How democratic is a democracy if not all members of a society are informed enough to understand how to exercise their rights, or are ill-equipped to think critically about democracy and its supporting structures? In many European countries, there is a marked decline in trust in politics, in government and its related institutions, leading to increasing societal polarisation. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to stimulate active, participatory, democratic citizenship.
Young people are the future of democracy. In our Critical ChangeLabs project, we research how we can build notions of active citizenship amongst young people, 11 to 18 years old. By active citizenship, we mean encouraging the development of young people with a critical understanding and sense of ownership of, democratic values and freedoms, rights and responsibilities.
What is a CriticalChange Lab?
A CriticalChange Lab is a place and a space yet to be designed - an experimental laboratory - which uses a specific method, for example, critical making, to explore design thinking, creative process, discovery, experimentation and critical making, centred on capacities required for democratic participation.
In 19 European countries, Critical ChangeLabs will be established, for young people. Each lab approaches the challenge from a different methodological position, and seeks to research and measure how young people better understand, and engage with democratic ideals and processes, using aspects of that methodology. Building on the research in the Labs, the project will develop educational methodologies and approaches which inspire, support and encourage responsibility, engagement and agency amongst young Europeans.
What will Waag do?
Waag is responsible for the Critical ChangeLab in The Netherlands. In this lab, over the coming years, we will focus on Maker Education as a way of allowing young people to think about and develop multiple future possibilities. An important focus of Maker Education is the development of resilience, engagement and agency, achieved through learning derived from practical experimentation and active making, or doing. While participants are given boundaries and limitations of various kinds, they are the owner of, and are responsible for, their own making practice and process, and its outcomes. Practical challenges require creativity and expertise in art, technology and science.
In the European project Critical Changelabs, Waag Futurelab, together with partners University of Oulu (FI), University of Barcelona (ES), Ars Electronica (AT), Trinity College Dublin (IE), Kersnikova (SI), Latra (EL), Tactical Technology Collective (NL), European Alternatives (FR) and Institute for Social Research (HR), is investigating the relationship between young people and democracy and thus the future of 21st-century European democracy.
Way of working
From Waag’s point of view, Maker Education (‘educating makers through and by making’) is a strong methodological approach, enabling skills of critical thinking, and co-operation. By iterating, inventing, discovering and testing, participants will develop creative flexibility, engagement and agency. Waag will research how a ‘maker mindset’, in combination with 21st Century capabilities, can help citizens to develop agency and understanding in order to encourage active social engagement.
CCL brings together various actors and stakeholders in the formal and informal educational sectors, civic organisations, and small and middle-scale businesses to work in collaboration with young people to think about European democracy and its relationship to a just, civil society.