Community engagement, Concepts, ideas and research

4 inspiring ways young people have changed public services across the globe

Here at Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland, we’re using a capabilities approach to help young people articulate their goals and aspirations – and to help them recognise the barriers and enablers to achieving these aims.

Public services can be key enablers, but it’s really important that new ideas are incorporated into their development – otherwise they can become barriers in some instances!

Young people can offer really fresh insight into how we can future-proof our public services. We thought it would be interesting to highlight how children and young people can transform the ways public services operate.

The following inspiring examples use digital technology and collaboration to gather data, and support the recommendations of children and young people.

Scotland – First Minister’s Question Time: Next Generation 

Back in 2018, Scotland offered young people aged between 12 and 19 the chance to do something quite rare. For the first time, they had the opportunity to question their country’s leader – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. This forum focused on the issues that concerned young people most.

Two bespoke events in Glasgow and Edinburgh were co-designed by a group of ten young people from all over Scotland. They chose colourful, accessible venues, and a format that included fun activities. They even chose the food, ensuring that guests could really relax and enjoy the experience.

One hundred young people were chosen to attend each event. Their questions focused on the likes of mental health, inclusive sex and relationship education, and period poverty.

These questions highlighted key issues that have been brought up by children, young people and adults in other activities and campaigns. Since these events, we’ve seen progress made in some areas.

For example, the Children’s and Young People’s Mental Health Taskforce has been commissioned, the Tie Campaign is pioneering LGBT-inclusive education, and the introduction of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.

But the event also highlighted young people’s desire for more rapid and radical change. Following the events, the Scottish Government has promised to update on progress on the issues raised.

Those attending enjoyed learning about their country, and meeting other young people from all walks of life. They particularly loved talking directly with the First Minister!

For more information on the organisation of FMQT NG, please contact Emma Rogan at Children in Scotland.

Oslo – The Traffic Agent app

Last year, a new city government in Oslo announced a ban on using private cars within the city centre. Replacing cars with walking and cycling was fairly easy, but it left the government with a slight dilemma. Ensuring parents felt it was safe enough for their children to walk to school required a bit of work…

However, the government invited children to collaborate on developing a smartphone app which would help solve this problem. The finished app allowed young people to send immediate reports on particular issues they encountered on their school route. When coming across difficult crossings, or areas of heavy traffic, the issues could be raised quickly with local authorities.

Crowd-sourcing this information through the app allowed authorities to rebuild several big crossings, and they’ve even made more pavements to make it safer for pedestrians.

Several students reported they liked to walk through privately-owned land on part of their journey to school as it felt safer. Oslo municipality therefore agreed with the private property owners that if the government created a crossing, path and handrail, the owners would help to maintain it.  

The Traffic Agent data is anonymised. The app integrates with Norway’s school software platform which generates a code for each child to use as a login. This data is visible only to the school and project team. When the children start using the app from their homes, a report isn’t generated until they move at least 200 metres away.

To keep some privacy for the children, not all the information is shared with parents and teachers.  This lets young people influence the design and safety of their cities – simply from the palm of their hand! 

Detroit – Sensors in a Shoebox

The Sensors in a Shoebox project provided young people in Detroit with compact sensor kits, so they could collect a range of data from two different locations in their city – the waterfront and a local park. This let young people define and delimit their own research problems that could be studied by sensor technology.

Several problem ideas came about, including: water quality, air quality, space usage, walkability, and noise levels of their city. This helped when informing the sensor selection.

The Sensors in a Shoebox team supported the young people to build qualitative instruments to compliment and expand their sensor data collection; to collect sensor and social science data; and to analyse their data. 

The young people measured the number of people who used a certain public areas and conducted direct observation to see for themselves what types of people used these public areas.

The data they collected, and their observations, were used to make recommendations on urban planning.  These recommendations were then passed to representatives from the mayor’s office, community groups and Citizen Detroit!

Amsterdam – World’s First Junior Cycle Mayor (aged 9!) 

Lotta was the first junior cycle mayor in the world.  Her mission is to inspire children to cycle every day. She became junior cycle mayor after winning a contest that asked schoolchildren how to make cycling safer and more fun. Her idea was to add children’s bikes and tandems to the popular bike share programme run by the state-owned railway operator. The operator has since considered a pilot with children’s bikes for bike share in one station.

Since starting, Lotta’s been busy opening cycling contests in the city and being a jury member during the Amsterdam Light Parade, an event in which Amsterdammers decorate their bikes with lights. 

She is now planning a meeting with the city’s mayor to discuss ideas that children have come up with:

“One of our proposals is a bicycle park where children can learn how to cycle. Right now, most of us learn it in the street, which can be quite busy. It’s much nicer when you can practise in a special park.

Another idea is to create an app for tourists teaching them the rules of cycling, because most of them really don’t know.” 

Amsterdam’s latest round of Junior Bicycle Mayor Elections has just taken place for 2019. Check out the video below to see who will be continuing Lotta’s great work!

Using data to improve public services

Data strengthens young people’s ability to evidence their needs. Most importantly, the ideas and inspirations for change need to come from children and young people themselves.

The lesson we might take from these examples is that children and young people can change public services; and data can support their claims. But, for change to happen, leaders of public services need to be willing to listen and ready to respond.

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland aims to develop a new framework for evaluating local community-based initiatives, using the ‘Capabilities Approach’. For more information about how weve been doing this – check out our recent work with Possibilities for Each and Every Kid (PEEK).

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