This piece is part of a weekly series of articles curated by Voluntary Arts and authored by cultural thinkers and doers. The series will be published between November 2017 and February 2018. It is being shaped in response to the emerging practice of cultural commoning and as a way of articulating ideas that have arisen in conversations about Our Cultural Commons over the past two years across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Our intention is that the series will help make visible the cultural commons in action and will encourage new approaches to sustaining creative cultural activity in local places. And we hope that the articles and the conversation they stimulate will contribute to the forming of ever more enabling cultural policy.

5Rights and the Power of Real-Life Gathering

A few years ago I founded 5Rights – a framework that takes the established rights of children as enshrined in the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child and reimagines them for the digital sphere.

The journey of 5Rights began in 2012, when I made a documentary ‘InRealLife’. The film explored the lives of teenagers growing up in a 24/7 connected world: the only world they have ever known. The film added to an existing debate about how to help children and young people take advantage of the vast potential of the digital world, whilst avoiding its dangers, and a growing concern that young people simply do not understand the ‘pushes and pulls’ built into emerging digital technologies, nor possess enough skills to make good use of its infinite opportunities.

Beeban Kidron - 5RightsWhat emerged was the conviction that it is imperative for:

  • society to look holistically, not as disconnected extremes, at the opportunities and risks for young people in the digital world
  • the rights that young people enjoy in the physical world to be enacted in their digital world
  • young people to have meaningful voice in how the digital world treats them

The 5Rights framework was written to offer a single, principled approach that could be used to set a standard by which young people are treated in the digital world. There were contributions from policy experts, academics, teachers, digital engineers, civil society organisations, business leaders and young people themselves. The framework reflects the views and experience of individuals and organisations.

5Rights had been going some time when, in my capacity as Voluntary Arts President, I was invited to attend an Edinburgh round table that was the start of the Our Cultural Commons initiative. We talked a lot about the need for spaces, transport, resources, organisation – all perquisites for ‘gathering’. Those present (or gathered) clearly felt that ‘gathering’ had a value way beyond the utilitarian sharing of skills or making things, progressing an idea or an organisation. The subtext of the whole meeting was that ‘getting people together’ wasn’t the method, it was the point. In a world that daily moves towards the virtual this fierce attachment to gathering as a central component of the Our Cultural Commons ambition really caught my attention.

Our Cultural Commons visual minutesLike many ideas that are of their time 5Rights had found it reasonably easy to find supporters. But, once the first flurry of media had subsided, and the obvious people had been recruited to the cause, it had stalled. I simply could not respond to the interest - attend the meetings, write the articles, give the speeches (as well as fulfill the needs of my work and family life) – alone.

And so, fresh from my visit to Edinburgh, I decided to invest some time in gathering together some of those who had shown most interest in 5Rights to see what, if anything, might happen.

What emerged was a leadership group: a group with no explicit roles, no home, no organizational structure, no remit beyond that which we collectively agreed at any individual gathering; a group that undertook to amplify the message and implement the principles in real world settings. It had always been important that 5Rights, an ethical framework by which to design, judge and understand the digital interactions of children and young people, should sit in the public arena. But the work of promoting it, which had fallen almost exclusively to me, needed to be shared.

I invited 6 people, and 6 people came. We talked about the framework and what might be done with it. We talked about our skills and our contexts and what each person might be able to offer. We ate an excessive amount of crisps and drank warm white wine from plastic cups. We were: a lawyer, a Head of Mobile Products for a major broadcaster, a Director of Digital Design for a major IT company, a regulator, an Entrepreneur, a CEO of a Scottish children’s organization, and a member of the House of Lords.

Among the dozens of things done by us with our communities are:

  • translating Snapchat’s terms and conditions from legalese into understandable English
  • contributing to the thinking behind age verification
  • building an app to help young people manage their internet use
  • providing evidence to Government about children’s safety and education online
  • supporting the case for the UNCRC to be extended into the digital environment
  • instigating a report about childhood development in the digital environment
  • setting up a children’s commission in Scotland that has reported on rights and developed policy for Scottish Government
  • speaking, writing and blogging at many events and in many places – to help build a consensus that ‘children are children until they reach maturity not just until they reach for their smartphone’

For me, the power of Our Cultural Commons is that commitment to real-life gathering. Neither the form of the leadership group nor its ambitious creativity would have been possible from behind a screen. And, whilst the digital world provides infinite possibilities for creativity and sharing, gathering in real life – whatever the struggle for places, spaces, transport, resources and organisation – is a powerful antidote to the fragmented and commodified experience so often available at the touch of the button. Without it we are alone. And alone we cannot do the creative work or make the social change we want.

Baroness Beeban Kidron OBE,
English film director/producer, children’s rights campaigner, and member of the UK House of Lords

Beeban Kidron OBEBeeban Kidron is a British filmmaker best known for directing Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) and the Bafta-winning miniseries Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1989), adapted from the Jeannette Winterson novel. In 2006, she founded FILMCLUB with journalist and film critic Lindsay Mackie. The educational charity aimed to transform the lives of young people through film. Through FILMCLUB, schools could screen films at no cost, and afterwards students discuss and review the films. In 2013, FILMCLUB merged with First Light to become Into Film. In 2015, Kidron launched the 5Rights framework, a campaigning group seeking to deliver rights in the on-line digital environment to persons under 18 years of age. She is also the President of Voluntary Arts.

Next week, on Wednesday 6 December 2017, Daria Stenina of the ambitious, international Cardboardia project talks about ways of forming communities.

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Creative Commons license - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This article is published under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.
Images: Beeban Kidron OBE at TedSalon, London, 2012. © TED Conferences, LLC
‘Visual Minutes’ by the Scarlet Design team and World Café facilitated by Fran O’Hara