Growing participation in youth social action will require a data revolution

As part of our interest in growing social action, we want to share with you a new piece of work being led by Step up to Serve and Generation Change. Charlotte Hill from Step up to Serve shares her vision for the Horizon digital mapping project. 

Growing participation in social action will require a data revolution

Here’s a remarkable fact: at least three million young people aged ten to 20 in the UK engage in some form of social action at least once a month or for a sustained period in a year – that’s around 40 per cent. This figure comes from a national survey that asked 2,000 young people about how much time they had given towards a range of activities including campaigning, volunteering, and helping others. 

And yet, beneath this headline figure, we know very little about the hundreds and thousands of organisations and projects that support young people to take part in social action. We are unable to answer even simple questions like, ‘How many social action opportunities are there for 16-year-olds compared with opportunities for 12-year-olds’. Even more difficult is trying to understand what happens in different parts of the country. 

Why does this matter? There have been many attempts over the last 40 years to significantly grow volunteering in this country. Most recently, HRH the Prince of Wales has set up the #iwill campaign, a cross-sector, cross-party initiative to drive the current 40 per cent participation figure up to 60 per cent by 2020. 

This ambitious goal won’t be achieved by any one organisation. We need schools, colleges, employers, local authorities, and charities to all think about how they can strategically work towards growing participation in social action from a young age – and help them to keep an eye on the goal over the coming years. This is why we have built Horizon. 

Horizon is a simple yet powerful online tool for mapping youth social action projects and programmes. We are asking anyone involved in supporting young people to do social action to register and upload their data – creating a rich tapestry of what is going on in different parts of the country. We have already mapped over 1.2 million opportunities taken up by young people last year. 

#iwill campaign partners are then able to use this data to inform their decision making – whether that’s funders being able to plan where their money is spent, local authorities being able to better plan volunteering services in a local area or a voluntary sector organisation exploring who they could partner with locally. 

This is not a service for young people to find volunteer opportunities. Those platforms already exist – through sites like vInspired and Instead, we want to power a data revolution for the many organisations who are involved in ensuring that young people have opportunities in the first place. 

Similar data sharing platforms have had a powerful effect in other fields. Nesta’s own games map of the UK helped to identify important trends in a growing part of Britain’s economy. Uber has just launched a site that gives town planners access to traffic data, with the hope of designing smarter transport services. And British Gas, the #iwill partner that is sponsoring the creation of Horizon, has first-hand experience of how simple but powerful data platforms can drive smarter decision making.

Our vision is for Horizon to become an integral decision making tool for the hundreds of organisations who support the #iwill campaign and want to drive up youth social action across the UK. If you are interested in finding out more, please get in touch with Generation Change.



Carrie Deacon

Carrie Deacon

Carrie Deacon

Director of Government and Community Innovation

Carrie was Director of Government and Community Innovation at Nesta, leading our work on social action and people-powered public services.

View profile