It surely cannot be that difficult. Count the number of young people coming to Lift, Platform and Rose Bowl so we can monitor how well we are doing. Just ask them to sign in on a piece of paper, right? Then someone just has to transfer the data from that piece of paper to a spreadsheet, perhaps, or better still a database.
But that regular user just signs himself ‘Ali’ now. “You know who I am, don’t you?”. Some sign-ins are completely indecipherable. And strangely, when Film Club is showing a PG Cert, some dates of birth are a year earlier than last time. And then there’s “AJ”. Is that Ajmal? Or Antony James? Or Ajay?
Youth centres are not schools or surgeries. We cannot compel young people to comply with strict registration rules. If they want to use tag names, or abbreviations, or not sign in at all, that’s fine.
It would be good to know where they live as well, though, so we know we are reaching the right places. Yet many do not know their own postcode. Or just put a building name with no street, no number.
Faced with this huge set of variables – nicknames, missing names, double-barrelled names that sometimes miss a barrel, normal dates of birth, American-format dates of birth, dates of birth a year out, partial postcodes, no postcodes, incomplete addresses – we decided five years ago to find a better way to record who our young people are, what they do, and the outcomes they achieve.
We hit on the idea of using Oystercards. Not for the encrypted data on them about someone’s travel details, of course, but for the unique ID number embedded electronically into each piece of plastic. Why Oystercard, rather than a branded Youth Hub Membership Card, say, or a simple bar code? Because an Oystercard has a value. It is less likely to get lost or left behind.
After two years’ development work making sure the data security and integrity were spot on, we launched with two touch-screen kiosks each at Lift and Platform. These had built-in Oystercard readers, and young people could either sign in manually using the touch screen or just present their Oystercard. This took them to a selection screen of all the activities happening that day.
These worked, and still work, but slowly. Their touchscreen technology is getting old and the multiple calls made to the database can slow things down.
So since April 2016, with generous support from The City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust, Isledon has been developing a new, tablet-based registration system that is quicker, lighter, and cheaper than the kiosks, and which can cope with all those vagaries. We have just started piloting in one of our own sites and have further pilots lined up with several other organisations outside Islington.
From the experience gained with the kiosks we already have over 10,000 young people registered, and over 110,000 recorded attendances. This provides invaluable data to support programming decisions and report Key Performance Indicators. The total number of different name elements, both forenames and surnames, is nearly 13,000. The total possible name combinations are 44,000. This means we can reliably catch AJ, and Ajmal, and Antony James, and Ajay – and know when they are the same person.
The system is called I’m Here, and if the pilots are successful we hope to bring it to market. A new company, Isledon Systems CIC, has been set up to do the development work.Return to blog