How to get teens voting (and itching to vote) in 5 minutes flat

Here is a story:

My daughter, Jess, is 17 and has had no interest in politics, politicians or government at all, ever. Even more vehemently so because I am her Mum and it is something I am passionate about!

Last week I was mooching around the ‘how should I vote’ apps, of which there are many, just testing them to see what questions they were asking and to see if my politics still chimed with the party I vote for.

Anyway, I said to Jess, “Just come over here and let’s see who you would vote for”, so she did and worked her way through the questions, getting more and more engaged.

After five minutes of answering questions and thinking about her views  she pressed ‘go’ and got ‘her’ party she was ecstatic!

“I am [redacted party name :)] Mum!” she exclaimed.

The next night the leader’s debate was on, and she wanted to know who ‘her’ politician was. She cheered his words and was skeptical about others. She can now take part in conversations that were wholly irrelevant before, where she felt she had no knowledge or right, therefore interest in, taking part. She is interested in who others support, and why but in a normal way, not a total politics geek way. What’s more, she has the loyalty of a teenager who has found their group, their gang.

And it took five minutes.

She can’t vote until later this year, so will miss this general election, but you can bet your bottom dollar she is voting in all and every election she can from now on.

And she cares.

Five minutes, that’s all it took.

A list of voting choice apps are provided here by My Society have a go, it might work for you! I do wonder whether the political parties are aware of this…

Festival of Code 2015: call for centres

The Festival of Code is a UK based (but open to all countries) event, run by Young Rewired State (YRS) that happens every year in late July/early August. This year it starts on the 27th July with the finale weekend happening the first weekend in August.

It is for every child aged 18 and under who has learned how to programme, to whatever degree of skill, it is free to attend and all are welcome. Really it is the graduation programme for those who have learned how to do it, but need to put their coding skills to test against real world problems, and learn how to take the next steps.

We run it with a host of voluntary people who manage local centres during the week, then the centre lead brings their YRS team to the Festival weekend, and corals them through the showcases, flash hacks and maker fair – before everyone attending the finale showcase on the Sunday with the top YRS talent presenting what they built to a panel of judges and peers.

Here is a taste of the event, recorded in our Manchester centre in 2013, probably easier to watch than read!

Our centres are the lifeblood of the event. They can be businesses, civic spaces, schools, Universities, basically anywhere with wifi and power, mentors and a person willing to be a centre lead.

This year we have already stormed away with 29 centres already signed up across the UK and Northern Ireland, have a look at the map and list here: http://festival.yrs.io/centres but with an expected 1800 young people signing up we need more and we need to cover the white bits with red Ruby bugs!

We need more centres across the UK, we will celebrate you, support you, help you and find you your local coding geniuses – but it is not a light commitment. I cannot pretend that all you need do is unlock a room and let kids in and out. Over the seven years we have been running the Festival we have learned a great number of lessons, one of which is to make sure that we have centres everywhere, but also centres who totally understand what the commitment is before they jump in.

The only thing worse than having to tell a child that they have no local centre, is telling them that their allocated centre has dropped out just before the Festival and so they cannot attend.

As a result we have published this page of information, and written up this MOU. This may seem a bit over the top for a voluntary thing, but we do not take your role lightly, and we know that the success of this depends on the willing collaboration of a huge network of centres and centre leads as partners and primaries.

But if you register to be a centre we promise you the following:

  • we will find your local coding youth
  • we will support you every step of the way
  • you will be able to build on the community of young people we find for you
  • you will be pro-actively helping the mission to give our young people a supported digital future
  • your mentors will be inspired by the Festival and the young people they meet through it
  • you will want to come back

This call, therefore, is for those who really are serious about helping this movement, who want to engage with their local coding youth and who want to be a part of the future of Digital.

To everyone, I say, please can you point people you know at these post, especially those who may be able to host kids in the areas where we currently do not have centres (the map is everything!!), thank you!

And of course, if you know of a child or group in the UK who would want to come and be a part of this, then they can sign up here, international participants can register here (it costs nothing to attend).

Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

Last night Martha Lane Fox gave a knee trembler of a talk in the Science Museum. This was her Dimbleby Lecture and was her latest opportunity to use her position to put the clappers up the Establishment. If you have not seen it – do watch it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05p9tvt/the-richard-dimbleby-lecture-30032015

There is an article about it by the BBC and this is the petition she is asking everyone to sign to demand that DOT EVERYONE happens. Now I will not waste more words telling you my version of what she says – because she says it brilliantly. But what I am going to do is jump on the opportunity she very definitely gave me last night.

