Breaking Barriers was an interactive research-project initiated and financed by Samsung. RISE Interactive in collaboration with community art platform Foajé X and research-theatre RATS investigated how teenagers viewed and preformed participation in digital and physical spaces. We met teenagers in youth-houses and libraries in three places in Sweden, with different socio-economical contexts. With one exception of a school-class of future game-designers, we met them in places they had chosen of their own free will. In our conversations, games and co-creations we discovered that the teenagers we interacted with had vague if any relationship to concepts such as citizen, society and – participation.

Their use of digital tools focused on consuming videos and communicating primarily with people in their own social circuit. Beyond specified areas for influence in school they did not know how to affect societal issues or how ideas and opinions could be expressed in a public space. The teenagers we met however clearly expressed that they had views and perspectives that could be of great importance for the political development.

We gradually changed our strategy during the project from questions to a more story-based format, where we as facilitators could share different examples of what it can mean to be a citizen and then use them for further discussion. The desire to see, hear and reflect on this was very big. In Sweden there has been a long period of a very open, un-intrusive attitude towards teenagers, in particular in youth-houses. The dominant idea being that the less interaction with grown ups the better.

We found that the longing for presence and examples from grown ups was clearly expressed in this project. We could envision a possible next step consisting of a citizen-library with stories about citizenship.

Breaking Barriers aligns with the research initiative and Stockholm Based development platform Prototyping Citizenship. That joins research fields around co-creation and organizations, digital culture, engagement and learning practices in order to support organizations and businesses to identify lack of democracy and co-develop tailor-made methods for inclusion and developed trust cultures.


A couple of things were clear and cut through the various interactions with with young people we had in Breaking Barriers. One was a clearly expressed desire for more physical meeting-places and a greater interaction with adults. The shortage of adults to spend time with, play with and talk to was obvious to us regarding everyone we met.

Adults are not present in physical spaces and not in digital spaces. Some teenagers said that they thought bullying online would decrease if adults spent more time hanging out where there kids were. For dialogue and participation to happen there need to be more spaces to spend time together.

The teenagers we talked to were extremely mindful about a safe online behaviour. They spent a lot of time communicating with others online but they knew where and how they set the borders. As summed up by one of the girls we talked to

”Don’t give out to much information, Don´t post personal images, Don’t let things get to you”
They didn’t approve of techniques that were to invasive and many of them did not want pictures of themselves online.

”It is dangerous to assume that youth are automatically informed. It is also naive to assume that so-called digital immigrants have nothing to offer. Even those who are afraid of technology can offer valuable critical perspective. Neither teens nor adults are monolithic, and there is no magic relation between skills and age. Whether in school or in informal settings, youth need opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge to engage with contemporary technology effectively and meaningfully. Becoming literate in a networked age requires hard work, regardless of age.”

Danah Boyd ”It’s complicated – the social lives of networked teens”

The teenagers we met all thought that they could have a bigger say in societal issues but there was a clear, general sense that the adult world didn’t care much about the opinions of young people, at least not enough to let it really influence anything.

There is also a big gap between systems for influencing in your school and influencing society. Many of the ones we talked to felt that the former worked quite well but that there is no structure for the latter. The researcher Elza Dunkels says in the interview we made with her for this material that it is time we stop making a division between physical and digital spaces. They are to intervene.

One possible conclusion from Breaking Barriers is that we need more physical spaces to support what we want in the digital spaces. Then we will also be able to merge these in new and better ways.


None of the teenagers that took part in Breaking Barriers were explorative in their way of using internet. They quickly settled into a consumer-pattern, watching things and reading blogs recommended by their friends and communicating mainly with people they already knew. One or two brought up the possibility of anonymity as a relief when interacting with new people online. Other than that, the digital world didn’t really offer anything other than the physical, but access. How to find stories that help you, inspire you and challenge you was a real need for the teenagers we met, and where and how to share your own stories. Stories are empowering.

In Breaking Barriers we have met 60 teenagers in conversations and workshops. We have met them in Kista Stockholm, Nacka Stockholm and Sätra Gävle.

We have spoken to youth-leaders, teachers, librarians and others who work with young people, digitalization and democracy.


Hur utbyter du och de du verkar tillsammans med erfarenheter med varandra? How do you exchange experiences and knowledge with those you share your practice with?

Hur gör du och de du verkar tillsammans för att skapa närvaro? How do you make presence together with those you share your practice with?



Hur skapar du tillsammans med de du verkar tillsammans med? How do you create together with those you share your practice with?

Hur gör du och de du verkar tillsammans för att skapa närvaro? How do you make presence together with those you share your practice with?



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Intervju med Elza Dunkels

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