Include more children speakers at (online) conferences. Some ‘how to’s’ on making it work and keeping it authentic.

Children’s voices are largely missing from debates and conferences, even when they themselves are the subject matter. How can we ensure that more children get to contribute and be heard?
In this post I share lessons learned at Design-athon on how we have included children as speakers in a variety of offline, online and international conferences.

Francis from Tanzania, Nora from the Netherlands and Joppe from Belgium, who spoke at the Cinekid Professionals Festival (online)

Inviting Children, be inclusive
Depending on the time you have and the topic at hand, make a shortlist of children to invite. Three is a good number, if you are making a panel. Aim to have a mix of boys and girls and cultural backgrounds. In the case of the Cinekid Festival we had Francis, 11 years from Tanzania, Joppe, 12 from from Belgium and Nora, 13 from the Netherlands. In the case of the Ashoka Changemaker Summit we had two children, Breno 12 and Mijntje, 11 to join a panel of adults and other young people.

At designathon we work with children, through schools, after-school programs and events we host ourselves in this way we know many children in a variety of contexts who have worked on the Sustainable Development Goalss and thus a variety of topics. If you don’t work with children yourself, reach out to a local school, or a children’s NGO and invite them to propose a child to take part in your event.

Child safety and legal permission
Child safety is paramount, furthermore a legal guardian must give their consent for the child to take part and or have their photo or video published. Typical documents to get signed are a ‘Quit claim’ or ‘Consent form’ It is good practice to limit the publishing of the child’s photo or video to the context of the event or the website of the event organiser.
To further protect children, we only ever publish their first names and age. Don’t include any address or contact details. Do make sure the the child is included in the program lineup with their expertise (not just as a child) For example: ‘Lya 10, Inventor’ The atmosphere and context at the event should also be child friendly.

Practicing with the child/ren
Children, especially the first time they speak are naturally nervous. You can help them by explaining clearly how the session will go, what’s expected of them, how long it will take and encouraging them that people will be eager to hear what they have to say. I often work with an interview format, and discuss the kinds of the things the child would like to tell beforehand and then we role play practice a few times. In general in my work the children are telling about their own invention for an SDG Design-athon challenge they worked on.

Lya, 10, speaking at ‘Youth with Dreams’ (online)

Multiple languages and translating
Many international events are in English, and not all children of course speak English fluently. This doesn’t have to be a problem. You have two main options:

1. On zoom (or other video conferencing tool) you can use ‘closed captioning’ whereby an adult (or teenager) who speaks the language the child speaks plus English, sufficiently well, does simultaneous translation. They type the child’s words as they speak and this appears on screen as subtitles.

2. A translator is included in the panel or video conference and translates what the child says to English immediately after the child has spoken. With a bit of practice this can be done with flow, although it brings a time cost factor with it.

Spontaneity, authenticity
An important reason for including children in debates is because they often are the ones to ‘hit the nail on the head’ about an issue. They ‘tell it like it is’ So while you want to help the child feel confident by practicing or rehearsing. Do also leave time and opportunity for the audience or moderator to ask the child/ren questions. So they can speak their truth, a truth which is so valuable to hear.

Rosa, 7 Amalia, 11 Shira, 8 Tessa, 10 at ‘We Make the City’ (live)

Do you work with children and encourage their inclusion at events and or create opportunities for them to speak and be heard?
I’d love to hear how you make things work or if you have questions, please post them below.

Let’s hear more children’s perspectives on our shared futures.

Kosovo, Creating the Future.

Dafina Morina is working on a prototype which would help blind people to have better access to the Museum of Kosovo, where she works as part of the Designathon Works training in Pristina Kosovo. Dafina is one of a team of curators at the museum in Pristina where they share the cultural artefacts and contribute to developing the identity of a country, which is only 10 years old.

Dafina Morina, photo by Ina Conkic

Thanks to Dr. Dennis and Dr. Julia Watkins, Julia is the former President of the American University in Bulgaria, who connected us (at Designathon Works) with the team at the museum, we spent three days together with, the team of curators and the museum educators, teachers from the European School of Kosovo and children from Pristina.

Most museums presumably share the history of the country and extrapolate to the future. But what if your country was born out of conflict and has been only recently established? What we learn was that the museum see’s it’s role to cretae the future and who better to collaborate with? Children of course. And so we found ourselves, myself and Ina Conkic, sharing our Designathon Works method, working with the children of Pristina and imagining how our design thinking and maker education method could help them achieve their aims.

The first step was to train the educators and museum staff in the method and test it with local children. The first day is all about the adults, through a “Learning by doing’ process, peppered with background infromation and some theory, they design, build and present their own inventions. Myself and Ina were suitably impressed by their technical skills, everyone was comfortable striping wires, connecting motors and constructing their designs. In Holland it usually takes considerably more convincing! In good MakerEd fashion they didn’t want to stop. At the day end reflection the teachers and museum educators shared that they loved the approach and would very much want children in Kosovo to have this learning experience too.

On day two, together we led a group of children through the same process. In groups the children designed and built prorotypes for mobility issues in the city, most chose to tackle either the air pollution in the city, which is quite a problem due to the nearby coal mines, or mobility challenges of the elderly.

The ideas included a smart filter to clean the air of co2 and smog, a special electric vehicle for elderly ladies to go shopping and above you see the happy creators of a hot air ballon to avoid traffic jams.
Now, going forward the next steps are to go through the program options we discussed to see what’s possible and how the museum can continue to create the future with the children of Kosovo.
To be continued!