Let me explain.

I have known Martha for a few years now, and she has been a fearless and brilliant person relentless in her support of what I do, but not afraid to bark at me if I screw up. I got to know her when she started following me on twitter about six or seven years ago and I told her not to because it was terrifying, we have been friends ever since.

In advance of the lecture last night she asked me and a few of her brilliant friends look over what she was planning on saying. This began with a meeting at the House of Lords – she had me in the room with my heroes: Tony Ageh and Bill Thomson and I was ridiculously happy.

I have since had the tab on my computer open day and night with the google doc transcript of what she was going to say. Every now and again I would go in and have a look at how it was shaping up and see Rusbridger also reading it, or Tom Steinberg, and moments when I would watch her typing and hesitating, deleting and then genius words would flow.  Even her cats got in on the editing.

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It was magical. And moving. But also funny. She sent me a text a few days ago saying: “You seem to be spending a lot of time looking at my lecture…” Poor MLF must have thought I was some silent judge-y teacher type, frowning at her work in silence. I wasn’t at all, I just kept the tab open to remind me to read every few days.

Thanks to her, and to the BBC Make it Digital team, the Managing Director of Young Rewired State (and my sister) Ruth Nicholls were also invited to the lecture. I was asked to attend the dinner afterwards (guestlist ridiculous, how on earth I got on there…) and then we retired for a final celebratory cocktail – and it was done. The lecture that is.

But what’s this noise in my inbox?

Today I have had a slew of people getting in touch. One of the reasons for this is that when Martha talks about women in technology, and how they need to be supported and showcased more, there is a cutaway to my face! I mean… yes cringe-making because I did not know, lucky I was not picking my teeth or yawning, but also, what a flipping gift! As Rory says:

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I have no idea how that happened, but thank God it did. People are wanting to be in touch, people are reaching out to ME to see what they can do to help and be a part of what I am trying to do. This is completely new, and refreshing and overwhelming and … exactly what Martha wants to happen for every woman working against the odds in technology, indeed civic technology (worst of both worlds for funding!). So, thank you, Martha – I am going to Carpe Diem and take absolute advantage of the opportunity you have afforded me, and every other woman like me out there today.

Here is how you can help me right now

STUFF THAT COSTS MONEY

1. In Rewired State we have just launched a programme called the Data Citizen Project. Here is what we are going to do:

We propose to run a programme which will be implemented over the next five years, from 2015 to 2020. Its aim is to significantly increase the understanding and confidence of citizens in the UK with regards to use of personal data, ultimately leading to everyone being able to make better decisions about that data.

This will involve partners across health, education, finance, politics, travel and social sectors working with representative personas, developers, designers, universities, social anthropologists and partners who specialise in measurement and statistics. We aim to help citizens be in complete control of their data, give permission to all parties who wish to access it and know what they are doing with it.

We need more partners and sponsors for this five year programme. Follow the link, get a pack and see how you might be able to help.

2. In Young Rewired State we are running our 7th annual Festival of Code. This costs a BOMB as we do not charge the kids to attend, they have taught themselves how to code, why should we make them pay to meet each other and work on some cool stuff? Supporting young programmers should be a line in everyone’s CSR budget. We need more of them to fill our jobs, and we need to find and look after them, so that they can teach each other – there is no other way we are going to fill this critical skills gap. We need these kids. If you want to support the digital sector and civic action/”for good” things, then your name should be on this page – in lights.

PAY ME TO SPEAK!

I get asked at least four times a day to go and speak at en event, or be on a panel, or turn up to something interesting. All of which I totally love doing. But realistically, I am a single parent Mum, I have had several times in the last year where I have hit the bottom of my overdraft (such is the life of a Founder of an – intentionally – unfunded organisation). Doing these talks and panels and stuff costs more than just travel – it is the opportunity cost. I appreciate that the platform is an opportunity, but so many platforms and the opportunity is lost because I am not actually getting any work done, or supporting the CEO and the Managing Director of Rewired and Young Rewired State: Ruth Nicholls and Julia Higginbottom (both women – yes).

So please don’t stop offering me platforms, or inviting me to attend stuff, but if you are needing me to speak as a part of your event, and you are charging people an entry fee, or raising sponsorship, please can you pay me?

