I spent most of yesterday in London at the DCSF's Parenting in the 21st century event - another well run event from the department and Digital Public. The speaker line-up was well worth the trip with a great success story from Sally Russell at Netmums who is doing a wonderful job of raising awareness of non governmental organisations' ability to bring parents together through social media, and achieve outcomes that still remain out of reach for many government run projects.
It was interesting to hear that although Netmums seem to have very good relationships with government, they still hit the same barriers of access to government data sets and information, which many in the private sector believe they could add value to if only they were public. Hopefully Sally's involvement with the Power of Information group will move this issue along.
Niel McLean from Becta was also on fine form, painting a convincing picture of the power of technology to revolutionise our schools system, and in particular the relationship between pupils, their parents and teachers. His ideas around the blurring of boundaries, between home and school, the roles of teachers and parents, and the worlds of work and home, through the use of inclusive and ubiquitous technology raises interesting questions around how schools should embrace technology at a process level rather than purely as a tool.
In the breaks I caught up with Louise Derbyshire from Contact a Family, who's doing some very interesting work, supported by the parent know-how innovation fund, into the ways that social media can support parents of disabled children. Working through social networks and even Second Life she seems to be having significant success demonstrating the power of self-organising networks to provide high quality peer-to-peer support in this area, and I look forward to following the results of this project over the next few months.
I also bumped into Mark Weber from Attic Media, who have been doing some great work for the DCSF in the last few years. Mark had an interesting point to make that the ability of young people to fully use the Internet is often over-egged, something that we've seen ourselves in our research with young people who are often fairly limited in their exposure online to a small number of key websites and services (youtube, myspace, msn etc). It certainly seems to me that there is either a transition that happens in the late teens where the Internet expands from being purely a social tool to being an information resource that can be mined, or that there is a straightforward generational gap between us web 1.0 players who see the Internet through a library metaphor, and current crop of web 2.0 digital natives who experience it as social media.
This is a question that needs further research since, as was pointed out at the conference, the young people of today are only ten years off becoming the parents of tomorrow and we need to start planning now for the support they'll need.