By Emmanuel Michaud, UNICEF Nicaragua

During 2016 and the beginning of 2017, BICU Innovation Laboratory supported by UNICEF Nicaragua organized three innovation camps implemented in rural and marginalized communities of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast: Pearl Lagoon, Kukra Hill, and Kukra River. These 3-day camps were open to the entire community but specifically geared towards engaging children and adolescents in extracurricular activities in their communities.

The goal of these camps was to establish a space beyond conventional forums wherein children, adolescents and young people can exercise their creativity and solve social problems affecting their day-to-day reality.

Students from Kukra River are preparing the map of their community. ©UNICEFNicaragua

As we are wrapping up the BICU innovation camps this year, we would like to share the methodology we have been using, and the key insights learned during the development of this initiative. We hope that by sharing this – you too – can create spaces to engage members of your community, particular the youth, to think creatively – working together to come up with innovative solutions to issues affecting them.

Children and adolescents from Kukra Hill identify the safe and dangerous places of their community. ©UNICEF Nicaragua

Behind the Scenes: The Structure

Day 1. The first day of the innovation camps is aimed at identifying, using two different methodologies, what are the issues affecting children’s rights in the community. On the one hand, a social mapping exercise is conducted along with the participants (children and adolescents), requiring them to pinpoint places in their environment that they find dangerous and restrictive, as well as places where they feel safe and free. On the other hand, the BICU Innovation Lab’s team conducts interviews with key actors in the community regarding the exercise of children’s rights. As a result of these methodologies, the BICU Innovation Laboratory identified, during the past three camps, adolescent’s alcoholism, sexual abuse, and the lack of recreation spaces as the main issues faced by children and adolescents living in Kukra River. These methodologies uphold UNICEF’s Innovation Principles particularly with engaging the members of the community to be part of the design and problem-solving processes. Issues identified during this day will then feed into the discussions on Day 2: “The Innovation Café.”

Primary and Secondary Students are working on the methodology of social mapping. ©UNICEF Nicaragua

Day 2. “The Innovation Café” is a day focused on fostering conversations, brainstorming solutions and designing prototypes to issues raised the day before. How does it work? The participants are divided into groups and each group is asked to discuss an issue and ideate possible solutions to address it. Where to start? The organizers set up tables (each pertaining to an issue) – teams then visit these tables spending 10 minutes to exchange ideas, opinions, and possible solutions. After the rotations, each team will be given a particular issue to further work on. Innovation camp organizers allocate a few hours for groups to discuss and refine ideas paving way to a prototype to showcase on day 3.

Innovation lab facilitators set up tables around the venue. Each table discusses a particular issue. ©UNICEF Nicaragua

Day 3. During the last day of the innovation camp, each group pitches their solution through showcasing a prototype to the rest of the participants. After all groups have presented, participants are requested to vote for the prototype they think is the most effective. The prototype with more votes receives technical, financial and monitoring support from the BICU Innovation Laboratory. This prototype, once refined, will also be developed into a pilot project implemented within the community. After testing the prototype, a proposal is presented to the Regional Government, advocating for the project to be included in the government’s interventions aimed at children and adolescents.

Each group presents their issue, solution, and prototype on Day 3. ©UNICEF Nicaragua

A space to foster creativity and solve social problems

The Innovation Camps bring an opportunity to create a unique space where the whole community can participate: children, adolescents, youth, community leaders, families, government institutions, and NGOs. In particular, the focus on the principle of “designing with the user” and the participation of the community key actors guarantee that the prototype is adapted to the local context and a higher level of commitment from the community. Also, these camps equip participants with various skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and social mapping, to name a few.

Giving a space for young people to nurture their problem-solving skills, and foster their critical and creative thinking ©UNICEF Nicaragua

“What I liked most was the integration of children into the activity. We shared and unified ideas to solve social problems.” – Idalia Lainez (Edwin Baltodano Primary School director) and Kukra River Innovation Camp participant.

Between 2016 and 2017, the BICU Innovation Laboratory has developed two working prototypes on recreation strategies for children and adolescents, and one on online child security in Nicaragua.

That’s a wrap. BICU Innovation Camp participants and facilitators take a group photo in Kukra Hill.©UNICEF Nicaragua
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