Digital youth work's renaissance? Delivering NAYORA's digital inclusion training in Azerbaijan.
Is digital youth work undergoing a renascence period? New ideas, innovative approaches, experimentation, new research, technological and intellectual progress – a lot of this happened in the last two years.
In October, after months of researching digital youth work from my living room, I travelled to Azerbaijan to deliver a 5-day long youth digital inclusion training for youth country representatives from Romania, North Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Slovenia, and Croatia. Thanks to NAYORA (the National Assembly of Youth Organizations of the Republic of Azerbaijan) and the lovely folks on Twitter, I became a last-minute addition to the project. The Integrating Digital Inclusion project has been organised and led by Maryam Majidova ( Co-founder of the Gender Hub Azerbaijan, Youth Worker & Gender Equality Activist) and Roman Gojayev (Expert Group on Youth Rights @Youth_Forum, Co-founder @GenderHubAz, Programme Officer @nayora_az, #GenerationConnect Board Member @ITUDevelopment).
Key take away from the event: [digital] youth work is undergoing a renascence period, but not all can participate in it.
the baseline: there is no magic solution to digital youth work
Digital youth work is not static. It cannot be given a definite meaning, structure or value. Digital youth work is a continually evolving practice affected by intersectional factors (both for young people and youth workers). In simple terms, digital youth work can be messy and unpredictable - and that's okay.
As a supposed expert in the field, I'm unable to provide a magic solution for getting digital youth work/youth digital inclusion right. However, what I can do as an educator is to provide space where those complexities can be co-explored with participants. What are the different factors affecting one's digital inclusion (e.g. young person, youth workers, youth organisations, national youth councils)? What can we realistically do to address these? By exploring these questions we learnt about the different intersectional factors that can affect one's digital inclusion, as well as institutional and cultural understandings and power dynamics related to digital technologies.
* we also played our very own digital confusion bingo
meaningful digital inclusion and non-formal education
To understand the full context of digital youth work, I decided to focus on the concept of meaningful digital inclusion*. In line with the idea of democratic education and the values of non-formal education/ youth work, we explored how/if young people's digital inclusion affects their social participation.
The workshops participants were provided with a brief (yet overwhelming) overview of how digital inclusion and digital youth work relates to topics such as online safety, privacy and surveillance, digital human rights, digital and data literacies, free will, agency, jobs of the future and so on.
Do youth workers and youth organisations should be expected to cover all of the aspects of meaningful youth digital inclusion? No. Is it useful to know these when designing digital youth activities? Yes.
Getting young people and youth workers online should be key to our digital inclusion efforts. The pandemic has shown how critical it is to have a personal digital device, reliable internet connection, and a safe space to use these. However, with more and more people (young people and youth workers) relying on their phones it is important to examine how these digital extensions of their offline selves impact their democratic participation.
The knowledge of meaningful digital participation is certainly a form of privilege. It might help you to move up the digital participation ladder - say, from a connected user to a critical connected user. This privilege comes with a responsibility for sharing it further into the youth field. So, my hope is that the participants will take away aspects of meaningful digital participation with them.
moving forward: "it's about being realistic, resilient and persistent"
Let me say it again, it's not about getting digital youth inclusion or digital youth work 'right'. The key message from the participants was that any possible digital inclusion projects/ideas/solutions might face obstacles in their respective countries. This is why any action plans should be realistic - and those responsible for their implementation should be allowed to test, fail, and try again.
The next stages of the NAYORA"s project will be projects' implementation and the development of guidelines on digital inclusion for the National Youth Councils. I really look forward to seeing the outcomes of the next stage!