Seeing the beauty in your students.

As a self-taught teacher I have thought and read a lot about the role of the teacher, and have discovered that something I do well, is to see the good and best in people, to see them as people who can outperform what they are doing and then I speak to that part of them, demand it even.
And they rise to the occasion every time.
As outsiders when we started Nairobits, we weren’t aware of the negative connotations that people from slum areas and backgrounds might have of themselves or each other, so we didn’t speak to them like that but just as young people who of course could be come great web- designers, they just had to apply themselves. Later on I began to apply that belief and expectation consciously.

One is never only where they are born, but is always also all the possibilities and dreams they have too. And if another sees that in you, you begin to belive it for yourself and make it more possible. So education and teachers need to see that part of their students and speak to that part of them in order to illicit it. This applies to small chidlren, teenagers and adults, it’s a universal.
Converse with the better part of someone’s nature, with their aspirations and they will materialise before you.

I found this talk from Victor Fankly, who says the same,
This man survived the holocaust in germany and became a well know pyscho-therapist.


Global Children’s Designathon

Freedomlab, Plantagemiddenlaan, Amsterdam.

9.32AM CET

In the superbly light and spacious main hall of Freedomlab, we gather around a standing table covered in brown butcher paper. The doors are held open by a heavy piece of rail: the Amsterdam welcome of the Global Children’s Designathon has started.

Emer Beamer, initiator of today’s gathering, is briefing her team of facilitators, bloggers and builders, whilst the video guy is quietly setting up his equipment in the background. A handful of children (mostly boys) are treating the sitting blocks as Minecraft material: building a green and purple cave home.


In five locations in the world (Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Dublin and Amsterdam) groups of 30 children aged 8 to 12 will be working in parallel. They will be designing and building their (tech) solutions for our worlds most pressing problems around food, waste and the future of mobility.

Unexpect – Where Children Design Better Futures Using New Technologies – has organised this day. It is a one-day crash course in design thinking, new (exponential) technologies and societal problems, for children between 8 and 12. Because these kids can think, fantasise, dream, design and build. They actually care a lot about the issues we discuss today (we think). And they enjoy the sense of empowerment, the idea that they can come up with real solutions. In one day. Later today we will set up videoconferences with the other four locations. Teaching twenty-first century skills across three continents. Wow.

We are all pretty excited and hyped up. Floris is stretching the kids (literally) in a Name-Game warm up. Klaas is introducing the three themes (food, waste and mobility). Time to start. Let’s unexpect and allow the flow to emerge

11.24AM CET

Klaas’ introduction on the three themes already sparked some thoughts. “Today we will invent. You can invent something for a problem that you find important.” The kids (re)learn that ‘waste’ actually does not exist. It is just stuff, that you can do useful things with, like building a birdsnest, a bed, or a ukulele. One of the children mentions that plastic from packaging is a great source of oil. On the spot he invents an oil factory: he just needs to figure out how he will get all the plastic to his factory. Food can be printed, from chocolate or dough. Just add a bit of colour – plain white food does not look very nice. And drones are ideal to pick up stuff in the city. It is very handy that you don’t need a pilot to fly one.

The boys and girls organise themselves. Each first chooses one of the three themes to work on. As expected, the topic of mobility sparks most kids’ imagination.

Time to go creative. We enjoy a brief moment of quiet when the kids work their idea canvases.


Less than twenty minutes later they present:

  • a chipped car that tells the traffic lights you are there, and which route ahead is least busy
  • cars with onramps so we can drive on top of each other
  • a remote-controlled robot that fishes plastic from the seas.
  • a submarine that uses helium balloons for buoyancy, avoiding the noise from normal ships
  • a greenhouse system as addition to the home to grow food and avoid its transport
  • a street that splits in two during the night, so that the garbage falls into an underground waste collection bin
  • a car in which the driver can only key in his destination (no driving) so that the car avoids accidents
  • a mechanical tree that cleans the air and turns the pollution into 3D printed fruit
  • a robot that collects rubbish and turns it into its own fuel

A little bit peckish, we go for a hearty lunch. Then we will go make.


13.37 CET

Time to check in with each other. In a five way videoconference we see how the kids in Berlin, Dublin, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro are doing. Everyone learned how we can use printers to make spaghetti. First a welcome by each of the countries hosts.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 13.51.49

Then a quick presentation of some of the prototypes that the boys and girls are working on.


Now the best part of the day: building prototypes. Tables full of building materials are rolled into the main hall. Propellers, little electric motors, knex, carton, duct tape, plastic bottles, wooden wheels, solar panels, batteries. You name it – it is there. Here is where the facilitators’ real job comes in too. At times it is hard to tell who is more into it: the kids or the adult facilitators. After a couple of hours of building (interrupted here and there with a bit of running around), ±15 prototypes are ready.


16.00 CET Showtime

Whilst some of us quickly clean up the room, Emer and Marieke welcome Amsterdams Elderman for Sustainability, mr. Abdeluheb Choho. The parents, and some of the sponsors join us for the presentations.  Fifteen working prototypes are presented. Flying cars, cars that hover on magnetic levitation, cars that drive on top of each other, helium balloon submarines, an in house farm, a road that doubles as a garbage removal system named the Sliding Street, just to name a few. Who wouldn’t want those things?