Big Society's Big Mouth

by Andy Mayer
Posted on 19 April 2011
read time: 4 minutes

How do you get young people to engage with political debate, and more specifically the concept of the "Big Society?" This was the conundrum vInspired, the National Young Volunteers' Service, brought to Yoomee at the beginning of 2011.

Research commissioned showed that young people felt they didn't have a voice on political issues in general, nor did they really grasp what exactly the Big Society was all about as a specific issue.

vInspired engages with in excess of 115,000 young people up and down the country through their volunteering platform,, but they wanted to foster wide debate on this topical issue in safe and controlled environment.

vInspired knew we had a social discussion platform waiting in the wings to be customised to their requirements, but first we needed to come up with a strategy. We were aware we’d be competing with Facebook and a whole host of other distractions for young people’s time, so the solution had to grab their attention, and then hold it. So, great usability and ongoing user engagement through game mechanics were deemed key to the site’s success.

Moderation was also a big unknown at the outset. No national youth organisation had previously sought to initiate such a wide-ranging conversation online with this age group, and naturally there were associated risks to consider. Rather than employing a team of moderators to sit and scan the conversation as it developed, we decided the website should take the strain.

This demanded considerable upfront investment in developing a sophisticated moderation tool to integrate with our existing platform which would monitor language, inappropriate and potentially offensive, content. Our extremely comprehensive solution took a light touch approach with users, by flagging and challenging anything deemed offensive as it was posted. But behind the scenes moderators receive immediate alerts identifying rogue content and providing them with a wide range of remedial actions. A moderation dashboard provides a range of statistics pulled from across the site.

Once vInspired had conceived the idea for Big Society’s Big Mouth, the race was on to get the site up and running to capitalise on the discussion whilst the Big Society was at its most topical. Our Agile way of working really came into its own, allowing us to take baby steps forward with constant input from vInspired to ensure the project evolved in line with their thinking. Structured user testing with young people from the target age range was built into the project plan, allowing us to receive and respond to feedback immediately. According to Henry Mackintosh, vInspired’s Digital Manager “This was probably the quickest turnaround on any project that I have ever worked on”.

Over the past 8 months Big Society’s Big Mouth has been visited by young people from 97 countries across the globe. It’s sparked 215 different lines of discussion and prompted numerous responses and lines of debate. The innovative and risky approach adopted by vInspired brought praise from young people and politicians alike. We’re glad to have played our part in making it happen.

So we worked with vInspiredto develop their concept of a youth-oriented forum into something altogether more social that would encourage continued user engagement with the UK's youth. We integrated the site with Facebook, added tags to help people find their way round the site, polls to grab a snapshot of opinions, and a live updating home page to highlight new posts.

"If communities and young people are going to have a greater say over decisions that affect them the opportunities to do so have to be accessible and meaningful. ... Social media can bridge the gap between Westminster and the population at large. So it's great to see that v is getting involved and using the web to connect young adults with Parliament" ~ Toby Blume of Urban Forum

A clever game mechanic rewards interactions with points, and awards funky badges for certain achievements. A leaderboard brings out the competition nature by profiling the high achievers.

The video below succinctly summarises the site's key wins: young people from 97 countries visited the site; discussed a huge range of issues from unemployment and volunteering, to youth politics and climate change to what exactly the Big Issue means. To-date there's been 215 lively discussions, which in turn have generated 425 comments, with not a swear word to be seen on the site.

Related links
PDF report on the website findings
Case study on Big Society's Big Mouth

Posted on 19 April 2011 - By Andy Mayer
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