Most youth in Canada believe in the importance of being active and involved members of their communities, but only 42 percent are currently engaged in initiatives that improve the wellbeing of their communities (Monopoli, 2023). At The Social Impact Lab, we believe all community members have something to contribute when it comes to social change, and that’s why we specifically prioritized youth involvement in The Athabasca Design Lab. Abacus Data posits that one barrier to youth community participation is related to confidence, explaining that “Three quarters of youth say they don’t feel qualified for opportunities they’ve heard of or know about.” (Monopli, 2023). Our goal in Athabasca is to change that statistic by welcoming, encouraging, and empowering young people to share their voices and make meaningful change in their town.
The Athabasca Design Lab (The ADL) is part of The Social Impact Lab Alberta’s Community Co-Design process; it’s a method of collaborating with local changemakers in rural and urban Alberta municipalities to innovate and solve problems identified by the community. This process uses proven methods to harness the strengths of the community to create social change that reflects their vision of the future. The ADL kicked off in October, and so far more than30 community participants have engaged by conducting interviews with fellow community members, sorting and theming the data from these conversations, creating insights from the perspectives they heard, and voting for a problem on which to focus.
Edwin Parr Composite School’s Interact Club is Athabasca’s high school branch of the Rotary Club. The goal of the club is to “teach high school students fundamental leadership skills while also discovering the importance of ‘service above self’” (Edwin Parr Interact Club, n.d.). Students typically meet once a week over lunch to participate in volunteer work and town events, and to host fundraisers for community members, like their “Friends of Ethan” fundraiser for a classmate whose family lost their home in a fire. The EPC Interact Club has been involved in The Athabasca Design Lab since the kickoff on October 18, and is committed to participating and sharing their perspectives to lead the way forward to a better future.
Mia Jordy, The ADL’s youngest member, celebrated her 12th birthday at the November session. She explains that The Design Lab has given her a voice in her community and a chance to be involved in positive community change. “I’ve always kinda wanted to make a big change in our community, it’s been a dream for a long time,” she shares. “I thought, until I’m 18, I don’t think anyone will really listen to me, I’ve always felt like I was discredited because I was just a kid, so being here makes me feel like my voice is being heard, and I’m helping out the community.”
After each session, we receive consistent feedback that the community design team is not only grateful for the youth and their willingness to share, but also impressed with their insight, wisdom, and maturity. When asked for feedback about the session, participants shared that they “loved talking to youth members.” One of the youth reflected, “The Social Impact Lab was really fun. I was nervous going into it but I got adjusted pretty fast. Having these conversations and creative space was really intriguing.” As we navigate the next steps of the co-design process, we are eager to hear the great ideas these young people will offer and the prototypes they will design as solutions to the problem of communication in Athabasca. While we don’t yet know what the final solution will be, one thing is for sure: the youth of Athabasca are keen to face the problems in their community head-on, and they’re ready to design a future where everyone belongs.
Edwin Parr Interact Club [@epc_interact]. (n.d.) Instagram Bio [Instagram profile]. Instagram. Retrieved January 17, 2024, from https://www.instagram.com/epc_interact/
Monopoli, M. (2023, July 22). Understanding youth and child civic engagement in Canada. Abacus Data. https://abacusdata.ca/youth-and-child-civic-engagement-rhf/