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Make It!

How might we help youth aging out of the foster care system form authentic relationships with mentors, caseworkers, and peers during Covid-19?


New Avenues for Youth (NAFY)

Project Outputs: 

Flexible design criteria

Suggested program concept

Thin prototype


Social Impact Lab

Ali Mische



My roles:  

team lead, design researcher, program designer

How might we help youth aging out of the foster care system feel safe enough and motivated to form authentic relationships with mentors, caseworkers, and peers during Covid-19?


As a part of an 8-week design sprint facilitated by Social Impact Lab, New Avenues for Youth (NAFY) asked our team to design a creative and sustainable solution for increased access and success in social connectedness for transitional foster youth in the wake of Covid-19.


In order to gain an understanding of our focus area, we had conversations with eight staff members from NAFY and four youth who had experienced the foster care system. I helped developed a research plan and led over half the interviews. Because of quarantine requirements, all sessions were facilitated digitally using Zoom, Google Docs, and Mural.

Desk research gave us a glimpse into the broader context of the foster care ecosystem, including policies, key organizations, and programming. Our team also compiled a list of creative ways we saw folks engaging in community during Covid.

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Synthesizing a shortlist of key insights helped us refine our challenge to the two biggest pain points we heard from staff, representing each with a metaphor and a new problem statement:


Ongoing Staff/Youth Relationships
Food is a primary motivator for youth to meet with mentors. The shared activity of eating together creates a safe space to connect. During Covid, when meeting in person isn’t possible, what’s the digital equivalent, i.e. the “digital taco”?

How might we create the “digital taco” that helps youth feel safe enough to form authentic relationships?


Cultivating Youth/Youth Community
Holi is a Hindu festival also known as “festival of colors.” The festival’s ritual of throwing colored powders on each other can be seen as a metaphor for how community works: through spontaneous interactions and meaningful conversations, each
person shares a bit of themselves that “sticks” to the next person and helps shape who we are and how we see the world.


How might we create space for Covid-safe spontaneous interactions?


We developed a concept as a starting point to test our assumptions and gain further insight during additional conversations with NAFY staff:

Make It! is a digital space where youths can read weekly prompts, create a piece of art (poetry, photograph, collage, drawing, etc.) in response, and share their creations with their peers and coaches. Youths will see the creations of their peers and can comment and react.

Digital Taco: Through art, youth can express themselves in ways that may feel uncomfortable in direct conversation. The coach can view and comment on the art, deepening the relationship and providing the coach with another view into how youths are doing.

Festival of Colors: Through viewing and commenting on each other’s art, youths start to build connections with peers they might not ordinarily encounter. Art allows us to tell the stories we cannot speak.


User Testing with Youth

Based on our concept, we created an interactive prototype using Google Slides and was able run four different youths through the idea, inviting them to share potential behaviors and insights.

Validating with Staff
After refining our concept based on youth feedback, we took staff through a journey map describing staff and youth roles in setting up and running the program. We also showed them a proposed implementation using Facebook, a platform they already use, to engage with youth.

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We presented our findings and ideas to New Avenues for Youth staff and leadership along with a detailed document outlining our thinking and insights. Because of the sprint format of the Social Impact Lab, our work was used as a jumping off point rather than a destination for the organization.

Key outcomes:
— Staff saw their own work and thinking reflected back to them
— A new engagement program was outlined using existing platforms for immediate staff use
— New Avenues received a set of design criteria that could be applied to multiple engagement strategies
— Fresh ideas gave new momentum and encouragement to staff while dealing with the challenges of Covid

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