :) no doubt there will be a gazillion posts about this appointment, and here is my tuppence.

First reaction, open-mouthed ‘wha…?’

Then consideration.

I have worked with Andrew on the transformational government, website rationalisation agenda; and as such know him professionally. He has a brain the size of several planets, and ‘does maths’ in a fashion and speed that always floored me. He was passionate about the rationalisation work, and really worked us all hard to make sure that it happened. And it is this characteristic that leads me to completely review my opinion of the Director of Digital Engagement post.

To be honest, I rather thought that this would be given to some super clever bod from outside government, who would come at the job with a wealth of experience, challenging ideas and determination to ‘make stuff happen’. Then, as so often happened before, said person would begin to flag in the face of the enormity of the expectations of the job, burned out within a year to 18 months and left to go and do something else, broken.

Well… that won’t happen now; so this job that seemed a bit of a ‘nod in the right direction, but basically impossible’ is actually not that at all. If they wanted it to be that, they would not have appointed Andrew.

So this post really is going to do something and mean something. Well, really you could knock me down…

I am going to watch this with a sort of bewildered awe, I think; and hopefully the stuff Andrew decides has to happen will be good, build on what has already started, and sustainable.

Well I never.

UsNow film – opinionV1.2

I watched Ivo Gormley’s film UsNow (again) today at its launch – watch it here. (I posted about this after watching it in Brussels and wanted to revisit my thoughts, as I believe I still hold the same opinions :) (you never know!).).

I have a couple of updated thoughts, but pretty much what I wrote then is what I think now; for your viewing pleasure I have managed to copy and paste the old post below my updated stuff.

New points:

  • unfair Miliband editing (or not) but still as funny/uncomfortable today as it was when I first winced at it
  • it confuses public service and Politics, so much so that I cannot unpick it really; but I suggest you watch the film twice:
  1. with a Politics and politician head on
  2. with a public service/community head on
  • it still scares me: what are we actually inviting here? I would ask that anyone who reads this blog, and watches the film, has a really good *think* about the battle this film seems to wage. Before you take up arms and demand crowdsourced e-democracy, think
  • I agree and want crowdsourced public services, and proper consultation on policies that matter to me; Politics, politicking, catching Ministers out? I would rather leave that to the Press (as pointed out today, politicians are their staple diet) – this does not mean that it does not matter to me or you, but I don’t think I should be the one to monitor them this closely (I have a day job and a life)

As was reiterated today: don’t assume the electorate is thick, don’t assume everyone to be criminals… but, if we seriously want this to be the case, then we too must stop assuming that all Politicians are corrupt. (Hard, I know in the current expenses scandal – whole other post, that I will not be writing (not my bag)).

I know this may not be popular (and actually this is almost a direct copy from someone who commented in the Daily Mail on a post about MP expenses – and the comment was given a *boo* vote of at least -300 :) ) but: I would like to think that the country is run by people who know what they are doing, are paid well to know what they are doing and are given the relative trappings of success that come with being the most fervent in their field. I don’t like paying them; especially when I am absolutely terrified about mine and my children’s next ten years – but I seriously do not want to take on the country’s woes and debt too. I DO want to make my local community better, and I do still want to do stuff for charity (sponsor me here http://bit.ly/EydYT :) sorry) and I want to get involved in the stuff that I am passionate about – when government is debating/consulting on it.

I stand by my twitter update: @hubmum Crowdsourced public service management/delivery yes. Crowdsourced politics: No

Now… the old post, the stuff I wrote when I first watched the film:

Here’s the blurb:

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?
Us Now is a documentary film project about the power of mass
collaboration, government and the Internet.
Us Now tells the stories of online networks that are challenging the
existing notion of hierarchy. For the first time, it brings together
the fore-most thinkers in the field of participative governance to
describe the future of government.

Now, aside from the fact that he is officially my new geek crush, Ivo has created an extraordinarily powerful and compelling film that leaves you pretty speechless and perhaps a little bit disturbed. Here’s why…

Take it as read that the best are interviewed in the film, Clay Shirky has much to say, as does Paul Miller, whom I rate highly, Tom Steinberg, George Osborne, Ed Miliband, Matthew Taylor and so on, really, all the greats (although the decision to interview Ed Miliband over Tom Watson confuses me slightly, but hey ho).

So… we have about an hour’s worth of superb dialogue and compelling argument that leads the audience to a clapping crescendo, nodding and chuckling to themselves about how right they were to believe in this stuff. But… I am left a bit disturbed.

