What do you do when, after several months of dreaming and designing a program, you launch it and no one signs up? Here are my reflections on gut-feeling, learning from failure and listening to the target group.
Over a year ago, we started dreaming of creating a program for youth that would tackle what we observed to be some of the biggest challenges they face today: dealing with complexity and making decisions in a world full of possibilities, connecting with others and keeping these connections alive and meaningful, and being resilient towards disappointments and able to withstand challenges. The choice for approaching these topics stemmed from our own experience running youth programs and being in close contact with young people across Europe.
We started calling the program Bootcamp4Life – inspired by the coding bootcamps that teach people with a university degree the things they actually need to know to enter the (tech) job market. Just like in the case of coding, traditional education is not able to teach the life skills needed to deal with the challenges mentioned above. So a bootcamp about that seemed adequate.
We applied for funding from a Swiss foundation focusing on youth mobility. The call for proposals shared by the foundation made us think outside the box and come up with an international approach that would allow Swiss youth to learn with and from youth from three different continents. We found partner organizations in Kenya, Brazil and Canada and started drafting a program connecting the young participants through shared immersions in these countries.
Doing our homework
Our proposal got approved by the foundation. After the initial excitement about this financial support, we realized we didn’t know enough yet to design the full program. We had found several reports that confirmed that a growing number of young people struggle with anxiety, stress and mental illness. We also realized that the term “millennial burnout” has become increasingly well-known. But we wanted to find out for ourselves if all of this was really true. For that, we ran an online survey with 50 participants. The result was: 80% of respondents in our target group (aged 18-28) feel overwhelmed with their lives often or very often – compared to less than 50% of respondents aged 29 and above.
When looking more deeply, we identified several differences in what challenges our target group faced compared to the older group:
Whereas “being able to make new friends”, “focus on what is most important to me” and “being ok with things not going as planned” were mentioned much more often by our target group, more older respondents shared that they struggle with time management (“being able to better organize my time”) and worry about their contribution to the world (“being able to change what is wrong in the world today”).
Inspired by these answers, and having to adapt to a budget cut that didn’t allow us to include more than one international partner, we re-designed the Bootcamp4Life as a 3-month blended learning program with immersions in Switzerland and Brazil. The Bootcamp would bring young people together to learn with and from each other and build the competences needed to withstand the challenges they are facing as they are growing up in this complex and globalized world.
Based on our research and the survey, we defined 5 pillars for the program: CONNECTION, BALANCE, GROWTH, PURPOSE and RESILIENCE. We worked with a user experience approach to design the program more concretely, making sure that participants would feel at ease at all steps of the program and would grow their toolset of competences around the 5 pillars along the 3 months.
And then, reality hits
We launched the program with delay because at NOW we are also not immune to stress and conflicting agendas. Looking back, we definitely did not put enough time into spreading the word about the program. The Bootcamp was featured in a newspaper article and in several newsletters, but we didn’t seem to be able to create momentum on social media. We should have certainly done more marketing work.
However, it was only when we were drafting our post and e-mails that we realized just how hard it is to talk about these topics in an open, honest and appealing way… And soon enough we started feeling like this might not actually work out as planned. There was interest in the program when we talked with partner organizations, teachers, parents or other people outside our target group, but somehow we didn’t seem to be able to reach those we actually wanted to join the program.
Doubts started bubbling up: “Is this the right way of approaching this topic?”, “Does it make sense to fly people across the ocean for this?” (I’ll dig deeper into this question in my next blog post), “Might these topics be a bigger taboo than we imagined?” “Are we actually reaching the target group who needs this program the most?”
Listening to your guts
After having designed and re-designed the program several times, we of course feel very attached to it. Yet, with all the questions turning into an elephant in the room, we decided to listen to our guts. And our guts said that we needed to go back to the drawing board. Luckily, Movetia Foundation, who is making this program possible through their funding, was very open to hear about our doubts and is willing to support us in re-thinking the Bootcamp4Life by giving us an extension on the deadline for delivery. “That’s what prototyping is for”, they told us on the phone. So we are accepting our failure and taking this as an opportunity to keep prototyping an experience that helps young people develop what they don’t learn at school.
With that said, we are closing applications for the Bootcamp4Life and will – if our upcoming research shows that it makes sense – be back with a brand-new Bootcamp later this year.
Off we go to the next round of prototyping!