Diary Entry: YouCount's Final Conference on Youth Citizen Social Science Contributing to Social Inclusion

YouCount invited to its final conference from 4th-5th of December 2023 in Brussels. The two-day hybrid event under the title Youth Citizen Social Science Contributing to Social Inclusion was designed for academics, citizen science practitioners, youth and stakeholder organisations as well as policymakers interested in social inclusion of young people. Read more about the conference days in our diary entries:

Group photo taken at YouCount's final conference in December 2023 in Brussels. Credits: YouCount

If all diary entries of YouCount's final conference would need to be summarised in one paragraph, it would go like this: YouCount's researchers and young citizen scientists presented and discussed key insights and findings from the project with a wide array of stakeholders and policymakers working with science policy or social inclusion. In interactive sessions, presentations, and round-tables discussions, YouCount members engaged with partners from other EU projects aiming to develop participatory citizen science in the social sciences. The final conference also featured a pre-conference workshop, a welcome reception, and a traveling exhibition with virtual elements co-created with young citizen scientists. The conference was live streamed and participants who joined digitally had the opportunity to raise questions in the chat. Luckily, we have more space available than just one paragraph and can share several entries from each day, so let's start from the very beginning:  

4th of December 2023, Nordic House in Brussels

 Diary entry #1: From having a fruitful exchange at the pre-conference workshop to getting inspired at the traveling exhibition 

On the first event day, the 4th of December 2023, YouCount organised a pre-conference workshop at the Oslo Region European Office (ORE). ORE hosted YouCount in their main office in Brussels, centrally located in the Nordic House in the middle of the EU quarter.

In the morning hours, YouCount project partners prepared the onsite exhibition with young citizen social scientists. Research teams from ten cases across nine countries arranged posters, pictures, post-its and local snacks to decorate their stands and showcase their way of working, the context of their cases as well as their research findings. Installing the exhibition was followed by a well-deserved lunch break, facilitated by ORE. On the following day, the exhibition was moved to Hotel Berlaymont, allowing conference participants to visit the stands and explore the cases in a different environment. Participants who took part in the conference virtually had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the digital exhibition.

Research teams from YouCount’s ten cases install the exhibition. Credits: YouCount

From the early afternoon onwards, the partly hybrid pre-conference workshop took place. Project Coordinator Reidun Norvoll introduced to the YouCount project and its conceptual framework for youth citizen social science. This was followed by a short overview of key aspects on hands-on youth citizen social science. Co-creative and inclusive approaches, project management, recruitment, involvement, training support and methods were among the topics that were presented. Then, lessons learned about communication, evaluation and impact were shared. Three lessons learned are presented below – you can read about more in the upcoming report on the final conference.

Project Coordinator Reidun Norvoll welcomes all participants at the pre-conference workshop. Credits: YouCount

The exhibition was opened, and participants were invited to "travel" and "snack" through the ten case studies, before meeting again in plenum to discuss what inclusion means for them. Youth referred to social inclusion as opportunities to participate, social networks and connections as well as human rights. Shortly after defining social inclusion, participants engaged in a group effort to "connect" the cases by taking each other's hand and making one big circle around the exhibition stands.

Diary entry #2: Fun at the movie night 

In the evening, the Hungary case B took the stage and presented the sci-fi movie "What is social innovation? A mystery-documentary", produced in the rural town Siklósbodony. Young citizen social scientists were available to answer questions from the audience.

Young citizen social scientists Gina Barta, Dominka Ágoiston, Ágnes Bozsó as well as case leader Márton Oblath presented their Hungarian sci-fi movie. Credits: YouCount

Diary entry #3: A warm welcome

Finally, participants listened to greeting speeches at the formal welcome reception that closed the pre-conference workshop. The speeches were accompanied by snacks and drinks – again organised by ORE. ORE has a key role in linking Norway to the EU settings and to support Norwegian research and innovation projects to navigate in this landscape. They also played an important role in the proposal phase of the YouCount project, a positive synergy which was appreciated by all speakers.

Geir Arnulf, the Counsellor for research at the Mission of Norway to the EU, and Gunnar Selvik, Director of ORE, held speeches at the welcome reception. Credits: YouCount

The last, although informal, stop of the day was a pizza place close to the Nordic House where consortium members, young citizen scientists and speakers met to network and discuss impressions from the day over a consortium dinner.


Diary entry #4: Even more impressions at the final conference

On the second event day, the 5th of December 2023, YouCount's final conference kicked off at the NH Berlaymount Hotel, Brussels. The conference was divided into four sessions, starting with an introduction to the YouCount project including a recap about what the project is about. Speakers further discussed how it can contribute to supporting Citizen Science within the EU and as part of the Science with and for Society. To look at YouCount in context, the history and future of Citizen Social Science was summarised. The Norway case presented its documentary movie which will soon be available on our website.