STUFF THAT TAKES MORE TIME THAN I HAVE, BUT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

I really want to do this:

The challenge

The brand of technology/geeks is too remote and uninviting for most girls to want to be classed as a technologist – even if they are drawn to the career. Ada Lovelace days in schools exacerbates this remoteness – there is no relevance for your average school girl

The solution

Rebrand technology

But what can we realistically do right now?

I propose to build a small cohort of young, accessible, relevant and exciting women in technology. Schools will be able to ask us to run an assembly and careers workshop for them, and will pay to do so, unless I manage to get this funded by someone.

The speakers will be given a clothing allowance to buy a fabulous outfit and incredible cars will be hired for them to be driven to the schools. They will also be paid a speaker fee. They will then stand on stage (I propose four speakers per school) tell their story followed by speed dating style careers advice. It would be a maximum of three hours.

I need someone to help me, to take it, and drive it. This can be an organisation as well as an individual, I don’t mind – but I need help

In Martha’s own words:

The values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.

We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.

I am being bolder. I am asking for help. I am asking for money. Traditional funding models don’t work for businesses like mine, because the money comes with ties that always and eventually force historic business models, analogue models, ill-fitting models down the unwilling but hungry throat of the civic tech company. We cannot compromise what we are doing. The business model is solid, but it will take time – there is no quick win, but it is a solid one. The impact of both Rewired and Young Rewired State over the next twenty years worldwide will be huge, and visible, and noticeable.

We run great projects and programmes, eminently sponsorable, with benefit for both of us: US so that we can do what we need to do (and still eat and afford train tickets) with your money; and YOU because we will ensure that what we do, delivers value in return. A trade. The oldest trade in the world: money exchanged for something of value.

Thank you, Martha! Here’s a cheeky shot…

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“I have a nightmare…”

Tonight Martha Lane-Fox will give her Dimbleby lecture at the Science Museum in London. I was privileged enough to have seen early versions of it as she grappled with how best to use this platform to address the growing urgency for some kind of body to attend to the moral and ethical challenges thrown up by the digital renaissance. You can read a write-up in The Guardian that gives more detail on what she is going to say.

In her words, Martin Luther King did not inspire generations of people by starting his speech with: “I have a nightmare…”. That focuses on the bad stuff, the scary things – basically the Daily Mail approach to informing and inspiring change. Indeed, the Daily Mail has been running no less than four horrible stories on data as I type. Here is one headline:

We know everything about you: Sinister boast of data boss who says he has 5,000 pieces of personal information on EVERY British family – from your salary to your health products and ages of your children…

I shan’t link to it, but feel free to google.

Education has not kept up with the information age, not just our children’s education, but us adults too. I know some but not all, and spend my life keeping up with change, reading and learning – but I am lucky enough that I am able to do this because it lies at the heart of what I do every day. But most people have neither the time nor the opportunity to do so, therefore tales in the media drive their knowledge, often built on half-truths and misinformation.

Ignorance breeds fear.

Fear breeds censorship and defensiveness.

This does not help people make better, more-informed decisions.

I am also announcing the launch of Rewired State’s DATA CITIZEN PROJECT. Our premise is to help people make better decisions by running a five-year long, deeply researched programme looking at how we all interact with data, what it means to us and how we can all be given the knowledge we need to feel like we have control over the information we knowingly provide. Right now there is naff all information on the website, but I have a nice little information pack that can tell you more about what, where, who, when and how (email me emma@rewiredstate.org if you want a copy or want to be a part of it not just sponsorship, natch).

Standing ovation for Martha tonight, do watch it and watch out for what happens when she steps down from her podium – thank goodness people like her use her platforms for the benefit of everyone else. Kudos, my friend.

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One reason why we all want to be politicians, and 5 why we don’t!

One of the stand out messages from the evidence we received during the course of The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy last year was that everyone was very disillusioned with politicians, and wanted to vote for policies not people. Great!! We cried, and then Representative Democracy (and the fact that we don’t actually all want to vote on all policies) came into play.

