A deeper understanding of marginalised groups and how digital technologies might be brought to bear upon social issues is generated in a variety of ways. Net Assets has provided case study material so that SiDE Society strand researchers can focus on policy in practice. Net Assets is a Regional Youth Work Unit (RYWU) led project which is seeking to engage young people in a political campaign of their choice – an opportunity for them to use social media to galvanise support and influence appropriate decision makers. SiDE Society researchers, Liz Robson and Graeme Mearns are participant observers and acting as ‘critical friends’ throughout the yearlong programme of activities.
The RYWU have identified a group of diverse young people to identify a campaign and to be equal partners in the project which is set up to be a co-learning process. Young people or ‘digital natives’ with their superior technical skills and ease in using social media as a tool of communication are seen by the RYWU as a resource rather than beneficiaries or recipients of a service. Graeme Mearns is particularly interested in interrogating claims about the ‘democratising potential’ of social media in this respect, whilst Liz Robson is observing Net Assets through an organisational lens, drawing out lessons for policy makers for the third and voluntary sector organisations who seek to utilise digital technologies safely and effectively. Organisations of this type are currently under mounting pressure to seek out innovate ways to simultaneously widen their engagement and reduce their costs. Digital technologies and social media have the potential to be a technological fix for some of the issues they face. Some of the early findings and the barriers they face have been the subject of a presentation at the Association of American Geographers Annual conference.