Leaving the youth in "youth"

Posted on Oct 17, 2010

I was speaking with a Kosovar colleague about the Innovations Lab By Youth For Youth projects, and he presented an interesting challenge for us to think about.

Whenever you get “youth” together in a context of projects, proposals, social change, or speaking to possible donors, there is a danger that they lose their youthful vigor.

The colleague pointed out that if he were (still) a young Kosovar trying to design an innovative project, he would organize a text-bombing campaign where a politician’s phone would constantly ring with text messages coming from all sorts of different young people. He thought this would let youth vent innovatively, but also point out the incredible communications costs a politician’s phone is associated with (especially compared to average Kosovo salary etc.)

And at the same time, he told me that he would be extremely surprised if youth in the Innovations Lab came up with an idea like this. It reeks of youthful vigor, and a fondness for pranks. But whenever you get youth in a room and have them think about projects, even innovative projects, they tend to think more straightforwardly, by the books so to speak. They forget their needs sometimes, their creativity at other times.

This is highly related to the problem in participatory design where “participants absorb the values of the design team to such an extent that they lose touch with the requirements of users not involved in the design process.1” It is one of many in participatory design. But since my colleague (who has worked with plenty of projects with Kosovar youth) explicitly pointed to this one, we will thinking about how to avoid it in the Innovations Lab. Any hints from projects before, or thoughts in general, are welcome in the comments.

[1] – Designing for social justice – people, technology, learning; page 23, under “Doing participatory design.”


  1. YJ
    November 30, -0001

    you really love footnotes, prabh :pinteresting observation though – should be a session in our past d-lab ("how to de-d-labify our design")

  2. Prabhas Pokharel
    November 30, -0001

    Re: footnotes. Yeah, I have falled in love with them. Blame Rob. I like the de-d-labify your design idea. Gimme more, how would you take a d-lab design and de-d-labify it? Like your design, for example? Or are you talking de-d-labify the design *process* itself?

  3. Laura Fragiacomo
    November 30, -0001

    maybe having the youth lab on UNICEF premises might limit their creativity… or it might inspire us UNICEF people to follow their lead…hmmmm…do I see a revolution in the making?perhaps you need to find a real maverick/leader who will help inspire them to think freely, openly, create etc… I also think that UNICEF engaging with young people directly is not someothing we’ve been good at… we usually work through Save the Children or other NGOs who’ve had more success in promoting child participation (not quite youth)… you should really look for some good practice documentation from other offices, other organizations… have you been in touch with HQ etc? Not sure if they can help in terms of lessons learnt but give it a shot!