“Did you cry in the past week?” this is the question with which Sarah Latre, Youth Information Coordinator at the youth organization De Ambrassade from Belgium, asked us while presenting their social innovation at the 33rd General Assembly of the ERYICA (European Youth Information and Counselling Agency) network in 2022.
Naturally, when asked the question directly and face-to-face, most of us were hesitant to provide an answer. But when creating a safe environment (by answering all at the same time by getting up on our chairs) most of us stood up. Most of the present demographic was over 30 years old, which is one of the reasons we were partially less anxious to admit our truth to the group.
However, studies have shown  that young people in their formative years often suffer from feelings of inadequacy. Young people were perhaps the most affected demographic during the Covid-19 pandemic. In their formative years, young people require social contact to develop soft skills, but most of all, it is usual that young people overcome their feelings of inadequacy and lack of belonging also thanks to interactions with their community of closer peers or family. This is an issue that is often underrated in youth development, but which De Ambrassade and Artevelde University of Applied Sciences have not.
At the beginning of 2021 they launched a social innovation in youthwork called Waddist– an app to talk more with young people, instead of about them.
Through the app, young people aged 12 to 30 can share what they think, feel and experience every day. Through Waddist the youth organization and university have a tool which enables young people to voice their concerns about matters such as the environment, mental health, community, education, etc.
The way the app works is through elements of gamification and simple multiple choice questions, asked 3 times a day. The app was carefully crafted to not be invasive of the users’ privacy, so no data such as name, surname or email is required to register. This way, young people feel more compelled to register and immediately start using the app. The gamification elements such as badges, points, and social media shares keep the users “on their toes” and keep them engaged in the app on a daily basis.
The questions being asked are not only drafted by the creator staff – submissions are made by young people and researchers. The team of people working on the Waddist app responds in a prompt manner, selecting the questions and helping with the wording.
How is it useful to organizations working with youth?
The app serves as somewhat of a “daily youth barometer”, as it creates an extensive database of young people’s opinions of youth organisations, policy makers, the press, researchers, and young people themselves. The app empowers young people by providing a platform to make their voice louder by echoing their opinions – this provides a consistent and constantly updated source of data which can be useful to policy makers and the press to have a substantiated resource of information, as well as a compass into what young people feel and need.
As young people are showing a high interest in the topic of the environment, Waddist aims to become a tool to keep a finger on the pulse of young people and to put their voice at the center of debates about their environment.
How does it operate?
The app asks 3 multiple-choice questions every day at 5 p.m. to find out what young people think, feel and experience.
After the questions, they get a tip of the day and they also see anonymized what other Waddisters answered to the questions from the day before.
Young people can also submit questions themselves that they would like to ask other Waddisters. So Waddist gives every day:
- questions in which young people share their opinion
- 3 results in which young people can compare with other Waddisters: how do they think about things? How do they differ from others?
- 1 tip where they get more information about the questions or can change their mind. Young people log in with their email address or social media account. Then they enter their year of birth and zip code, and they can answer the questions of the day.
Examples of such questions are:
- Are you afraid that the corona rules will become stricter again now that more people are infected?
- Do you sometimes feel lonely or alone?
- Do you think porn is realistic?
- Have you ever cheated on a test or exam?
A platform for and by young people
The app is a participatory and accessible tool for young people which is powered by young people and youth organisations and researchers. It can quickly provide feedback from young people on topics which concern them. For example, if there are news about a topic which concerns youth, Waddist can provide feedback from its users about it the very next day.
The key to Waddist is to keep its content simple, and fun, and to make the app itself visually appealing and easy to use. This winning combination of elements has made it possible to have as many as 663 Waddisters answer the questions in the app daily. The collaboration of a youth organization and university was central to achieving this significant following, as the students and users of the organizations belong to the target group of the app.
This kind of innovation shows one simple truth: it is possible to think outside the box and to create a service for young people which fits their needs. Very often presets of projects intended for youth and project financing do not provide the right setting to truly create something meaningful, and what is more, to be able to keep it afloat in terms of follow-up. It is a wakeup call to policy makers, youth organizations and young people to not be afraid to risk and create the solutions they want to see it their community. The world of today is fast-paced and fast-changing, and it is with innovations such as this one that we can keep up with the needs of the community around and with youth and to become an active part in its development.
Jaclyn E. Tennant, Jacqueline J. Klossing, Michelle K. Demaray, Nicole Dorio, Trevor Bixler & Caicina Jones | Lisa Bowman-Perrott (2019) Internalizing Problems of Youth Involved in Bullying via Different Participant Role Combinations and Gender, School Psychology Review, 48:3, 222-236, DOI: 10.17105/SPR-2017-0078.V48-3