Cityzen: Equipping Young People with the Hope for Change
There is a common misconception that young people between 18 and 24 are not politically engaged because they aren’t interested in politics. With a low turnout of young voters – especially at the local level – it can be easy to write young voters off as apathetic.
Story by Malin Andersson
However, according to Team Civic Junction, this is not the case at all.
“A lot of young folks feel like no change comes from the system.” Says Chewy Lor, a graduate student at the School of Information. “The issue is trying to get young people to believe in political change.”
Coming from a background in community organizing, Chewy was inspired by the many conversations he’s had with friends and colleagues about their disillusionment with the current system. He reached out to fellow Masters in Information students Jawuan Walters and Nina Chen with the idea for an app that would educate, connect, and empower users in their civic and political engagement.
Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina joined Innovation in Action as Team Civic Junction. Driven by the vision of a user-friendly, gamified political engagement app, they began to create “Cityzen.”
With a virtual map visualizing and highlighting what’s happening within a community, a town hall feature in which users can be connected to elected officials, a Reddit-style discussion page, and the resources to create campaigns, Cityzen represents an exciting step towards equipping young people with the resources to rebuild their belief that change is possible.
Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina began researching this issue by studying literature reviews and conducting interviews with young people who feel discouraged about whether or not the role they play in politics matters. As their understanding grew, Team Civic Junction identified an emphasis on community – or lack thereof.
“Young people want to create a dialogue with policymakers and legislators within their community especially,” says Jawuan. “With our app, we most importantly wanted to showcase information to the members of the community and to create those dialogues.”
As a city-based app, Cityzen shows users a virtual map of their city so they can pinpoint the places where decisions are being made and identify their place within their community.
Additionally, the town hall feature directly connects users to their elected officials, giving them the chance to become even more aware of what’s happening in their city. A discussion page gives users of Cityzen another opportunity to begin dialogues with other members of the community in a style similar to Reddit.
For Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina, one of the key purposes was to get young people aware. But Cityzen doesn’t stop at increasing awareness. The other key purpose is to translate that awareness into action. Cityzen’s final feature is the ability to start a campaign, giving users the option to take what they’ve learned and fuel their pursuit of positive action.
Through all of this, Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina thought deeply and intentionally about their target audience and thus, utilized their creativity.
Designing a Space for Young Folks
From their interviews and conversations with young people, Team Civic Junction recognized how many young voters don’t feel as though they have a space in the political conversation. Along with gamifying the app to encourage engagement, Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina decided to use popular social media apps like TikTok, Reddit, and Snapchat as inspiration to promote a sense of belonging and excitement for young people.
Jawuan summarized this creative approach, saying, “We thought if we could reflect popular categories or behaviors and engage it in Cityzen, then we could encourage young people to learn more about the systems in place and the legislation being discussed in their community, their state, and across the country.”
In addition, they gamified Cityzen to include a feature in which users can give awards or send donations to members of the community they feel have made meaningful contributions.
During each step of Innovation Action, from the ideation to the design process to that final pitch, each member of Team Civic Junction learned how to lean into their individual skill set to ultimately work as a diverse and effective team.
“Throughout the whole process, we just tried to divide work based on people’s strengths,” acknowledges Chewy. “Then, we would help each other if anyone was confused about a certain part of the process.”
Together, they pitched Cityzen to the Innovation in Action judges and finally showcased it to the public.
What They’ll Take with Them
After all of their hard work, Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina learned much about the design process, the issue of youth political engagement, and most, importantly, about themselves as collaborators as individuals.
For those seeking to pursue a similar project as Team Civic Junction, they would encourage starting early and understanding your problem statement and the research methods you will use.
“Start with a clear and thoughtful question grounded in research,” advises Jawuan. “That question will lead you towards a more meaningful and more tangible final product.”
Additionally, they emphasized the importance of storytelling. By understanding your problem and your audience, you can weave your solution into an engaging story that can, in Cityzen’s case, encourage them to rediscover hope in the political system.
A Hopeful Future
Though the future steps of Cityzen have yet to become clear, Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina will take everything they learned during this process with them into their unique futures. They are passionate about other important topics like climate change and will without a doubt draw from their knowledge of political education to support their pursuit of positive change – whatever it may look like.
“I can take these lessons and implement them into my other coursework one way or another. I can also advocate for the change that young people want to see – whether it is in continuing to develop the app or protesting in the street,” says Jawuan.
Chewy, Jawuan, and Nina’s dedication to educating and empowering young people to learn more about how they can become involved and make a difference reflects their own passion and desire to educate themselves. Whatever the future of Cityzen may be, they intentionally used their time with Innovation in Action to learn and grow as people.
“This project is kind of meta in the sense that it’s about trying to educate young people and get them to take action – and we are educating ourselves and taking action by creating the app,” says Chewy. “We are trying to live our own philosophies.”
You can explore a prototype of Team Civic Junction’s Cityzen app here.