Youth Media Facilitation: An Approach for Organizational Learning
Youth media can spark media storytelling and improve the internal practices of an organization so that it is technology savvy and accessible to the younger generation. This level of reflection and adaptability can prepare youth media advocates to justify the field’s importance and reframe the discussion for a wider audience when project-based funding sources dry up and budget cuts loom.
After ten years facilitating youth media projects rooted in the rich soil of Boston, I see an immense potential in collaboration among the variety of community media/arts and youth-serving organizations in our city and its suburbs. Together, we can develop and articulate a common framework for integrating youth media as a valuable tool to reflect and improve upon our practices; and, in the process, encourage our youth participants to contribute to organizational growth and sustainability.
Youth media educators are in a unique position to support organizations by:
• fostering individual voice and participation;
• creating critical moments to articulate and decipher an organization’s culture; and,
• challenging, and therefore transforming, how an organization learns and adapts by matching youth media facilitation to what an organization does, says, and believes.
In this article, I’ll offer my recent MIT@Lawrence research experience at YouthBuild Lawrence as a reflective case study of how I attempted to integrate youth media as a tool and methodology, combining urban planning and business theories with tested community organizing and project-based learning techniques.
YouthBuild Lawrence “Keep Lawrence Clean” Project
YouthBuild is a national network of local programs that help “low-income young people ages 16–24 work toward their GED or high school diploma while learning job skills through building affordable housing (YouthBuild USA).” My project with YouthBuild in Lawrence had two goals:
(1) to teach community organizing though a multi- prong awareness and hands-on engagement approach; and,
(2) to experiment using new media tools to raise youth voices, calling for change in their community.
Over the course of one spring semester, I worked with a small leadership team of young people to launch bi-weekly sessions embedded inside a day of normal YouthBuild programming, developing an awareness campaign around litter; such as, gathering signatures on a petition to get the city to change trash pickup regulations. To support these actions, the youth produced their own commercial and a photo-map documenting littered alleyways. Whiles these media projects were empowering for the participants, the organization struggled to find a way to incorporate media projects as a sustained aspect of the overall program.
As was the case at YouthBuild, I am often invited to a youth development organization to train youth in new media skills. The first goal of these media trainings is to nurture individual youth participation through leadership and peer mentoring. But upon reflection, I found that outside academics and media facilitators need to find a more collaborative approach with local staff and youth participants to develop a sustainable youth media adoption strategy. The moment when an organization tries to adopt any new tool is an opportunity to discuss how and why it learns and grows. As active “process consultants,” collaborative youth media facilitators can use the point of entry of sharing new technical expertise to also build organizational capacity.
Based on the lessons learned in Lawrence and subsequent projects in Bangalore, Springfield and Boston, I’m developing a description of my technique for collaborative facilitation and new media tools that can be adopted by both youth media and other youth development practitioners and youth participants (see diagram below). This facilitation strategy evolved through both real-time action-research and post-work reflection to use participatory media training as a point of entry into community organizations.
In this work, I tried to describe, for both youth media facilitators and any other community practitioners, how I approached integrating youth media projects into the larger youth development aims of organization like YouthBuild. Each of the eight facilitation strategies is grouped by how deeply I dove into the organization’s culture.
The eight facilitation techniques tempers my own experiences in the Boston area with organizational learning theory. Based on the work of MIT’s Edgar Schein and other researchers, this collaborative facilitation strategy believes the best way to help an organization change or adapt is to tease out aspects of the organizational culture: shared assumptions, stated values in mission statements, and values expressed as actions in everyday behaviors and programs.
Since the YouthBuild project, I have developed the following techniques to collaboratively teach media skills in a way that aligns to an organization’s culture. The approach re-articulates what an organization truly believes, says, and does, while empowering staff and youth producers to adopt the most appropriate media tool to reach individual and collective goals.
I now often start my interventions and new youth media projects with more in-depth inquiries about why the organization exists, what it values and how it designs and prioritizes its actions. Then, and only then, do we start talking media tools that could help achieve their aims. When I share these experiences with my peers and youth leaders, it often sparks discussion of how and why community practitioners should add this new dimension to their facilitation, to not only spark media storytelling and member activism but also to improve an organization’s internal practices.
Here’s a quick description of the 8 techniques, with some references to certain participatory media tools that pair well each facilitative action:
By sharing new technical expertise, youth media educators can play a unique role in nurturing both youth participation and organizational capacity through collaborative facilitation. The next step for the youth media field, in Boston in particular, is for more practitioners to document, evaluate, and share our techniques for collaborative facilitation, peer networking, and youth leadership in the context of organizations. Our local communities are full of youth media facilitators and other educators who would greatly benefit from learning from each other’s collective insights and approaches specific to raising young people’s abilities, expression, and voice while bolstering the organizations that support them.
Danielle Martin graduated as a Master in City Planning from MIT in Sept. ‘09, spending two years leading the MIT@Lawrence university-community partnership and completing a thesis where this case study first appeared. Before MIT, she served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA at the Community Technology Centers VISTA Project at UMass Boston [now The Transmission Project]. She also spent four years directing the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club (MA) Computer Clubhouse. She is currently consulting with several academic and community-based partners around adopting new media strategies, piloting an afterschool program around conflict-transformation and photo-journalism with Peace In Focus, and creating a community within MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media, the Department of Play, focused on the design of new mapping and mobile technology and methodologies to support youth as active participants in their local communities.