To reduce the whole film to the comparison between the crowdsourced management of the football team: Ebbsfleet United and democratic government would not do it justice; yet it is what sticks, and disturbs.

Without you being able to see the film I know I am being a bit annoying, but let me try to explain. At one point in the film, for a disproportionately long time it has to be said, Ivo follows the success of Ebbsfleet United: a football team managed by its fans; the fans decide who plays, and where… and this ‘citizen-management’ has got them to Wembley (I think, am not a football bird but that seemed to be the gist). There are many clips of over-excited and dedicated fans ‘planning’ the match, deciding who plays where, and when. Great for ticket sales and garments, I presume… also engagement and enthusiasm in a woeful world, granted.

Where this all goes, which is a bit disturbing, is when Ivo transcribes the football playing field onto the Cabinet table, and starts showing us how we could be choosing who sits in what position, where on the table, what part they play. Cabinet Ministers becoming as suggestible/manageable as Ebbsfield United.

Visually compelling stuff indeed. But can you imagine what Sir Alex Ferguson would say? Let alone the rather confused Government of today?
I am not going to get into party politics here, but I absolutely believe that all Ministers sitting in Parliament, whether in power or opposition, are there because they are fundamentally driven to *do* something.

What scares me about Ivo’s film, or just this Ebbsfield bit, is that there is no way I would ever sign up to a society governed by crowdsourced decisions and I am terrified that the digital revolution might, if not managed properly, tip the balance of lively debate into anarchy.

Why?

Because I expect the government voted in democratically by the citizens of this country, to do their job. I don’t want it, I don’t have the time nor the where-with-all to do their job. I don’t want or need the responsibility of running the country, from central to local government, every morning when I wake up. It is enough for me to keep my family going. I *want* to trust the people my country decides are fit to run the country (every four years) to do their job so that I can do mine.

Yes, there will always be dissent, and there will be challenges to the decisions taken by those in power. However, I rely on the Press to keep on the case on this one. I *believe* that if there is a travesty, the Press will pick it up and expose it, I will read about it and believe that if there has truly been an abomination against democracy, that the person/party/people involved will be brought to justice. I do not want to be the person to do that, I want those in the know to do that.

At this point I can feel the groundswell of outrage at my naivety, but I am being a generalist on purpose here… I am really scared abut what *we* are trying to do with our digital enablement of government.

Running a country is a tortuous business, I imagine/assume. It is greater than running a consultancy, a bank, a hedge fund, a football club… all of which we accept requires skill that we do not question. The fact that I belong to a democratic country means that I cannot just sit on my backside and wait to be told what to do, I am allowed to affect the decisions taken, should I care to. The problem is that I don’t always know what these decisions are, where to find them and how to engage/influence.

Surely, the digital revolution is more about a release of shared responsibility for the governing of a country. It is not an abdication of responsibility for those we vote in: please let’s not propose governance that relies on crowdsourcing decision-making on a macro, mesa or micro level. What it is is a new channel for the decision makers (who are busy dealing with enormous stuff, like war for example) to understand what is concerning the citizens of the country, enabling them to address these without relying on expensive ‘citizen insight’.

It also should mean that us citizens will stumble upon apt policies in the making, that we can affect, engage with and potentially influence – because our government is able to understand our concerns and will act accordingly. (Effective consultation.)

That is what I want to achieve by working in this space in the UK government departments. To make sure that those needing to know what we, citizens, think, can do so without too much effort (monitoring of social space); assist engagement where appropriate and be a guiding hand in what is *frankly* a daily explosion of information and data.

Why?

So that they can do their job and we can do ours.

Every day I love you less and less

Communication used to be fun for me. Digital communication especially so. In the mid 90s it was a blank sheet of paper, or one only scribbled all over in pencil. Common sense was all it really took to say what you wanted to say, online, to the audience you wanted to reach.

Since the digital revolution of the last decade (at least) – and as ‘organisations’ make their online presence a strategic priority – it has become increasingly hard to keep that clear line of sight.

Take website rationalisation in the UK government. It is a perfectly simple and absolutely right policy. The information was often badly managed, not maintained and completely impossible to find, notwithstanding the cash that was being poured into a plethora of websites.

