The reason for me being at the symposium was to take part in the final session on Thursday. Tom Gaskin from NorfolkBlurb forced young people onto the agenda and was asked to organise a session on empowering young people.
A couple of phone calls later and I was going to help Tom put together "Can X-Factor excitement beat bureaucratic boredom?". Our first groundrules were that young people had to central to the discussion (ie an equal part of the speaking line-up) and that the session had to be participative. Tom prepared a load of material for discussion as we feared conversation would dry up and the audience wouldn’t participate, but in the end the only subject we managed to cover was young people and social networking. The audience were invited to participate frequently during the session and at anytime by texting their comment or questions to the website that appeared on the large screen on stage. We also had a simple "thumbs up or down" page voting system.
It worked brilliantly. The relaxed format meant we got lots out of the young people on stage; the audience told us that it was the first time during the eparticipation symposium that they had been asked to participate; 38 messages were texted to the site – most were serious but towards the end the audience were able to tell us to wind up the session by asking for a drink!
Three interesting things to come out of the session?
- Most people realise social networks are not to blame for the recent suicides in Bridgend despite what the local MP says. However young people and their parents/carers may lack some online intelligence. How many people understand Facebook privacy rules? Who has actually read the rules? Are some people just too naive?
- The MP for Bridgend encouraged young people not to go online, but to seek professional help. Why aren’t the professionals going online to offer their help? Is it because their employers are banning them from the sites?
- People in our audience felt that a campaign on Facebook is more likely to result in action than an e-petition on the No.10 Downing Street petitions site. I don’t think that is a slight on e-petitions, but is on the trust we have in Government produced e-participation.