My best life: Priorities for digital technology in the youth sector

Over twelve months, we worked with a group of young people experiencing multiple disadvantages in the London Borough of Camden.

We sought to understand their experiences—as told in their own words—and identify how digital technology could help.

The interactive map below is a digital version of the map we created in workshops with young people.

Download the report for more detail about our approach and what we found. Or dip into the possibilities to find how technology could help young people navigate their journey towards what they call their ‘best life’.

My Best Life

In a series of workshops, young people facing multiple disadvantage in Camden told us about the life they imagine for themselves, and the journey they must take to get there. Together we mapped these experiences, from the help they need to the setbacks they face. Here you can explore this map.

How it works

The young people we worked with told us about three ladders they feel they must climb to reach what they called their ‘best life’. They described the setbacks (or ‘snakes’) they encounter along the way, the services that help them, and the footholds and gatekeepers they need in order to even make a start.

Click on the key areas to reveal more information, and use the zoom function to explore ladders

Click on tools tips to reveal more

My best life

The final goal of climbing up the ladders is reaching ‘My best life’: a point where a young person can live the life they want to live. Each young person’s best life will be different, as will the things they are interested in and the challenges they face. But there was a clear consensus around what this best life felt like, and how contrasts to where young people were before:

Before I begin my journey:

I feel anxious and isolated. I’m not sure what to do with my life. It’s hard to feel safe and wanted.

When I achieve my best life:

I feel supported, safe, secure and wanted. I’m able to pursue my own goals and my own passions.

Increased independence

Get own good quality home

Secure stable accommodation

Develop positive relationships within household and community

Progress into independent living

Learn independent living skills

Secure shared temporary housing

Understand rights and entitlements

Services that help

Debt

No longer fulfil benefits criteria eg, single mother getting a partner

Benefits rules changes

Affordability/ housing crisis

Poor mental health

Prison/ institutionalisation

Having a home

Build Experience

Expand income options

Work full time

Get first job, including apprenticeships

Learn new skills, including CV writing

Get experience (eg, volunteering or internship)

Go to college, university, or training

Engage More With Wider World

Addiction

De-motivation due to poor quality/poorly paid work

Lack of opportunities

Discrimination

Fear of rejection

Poor physical health

Poor mental health

Prison/ institutionalisation

Building a career

Confidence and Social Skills Increase

Feel more happy more of the time

Enhanced resilience when things are tough, and have people you can rely on

Maintain healthy relationships with friends and family

Make new friends, and disengage with bad influences

Engage in social activities

Get info on social, music or sporting opportunities

Engage More With Wider World

Family breakdown

Negative influence by friends and family

Poor physical health

Poor mental health

Prison/ institutionalisation

Addiction

Debt

Living your life

Save money

More leisure activities

Meet new people

Try new things

Click on the map to zoom in and explore. To exit, click the top-right cross.

Click and drag on the map to move about. To exit, click the top-right cross.

Gatekeepers

Even with the proper footholds in place, it is not possible for young people to effectively engage with some services without there being someone to open the door.

Gatekeepers open up opportunities for young people to engage with the right service and guide them in making their first decisions. They were highlighted as essential by both young people themselves and sector experts.

The exact nature of these gatekeepers varies from more traditional figures like youth workers or housing officers at the council, to less formal gatekeepers such as youth mentors.

One of the most common frustrations reported by young people was poor quality or distant gatekeepers, particularly those in the public sector, such as housing or benefits officers. Many of the young people we spoke to seemed to feel that gatekeepers do not know enough about their circumstances and needs. Some also reported gatekeepers who were dismissive of young people with certain backgrounds or certain experiences.

But they also highlighted good quality gatekeepers as one of the most positive things they had experienced. Far from using technology to replace the role of the gatekeeper, technology could support good gatekeepers, while minimising the need for young people to interact with bad ones.

Footholds

Pictogram of a man's head with cogs in
State of mind
Pictogram of a ruler and pencil
Tools
Pictogram of dots being joined by lines into a network
Network
Pictogram of a brain
Knowledge
Pictogram of a man's head with cogs in
The right state of mind:

It takes hope, resilience, and confidence to build a life. Our research identified having the right state of mind as one of the toughest areas that young people deal with. State of mind isn't about being completely able to deal with all the challenges they face, but about having enough of a baseline to start engaging with services that could help.

Pictogram of a ruler and pencil
Tools:

Basic tools and resources are needed in order to engage with services. Some of the young people we worked with talked about not being able to access the services they’d like to because they were too busy trying to fulfil basic needs like shelter, or food. And within the context of using digital technology, access to a computer or a smart phone was a concern.

Pictogram of dots being joined by lines into a network
Network:

Young people reported that their first step to engaging with youth services came about when a close friend or family member gave them essential support. A minimal network of people who can be trusted to provide encouragement is an essential motivator to engaging with services.

Pictogram of a brain
Knowledge:

A young person needs a simple awareness that services exist, and where to access them. Many of the young people we spoke to just didn’t know where to start. For example, some young people told us they had experienced discrimination in the work place, but didn’t know about employment advice offered by organisations like Citizens Advice.

How could technology help young people along this journey?

Magan's story

Read more

Zoe's story

Read more

Jared's story

Read more

Anna's story

Read more

Project team

Andrew Weston
Tris Lumley
Shona Curvers
Katy Murray

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