One reason why we all want to be politicians:

WE WANT TO VOTE ON POLICIES WE CARE ABOUT

Five reasons why we don’t:

1. We don’t have time to hear all the arguments for and against, we just want to say what we personally think

2. We quite like our privacy

3. We don’t want to stand up and yell at people surrounded by green leather, mahogany and gold (well…)

4. We don’t like being generally judged because of our job (parking ticket inspectors notwithstanding)

5. We want to do stuff we are good at – usually not politics (politicians take note) and we prefer job security

There are many more…

In representative democracy we vote for people and we have to trust them to vote generally in line with what we believe, or we toss out representative democracy. So this year when you are working out who to vote for, use one of the very many apps and websites out there that will tell you which way party politicians vote for in areas that you care about – and bite the bullet (ballot). I like using Vote for Policies https://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ but I have to say, I have done this a couple of times in the last few months, and I always get different results! My views are not changing, but the party politics are – nothing stands still. (This is kind of why it is so important to sense check who you are voting for and stop calling yourself a Tory or a Liberal – or whatever, because you might just not be!).

Also, get engaged with consultations on topics you care about when they are at the stage that you can influence the outcome.

Sod the horses, ride the algorithm!

Last night I was explaining representative democracy in the digital age, in a bar, shouting over loud music, jaegerbomb in hand – because that’s how dull exciting I am!! Anyway, I thought it was good to write down here because it might help make sense of why everyone is banging on about digital democracy.

In the olden days men would ride to Parliament from towns and villages across the land, to bring the wishes of the people. They would return with news of what was happening in Parliament. And so representative democracy worked (in a very crude explanation!).

Nowadays the algorithms are the horses.

This is why marked up content, open data and social media – all the digital shizzle, is SO important for representative democracy.

And girls can ride algorithms too.

Digital democracy, online voting and divorce

Yesterday heralded the publishing of the report by the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, I was part of the team that worked on it for the last year – and loved every moment. The report is here should you fancy a quick read, there is a lot in there, but it is all pretty sane – although I am biased (and proud!).

In my last post on this topic, written the evening before the report publication, I mentioned how the work we did became far more about how you re-settle democracy in a digital age, rather than just chucking digital at the democratic system and processes we have in place at the moment. Systems and processes that are not really engaging anyone and have not embraced the digital communities in any immediately obvious fashion.

This has led to people not feeling particularly well-represented, despondent and completely disengaged from what actually happens in Parliament, other than shouting at each other and roaring old fashioned expletives at each other across the floor of the House of Commons. This is an issue that cannot be wholly addressed by a Commission charged with “investigating the opportunities digital technology can bring for parliamentary democracy in the UK”, but one that is pretty easy to recognise.

Heading for the divorce courts

Throughout the last year, conversations have run rife around Commissioners’ kitchen tables, official round tables, formal meetings in Parliament and sports stadiums (stadia for the insistent) around the UK about what is driving everyone nuts. And most of the time this came down to a mismatch in what people were saying in their digital communities and online social spaces, and what they were hearing in Parliament. There was a breakdown in communication and this was really divorcing the people from their elected representatives.

It often felt like we were the marriage counsellors in the initial grumpy meetings of two very unhappy souls: Mr People and Mrs Parliament. Both really want the marriage to work – but neither party were really hearing each other. One had a whole digital life that was being completely ignored, or inappropriately engaged with, by the other. And we had to just sit back and listen for a year before we sketched out a route to resolving the digital element of this.

I know: online voting!!

I will write about a few of the recommendations as I have time over the coming weeks, but I would like to really refocus one conversation thread that has been the almost sole focus of the press reporting recently: online voting.

It was not something that people really complained about, it was just an assumption that one day they would be able to and that this ability would be there. We spoke to a *lot* of experts around the world about this, and it is a focus for many democratic countries but has great challenges for security and anonymity online; as anyone who knows anything about cyber-security will tell you. (Yes we spoke to Estonia!). Nevertheless, it is something that people just expect, and so it is in the report as something that needs to be given priority and attention, under the heading: by the 2020 election people should have the option to vote digitally.

Being able to digitally approve or disapprove of annual marriage check-ins is not the answer to the current crisis in democracy. A change in the way we communicate with our representatives, and the way they communicate back to us is what will make the biggest difference. And digital means can go a huge way to addressing this breakdown, mainly through communication and community, openness and transparency.

The trust has left the marriage. Only vigilance, truth, openness and honesty will bring back the democratic dream.

If there is democracy, there has to be digital…

… and voting is a key element of representative democracy. Therefore digital voting must be incorporated into representative democracy in a digital age. It is not by any means a top story solution, but it is an easy headline, and an easy topic to chew the fat over with digital types – please can we not let it derail or skew the rest of the recommendations?

 

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