Netsquared Interview with Adam Fletcher

Youth And The Web: Adam Fletcher From Free Child Project

Originally posted by Marshall Kirkpatrick on January 12, 2006 at 8:20pm at

The Olympia, Washington based Free Child Project engages in a large number of activities to support youth led social change. Their mission reads: The Freechild Project seeks to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world, particularly those who have been historically denied the right to participate.

Adam Fletcher is the founder and director of Free Child. We talked last week about the group’s work.

Free Child produces presentations, trainings and publications around the US and internationally that highlight youth-led social change efforts. The group emphasizes doing work with youth, as opposed to the normal models of doing work for youth. Free Child seeks to give young people the tools they need to more effectively make signifigant social change wherever they are.

Their projects include service-learning, topic-specific workshops and activist group incubation. The group does consulting with local and national non profit groups in strategic planning, capacity building and product development all with youth empowerment at the center of their priorities. They also perform networking services through conferences and online communications. You can read more about the group’s work on the Free Child Activities page. The FreeChild resources page is a huge directory of youth led social change resources.

Use of Web Tools

In addition to the large databases of resources linked to above, the group has long used an email list serve for outreach and communication. Now they are moving towards using new web tools to do their work. “A lot of youth action websites are bland,” Fletcher says. “We’re going to move that forward and incite young people and adults to react through our technology.”

Free Child is lucky to be located in an area of Washington state with lots of computer programmers available. After working with a number of young people training teachers in technology use, it was recommended by the youth that Free Child improve its own technology. Since hiring people to help upgrade their web site, they have seen an increase from 2,000 unique visitors a week to 15,000 unique visitors a week. Now they face the challenge of maintaining authenticity in their work while developing new ways to communicate.

Free Child had a blog for about a year, where consultants posted about the trainings they put on. Though it did build a following, Fletcher says it didn’t end up being worth the time it required.

The group has begun using the youth intensive social networking site MySpace, the community mapping service Frappr and a free collaboration tool called Write Board from 37Signals. MySpace and Frappr especially have been easy ways to connect with young people around the world.

The organization hopes to help its members and allies use new tools like social bookmarking and tagging as well, but Fletcher recognizes that adoption of such tools will probably have to happen one tool at a time.

Much of Free Child’s work goes on in circumstances where web use isn’t desired, sufficient or appropriate.

In a workshop setting, our website makes our lives easier, instead of giving out paper handouts they’ll never look at again we can go through the web site. But sometimes there are more requests for paper. People don’t neccesarily want to leave a workshop with a good website, they want something hard.

Classroom teachers never ask for more paper. A community youth worker working in a low income setting might have a computer on a desk and dial up, or no internet, or no computer. So web adress may not be useful for them. 

We’re trying to find comfortable place between; flexibility is key. We have paper copies ready, and maybe a different training session all together.

Ultimately their aim is to increase the “architechture of participation” Fletcher says the group is “going to translate that , we’re going to take that to the streets and take that to young people. All of this will lead to a much richer, more authentic democracy for everyone.”

Conference Thoughts

When I asked Fletcher for thoughts on the Net Squared conference, his advice was clear.

Have young people there, in mass. Get young people involved in planning activities and you get both their energy now and recognition that they will be recipients, and drivers, of change in the future. 

The key is applicability. Don’t just get the first kid off the street, get kids who are already looking for other kids working in technology and non profits. Young people consistently say ‘I don’t want to be treated differently than adults. Don’t make changes just for youth, make them because everyone will benefit.’ 

Youth are the internet and the internet is analogous in so many ways with changes that have to be made in society. We need democracy 2.0, participation 2.0 – our work here at Free Child is a part of a larger project to rebuild society as a whole. The internet is one part of that that just happens to reflect it.

What could Free Child use help with from the Net Squared community?

Help with getting the tech message out to tech people, funders especially. I know there’s a body of funders with experience with web tech, we need to figure out how to get a message across to them clearly. A workshop on how to explain future tech, web 2.0 in respect to non profits to high tech funders would be invaluable.

If you’d like to get inspired, go check out Free Child’s Youth Movement Mapping Project. It’s a huge listing of youth led social change efforts going on around the world.

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