Engaging young people online – whaddya reckon?

For government agencies seeking to bring a youth perspective into their policy work, the Internet seems to be a logical choice. Of course, not all young people are online but a high percentage are regular cyber denizens.

The 2005 Nielsen/ NetRatings eGeneration survey (2MB pdf) showed 78 per cent of people aged 6-17 had been online in the last week. A major Statistics NZ survey on household ICT use showed that 85.5 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 were online in the last year (as at December 2006).

When I met in August with the Young Peoples Reference Group (YPRG), set up by the Children’s Commissioner, I found out that all the group’s members had been online within the previous 24 hours. While most of the group were participating in social networking websites, Bebo being the most popular, some were adamant they wouldn’t join.

The obvious conclusion is going online is a good idea, but the hard bit is working out what is the best way or ways to effectively engage young people.

Some early thoughts and suggestions are captured in my presentation engaging young people online – whaddya reckon?. This contributes to some very early blue skies thinking being done within the Families Commission komihana a whanau.

Both the theory and the experience of people I’ve talked to is don’t expect a large scale involvement if you set up a political/ policy/ citizenship type online space. It’s best to go where people are already active (eg social networking sites), or directly approach schools or youth groups and facilitate the production of content related to the area of policy interest. The Shore/ Whariki photovoice projects, Living Heritage and Outlook for Someday video competition are examples along the lines of the latter.

While debate rages on what to do next, I know the online world won’t be standing still and some new, latest and greatest thing is just around the corner. I’d particularly love to hear from anyone on the YPRG to give me some insights into trends.