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Youth Advocates: ‘Mobile Matters’ Developing a youth participatory action research and advocacy program. Leo Fieldgrass, Youth Projects Officer, Brotherhood.

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Presentation on theme: "Youth Advocates: ‘Mobile Matters’ Developing a youth participatory action research and advocacy program. Leo Fieldgrass, Youth Projects Officer, Brotherhood."— Presentation transcript:

1 Youth Advocates: ‘Mobile Matters’ Developing a youth participatory action research and advocacy program. Leo Fieldgrass, Youth Projects Officer, Brotherhood of St Laurence @leofieldgrass

2 Overview Secondary education program created in response to concerns re: youth and family mobile phone debt Facilitated by Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) and funded by Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) grant 4 Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) groups in Frankston-Mornington Peninsula, VIC Approx 100 Year 11 & 12 students (15 – 18 y.o.’s) Nov 2010 – Oct 2011


4 Aims Build capacity of young people to understand rights and responsibilities as mobile phone consumers; help young people develop research skills, through gathering evidence of peer mobile experiences; empower young people to advocate for appropriate and affordable mobile phone services, by disseminating research findings to key industry stakeholders at a public event.

5 Program Classroom-based workshops: consumer skills and research skills. Peer-to-peer surveys on youth finances and mobile phone use at conference-style events. Students analysed data and produced findings. Student advocacy group created final set of project recommendations, delivered at public event.


7 Methodology Recruitment of partner schools (BSL Community VCAL, Padua College, Carrum Downs Secondary College, McClelland College). Formation of adult Working Group to provide oversight: BSL, ACCAN, schools, Frankston-Mornington Peninsula Local Learning and Employment Network (FMPLLEN) and Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV).

8 Methodology Project program split into three phases: o Two ‘Learning Rounds’ of student education and skills development o Final Student Advocate Presentation Group, comprised of volunteers from all four participating groups, who collaborated to produce a final set of project recommendations and presented these to key industry stakeholders at a high-profile event.


10 Methodology: Planning Need to combine program with research skills, advocacy skills and consumer awareness. o Adaptation of Kellett’s (2005, 2010) program Developing children and young people as researchers; o Consumer Affairs Victoria (2005) Consumer Stuff VCAL teaching resources, BSL / ANZ Money Minded; o Foundation for Young Australians (2009) RU Mad? Are you making a difference? 8 Keys to MADness; o Youth Participatory Action Research (PAR) lit., e.g. Wright (2009), Foster-Fishman et al. (2010), UK Office of Public Management (2010).

11 Methodology Pure ‘youth research’ not possible as students couldn’t choose overall research topic themselves; it had already been chosen for them by adults! BUT ‘youth-led research’ still achievable: young people given opportunity to develop own research questions, plan and carry out research in direction of their own choosing.

12 Methodology: Action Research Action research: Koshy (2010), Kemmis & McTaggart (2000) - reflection and evaluation stages built into project program Youth Participatory Action Research (PAR) o Wright (2009) – critical thinking and youth leadership o Foster-Fishman et al. (2010) – messaging games to teach research data analysis

13 Methodology: Youth PAR o Kellet (2010) – power dynamics present in research with young people o Kay et al (2009), UK National Youth Agency (NYA) (2010) – youth research toolkits True youth participation = “knowledge, opportunity and support” (NSWCCYP, 2003) Participation models: o Hart’s (1992) Ladder of Participation o Treseder’s (1997) Degrees of Participation.


15 Treseder, P. (1997), Empowering Children and Young People, Save the Children. young-people.cfm/

16 Methodology: Learning Rounds Two partner schools experienced separate concurrent classroom sessions then brought together to undertake collaborative research (surveys). Each Learning Round spread across one academic term (i.e. roughly eight weeks) to maximize student interest and engagement and facilitate easy assimilation into normal teaching program.

17 Feb – Apr 2011: Learning Round 1 BSL Community VCAL: ‘Rights and responsibilities’ = contracts, right to redress, making a complaint, accessing the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) McClelland College: ‘Appropriate and affordable’ = understanding caps & bills, pre- pay vs. post-pay plans, resisting pressure from salespeople Surveys carried out at collaborative event, inc. peer presentations (‘top tips’) and guest speaker from Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV)

18 May – Jul 2011: Learning Round 2 Carrum Downs Secondary College: ‘Fair calls for all?’ = Call rates from mobiles (linked to ACCAN campaign) Padua College: ‘Language and marketing’ = telco ads and contracts Surveys carried out at 2x collaborative events, inc. Frankston Youth Forum

19 Research findings Many young people (and their families) experiencing ‘bill shock’ o “My sister managed to rack up a $3000 phone bill in one month, just by calling, texting, and internet… mum was not happy about that” – female Student Advocate.

20 Research findings Young people were confused Unclear charges for SMS / calls / data Unsure of their usage or how to check Contracts hard to understand “Cap” isn’t a limit? o “I was over my phone bill [usage allowance] every month and I didn’t know why – couldn’t understand why, couldn’t check how you were over your bill” – female Student Advocate.

21 Research findings Young people were unhappy ambiguous advertising (especially “cap”) regularly going over budget “unfair” call costs (13/1800) and contract periods o “If it’s called a ‘cap’ it really should mean it stops but it doesn’t… and you don’t really know that you’re going over it, so the next thing you know you’ve got a phone bill that’s a ridiculous amount of money and you weren’t even told you were going over it” – male Student Advocate.

