In conversation with: Usue Lorenz
This month we met with Usue Lorenz who is currently developing and coordinating local and European projects to promote collaborative ecosystems and developing participatory and co-creation methodologies for social challenges response. She also works on the co-generation of knowledge. Since 2009 she is working at Orkestra — Basque Institute of Competitiveness. Previously she has worked as a consultant and advisor to diverse companies and organizations in the field of internationalization, strategy, and comprehensive consultancy within research and development.
JM: Hello Usue! Can you please tell us more about your current work with the project Uplift?
UL: I am the coordinator of the Uplift project which is granted under the EU Horizon 2020 and is led by the Metropolitan Research Institute (MRI) in Budapest, Hungary.
The project has a two-fold objective. First to understand how inequalities are generated among young people, between the ages of 18–29. This includes how we can understand and measure inequality, and how it evolves over time. The second objective is to improve policy making and reduce youth inequality by locally experimenting with policy co-creation.
We started in 2020 by investigating inequalities in 16 different urban areas across Europe (reports can be found here). We then narrowed our focus to eight urban areas where we have worked to understand the role of policy and how policy interacts with youngsters. So, we have been asking: which problems does policy address and how can youngsters interact with it?
The aim has been to explore and experiment with new and sustainable policy co-creation processes, where young people are actively contributing to policies that affect them.
Now we are at a stage where we have activated, and are soon finishing, policy co-creation processes with youth in four locations: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Tallinn (Estonia), Sfântu Gheorghe (Romania) and Barakaldo (Spain). These processes have aimed to explore and experiment with new and sustainable participatory policy co-creation processes, where young people are actively contributing to policies that affect them. This has led to different focuses like housing, labour market or educational inequalities, depending on the locations.
An important feature in these co-creation processes has been to work in different spaces. We have worked with youth boards, spaces exclusive to youngsters, combined with social labs — joint spaces where policymakers, youngsters and other stakeholders can meet and discuss together.
JM: What is your best advice for professionals who want to include children and youth in planning processes?
UL: An important piece of advice is to create a safe space. That is to say, a place where youth feel free to express their opinions and share their insights and experiences. This is not something that happens by itself, it takes time and needs to be an intentional effort. In Uplift we have achieved this by, for example, using icebreakers and, instead of sitting still, creating a less formal setting by moving around the room. Another important thing is to make involvement meaningful for the youth; data especially needs to be presented in a way that makes sense to, and is relatable, for them. Additionally, a safe space includes giving the youth an important role — for instance, letting them know that what they share will be listened to, and will make a difference.
Another piece of advice is to keep a flexible approach to when youth and other stakeholders need to converge. Not mixing the two groups too early in the process, as it may undermine the agency of the youth.
Also, work hard at empowering youth. A way to do that is to give them responsibility, like we have done, to present their ideas at joint meetings with other stakeholders, and then help them prepare for these meetings. And in this process, let them know that their opinions are what matter. Acknowledging youth, and the way this social group is diverse, also allows them to better support each other.
JM: Where do you see the greatest need for change?
UL: There is an opportunity right now for cities and administrations to develop policies together with youth — but currently this is not taken advantage of. Cities are increasingly vulnerable to major global changes and are therefore key to driving these necessary changes. I see co-creation processes as a valuable tool to use here. There should be a real commitment from the policy-arenas to include local citizens in policy making. At least in Spain, it is not common for citizens to be included in the strategic planning at the policy level.
There should be a real commitment from the policy-arenas to include local citizens in policy making.
Related to this I also see a need to learn which areas the involvement of citizens is especially critical and useful in. And to explore the role of municipalities in this kind of policy making. How can they, for example, help with financing or facilitating such processes?
JM: How do you understand the concept of intergenerational justice?
UL: I have to be honest and say this was a difficult question — I was not very familiar with the concept. However, I would say it has to do with peoples’ right to move their status position, in relation to their parents, community or socioeconomic conditions. To be able to move forward.
Work needs to be done to ensure that youth in vulnerable positions are being included and given the possibility to participate on equal terms in participatory decision-making processes.
I think it is important to make sure that youngsters get involved in issues that directly affect them — because this is what will make involvement feel meaningful for them. However, this also includes making youth aware of how issues like climate change might affect them and their well-being in the future, because this may not always be obvious.
A challenge of course is to reach youth with varying backgrounds. Work needs to be done to ensure that youth in vulnerable positions are being included and given the possibility to participate on equal terms in participatory decision-making processes.
In Conversation With is an interview series in which we host researchers, practitioners, activists, and others who are engaged in hands-on initiatives, projects, and similar actions in their local environments. We would like to give space to emerging topics and hear more from those directly engaged in initiatives seeking to make our urban areas safer, more inclusive, and sustainable. The interviews are moderated by our project communication officer Johanna Männikkö.