Put in its simplest form, website rationalisation means that all public sector information for citizens can be found on Directgov, and for business on businesslink.gov.uk (corporate information stays with the departmental websites) by 2011. This requires convergence of the content on the two main sites and throws up the inevitable cry of: what about the old stuff? Clearly, content that was written yonks ago needs to be re-written and there are new style guides to consider &c &c. But we can’t just switch off the old sites, it is wrong to have broken links in recorded answers to PQs/PMQs, that information must remain in perpetuity; and once you go down that path you end up in all sorts of mind-boggling complications. The National Archives provides the obvious solution (but that is so not as simple is it sounds – because I am nice I will not drive you down through that particular ‘detail devil’). Nor can you switch off urls, as to do so risks cyber squatting (on non-.gov domains) by questionable folk.

*sigh* you see… by the time you have wound yourself up in knots about this, the simple pleasure of getting the right information to the right audience is swept up in such a maelstrom, you wish you never started! but you can’t do that…

Then along comes a new lovely clean simple way of communicating online: one that is not simply a push of content…

WEB TWO (twenty if you’re cool)

Oh how attractive this is to the frankly ragged people like me; and to be fair the bemused policy units, communication and marketing teams, press officers and the rest: aching to be relieved from the too complicated discussions around getting the ‘old, flat’ content to the spangly new macro-sites (and keeping the… yes you get where I am going).

And so we have seen the remarkable rise in supremely fantastic new work across the public sector digital arena, using social media tools: monitoring, influencing and engaging in the *hopefully* appropriate digital communities… so much so that I cannot keep up (unless I give up the day job and simply watch).

In the last 18 months the most desired digital skill set has not been the ability to craft and manage online content, rather the canny knowledge of the community manager: someone who understands how everything works NOW, and can steer a department/organisation into utilising crowdsourcing, cloud computing and Open Source software.

This is all well and good; it honestly is the Good Life of the internet: community based communication.

But it’s not that simple.

Now we have embraced social technologies we come to the problem of data. In order to continue with this trend of ‘going to the people where they are communing’ we must listen to what they need – and increasingly those who enable us to utilise these social tools demand that the raw data be free. I don’t mean personal data about you and I, I mean the data feeds. Give it to us, they say, and we will make our own stuff in a way that we understand.

The answer to the eternal cry of ‘How can we engage the young people’? Give them the data and let those who know what they are doing, create something that their peers will understand.

And so we find ourselves in a quandary. Not because anyone is precious about the data, rather it is not ready; often it has not been held in any format that is easily shared; sometimes data sets have been held in different formats and updated by a variety of people; borders and boundaries differ &c &c.

In order to free this data, a cross-government (central and local) audit needs to take place; and as with the rationalisation of content onto Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk, a redrafting and ordering of the raw data needs to occur, APIs created, ratification of the accuracy, maintenance contracts drawn up, SLAs…

*sigh*

It’s just never as simple as it seems, but we need to do this work. All of it.

I just wanted you to understand how complicated this all is :)

Oh and by the way, go and sign up to this: http://www.mashthestate.org.uk/index

#babysteps

PS Apologies to the Kaiser Chiefs… er not sure what I am legally up for when using a song as a blog title.

So Directgov took up the challenge

Tom Watson MP challenged Directgov on Twitter to:

Tom_watson @direcgov Today for example – wouldn’t it be the day you change the front page to give a host of travel info feeds and up to date advice?

Directgov @tom_watson heard loud and clear

Tom_watson @Directgov Very glad to hear it. I’ve just purchased www.schoolclosures.org.uk Fancy rising to the challenge for tomorrow morning?

Tom_watson @Directgov that should say schoolclosures.org.uk If you did it for tomorrow am, you’d be heroes.

A few hours ago:

http://innovate.direct.gov.uk/2009/02/03/school-closures-%E2%80%93-a-better-way/

Tom_watson @Directgov, I salute you. Utterly brilliant turnaround: http://is.gd/idfX More on school closures and humble pie here: http://bit.ly/39aljD

That’s how it is done. H/T to the ever clever Paul Clarke who was able to swing into action, even though he was also crowdsourcing for snow :)

There are problems with the Beta site for school closures, you need to refresh the page to get a response, and the results depend on the schools themselves or you lot in the know to update the information – so… anyway the point is that it was done.

Lovely.

Update: SHOCKING behaviour on my part, I completely ignored @brianhoadley who led the development of the Directgov innovations site and the development of the app for school closures, I am so so sorry Brian! Being a div, staying at home going slightly mental.

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