22 “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” (Chinese proverb)

23 Jul – Aug 2011: Student Advocacy Presentation Group 15 volunteers from across the four groups 4 weeks of group work sessions Final set of project recommendations Presented to peers, government regulators and telco reps at ‘A Call for Change’ event, Melbourne Town Hall, 30 Aug 2011



26 Student Advocates’ messages “We want you [telcos and regulators] to understand what it’s like to be a young mobile consumer: we don’t just use mobiles for texting and mucking about, we use [them] for jobs and shifts, school, parents and emergencies” – female Student Advocate.

27 Student Advocates’ messages “Why is this important? This is a serious issue that we feel very strongly about” – female Student Advocate. “Changes [need] to be made in the future inside the companies... you’ve heard the problems young people go through” – male Student Advocate.

28 Student Advocates’ messages Young consumers should take their time Telcos should use less ambiguous language “Stop hiding all the important stuff in the fine print!” Improve customer services Remove “unfair” charges Offer shorter contracts Introduce trial periods for plans “Telcos should make more of an effort!” Regulators should “keep telcos to their word” TIO should promote its service more widely

29 Conclusions: Limitations Relatively small sample size (n127). Location – confined to particular area of VIC. Cohort – young people from Indigenous, refugee, or non-English speaking backgrounds, and young. people with stated disabilities mostly unrepresented. Attempts to use online surveys via ACCAN and Australian Youth Forum websites disappointing. Not pure youth research!

30 Conclusions: Challenges Tensions between young people choosing to actively participate in the project and obligation to participate as requirement of VCAL program; power dynamics of youth-led research within formal educational settings; challenge to keep students passionate and encourage them to take ownership of the project, esp. in out-of-school time.

31 Conclusions: Strengths Focused ‘snapshot’ of youth financial experience of mobile comms. in 2011. Collaborative elements highly successful. Excellent partnership work between schools and agencies. Youth PAR worthy strategy for empowering young people, inc. sociopolitical analysis, critical thought peer leadership and advocacy.

32 Outcomes Supported need for increased financial literacy education for secondary + post-secondary. Demonstrated how mobile phones can be a compelling and relevant way to engage young people in education. Firm addition to evidence base re: youth and family debt related to mobile phone use. Positively influenced govt. and industry policy changes.




36 Outcomes Enabled young people to develop advocacy, leadership and presentation skills, helping build self-esteem and confidence: o “transformational” effect on some students; o further presentation at Hard Knock Life youth conference, Melbourne; o media interviews: Today Tonight (Ch. 7), 6.30 with George Negus (Ch. 10), The Age, Herald Sun; o 2 students invited to Sydney to discuss findings with telco CEO “The more I put into this project the more I get out of it” – female Student Advocate

37 Outcomes Demonstrated: o mobile phones are not just a social luxury for young people o significant youth anxiety about mobile debt and industry practices o Need for revised Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code (recently launched) “Treat us with respect ‘cos we’re your future customers. If you don’t treat us with respect you won’t have our business” – female student advocate.

38 Learning  Be conscious of organisational agendas and power dynamics: differences between Youth-created vs. Youth-led research; facilitate don’t control.  Create fun, focused sessions for young people: purpose, autonomy and leadership are key.  Encourage use of 21st century technologies (audio-visual, internet, etc.) and arts-based approaches.  Organise high-value ways to disseminate findings (e.g. high- profile event).  Youth collaboration can extend into wider community, e.g. inter-generational.

39 “It is the responsibility of all of us working with children and young people to ensure that children’s rights to active participation maintains a high profile in practice, as well as in theory.” Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (CECFW) (2012, p.28)

40 Thank you. Further info: Advocates-Project.aspx. The full report can be downloaded via Advocates-Project.aspx @leofieldgrass

41 References Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare (CECFW) (2012), Their voice: involving children and young people in decisions, services and systems, Monograph No. 23, Melbourne: Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare Foster-Fishman, P., Law, K., Lichty, L. and Aoun, C. (2010), ‘Youth ReACT for Social Change - A Method for Youth Participatory Action Research’, American Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 46, pp. 67–83. Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) (2009), RU Mad? Are you making a difference? 8 Keys to MADness, Melbourne: The Foundation for Young Australians. Kay, E., Tisdall, M., Davis, J., and Gallagher, M. (2009), Researching with Children and Young People, London: Sage. Kellett, M. (2005), How to develop children as researchers, London: Sage. Kellett, M. (2010), Rethinking Children and Research: Attitudes in Contemporary Society, London: Continuum. Kemmis, S. and McTaggart, R. (2000), ‘Participatory action research’, in Denzin, N. and Lincoln, Y. (Eds.), The Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd ed.), London: Sage.

42 References (cont.) Koshy, V. (2010) ‘What is action research?’, ch. 1 in Action Research for Improving Educational Practice: A Step- by-Step Guide (2nd ed.), London: Sage. National Youth Agency (NYA) (2010, Young Researcher Network Toolkit, Leicester: NYA, [last accessed 5 October 2011]. New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People (NSWCCYP) (2003) Research and resources about participation,, [last accessed 28 September 2011]. Office of Public Management (OPM) (2010), Creative Influence - Research led by young people, London: OPM. Wright, D. (2008) “For us, by us” - Young people's leadership, participation and agency in a youth led project for community development, Thesis presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Education of Harvard University.

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