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netWorked Youth Research for Empowerment in the Digital society

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WYRED (netWorked Youth Research for Empowerment in the Digital society)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-10-31

In recent years the young have emerged as a distinct social group, and it has become clear that they introduce new behaviours and understandings of the world. For today’s young people the Internet has always been there, and it could be said that they live “digital” lives. Given this, we should include their perspectives in decisions about the digital society.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. More than half of the young feel that “in their country young people have been marginalised and excluded from economic and social life” (Tibor Navrascics, 2015) and many believe their concerns are not taken up by politicians.
The WYRED project has been addressing these issues by giving young people a voice, and a space to explore their concerns and interests in relation to digital society, and then share their perspectives and insights to stakeholders. The project is challenging. It does not propose a conventional “objective” research approach. Unfortunately, complex systems such as those that affect change in society, particularly technological changes such as the advent of the digital do not permit the adoption of an external viewpoint. We are all participants in the processes taking place. This requires a kaleidoscopic approach to research that allows a wide range of voices to interact and engage with each other, giving especial attention to inclusion and diversity.
European society faces myriad challenges. Many, if not all of these are influenced by digital technologies, and they affect the lives of those who are young at present. It is natural and ethical to ensure their participation in reflection on the issues that affect their future. The WYRED approach contributes to the emergence of a good society, by helping young people to explore their concerns and voice their perspectives in relation to the digital society. This is not however an easy undertaking; the current marginalisation and disengagement that young people feel is partly due to the fact that their views have not been taken sufficiently into account. The ways in which research is carried out also contribute to the lack of involvement. Frequently, the research process is owned and framed by others. If we expect young people to engage and participate in the definition of sustainable models for future society, they need to be able not only to express their views, but also to be directly involved in the framing and design of the research process, in order to ensure that the issues explored are relevant to them.
WYRED has addressed these issues by developing and finetuning a hightly flexible and adaptable approach that works in three stages. The first focuses on social dialogue in which children and young people articualte their concerns, in the second they design and carry out self-directed participatory research projects in which they explore their concerns. In the third stage they share the results of their work, helping policy makers and the wider society to better understand the perspectives and needs of children and young people. Throughout this cycle of activity, insights realting to this domain are collected and these are brought together in an annual report.
The work has proved very successful, most importantly in terms of the way the approach has empowered young people, but also in terms of the insights and recommendations that have emerged which are grounded firmly in the concerns of the young themselves. Importantly, these are frequently similar across diverse contexts, pointing to a generalizability of the conclusions. At the end of the project funding period there is a clear sense that children and young people across Europe feel a strong need for both legislation and education to address the issues raised by digital technologies in a variety of domains, and improve their lives in the digital society.
The objectives of the project have been achieved. Young people across more than 7 countries have participated in three WYRED cycles during the project, and a wide range of international online conversations around concerns relating to the digital society (such as online safety, online information, gender, self- image, living on social media, and digital participation). Through this work the WYRED approach has been refined and streamlined and is now consolidated as an effective and enriching way of working with young people for their empowerment in the digital society. The WYRED Association has been set up to carry the work forward, both extending the approach to other contexts and adapting the methodology to other domains.
Though the engagement and empowerment of young people is an issue that is being addressed by large numbers of NGOs and educational organisations, the WYRED approach constitutes a substantial shift. It encourages young people to consolidate and “ground” their voice through research and ensures that it reaches beyond the youth context to policy makers and the wider society. The process is rewarding, for both the children and young people and the adult stakeholders involved and has received interest from policy makers and regional bodies, including reach into the partner country parliaments and Ministries and the European parliament.
In WYRED, the most important impact is the transformation it involves for the children and young people themselves. The empowerment involved in the approach is important for all those involved but has been particularly dramatic among disadvantaged young people.
Beyond this impact is the impact of the outputs of young work, both as individual cases, and increasingly as an aggregation of conclusion and insights within the domain of young people and the digital society which is published yearly by the WYRED Association. WYRED is open to any member of European society, and within the framework of the Association aims to reach well beyond the timeframe of the EC funding period.
The quality of the impact is also important. A key focus is to engage stakeholders in the work, which we understand as facilitating active involvement rather than simply awareness of the work. The nature rather than the number is key and for our insights to be valuable they need to be not only grounded in observed practical experience, which is what the WYRED process is designed to achieve, but also demonstrably generalizable. We do this by validation through heterogeneity (Pawson and Tilley, 1997). If insights from different research activities take place in a variety of different social settings then these insights are present across society in different contexts, and therefore relevant for consideration by policymakers, and other stakeholders.
However, the problems that the digital society creates generate problems for policy-makers who are faced with the continual challenge of trying to ‘keep up’ with change and anticipate its development whilst attempting to fulfil their democratic mandate. Frequently, policy-making fails to take account of human experience, and the impact of technology on human relations and social structures. WYRED, by helping young people voice the concerns that derive from their lived experience of the digital society helps to inform policy. However, the more important transformation is in the way WYRED helps to empower children and young people to draw their own conclusions, and adapt to their circumstances, and it is through their actions in this regard that the greatest long-term impacts will be achieved.
WYRED Research Cycle Infographic
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