Six of us sat around a white table in an apartment in Downtown Montreal. Half of us under 25, this team we were forming were meeting in person for the first time only 24 hours before running a full-day workshop together. Aiden and Michelle are from Australia and have both been working in the Young and Well CRC. Alicia R is from Toronto and alongside Aiden was one of the youth convenors of the International Association for Youth Mental Health Conference. Taylor, a friend of Alicia’s was with us, and Gina and I were hosting with a relaxed cheese & pretzel round for the team.
In true kiwi style, even though we had skyped several times before, we took the time to move around the group and hear a bit more fully about each others’ lives. From lived experience with mental health issues, to music, to parenting, to passion for change in the mental health space, to innovation and technology – we heard all the stories. Together we talked all afternoon to set the scene for our final preparation work.
Gina and I have been in this journey of travelling from San Francisco through New York, Toronto and on to Montreal for the IAYMH conference. Invited to help open the conference with “Workshop 1: Social Media and Improving youth access to services”, one of 5 concurrent pre-conference workshops for delegates. Lifehack and Young and Well CRC bring leading thinking and unique experience in the youth participation and technology space, so we were invited to host the workshop time for a global audience.
With our part-Australian, part-Canadian, part-Kiwi and mostly youthful team we had been working together online for the past few months to bring together a workshop experience which would help people arrive into the conference with open minds, collaboration skills and give them a taste of codesign. As Aiden put it, “Let’s give them a day-long ice breaker so they feel connected during the rest of the conference.”
On the day, our workshop brought together around 50 people who joined us from around the world. With participants from youth services in Ireland, London, Perth, the USA, France, Vancouver, Melbourne and more, we were extremely privileged to be able to host such a committed and world leading group of youth mental health advocates. Some of the group were PhD students in youth participation in mental health and technology projects, some were policy makers, some were social workers, some were clinicians; we had the full range.
We designed an interactive day to bring out the best in the people in the room. Kicking off with a karakia in Te Reo Maori, a welcome to country from our Australian partners, and an acknowledgment of the Mohawk nation of indigenous native Americans whose land we were on from Alicia, we framed the session in the context of acknowledging the power and value of indigenous peoples wisdom and practices.
We played some hectic name games lead by Aiden and then invited everyone to sit together in smaller groups to deeply get to know one another. Gina and I introduced the importance of whakawhanaungatanga (the process of becoming like family) and we emphasised that the first section of the day would focus on who we all are in the room, where we’ve come from and what we’re bringing. We also took the time to build shared language and set ground rules. How do you want to talk today? “With positivity and constructiveness” How do you want to be listened to? “With compassion and respect.” How do we want to refer to young people today? “Emerging young adults”.
After some more getting-to-know-you processes with strengths interviews, Post-It-note drawings of each others’ faces, spectra and cups of tea, we held an Open Space session. Drawing on the depth of knowledge in the room, we framed the purpose of coming together and invited the group to suggest key topics they wanted to cover. “How can I help parents realise the value of social media and technology for the wellbeing of their child or young adult?”, “We run a small youth organisation but the people who need us don’t know how to seek help from us, how can we build our precedes on social media where all the young people are?”, “How can I connect deeply and authentically with youth I work with while staying safe? Is it okay to give young people access to my personal email address these days incase they really need me in a crisis?” These are only a small selection of the important questions people brought to the room. from there, we divided up and dug deep into what we could learn from one another on those topics.
After lunch, we got into the business of talking more about technology, codesign, youth-centered design, and innovation. Michelle from Young & Well prepared a challenging brief: a story about a girl called Sally who was living a fairly normal life but facing unusual levels of stress, experiencing panic symptoms, and losing her appetite in the run-up to exams. We created a persona, not the story of a real person, and gave out challenges to small, diverse teams to help Sally in different ways. Some teams needed to use technology to create something for Sally which would help her feel connected. Some needed to help her find the right help at the right time. Some groups needed to create something which would support her ongoing recovery (or transformation, as our young participants suggested as a better word for recovery). The teams worked to create ideas based on the story of Sally’s needs, likes, dislikes, behaviours, and jumped to the ideation stage of the design process.
For the next few hours, teams alternated between developing their ideas on paper, to getting feedback from other people in the room and young people in the room, back to building 3D prototypes, back to feedback rounds, until finally they presented their best, most developed concepts back to the room.
The results were astounding and it’s always so wonderful to see people from many different ages, stages, professions, work together on shared projects like this. Our delegates created wearable technology prototypes, online community platforms, personal support group apps, social media campaigns and more.
We finished up the day reflection on what people had been learning from the workshop. Some people were surprised that we didn’t stand up at the screen and presented a Social Media 101, but the whole group found it refreshingly interactive in what is otherwise quite an academic conference format. One man in the group pointed out that he thought it was incredible to see a team from three countries co-facilitate as though we work together every day. “Seamless” he said. We are so glad to have had such a great team! People left the room with new questions, “better questions for critical reflection” they said, about the role of technology in youth mental health and wellbeing, a well as new connections to people who could help them on their way. Others acknowledged that there is so much more to it than running a Twitter account – connecting with young people and meeting them where they’re at on technology is about getting to know what else they do, what else they use and being alongside them enough to know what will be useful to them.
We closed the day with a closing karakia.
Gina and I really want to thank Michele, Aiden and Alicia for such a wonderful experience and we’re so grateful to have the opportunity to share some the insights we’ve been learning in our work in Aotearoa New Zealand as well as learning new tricks form each other in the process. Let’s do it again some time :)
Nga mihi nui a koutou