The documentary film produced by the social entrepreneurs from the youth media office «Ildfluene» (Fireflies) as part of the Norway case was presented at the conference. Credits: YouCount

The next session consisted of presentations, a roundtable and an interactive exercise. The conceptual framework for Y-CSS, including its methodological approaches, evaluation and ethics were discussed. A participatory approach to communication and what that means for YouCount was reflected upon. Experiences with the YouCount App Toolkit in the light of co-creative, inclusive and user-friendly ICT-tools were shared. Key findings from the evaluation study, for example that there is a clear empowerment of Citizen Scientists in YouCount, were presented. Insights from the multiple case study, by diving into case topics, research designs as well as local and cross-case research questions, were also shared.

 Traveling through Europe

Conference guests were invited to travel through Europe in the onsite and virtual exhibition to find out what the key potentials and challenges are when it comes to (Youth) Citizen Social Science. The second session ended with a roundtable discussion with stakeholders on how to strengthen co-creative and participatory citizen social science with young people in policy and practice. Stakeholders pointed out that this type of research requires trust and safe spaces which takes time and "slow science". It is important to find a good pace to do things right and in a sustainable way. It was also mentioned that YouCount is more ambitious when it comes to social change than other CS projects and entails elements of activism.

The train ticket guides conference guests on their travel through the exhibition. Credits: YouCount

Diary entry #5: Still at the conference

The core of session three were main findings on social inclusion and innovation as well as their implications for social sciences and youth policymaking. From presentations given by YouCount members, we learned that as power relations are changing when youth is taking on new roles, the traditional way of CS changes. In order to adjust, we would need to learn new things along the way. What was more was that social innovation could help us to repair intergenerational relationships. Three key areas for means for change were defined such as increasing collaboration between youth and stakeholders, creating more and better youth-friendly opportunities and supporting youth participation in local democratic processes. We also heard about a psycho-social model of youth social inclusion considering social inclusion as a two-way process on different levels.

Listening to youth

A highlight of the third session was certainly the roundtable with our young citizen scientists. The discussion kicked off with a keynote stressing that young people should be heard in policy-making processes that concern them. Through listening to youth, they can be supported to reach their full potential. Next, YouCount's Citizen Scientists took the stage to share their reflections. All of them presented what they found to be the most interesting findings within their research and reflected on what would be needed to increase social inclusion of youth: 

"To hear different point of views. I mixed with people I wouldn't normally come across and loved this kind of networking."

"The connections I made with policymakers are very valuable. Through direct communication, young migrants and politicians could talk about societal problems."

"I saw value in small changes we achieved such as installing traffic lights on a road where youth would often walk."

"We were able to reach out to areas where people didn't feel included."

"I joined the new youth board that will establish spaces for 13–19-year-olds."

"We need to open up resources and make them accessible for everyone's needs, so people can meet and have a voice."

"Personal communication is more fruitful than sending emails."

"Building relationships between policymakers, stakeholders and youth."

"The importance of accessible spaces, because every adaption makes a difference."

Young Citizen Scientists Evie Ball, Arishel Dowie, Andrew Dirzu and Khaleel Mamsa from the UK case and El Mustapha Lemrabatt from the Spain case share their reflections during a roundtable. Mina Stareva from the European Commission, who is working on health and societal transitions, joins the panel digitally. Credits: YouCount

Stakeholders and policymakers joined the next and final roundtable of the day. One actor stressed that meeting face to face with young people made all the difference and that after attending YouCount's Living Labs, it became obvious that youth wanted to have more dialogues, positive opportunities for leisure time and work, a feeling of safety and more places for them. A different speaker highlighted the necessity to not see youth as a monolithic group but rather see their diversity in order to be able to work pluralistically to not turn into echo chambers. A policymaker found YouCount inspiring because youth is coming together and gets involved in critical and societal problem-solving processes while being supported by academia. The final speaker described YouCount as an important start to shape the social dimensions within CS. This type of research (CSS) would start with shared social concerns and in the YouCount cases it became apparent that concerns of young people are common even if youth in general is a diverse group.

Putting citizens before science

YouCount's overall impact and way forward in the European and international context was explored in the last session. One stakeholder stressed that if we aim to democratise science, we really have to live up to it. Even though if citizens can be involved differently, it would always need to be in a meaningful way and YouCount's co-researchers would have that. Putting citizens before science not only by involving them but also by changing how we think about science would be crucial. Another speaker observed that it was mentioned several times during the conference how to get youth to talk to stakeholders in order to make changes. However, it would be equally important to empower youth to make some of these changes themselves. Will there be a mindset change of stakeholders and young people over time?

Finally, YouCount's project coordinator Reidun Norvoll closed the session by thanking the participating YCS, consortium partners, presenters, and project officer Katharina Buse for all their great contributions to the project, before a group of consortium members, speakers and conference participants gathered on the stage (where else?) for a group picture.

A group photo of conference participants was taken to close the event. Credits: YouCount

On behalf of the entire YouCount team, we want to thank everyone who joined our final conference and contributed to make it to such an inspiring and collaborative event! You find some final glimpses in the gallery below:

YouCount Retrospective: A Journey from Hungary to ...
Common Signs Miniconference with and for deaf and ...

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