Feedback and evaluation

In this section, we will give some of the highlights of our feedback on the 2 years journey, exploring the potential of social software in our organisation. It is good to know that we had no experience in this area at all. About 3 year ago, early in 2007, when we started preparing for this project proposal, most of our management and staff did not know what the term social software meant. Internet access was very limited and restricted in the different Tonoso settings.

  • How to start if you don’t know where you are going?
The start of the project generated lots of questions. A lot of people got were worried about privacy, the dangers of the Internet, inappropriate content, bullying… In addition to the privacy and general laws, Tonuso faces the additional aspects concerning the group of youngsters under the Special Youth Law. There were questions like: Who is responsible if things go wrong? What does this means for my working time? Is this additional work? Will I have to get onto the Internet at home as well? What about rules on internet use for minors? A lot of worries were inspired by a general media culture that focuses on things that turn out badly. Problems with privacy and security, bullying, etc are reported an TV and in printed media and feed the idea that nothing good can come out of it.
So, we started with training and information sessions. A lawyer, specialised in this area, was invited to answer the legal questions. Training and information sessions organised to give staff members more background and skills. Decisions were made concerning the platforms to use: for minors, we used the NING platform, which was still free of cost at the time. This enabled us to start up safe: only INCLUSO staff members and young people were allowed in.
This helped to create an atmosphere that challenged the curiosity and creativity of a number of staff members. The potential intrigued some of them. This was a good starting point.
But we made others mistakes: We started up from an ICT perspective, instead of looking at our own goals. At the start we summarised the project as: “We are going to do something with Netlog or Facebook”. We focused on the tools, instead of looking for opportunities to support our own ambitions. We did not communicate enough, throughout the different teams, about what we were planning to do. This cascade of “to little information” made it difficult at the start to involve more then just a few really motivated people.
More precise information on “What? Who? When? How?” would have made everything more easy.
The young people themselves, their parents and peers often face a multitude of problems that lead to social exclusion. They do not see ICT as even a potential tool that they could benefit from to support them. Internet and ICT, if available and used, serve other purposes: play games, buy stuff on Ebay, watch Youtube and perhaps install a virus scanner if they faced to many problems already.
From our perspective, we want ICT to be a tool for more social inclusion. These two visions do not naturally go together.
  • Management support is important
We had some things going for us as well: the management supported the whole initiative from the start. This helps a lot. The legitimating of the whole concept by the management made it far easier to organise information sessions and get people involved. The management was convinced that social media has become a part of the lives of the young people that are in Tonuso, and that therefore, the is a definite need for an organisation like Tonuso, not to stay on the sideline. Management support made it possible to change some of the very strict rules on Internet access and computer time in the Tonuso settings. Additional efforts were made to have more computers and network connections available for the young people. The INCLUSO project was on the agenda of several meetings throughout the organisation structure.
  • Somebody needs to be in charge
One of the team members was responsible for the INCLUSO pilot at Tonuso. He had the time to think, evaluate and select tools, set it up, to organise the training, give technical and other support to interested team members, follow up and report back to the management and so on. Without this, nothing would have happened.
  • The big picture: a big step forward
Once the INCLUSO partners had agreed on the concept op “the big picture” we used this concept to start the discussion with the youth and social workers. And this really helped! Social Participaion and Personal Development are terms that are recognisable. It speaks to social workers and they can link a number of related goals and activities to these terms. “Improve communication skills” for instance is a topic that links to communication with the parents, other group members, counsellors, school, friends,… Looking at what social media can bring to this makes it easier to come up with ideas on how to do it. Counsellors can link this to tasks that are already on the task list. They only get new tools to support the task.
This really opened up the project and created a momentum that supported the use of social media in different settings and smaller projects.
  • Not everybody is interested
What is social software and how to use it? This is not a question that keeps a lot of social workers awake at night. While it was not even clear for most of us when we got started, it did not really interest a lot of the people working in the organisation. Sometimes there was more interest for the more classic ICT tools like word processing. Social workers have not had much training in ICT while going through education and some are just not interested. They choose for a job where the work and contact with young people is essential and they do not see ICT having a role there. Word processing can support them for general administrative tasks but that’s as far as it goes. The young people the guide are often more ICT skilled then themselves.
That’s why we decided to work with a smaller group of motivated and ICT-skilled key-people, scattered out within the Tonuso organisation. We did not bother convincing everybody but worked those people that were really motivated and interested. This gave better results.
  • No old computers!
We started off with some of the computers that were available in the organisation. They came out of the Tonuso administration and were at least 5 years old. As we were short in computers, we could get some additional cheap ones from the university but they had the same problem: to slow. This ended up giving us more troubles then benefits. We did not have the technical staff to keep the computers going and our young people got frustrated using them. We solved the problem by applying for computers at PC Solidarity (http://www.pcsolidarity.be). These computers were distributed in the different Tonuso settings. A help desk was organised that gave support over the phone and in case this did not solve the problem, we organised somebody to go on site and fix it. While Tonuso does not really have staff that is qualified for this kind of help desk, we managed to keep the computers going.
  • What went best?
Most positive results were achieved with the 6 to 12 years old. We could introduce them into the use of social software on a safe, secure and sensible way. We used a closed platform (NING) to experiment with profiles, emails, pictures, movies, music, forums… Some of the young people took the lead and were very active on the platform. They animated by starting discussion, posting opinions, pictures, avatars…. They took it home and started up communication with parents and family and counsellors. They could experiment with profiles, security settings and could eventually cross some boarders set out for them without doing much harm as everything was coached and took place in an area to which access was restricted by Tonuso. It enabled these young people to take part in a world that is already habited by their older peers and that they could take part in under guidance. This made them aware of positive connections they can build to expand their own social capital.