Cycle of Innovation #3

How can the corporate, third and academic sectors work together to tackle some of the oldest challenges society faces? How do we come together to adapt everyday digital tools and create life changing support for young people that complements existing offline services?

Ollie Drackford
Head of Marcoms
Cycle of innovation event

These were the key questions that were explored at YouthNet’s third Cycle of Innovation event, held yesterday in partnership with The London School of Economics (LSE).

YouthNet’s Cycle of Innovation series aim to bring together people from a range of sectors and with different expertise to talk about how we can bring about real innovation. Over the past year we’ve been fortunate to have gathered a real variety of expertise from business, not for profit and academic backgrounds to collaborate on a variety of topics and share our own experiences, during a time of extensive innovation and change for YouthNet.Online is now such a key part to how we conduct our everyday lives.

To make sure I made it on time and to the right building at LSE, I relied upon my tube app and maps function on my mobile.  So at this event we wanted to share two projects that show how digital can complement offline support and ensure comprehensive solutions.

First off, Dr Will Venters and student Lotta Holmberg, both from LSE, showcased their work helping co-create YouthNet’s StepFinder app, launched this week, which pinpoints young people to local support services. As Will highlighted, there is a long history of collaboration between academia and the third sector and YouthNet definitely gained so much from the depth of analysis and theoretical questioning that the students brought to the project.

Indeed, it’s this co-design, especially with young people, which is at the heart of YouthNet’s approach to innovating new support for the challenges young people are facing.  So Chris Martin, YouthNet’s Operations Director, shared how we have applied this in our work into ‘hidden homelessness’ amongst young people.

Our recent in-depth research into this issue in collaboration with 8 housing charities, identified key stages of a young person’s journey to homelessness. In almost all cases this started with a breakdown in a relationship in the home, followed by a phase of gradually ‘slipping’ during which young people stayed at a friends’ houses and moved around, before entering a final phase of isolation and reduced resilience as they entered homelessness.

This in turn had an erosive impact on young people’s mental wellbeing which inevitably left them feeling powerlessness to take control of their situation.This is something a young person should never have to feel and we believe digital has the power to change. The research showed that whilst our colleagues in the housing sector are delivering vital provision for young people experiencing homelessness, there was a unique opportunity for the role of digital in offering early intervention to prevent young people spiralling into homelessness.

It was fantastic to be able to share insights from this research and some of the concepts young people who have experienced homelessness have helped YouthNet to develop, which could have made a huge difference to their experience.

Taking the discussion forward was our panel, comprised of Billy Dann, UK Programme Manager at Comic Relief, Richard Griffiths, Youth Development Co-ordinater at Peabody, Will Venters PhD and myself.

Dan Sutch, of Nominet Trust, led the panel to explore more about the intersection between the use and design of technology and real social challenges. Comic Relief and LSE both saw huge value in the speed at which you can work with digital products, Billy describing the potential to “do things quickly, fail fast and move on” and he crucially recognised that it’s key in helping keep the sector relevant.  Yet he also recognised that the notion of ‘failing fast’ is a challenge for many funders.

There was a great question on measurement, with several of the panel answering that whether online or offline, it’s vital charities continue to strive to increase measurement of their impact, and online now offers tools which are powerful on both scale and outcomes for users.

The power of partnerships and collaboration was a strong theme that came out of our discussions, with many seeing this as being vital to enabling innovation and the creation of new solutions.

So I look forward to YouthNet collaborating further with existing and new partners, as well as engaging with many more young people to work with us, so together we can be ambitious for the role of digital to deliver support that really makes a difference to the lives of young people.




Published on 29-Nov-2013