Lab Notes #7 | A Jam with Dudley Youth Council

As was mentioned in Lab Notes #5, about a month ago, Lorna Prescott and I worked with a group youth councillors at Dudley Youth Council for one day using human centred design to look at their mandate to ‘raise awareness of homelessness and increase services for young people.’

When asked to do this, I immediately thought what could we possibly achieve in such a short period of time looking at such a complex issue and surely we should supporting the young people to think in a systems way about this.

After a few more weeks of thinking, talking and planning what commenced was a 6-hour design jam guiding the youth councillors through a collaborative design process that gave them the space to ask some crucial questions and work together to build prototypes of the types of projects they may take forward to address their mandate. This for me was another reminder of the versatility and adaptability of the double diamond design process and its value for helping groups to consciously move rapidly through thoughts and ideas, navigating through the confusion and cloudiness of complex problems to a point of clarity around a new idea.

Aside from this unique opportunity to equip these young minds with design tools to think more deeply about the challenges we face, the Youth Council Jam threw up some moments that I felt were an interesting reflection of our relationship to the issue of homelessness in society. Below are some notes and reflections from a few points in the process for you to share insight into the thinking behind some of tools and techniques we used.

We used the Inspiration wall as a tool to support the group to hold and connect their knowledge, learnings and perspectives around the issue and to serve as a resource in their ongoing exploration.

As a warm up we ran a values continuum exercise where we read out statements, and participants respond with their opinion by taking a stand at different points in the room according to how much they agree or disagree. A great thing about design is it’s ability to hold paradoxes and negotiate between conflicting ideas. I found that the values continuum exercise in a jam context was a useful way to quickly surface some of these paradoxes and make some space to explore the tensions that exist between them. The goal was to support the group to suspend the absolutes and move beyond the binary to find other to find options, paving new roads in their minds. To illustrate this, two of the statements we read out for example were:

  1. ‘Homelessness will never disappear’
  2. ‘It is the sole responsibility of the person who is homeless to get themselves out of this situation’

The response to the first statement was an almost unanimous agreement that homelessness will always be with us. I have to admit that deep down I was hoping for that one militant optimist who would protest this notion taking a stance that even if we never have a society where there are no homeless people, this is what we should be believing in and striving towards, but perhaps the generation coming up prefer to take the more pragmatic route. The discussion this provoked was nonetheless very interesting.

The response the second statement was much more mixed and varied with a bias towards the individual responsibility. Through this activity, the group became more conscious of the many perspectives that sit within Dudley Youth Council, setting the frame nicely for the exploration the followed.

We followed this up with a World Cafe conversation to dig deeper into the mandate and surface the assumptions, beliefs, ideas and questions that exist in the group again to build collective awareness of how the groups think and feel about the topic.

The group were then given the chance to quiz a where a panel of professionals from statutory and voluntary organisations and learn more about what is already out there. Equipped with the questions they had designed through conversations in the World Cafe, they began to broaden their knowledge of some of the services that exist for people who are homeless and how these services are delivered.

This was one of the points in particular that as a facilitator observing the group and listening to their dialog, I noticed opportunities challenge the group and help them to make connections with the conversations they had in their first activity. The group picked up on how the statutory organisations from the housing services in the council have a bias towards making sure that their service users do not become dependent on them. Some of the group commented on how they could see why this is necessary but at the same time ‘felt harsh’. This debate that followed contained lots of ‘what if…’ questions as the group imagined the various scenarios that could mean that people don’t access the help they need and it was at this point that they began to recognise the complexity of homelessness, how the circumstances around it vary for every individual and how it is symptomatic of many other systemic issues.

After lunch we moved the exploration into prototyping ideas they could respond with as the youth council. There group split into subgroups and prototyped ideas using craft materials to demonstrate how these might work. The group approached this from a variety of angles, from using the lego to illustrate and process that a homeless person might go through to designing an inquiry for young people to learn more about their own perceptions of homelessness and why this issue is even important to young people in Dudley. Interestingly, a theme that arose among two or three of the groups was around public space interventions. From public art to way-finding mechanisms that might be built into designed into public spaces to help people who are in these tough circumstances.

Having presented their ideas back to each other, the group could clearly see a larger connection between what each of them were doing and it was reassuring to hear that after just 6 hours together, they recognised that this was just the beginning but left feeling much more equipped with ideas, knowledge and tools to continue learning and to develop their response to their mandate further. We look forward to supporting Dudley Youth Council with their ideas going forward.

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