Digital Transformation in the Youth Field

Year of production: 2022

What is Digital Transformation ?

In the European youth field, digital transformation is understood as a multi- stakeholder and inclusive process encompassing the co-design, implementation and utilisation of people-centred digital technologies with and by young people, youth workers and other relevant stakeholders. Digital transformation changes the way most areas of the youth field operate. Digital transformation describes the evolving integration of digital technologies into social, economic, and cultural processes and structures.

Digital transformation refers to both the practical changes in organisational functioning as well as society’s evolving cultural and social norms. The practical application of digital transformation might include the conversion or adaptation of traditional, non-digital and manual processes into digital processes (e.g., going paperless). The evolution of cultural and social norms can be seen in the way digital technologies influence, for example, modes of self-expression, communication and participation (e.g., the use of social media for youth-led campaigns/projects). Young people, youth workers and other relevant stakeholders require appropriate support (e.g., digital literacy education) in order to participate, benefit from and contribute to digital transformation in Europe.

Digital transformation is a dynamic process, and thus its definition cannot be fixed or static. The fast-paced and disruptive nature of digital transformation means that most (if not all) areas of the youth field are impacted by the possible opportunities and challenges digital transformation might bring about. Opportunities might include, for example, the formation of innovative, cross-cultural and time-efficient digital tools and processes in the youth field. Challenges, meanwhile, might be related to people’s lack of digital access or/and skills, which might negatively impact democratic participation and civic space.

The purpose of this definition is not to identify all of these technological changes and the related challenges and opportunities. Instead, it aims to provide an open-ended and people-centred point of reference that ought to be situated in a specific context (e.g., cultural, technological, economical).

Characteristics of a Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Transformation

To date, most digital transformation processes have been primarily corporate-led, externally governed and thus imposed on the youth field. Many stakeholders have had no choice but to adopt and utilise pre-designed tools to sustain an effective delivery of youth services. This means that many stakeholders have been primarily viewed as consumers, users and end receivers of the digital transformation changes in Europe.

To ensure a sustainable and inclusive digital transformation of the youth field in Europe, we propose the following areas of considerations. This definition and these considerations have been informed by desk-based literature review analysis and input from the Advisory Board involved in the co-creation of the digital transformation’s definition for the European youth field.

  1. Multistakeholderism and participation

    Meaningful participation should be central to European efforts to co-create and sustain digital transformative processes in an inclusive, informed and democratic way. Whenever possible, digital transformation efforts should be approached as a multi- stakeholder and inclusive process – encompassing the co-design, implementation and utilisation of people-centred digital technologies with and by young people, youth workers, educators (formal and non-formal), youth workers and other relevant stakeholders. Meaningful and informed participation should be seen as an essential mechanism to ensure that the youth sector’s needs are reflected in all topics concerning digital transformation (e.g., digitalisation of youth work services, online safety, AI-driven innovation). Meaningful and informed participation should also take place at all stages and in all areas of digital transformation.

  2. Digital skills and education

    In order to respond to the challenges (e.g., disinformation, data profiling) and opportunities (e.g., innovative digital education solutions) related to digital transformation, stakeholders might require skills such as critical digital literacy, media literacy, data and AI literacy, and many more. All stakeholders should be supported in obtaining and developing their digital skills and competencies. Digital transformation also requires an agile mindset, whereby education is not seen as set in stone, but rather as a responsive and adaptable process of life-long learning. Digital transformation processes have a detrimental impact on the rapidly evolving civic, environmental and socio-economic (e.g., new forms of employment) landscapes. The European youth non-formal education settings need to be systematically supported to empower all young people (and all stakeholders) to become confident, conscious and informed citizens, employees and consumers. To this end, youth workers and youth leaders should be supported and motivated in building their capacity and competencies related to digital transformation.

  3. Access and infrastructure

    Reliable internet access and efficient digital infrastructure are crucial in the European youth sector. In order to address any digital inequalities in Europe, all stakeholders should be provided with affordable access to digital devices and access to the internet. Any youth-focused digital transformation efforts should aim to address the needs of some of the socially, economically and digitally excluded youth. To operate within and respond to digital transformation, the European youth field requires an appropriate digital infrastructure that would enable the implementation of the evolving technologies and technological processes (e.g., next-generation technologies such as 5G).

  4. Strategy

    Digital transformation is an evolutionary process that requires a strategic and collaborative approach. Any efforts that aim to define the EU’s youth field digital transformation strategy should be built upon the EU Youth Strategy and the European Youth Goals. Any strategic efforts should therefore strive to engage, empower and connect young people (as well as all relevant stakeholders) so they can participate in the development of any digital transformation policies.

  5. Innovation

    Digital transformation offers opportunities to co-create innovative solutions in the European youth sector. In many parts of Europe, digital technologies have already provided opportunities to create innovative non-formal youth projects, reinvigorate youth participation and facilitate intercultural exchange. Digital technologies should be considered when co-creating and deploying solutions for youth-related and societal challenges. It is important to acknowledge that digital transformation might bring about additional changes in the future in how the European youth field operates. These changes might relate to the practical implementation of youth work practice (e.g., using online communication tools, going paperless); the organisational structures and hierarchies; and the understanding of the youth field and youth work itself. Therefore, all stakeholders should be provided with support in understanding and exploring forms of innovation linked to digital transformation.

  6. Sustainability

    Any digital transformational process should be assessed on its potential environmental impact. The EU’s youth sector should aim to consider how/if digital transformational processes and projects might affect the climate crisis. Sustainability in digital transformation should also be seen as an approach that aims to create responsive, sustainable and long-lasting digital solutions.

  7. Ethics

    The ethical considerations of the digital transformation process should be examined (and continually assessed) at all levels of digital transformation (e.g., Europe wide, local projects). Any European wide digital transformation processes should be grounded in human rights and European values. Young people and youth workers/leaders (along with other relevant stakeholders) should be able to exercise their digital citizenship without surveillance, data profiling and algorithmic manipulation. To achieve this, there should be ongoing dialogue between the stakeholders, European bodies and the private sector to ensure that all technological changes are youth-centred/people-centred and do not entail any risks to young people’s human rights to participation, privacy and self-determination.

  8. Digital well-being

    Young people are among the first generation raised in the digital age. Most (if not all) aspects of their well-being are affected by digital transformation. So far, it is difficult to predict how digital technologies will impact the well-being of young people in the long term. That is why it is important to continue to analyse and respond to any arising challenges and opportunities related to digital well-being.


Photo of Dr Alicja Pawluczuk
Dr Alicja Pawluczuk

Dr Alicja Pawluczuk is an ICTD Research Fellow at the United Nations University, and a Strategic Consultant on defining Digital Transformation at SALTO PI. Alicja’s research and community education practice focuses on digital youth work, youth digital inclusion, and gender digital inclusion.