What Potential Do You See in Working with Young People?

A cross-sector workshop with the city administration in Vienna

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of cross-sector collaboration in addressing complex urban challenges. One of the key challenges in urban planning processes is building trust between different stakeholders. City administrations, universities and local entrepreneurs often have different priorities and perspectives, which can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. By working together, however, they can build trust and understanding, and develop more effective strategies for addressing urban challenges.

Bridging cross-sector and cross-generational collaboration

Building trust is the key not only to cross-sectoral but also cross-generational cooperation with city administrations, businesses and civil society organizations in the course of urban transformation. TRUSTMAKING intends to bridge the cross-sector approach with the cross-generational intention of the project. In Vienna, the project therefore initiated in a first phase activities addressed to urban youth and experts of social work with youth and parallel to that carried out a workshop with the city administration in December 2022. For the project team a first approach to understand the city administrations’ perspectives and experiences on the matter of youth and trust was best realized in a separate workshop before proceeding to cross-generational activities during the Urban Living Lab phase.

The workshop’s intention was to start building up a network of interested administrative bodies and social organizations within the City of Vienna and collect the stakeholders’ ideas and experience on the following question: What trust-making strategies can be taken up as an active and applicable response to the challenges of living together in cities, as many of which have intensified since the pandemic? Together with invited stakeholders and the Viennese project partners treecycle und forschen planen bauen members of Social Design Studio discussed experiences and perspectives of the administration with/on youth and their ability to bridge current/short-term considerations and long-term goals in urban transformation processes.

Invited workshop participants were from the City of Vienna’s Municipal Departments of Education and Youth (MA13), Urban Development and Planning (MA18), District Planning and Land Use  (MA21), Parks and Gardens (MA42) and Climate, Forestry and Agriculture (MA49), Chief Executive Office – Adaptation Green Infrastructure, and additionally to the city administration representatives of the Vienna Clubcommission (a service and mediation centre of the City of Vienna for the clubbing scene), the District Service Office East (GB*Ost) and the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Applied Arts were present.
In a world-café setting three questions were discussed:

  • What experience do you have in your work with young people?
  • Where is trust important in your work? Trust in/from young people / trust in/from civil society? Which strategies do you use to build trust?
  • What potential do you see in working with young people in relation to the green transition and ecological urban development, especially green infrastructure?

Fig. 1: Wordcloud of workshop participants on the question: What terms do you associate with youth and trust?


Sharing experiences of working with youth

The first world café table on the question of experiences of the administration in work with youth brought to light the vast knowledge of different city administration bodies on collaboration with youth. Institutions that were not especially focused on working with youth, mentioned that the collaboration with young people is mostly carried out using networks and organisations that already work with young people, e.g. youth organisations, schools, municipal departments, or young people who are already active in some form. A lot of information can also be obtained through on-site observation, not only through direct surveys or interviews. However, being at site is most important. According to participants, when working with young people, it is particularly important to define concrete goals and concrete projects. If young people see the results and there is a reference to their everyday life, they are very committed.

Young people are consistently seen by workshop participants as an important user group, but they are also always confronted with other user groups’ interests and needs. The conditions for involving young people (place, time, method, target groups) largely define the result or at least the direction of a project. One comment during the discussion was: Don’t just involve as broadly as possible, but above all consider bias and ask yourself specifically who you want to involve and why. What are your own expectations of the young people? What (implicit) promises are made and can they be kept? Is it really an open process or does it legitimize a preconceived direction?

Reflecting on the role of trust

For workshop participants the second table question of where trust was important was answered on several levels. On the communication level, trust was connotated with transparency, immediate feedback and clearly responsibly contact persons as well as with language sensitivity (e.g. being able to communicate in the other person’s mother tongue creates trust). Challenges for building trust were seen in the difficulty of translating complex planning processes and the conflicting goals of different initiatives in the city; participation processes that are not always carried through to the end; understanding for noise as an ongoing issue; and young people without advocates.

On the strategic level of trustmaking the following aspects were mentioned: Trust is built either through continuous relationship work or through a clear, common goal. Young people should be involved in planning processes at an early stage, not just when conflicts arise. Young people’s need for immediate feedback and quick results should be considered, even though especially in urban planning there are long planning periods of 10-20 years. A realistic idea of the project and the results must be laid open from the beginning, with a clear time and financial frame. Getting to know each other on a personal level.