On 17 and 18 May 2022, the specialist and funding agencies for international youth work held their second international BarCamp entitled Digital Transformer Days. 53 participants from Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece and Ghana, along with three presenters from the United States, Argentina and the Czech Republic spent two days together on the DINA.international platform and enjoyed a varied participatory programme. Their common objective: to discuss and explore the digital tools and methods, hybrid settings, good practices, innovative ideas and challenges associated with digital international youth work.
In 2020, the specialist and funding agencies for international youth work had set up a working group on digital cooperation that has since met regularly to discuss developments and needs in the field of digital international youth work. Given the strong interest in the subject from international partners, and building on the foundation established at the first international BarCamp in 2021 (part of the IJA.digital project), the working group quickly decided to hold the Digital Transformer Days in 2022, too – this time in several languages and using the jointly developed digital DINA.international platform so as to offer a multitude of opportunities to meet, talk, build networks and interact.
Origami onboarding, speed dating and activating Biodanza
How can the digital and the physical sphere be linked – and how is it possible to connect participants from all over the world before the actual event has even started? Many ideas were mooted in the run-up to the Digital Transformer Days, but one seemed particularly promising. One week ahead of the event, participants were sent origami templates of animals including pigs, dogs and cats. Everyone was invited to fold their favourite animal, colour it in and position it in a preferred place before taking a snapshot. The pics were uploaded to the event Padlet together with a brief description – a great way for participants to get to know each other before meeting on the day.
Sabrina Apitz, the host of the Digital Transformer Days 2022 with a long track record in digital youth work, expertly maximised interaction levels during the entire event. Speed dating in the breakout sessions, mood barometers and a joint whiteboard drawing session were just some of the ways she created a lively atmosphere and helped the organisers to gauge the group dynamics during the event. After the lunch break on day 1, Valerie Kattenfeld from Buenos Aires held a brief session on Biodanza during which she even got participants to rise to their feet and dance to the music.
After the official part of the first day was over, participants were invited to meet up on the platform wonder.me, where four spaces had been prepared: a café corner for informal chats, a “deep dive station” for discussions on digitalisation, a partner-matching space, and a virtual room for digital geeks.
Digitalisation and sustainability, try-outs and visions
How sustainable is the digital transformation really? And how are young people responding to the opportunities and challenges of digitalisation? Katharina Maier, coordinator of the Fridays for Future movement in the United States, joined the event from Washington D.C. to deliver a presentation on these questions. To her, sustainability doesn’t just mean eco-friendly; it also means making choices that have a long-term positive impact on the environment, the climate, and society and social structures in general, so that good living conditions can be enjoyed by a rising number of people. This kind of sustainability is not automatically delivered by digital transformation. Neither is it technology that drives and shapes digital transformation – that’s done by people. It was crucial, said Katharina Maier, that we consider sustainability in every choice and every decision we make.
On day 2 Karel Hájek, drama teacher, Language Animator and coach from the Czech Republic, told the audience how he creates creative and attractive online settings based on his background in German-Czech youth exchanges. “Let’s flip the paradigm” was his inspiring motto – in fact not just his, but that of many others who have been helping to shape digitalisation over the last three years. The digital sphere, he said, should not be seen as a substitute, but as an opportunity that allows the youth work community to offer activities that would not be possible offline. In practice, this means rethinking and designing concepts with online in mind, rather than pursuing a mindset that is centred around face-to-face encounters.
BarCamp sessions and outcomes of the Digital Transformer Days 2022
Inspired by these inputs, over the two-day event participants split up for three rounds of parallel BarCamp sessions to present and discuss their own ideas. Online training courses for volunteer group leaders; gamesin.eu, a computer game for simulating youth exchanges; language learning tools; digital language animation; Zourit; the vitally important role of open source software for society; online exchanges for kids; racism prevention using video dance-based storytelling as a method; plus the “digital geek” subject number 1 – integrating digital maps in the Gather.town platform. The range of ideas presented during the sessions was inspiring and the discussions that followed were very lively indeed.
The Digital Transformer Days 2022 revealed at least these insights: hybrid formats are more motivating; they can be used to reach a larger audience; and they encourage better group dynamics than purely online activities. That said, the experts repeatedly wondered how to best reconcile offline and online elements of a hybrid activity – and how to design an attractive hybrid setting. One major issue at both national and international level, and one that was discussed during the Digital Transformer Days, is data protection and in turn, the significance of open source software when it comes to sustainable digital transformation. It became clear that raising broad awareness of this is crucial. One way to do so is to use more open source applications like DINA.international.
BarCamping on DINA.international
As mentioned above, the digital venue chosen for the Digital Transformer Days was DINA.international, a platform that was launched in 2021 by the specialist and funding agencies for international youth work. Interested parties were invited by DINA to sign up to the international BarCamp and to get a virtual first impression of the platform ahead of the event itself. DINA offers a number of benefits: it’s an open source tool, runs on a climate-neutral server, complies with data privacy rules, is entirely ad-free and conforms to current EU security standards. What was particularly practical for the Digital Transformer Days was that all required tools and functions could be integrated for the event: the video conferencing application BigBlueButton, Padlets for the onboarding and BarCamp sessions, and the “shared notes” function for documenting the event. The participants could remain logged in to the platform throughout the event; there was no need to access any other tools. After the event, they could remain part of the ever-growing international DINA community. Technical support was provided by the Foundation for German-Russian Youth Exchange, which carries lead responsibility for developing and improving DINA.
Multilingual communication in digital international settings
How can communication succeed during an international digital event, especially when all partners‘ languages are to be paid equal attention? The specialist and funding agencies for international youth work thought long and hard about this as they prepared for the Digital Transformer Days 2022. The availability of BigBlueButton’s new interpreting function in DINA meant organisers were able to connect a total of ten interpreters for six different languages – German, English, French, Czech, Polish and Turkish – so participants could use their mother tongue to communicate during the plentary sessions. The leaders of the BarCamp sessions could use a language of their choice when presenting, inviting interpreters to assist where necessary.
IJAB’s Language Unit coordinated the interpreting team and was the first port of all for all interpreting-related questions before and during the event. A set of instructions for using the interpretation function in DINA and two test runs involving interpreters ahead of the event ensured that everything ran smoothly on the day itself. And yet: the use of multiple languages at the Digital Transformer Days was novel for everyone involved, with experience showing that good preparation – and good audio quality thanks to proper microphones – is not enough. All parties need to be aware that the languages spoken by the various partners deserve equal attention, and that this does have its challenges.
About the Digital Transformer Days
The Digital Transformer Days are a cooperation project run by IJAB, the International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany; ConAct, the Coordination Center for German-Israeli Youth Exchange; the Franco-German Youth Office; the Polish-German Youth Office; the German-Turkish Youth Bridge; the Foundation for German-Russian Youth Exchange; and Tandem – the Czech-German Youth Exchange Coordination Centre. The event received funding from the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.