For the first time in history we have the most amazing opportunity, through technology, to break down the barriers that exclude our most vulnerable populations. Digital inclusion through the use of technologies--for our children and young people with a disability, those with a chronic illness and anyone who faces challenges with literacy or English as a first language--provides a safe online refuge that may potentially change the social fabric of Australia.
Something that really struck me last week at FOSI’s international forum in Melbourne is the level of energy and positivity around how technology can be harnessed to improve the wellbeing of our young people.
And when all of this energy collides, some incredible outcomes can be achieved: the birth of the Young and Well CRC is the product of such a happy collision.
Over the past 10 years in Australia we have seen a focus on cybersafety and some great work done by our partners, including the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, skoodle, the Telstra Foundation, Google, Yahoo!7, Facebook, Zuni, Berry Street, the University of South Australia, the Victorian Department of Human Services and the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
The success of these various collaborations is evident in the latest statistics from the Young and Well National Survey which show by and large young people have become cybersavvy, and are even teaching their parents a thing or two.
It is now time to take it to the next level and shift to a youth-centric approach which positions the young person as expert.
Eight years ago, I was at the Inspire Foundation conducting research into ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ and investigating how we could best use technology to help our vulnerable young people. After all, we know that 75% of mental health problems occur before the age of 25, so there was an imperative to act by whatever means possible to intervene.
Others began to take note of our research and acknowledge the unique opportunity technology was presenting. The notion of using technology as a means to wellbeing was beginning to take hold.
In a first for Australia, the Telstra Foundation partnered with Inspire in 2008 to create the Technology and Wellbeing Roundtable. The initiative brought together thought leaders, to collaborate and share insight into how technology can be an enabler of wellbeing for young people, and identify possible issues to then develop and promote best practice.
This collaboration became a foundation piece for the Young and Well CRC, which launched in 2011, bringing together more than 75 partners dedicated to building the evidence base and driving innovation about the positive role technology can play in the wellbeing of young people.
Since then, we have seen an acceleration of research that puts young people at the centre of research, policy and practice. Our original work with reachout.com and the Bridging the Digital Divide project placed young people at the centre of the investigation, asking them for advice and insight.
The exciting research currently being undertaken by the Young and Well CRC emulates this approach, particularly the work of Dr Philippa Collin and her team in our Safe and Supportive research stream, covering digital citizenship, cybersafety and being ‘safe and well’ online. Likewise, the ‘living lab’ study by Dr Amanda Third and her team in our Connected and Creative research program investigating intergenerational dialogue to enhance parents’ knowledge and practice of online safety. These projects have helped cement the new wave of collaboration: between researchers and young people.
Stephen Balkam, CEO of FOSI asked me if I really believed that Australia was leading the way in cybersafety. What I said was this: I don’t really want the Young and Well CRC to lead the way in cybersafety, plenty of other great organisations do that, but I do want us lead the way in understanding what makes a digitally inclusive Australia that looks to break down the barriers of stigma, discrimination and isolation.
I believe that young people are the key to changing an outdated, antiquated and overtly regulated approach to cybersafety. I believe that together with our partners, we are proving that collaborative approaches to research and service delivery can yield faster development of services.
Collaboration is hard work – it requires agreement on a common goal, standard measures and shared resources. That is what lies at the heart of the Young and Well CRC.
Most organisations are driven by a survival instinct to compete. But if our collective impact will result in a shared vision of cybersafety for young people and an improvement in their mental health and wellbeing, then joining together hardly feels like rocket science.