Two new publications

1. “EU Kids Online is delighted to announce the publication of its new book, “Kids Online: Opportunities and Risks for Children”, edited by Sonia Livingstone and Leslie Haddon (Bristol: Policy Press). This provides an up to date account of how children use the internet in Europe, including such topical issues as social networking, risky contacts, parental mediation, media literacy and many more.

As Professor Tanya Byron, author of the influential Byron Review into Safer Children in a Digital World says, “Professor Livingstone and colleagues provide extensive evidence-based findings which enable academics, educationalists, policy makers, parents and young people to think beyond anxieties generated by new technologies and make informed decisions about maximizing digital opportunities while managing risks. An impressive and essential book, central to the child digital safety debate.”

Ordering information is available here:

More on the EU Kids Online project can be found at:

2. Ofcom has just released new research on adult media literacy.

“Media literacy enables individuals, and society, to have the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to make full use of the opportunities presented both by traditional and by new communications services. Media literacy also helps people to manage content and communications, and protect themselves and their families from the potential risks associated with using these services.

This report provides an update to the Media Literacy Audit – Report on adult media literacy, published in 2006 and again in 2008 using fieldwork conducted in 2005 and 2007. In 2009, we have adopted a six-monthly fieldwork schedule, to enable more frequent reporting and the identification of emerging trends. This report is designed to give an accessible overview of media literacy among adults aged 16 and over, and is based on an initial wave of research conducted in spring 2009. Where possible, within the overall sample of adults, demographic analysis is conducted by age, by gender and by household socio-economic group.”

This research highlights the increase in numbers of older people online, noting that: “The growth in household take-up of the internet since the 2007 survey has meant that the profile of internet users has changed, with more users in older age groups…Looking at the overall profile of internet users, a higher share of users in 2009 are older (9% aged 65+ vs. 6% in 2007).”

The executive summary and full report are available at:

The Golden Bridge: preserving the past

So with all of the buzz from the recent Connected Practice symposium about future social services it’s nice to remember that networked technologies can also help solve problems about preserving the past. The Golden Bridge was a digital preservation project that Ellen and I were involved in a couple of years ago.

The project was based on an exhibition hosted by Heatherbank Museum of Social Work on the migration of children (so called ‘orphans’ – though most had at least one surviving parent) from Scotland to Canada by William Quarrier and other Victorian era philanthropists. Heatherbank Museum hosted the exhibition in 2001 but the museum – based in Glasgow Caledonian University – was being archived due to pressure on public space. Our involvement was to demonstrate how new digital media could be used to re-present the physical exhibition by digitising the exhibits, some video, and even the curator. In the process we also discovered and preserved some very precious images and slides of “Quarriers Orphan Homes” showing children at different stages in the migration journey in Scotland, on ship, and in Canada.

Home Children en route to Canada

Over 100,000 children were migrated from the UK to Canada and most became indentured labourers: farmhands for Canadian farmers; or domestic servants to families. In Canada the children were known as “Home Children” and many experienced great hardship and stigma. Their memory is kept alive by organisations like Quarriers Canadian Family who – just last week – organised a Homecoming for over 60 descendants of former Canadian Home Children in Quarriers Village. We were invited to give a talk about the project and to show a movie sized projection of the website. I have to say it was one of the most moving events in which I have ever participated. Members of the audience exclaimed as they recognised images of relatives and listened with rapt attention to video clips of Canadian elders who had been migrated in the 1920s. There were smiles and tears, and when it was over Fred Wardle of the Quarriers Canadian Family presented Ellen and me with certificates deeming us to be honorary Home Children: an honour of which we are both very proud.

Of course whilst Ellen and I get the honours for doing the research let’s not forget the back office staff who made it all possible including: Ian Phillip for a gorgeous design; Paul Hart for flash programming & video editing; Lesley Duff for server side magic; and Ian Watson for working through layers and layers of complex IPR issues. Thank you. You are all honorary Home Children!

visit the exhibition | read about the project

Social network site to host Connected Practice symposium discussions

We’re using Ning to host discussions and content from our research symposium next week Human Services in the Network Society. If the site proves popular we may well keep it running to host community events and discussions – to complement rather than replace blog posts here.

You don’t have to be a delegate at the event to join the network so please feel free to sign up.

