Afrikaanderwijk is a highly multicultural neighbourhood in Rotterdam South, where the generally low level of education of the inhabitants and their ethnic background relegates them in a lower level of society.
An especially crude situation is observed with the Afrikaander young adults, who seem completely neglected by policy makers: they usually attend lower education institutions and have little or no initiatives promoted by the neighbourhood to stimulate their passions and talents after school hours. Furthermore, they are frequently stigmatized as problematic: their chances to fulfill their dreams to become better citizens are very slim.
Yet the young adults interviewed do have passions, interests, and talents. Interestingly, they appeared to have a natural fluency in their relationship with new technologies: belonging to the first generation of digital natives, they withhold an inherent potential that can be unlocked in innovative ways.
The IK BEN STER(K) project explored these digital natives’ potential by co-creating with them a means for their empowerment. Stadslab 010, a technical workplace located in Rotterdam, provided the facilities and the know-how: within the Fablab, experimenting and Open Innovation were employed to facilitate a dynamic, hands-on learning process, in which the young adults developed shared ownership over their talent development.
A Research through Design approach was used to design for social innovation. By an elaborate design ethnographical study the socio-cultural context of Rotterdam has been explored to discover a suitable area for an open, iterative design intervention. By means of iterative participatory and co-design activities with the residents of the area, their tacit needs were progressively unveiled, leading to the selection of a suitable target group.
Young adults from the Afrikaanderwijk were interviewed, gaining insights on their use of mobile technologies, social media, their passions and their engagement in the neighbourhood. They showed to be tech savvy, digitally social with no engagement with their neighbourhood. A strong unexpressed potential was identified in the young adults, driving the decision to trigger their technological fluency by using the Open Fabrication facilities available at Fablab 010.
A group of students from a local school for problematic young adults was involved in the project, by co-creating a step-by-step workshop format with their coach. The students responded very well to the workshops, learning how to bring their idea into a tangible output without previous exposure to the technologies. Their pride and involvement were crucial in iterating the design and testing of the peer-to-peer workshop platform.
The workshop inspired the design of a new interaction scenario for the workshop platform, with a Facebook group as the digital platform for the resulting hybrid community (between digital and physical), and two sets of ubiquitous devices as the intermediaries between the digital and physical interactions of the participants.
By identifying the most valuable assets (young adults’ passions and talents) in a local community and employing ubiquitous technologies to facilitate sharing of these assets by rules of trust and reciprocity, a hybrid community can become cohesive, promoting active participation among its members.
When appropriately facilitated, the skills and talents of these young adults emerged, unlocking the potential envisioned at the beginning of the project, and exceeding expectations by far.
The young adults involved managed to master increasing levels of complexity with the proposed technologies, thanks to the lean and fun format of the workshops. The workshop platform, co-created and tested within the local school and Fablab 010, made the skills visible to their owners and to their local community. This shows how a participatory bottom-up approach to education, sensitive to the inherent potential of digital natives, is able to transform reluctant students into empowered individuals.
Gaining trust and bonding with the local community, its gatekeepers and the culturally diverse array of residents has been a crucial strategy to build social capital throughout the whole process in a participatory, bottom-up approach. This approach allowed the design solution to come from within the community and not from outside, planting a seed for positive change in the local society.
The designer’s holistic immersion in the context of Afrikaanderwijk has been the most valuable tool to engage with the local context. As an “immigrant” in a mainly immigrant neighbourhood (80% of Afrikaanderwijk’s population is non-Dutch) seemed to lower the residents’ threshold of mistrust towards outsiders. Engaging in spontaneous interactions with the people helped a lot, especially when trying to gain genuine responses. Learning Dutch in order to communicate with the local residents lead to a mutual acculturation process, enabling a special dialogue with the young adults, who experienced the designer as a friend rather than an external entity. The engagement of the designer’s community of friends was also crucial to bond with the young adults of Afrikaanderwijk: in a participatory bottom-up approach, everyone was equal during the workshops, making the design process shared, dynamic and full of personality.