10 ways young people can take social action with our new Youth Ideation Toolkit

Feb 09, 2023
Our Work

Apps for Good’s vision is that every young person has the tech skills to shape their future. We encourage young people to take social action by harnessing the power of technology. Our courses are student-driven – students come together in teams to generate new ideas for a social action app for a community they care about. In this way, learning is meaningful to them. Teams go on to build a prototype app based on their idea.

In September 2023, we are launching the Youth Ideation Toolkit – a series of youth- and team-oriented idea development activities – as a core feature in our new App for Social Action course. It aims to support teams in developing their ideas in a fun and engaging way, using a range of creative and innovative approaches. To develop the toolkit, we did what we often do – look to industry for best practice examples.

Youth ideation toolkit gif

1. Design thinking

Through the Youth Ideation Toolkit, we employ design thinking which is often used by professional teams who have a product-orientated challenge.

Design thinking is a series of five steps often carried out with other team members; the cycle of stages is repeated many times in the development of a product: empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test. Design thinking is non-linear and highly iterative with each stage being revisited many times over the sessions in order for students to refine their ideas. For the toolkit, students focus on the first three stages of empathise, define and ideate. The Youth Ideation toolkit specifically focuses on the empathise, define and ideate stages.

2. Communities you are part of

Each student in the team identifies communities they are part of. They then focus on (define) one community which they share with other team members – school being a community that they share in common. Other communities that they share may include hobbies such as sport or art, location-based such as a borough or town, or religion. Students empathise with each other, they may choose a community which they aren’t part of but that they empathise with.

3. Appreciative enquiry

Often ideation processes focus immediately on identifying weaknesses, needs and gaps. Appreciative enquiry is a process which aims to first identify the strengths, successes and characteristics of their chosen community. Young people identify what they are proud of. In this way, ideation is focused on identifying the positives in order to “open up new possibilities for the future that are rooted in the good things that already exist.” Appreciative enquiry focuses on identifying pride and enjoyment of their chosen community before students begin to identify issues towards making things better. The layout of affirmative action employed is taken from The Young Foundation’s Join The Conversation, a handbook on ideation for planning social action in community projects.

4. Social action themes

For our recent course, App for Social Action, we introduce twelve of the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which focus on social action as a basis for the ideation: students consider their chosen community using the following goals as contexts to stimulate their thinking:

  • No poverty
  • Zero hunger
  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Gender equality
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Affordable and clean energy
  • Reduced inequality
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions

Steve Jobs claimed that “Creativity is just connecting things” – the SDGs aim to broaden contexts beyond a students' experiences, encouraging them to think outside the box whilst offering examples to stimulate new connections.

5. Impossible ideas

In this activity, students are encouraged to generate as many impossible ideas as they can in relation to their chosen community using the SDGs. The emphasis is on “quantity rather than quality”. All ideas are welcomed – it’s hard to judge impossibilities! Impossible ideas is a playful activity with a serious basis for being part of the toolkit – students relax, become less self-conscious and more adventurous when their ideas do not need to be reasonable. Impossible ideas is similar to the more familiar approach of ‘worst possible idea’ – it moves away from judgmental terminology. The impossible ideas activity aims to establish an approach which can be found in all the subsequent activities in the Youth Ideation Toolkit.

6. Random connections

We have created an app – Apps for Good Random Connections in App Lab, a programming environment in which the students will develop their prototype app. In the app, students are prompted to add their chosen community and then click the randomise button to generate a random SDG. They then discuss ideas which connect their chosen community to the generated SDG. Once they’ve noted an idea down they then click the randomise button again.

7. Free thinking

This short activity enables the teams to consider their ideas so far and consider any more. They then filter their ideas down to a chosen idea for a social action app.

8. Problem statement

Teams now clearly define the target user and what app they propose to create. For the toolkit we have used the industry tool, problem statement – “a short and clear explanation of the issues [...] and the proposed method to solve the issue.” The process of developing a problem statement means the students articulating their idea in simple and concise language: Who (the target users) What (what is the product you are proposing including features?) Why (a few whys aim to get to the root cause of the issue that the students are aiming to address?)

9. Expert engagement

Students then test the relevance of their social action app idea with an industry expert via an online video call. They then review the feedback. The Expert Engagement session is a way of reaching out beyond a team and can offer valuable insights and often tease-out blind spots in a team’s thinking.

10. Identify the gap

Research helps to further refine students’ ideas by identifying any related apps in the marketplace. Based on their findings, students discuss if they need to improve their existing app idea, possibly through additional or different features.

Through the block-based learning tool App Lab, teams prototype their social action app. Finally, as with all industry processes, teams test their apps with others.

We’re really excited to be launching the Youth Ideation Toolkit. Going forward, we will be rolling out the Youth Ideation Toolkit across all our courses. We welcome your thoughts and feedback to education@appsforgood.org.

Authored by Dr Emma Posey, Senior Learning Manager, Apps for Good (@emmaposey)


Huge thanks to the following individuals and organisations for their conversations and insight towards building the Youth Ideation toolkit: Toni Cook, Alfred Biehler, Tom Cannon, and Ben Pickering from Google, Stuart Nolan, and Hugo Pickford-Wardle from Startup Sherpas.

Apps for Good is constantly striving to improve its courses. We always welcome feedback. Whether you have tips of your own to share, have spotted a mistake, want to let us know that you enjoyed the resources or would like to share any other thoughts, please email us at education@appsforgood.org.