In time all of the symposium audio, video and images will be added to the site. Please note that due to its interactive nature it may be blocked by your internet service provider.

We recommend telling them it’s a trusted site and requesting access to

Telecare bibliography

The role of telecare and assistive technology in supporting older and vulnerable people is a key area of interest to the Connected Practice unit.  Andrew Eccles, a lecturer at the Glasgow School of Social Work and an associate of Connected Practice has a special interest in telecare and its ethical implications. To support one of Andrew’s projects in this area, we put together a short bibliography on ethics, telecare and assistive technology from the last 5 years.

Many of these resources are available through Social Services Knowledge Scotland. For full text access you may need an NHS Athens password, which is freely available to social services workers and their managers in Scotland by filling in the registration from at:

Digital youth work?

Some time ago danah boyd blogged about a tragic case in the US where a parent was implicated in the suicide of a thirteen year old girl she believed was bullying her daughter in MySpace. The woman was charged under the misuse of computer legislation but danah argued this missed the point about what was actually going on. An adult bullying a child. She went on to argue that in these new online public spaces:

The most important thing that we need are digital street workers. When I was in college, college students volunteered as street workers to help teens who were on the street find resources and help. They directed them to psychologists, doctors, and social workers. We need a program like this for the digital streets. We need college-aged young adults to troll the digital world looking out for teens who are in trouble and helping them seek help. We need online counselors who can work with minors to address their behavioral issues without forcing the minor to contend with parents or bureaucracy. We need online social workers that can connect with kids and help them understand their options.

danah’s research into young people’s use of social network sites like MySpace is highly respected. Although she’s principally interested in understanding how participation in networked publics affects sociality, identity, and culture I’ve heard her comment several times on the need for counselling and social work services to engage with young people online.

As someone who started his social work career as a street worker (ahem…a long time ago) the idea of digital street work is very compelling. Of course there are issues with social services staff working in this space. Young people are so schooled in ‘stranger danger’  they may – quite rightly? –  be wary of trusting an unknown, online worker. Trust building is an important part of face to face work. The ease with which anonymous users can mask their identity online may make online social services deeply problematic. Some of these issues have been surfaced and tackled by Tim Davies and his colleagues in an excellent research report into Youth Work and Social Media.

More recently both danah and Tim have been blogging about online safety and the ways in which innovative practitioners might be:

incorporating sensible online safety approaches into their daily practice with youth in the classrooms, in therapy, in social work, in religious advising, etc.? Who’s out there trying to wade through the myths, get a realistic portrait, and approach youth from a grounded point of view in order to directly help them, not as a safety expert but as someone who works with youth because of their professional role?

Online safety and assisting young people maximise the benefits of the online world – whilst minimising the risks – has to be an important task for frontline social services workers, especially so for those involved with ‘looked after’ children and young people. Too often the response to protecting children and young people online is to restrict or close down access, rather than to empower, enable and educate. This approach fails children and young people in two ways. Firstly, it excludes them from realising the very real opportunities and benefits of the online world: e.g. informal learning, sustaining social relationships, expressing creativity and identity. Secondly, it fails to protect them from risk. An approach that relies on filtering and blocking alone does not enable children and young people to develop the media literacy skills they need to stay safe, and – if they go online ‘under the radar’ of their carers – they may be at greater risk of harm.

So, what do social service workers need to know about the way children and young people are using social network sites like Bebo and MySpace? What would a digital youth outreach service look like? How can social services workers best support ‘looked after’ children and young people to ensure they realise the opportunities and avoid the risks of online communication? All of these questions and more will be discussed at a ConnectedPractice research symposium on 14th & 15th September in Glasgow: danah, Tim and a host of others will be leading the discussion.

Launch of Connected Practice

That’s it…we’re open for business! Connected Practice was officially launched by GSSW & IRISS on the 18th of February 2009. The launch participants were a broad cross-section of people from our community of interest including: social work academics, public sector IT managers, civil servants, NHS (Knowledge Services Group), Scottish Social Services Learning Networks and others. The discussion was vibrant and wide-ranging. We gave two short presentations. Neil introduced Connected Practice, the idea of the network society, and outlined several broad questions that the work of Connected Practice would attempt to address:

  • What are the implications of the network society for social services (e.g. the impact on social networks & social capital)?
  • How are social services responding to new forms of networked social solidarity & new forms of social disorder?
  • What new networked techniques and processes are emerging to organise, manage & deliver social services (e.g. internal business processes & customer facing service delivery)?
  • What new opportunities & risks are there for citizens & users of social services?

