Street Debater— Designing social alternative to begging

What is street debating?

Street debating is a new job that creates a place for open dialogue on the street by making public opinion visible with coins. Street debaters use a set of scales that raises a question about a topic of public interest to evoke a friendly discussion with the passerby. Passers-by are invited to stop, engage in discussion, then put their coins on the side of the scale that represents their view. It creates an opportunity for people to break out of their own online social bubble to be challenged by people with different opinions.

1. Why I started designing alternatives to begging

The majority of the society looks down upon beggars as though they prefer to beg in the first place. I also had the same impression until I met a guy named Rennae(anonymous name) in Amsterdam.

Interaction Journey map of an encounter with people begging on the street.
When Poverty Meets Affluence — Anne Britt Djuve (2015)

2. Uncovering the different types of begging

I interviewed more people who were begging on the streets of London and in Amsterdam, and talked to twenty-six people in total. Through these contextual interviews, I discovered there seemed to be three common types of begging: Temporal begging, continuous begging, and professional begging.

3. Struggle to keep one’s dignity on the street

I met J in front of McDonald’s. He quietly asked if I could spare him some change. He had been living on the streets for nine months, and was the same age as me. Among what he told me was that he considered selling street magazines to be more embarrassing than asking for spare change.

4. Setting the design goal and target group

I arrived at the hypothesis that long-term begging leads to a gradual loss of self-confidence and dignity.

It is difficult to get back to stable jobs once you start continuously begging
How might we design the first step to discontinue begging?

Design Goal:

To increase the dignity of people with few professional skills who are begging on the streets, with the aim of leading them out of the cycle of begging and reconnecting them back equally to society.

Target Group

1. In the early stage of begging (under 1 year)

2. Has the will to get out of poverty but begs occasionally to survive

3. Has no drug or alcohol addiction and is not related to crime activity.

5. Prototyping alternative to begging

A game where you get all the coins if you land your coin on the can. Trashed the idea because the police told us it looked like gambling
A joke card where you donate money if you laugh (No one laughed…)
Lending flowers and selling polaroids. This worked a lot and some people are still continuing it in Amsterdam

6. Product for an effective street debating

7. Street debating in the streets of London

The police didn’t mind. Said it looked like a weird new form of free expression

8. Conclusion

Lead Street Debater of Amsterdam

9. Beyond begging

This project, which began as a challenge to hack begging, also aims to rectify social polarization and break the echo-chambers that we are in so often.


I heard giving money to beggars does more harm than good because it fuels their addiction habits.

Design, Research, Development —