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.

ReInvent your Neighborhood at Makers and Co Festival Amsterdam


As part of a series of workshops engaging children in the art of social design, we held a session called ‘Reinvent your Neighborhood’ at the Makers & Co Festival in Amsterdam. The aim of Unexpect is to both to teach children new skills as much as to share the amazing inventions and designs children can create.
The 13 children, all of whom are members of the Weekend Academie in Slotervaart, ranged in age from 9 to 12. We kicked off with a creative energzier to get to know each other before introducing the topic of the workshop and getting down to mapping the different groups of people who might live in the neighbourhood including themselves and what their needs might be.


Mapping people and challenges in the neighbourhood.

The children named challenges such as old ladies with heavy shopping crossing the road slowly, the police who couldn’t catch the robbers due to slow cars, mothers wondering when their children would come home at night and boys who couldn’t play football because there was dog poo on the grass.


For inspiration we checked out a number of recent inventions such as Google Glass, 3D printers, Sugru (one of my favorites), and Smart Highways from Roosegaarde Studio. Then the children choose one topic to work on and set out to imagine a solution.



For protoyping we worked with LittleBits, while they are attraction in themselves, they are also quite an effective rapid prototyping tool. Some children preferred to just draw their ideas or work with clay, carton, straws or of course a combination. Thinking with your hands!


So what did they make?
My two favorite inventions probably would be the sound warning system for the dogs to keep them off the football field, for which the boys also made a prototype (using the littlebits sound senor and noise output). The other invention was for the mother worried about her children out late, through a repurposed phone, they could send coded light signals, red meaning ‘You need to come home now’ and green for ‘I am on my way’.


Other inventions included a park bench on wheels for the old ladies, an air canon for rubbish and a ‘friend house’ for children with no friends.

 drawing1 protoype3

Showing their work

Thanks to Harriet Robijn my co-facilitator, the children of the weekend Academie and Mira de Graaf and Diana Krabbendam our hosts at the Makers & Co Festival.

Check out our Flickr Set of the workshop.
Photographs by ACHT film & fotografie

What do children care about?

You’re 10 years old, you live in Dublin, and someone asks you:
What’s the one thing would you like to change in the world?
What do you think the children said, more toys, less school?
Not at all, this is what the children said:

An end to world hunger;  No more air pollution;
World Peace; that no-one has to lose family and friends;
a cure for cancer;  the rainforest to be saved.
No shortage of wild idealism!

Then inspired by a presentation of future technologies (here)
and their own imagination, the children sat down to invent
ways to solve their chosen issue.
With names like ‘The Yom’, ‘Wheels of the Future’ and ‘Beddy Bye’,
here are some of their designs:


A car which breathes in Co2 and exhails oxygen. 


The YOM, a food and drink maker against world hunger.


A pen that writes by itself for children with Dyslexia.


A car which drives on electricity created by the wheels hitting the road. 


And a solar powered chariot.

Thanks to all the children in 3rd class and 5th class, to Mr. O Sullivan and Ms. Halligan and the principal Mrs. Moore, all at the Harold School in Glasthule in Dublin, for having us.

What would your children design for you? (Can children become Social Designers?)

To an extent they already are! Children’s potential is oft overlooked in every field. Their capacity for empathy and creative thinking positions them perfectly as social designers. And let’s face it, we need all the help we can get. Unexpect hypothesis is, ‘Children can creatively solve some of the world’s problems’ (problems usually created by adults). We are researching this hypothesis through a series of design workshops and manifestations. Looking specifically at the questions:
Under which circumstances can children tap into their design potential?;
What types of social and environmental problems can children best work on?

This week in a prototype workshop with 16 children in the age range of 8-9 years, we worked on the topic ‘Designing for your Parents’  The workshop was about two hours in length.


A floating massage machine for father, as he suffers from a slipped disc (hernia).

We kicked off the workshop, with a game, to encourage creative thinking and feelings of empathy. (if you would like the workshop program, download it here Unexpect#2 (in Dutch). Then we invited the children to draw the outline of an adult in their lives and map onto it any problems, they knew of. Most children choose a parent or a grandparent. They described problems such as, broken hips, black lungs from smoking, red spots on hands, being too busy, always having to work and sadness due to divorce.


A 3d printed hart for Grandma and a wire for better hearing for Grandpa.

Then we looked at a number of new and future technologies and talked about their potential. Such as 3d printing, eye lenses which react to the wearers blood- sugar level, jet pack, Google’s self driving car, huge touch screens.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 5.01.53 PM

Lenses which react to the wearers blood- sugar level, for diabetes patients.

Next up was to envisage in what way a new technology might provide a solution to one of the earlier mapped problems. Most children went eagerly to work and had plenty of ideas, a few children struggled. Such as the girl whose father was sad due to the divorce, she didn’t know how to help him with that in a structural way, another problem she perceived was the lack of color in her father’s wardrobe so she decided on an app to give him clothes advice every morning.


The clothes color advice app, on the right the different screens. 


A cigarette which turns into a rocket and takes off, as anti-smoking device

We closed the workshop by sharing solutions and followed up the next day with an evaluation and checking if there were any concerns from the home front and to check if all the children knew where they could go to if they felt troubled.

Through the workshop and evaluation we learned a number of things:

– the workshop scored high in the children’s estimation with girls scoring it higher than boys;
– of the four workshop parts, the opening game and designing solutions scored the highest, followed by the new technologies and as last the mapping or problems;
– the children are well aware of their parents and other adults problems
– children are motivated to alleviate parents distress or discomfort.

Questions that were raised:
– how do we deal with the privacy of issues raised by children revealing adults issues?
– how do we channel creative thinking into applicable solutions

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, we’d love to hear them, drop a comment or mail us at workshops (at)

This is the second in a a series of test workshops for Unexpect. Unexpect cultivates young people’s creativity for beauty, resilience and solutions to social and environmental challenges. In a nutshell, ‘Social Design Education.’