I described a bid we’ve made for an international research symposium submitted to the Institute for Advanced Studies. If the bid is successful we’ll host a two week long event in the Autumn of 2009: the first week will bring together leading international researchers on the network society to share current thinking and work together on an international research agenda; the second week would engage social services policy makers, practitioners & service users exploring policy and practice issues.

The Institute for Advanced studies is itself an very significant initiative bridging academic research and real world policy issues. In the coming weeks they are hosting a programme on Surveillance & Society in the 21st Century organised by Professor Mike Nellis.

The slides used at the launch event are available below:

Welcome to Connected Practice

Hello and welcome to Connected Practice, the blog for a new research unit created to conduct studies into social services in the network society. The research unit is a partnership between the Glasgow School of Social Work (GSSW) and the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS). It’s staffed by Neil Ballantyne and Ellen Daly from the IRISS Learning Technology Team. Neil will be spending a day a week leading the research unit, and Ellen will work as the unit’s research assistant for half of her working week. We’ll both be contributing posts to the blog which we’ll use to share news about the work of the unit, but also to think aloud, and start conversations about some of the issues around social services in the network society.

So why do we want to study social services in the network society? What do we mean by the network society? If we’re really interested in technology and social work, why not just investigate the application of new technologies to social services? The network society concept is critically important as an overarching theme for the research unit. It draws attention to the relationship between new technologies – especially networked technologies – and transformational changes in economy, society and culture. It’s our contention that the social changes associated with the emerging network society bring new challenges and opportunities for social services organisations and practitioners, including new forms of social solidarity and social disorder. Manuel Castell’s is the pre-eminent theorist of the network society and in three volumes (The Rise of the Network Society; The Power of Identity; and End of Millennium) he described in great detail – drawing on a considerable body of empirical evidence – the emergence of the network society: a powerful meld of networked information and communication technologies and new network-based organisational forms.

“As a historical trend, dominant functions and processes in the information age are increasingly organized around networks. Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operations and outcomes in processes of production, experience of power and culture.” (Castells, 1996, p. 469)

If Castell’s work provides the overarching macro-economic and social context for the network society, the work of Barry Wellman and his colleagues at Netlab foregrounds the social affordances the network society for individuals, families and communities. For many years Wellman and colleagues have studied social networks in the contexts of communities, and the effects of computer networks on social networks. The idea of social networks – and the value of social networks to promote health and well-being – is very familiar territory for social services staff. Possibly less well known is the work of Wellman and colleagues in tracking the way that the Internet and networked technologies are being used by individuals to build and maintain social ties (e.g. Wellman, Quan-Haase, Boase, & Chen, 2003), or the very recent work for the Pew Internet & American Life Project (Kennedy, Smith, Wells & Wellman, 2008) on the impact of the Internet and mobile telephony on family life. There is a growing body of empirical evidence on the changes – both positive and negative – occurring in personal, social, family and working life associated with the emerging network society.

Some time ago Nigel Parton describing the historical evolution of social work argued that:

“The emergence of modern social work is associated with the transformation that took place from the mid-nineteenth century onwards in response to a number of interrelated anxieties about the family and the community more generally. It developed as a hybrid in the space, the ‘social’ (Donzelot, 1988), between the private sphere of the household and the public sphere of the state and society. It operated in an intermediary zone. It produced and was reproduced by new relations between the law, social security, medicine, the school and the family. (Parton, 2000, pp 455-456).

The relationship between the private and the public sphere is being transformed by the network society, and in the process the opportunities and challenges for social services are changing too. Issues of privacy, identity, surveillance and risk all impact on service users and carers making use of networked services, whether they are young people using social network sites like Bebo or MySpace, or older people using telecare services. There is tremendous potential for networked services to forge new and empowering relationships with service users and carers; and for social services staff to engage in networked learning and knowledge exchange.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll use the blog to discuss these issues, and to develop what we believe is a rich seam for social services research. We invite you to comment and contribute.