The Challenges of Digital Making
As part of the Digital Makers programme that we’re developing with Nesta, Mozilla and a range of other partners, I was able to share some of the challenges that this programme is navigating and looking to address at an event at Ravensbourne College on Friday 25th May.
Tom Keynon, from Nesta did a great job in providing some of the practical activities within the programme and set the broad context for the work [I will add a link to his presentation when available). I followed to set out some of the challenges underpinning that. I’ve numbered the following paragraphs in case you want to click through the slidedeck that I shared.
1. Holding slide for the event
2. The context of this work – Nominet Trust is a social investor and grant maker investing in organisation and ideas that aim to redesign approaches to addressing big social challenges, through the use of digital technology. We’re the Foundation charity of Nominet, the .uk domain registry, responsible for the smooth and safe running of the .uk internet infrastructure, supporting over 10 million .uk domain names.
3. Specifically, we’re currently applying our investment focus to investigate and understand how digital technologies can be used to support young people to engage socially and economically with their communities. Working with a range of partners we’re identifying the key challenges which can be addressed through innovative applications of digital technology. Our young people’s investment programme (of which more information will be made available on our site soon) will be seeking further partners and applicants to respond to these grand challenges. For examples, check out Working Well with the Design Council and the Innovation Labs that have been developed with Comic Relief and Right Here.
4. One key challenge, and an important reason why we are excited to be developing the programme with Mozilla and Nesta is how we best increase participation and access to digital making activities – with the aspiration to support the a generation of digital making. We come at this work from participation background – looking at how being involved in digital making activities can support young people to engage with their communities. Digital making can be an individual pursuit of creating, coding, producing etc, but it is also – importantly – a shared activity. It is important then, that this programme not only looks to develop young people as digital makers, but that it supports them to participate in cultures and communities of digital makers. We want to find ways to support the next creators of Google, Firefox and Facebook, but we also want to support those to critically engage with those socio-technological constructs.
5. And that, in part, is due to the context in which we work and the rationale for the programme. The context is well known and Tom briefly outlined it. It’s the challenges and opportunities that all involved in this activity are aware of. But it’s worth highlighting one aspect that is often (or at least too often) overlooked. Being involved in digital making activities is more than coding and digital design as it necessarily involves interacting with digital structures put in place by others – and that requires a critical awareness of how the way in which technologies are developed influence and shape the way in which they are used. (With apologies to Graham Brown-Martin...) – Facebook’s conceptions of privacy influence the way in which we are able to interact on Facebook. Similarly for all other design decisions, where the implicit (and sometimes explicit) values of designers/developers shape the tools that we use, and therefore shape the ways in which we use them. I’m really excited that we’re able to support Aleks Krotoski in researching this very issue.
This relates to the second issue on the slide: understanding how socio-technical systems influence the way in which we act. As Digital by Default becomes a Government mantra, and more services and products are created online, understanding how to interact with and through these digital structures becomes an important part of participating in communities of digital makers.
6. This broad definition of digital making leads to a broad range of ways to participate. This slide isn’t meant to be exclusive or complete, but highlights the breadth of ways of participating. What it does show, is digital making is beyond coding and programming, and for us to ensure young people can participate effectively, we need to move the debate beyond Computer Science and Coding (as important as those two elements are). What this diagram does highlight though, is that the capabilities needed to participate aren’t linear (there’s no necessary progression route between digital making activities) and they’re not consistent – that is young people can dip in and out of engaging. That presents a challenge for how we best support them if we try to adopt a traditional approach to teaching and curriculum.
7. So that leaves us with three big challenges that we’ll have to navigate and explore through the Digital Makers programme.
First, understanding the catalysts and disconnects as young people engage with digital making (that is what prompts them to get involved and what ends their interest).
Second, we need a clearer understanding of the productive capabilities needed for digital making and to understand how we can support young people to progress across non-linear development routes.
Third, we need to understand how we can ‘loosely tie together’ the wide range of digital maker activities so that we can present a stronger holistic argument and approach, to ensure we support young people at policy, practice and personal levels.
It would be great to work with you to begin to address these points.