Visions for Europe

“The question with Design Thinking is always whether the ideas that come out of it are not only great, but actionable. There are definitely a few projects which I’ve fallen in love with here,” Andreas concluded on the last day of the Autumn Academy. As a teamer, it was his task to guide the 24 participants through the different steps of Design Thinking, helping them to empathise with people affected by the projects they developed and then come up with many different ideas for solving problems they had identified over the past days.

By the last day, eight different groups had formed around projects aimed at solving problems in the areas of education, labour and rightwing extremism. Throughout the Design Thinking Process, they had often rapidly switched between different areas, questions and proposed solutions tackling everything from sustainable housing projects to unpaid internships. In many cases, they had broken down broad problems to the individual level and then come up with micro-level solutions.

Continue reading

Change the world with marshmallows – and Design Thinking

How to save Europe? Well, it all starts with a couple of spaghetti, some tape and a marshmallow. At least these were the utensils used at the beginning of the Design Thinking process at FES Autumn Academy. Teamer Andreas Karsten, who studied the Design Thinking approach at Standford Unverisity, first challenged participants to build a tower as part of the marshmallow challenge and then to take a glance at a whole new way of looking at things – all with surprisingly feathery results.

In a nutshell, Design-Thinking is a five step process: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test & refine. The method was developed in the 1990s and is by now being used all over the world to design literally everything: From improved vacuum cleaners to new security checks at the airport, to mobile communication systems for nurses in South Africa. The iPod is just one example of a well-known product designed with this process based on human-centered empathy in the background. Today, companies like Air B’n’B, start-ups and even governments use this approach. It was also used to design the idea of Kiron University, which was introduced to the participants of the Academy before. Now, it was their turn to redesign Europe.


When the task was to create the highest possible tower out of the material on the table, most participants took the challenge creatively. First lesson learned from building spaghetti towers: When you put together people of the same mindset, they are more likely to fail. Kids in kindergarten build the highest structures (about one meter), managers build the smallest towers which are even often unstable. „With the marshmallow challenge, you learn how to fail frequently“, says Andreas.

During the first step called „empathise“, participants are collecting possible characters relevant for solving the problem. In our case, considering extremism, this could e.g. be “Mister Anti-Political-Correctness” or a person who says “I am not racist, but…”. Andreas explains: „In a Design Thinking process, you can spend a lot of time describing groups of relevant actors. Of course our collection is biased. We might miss some groups, but that’s okay.“ After participants had collected and clustered possible actors in the fields of education, labour and extremism, they shared their ideas and started to define needs in a step two. „Now we start to focus on possible solutions“, Andreas Karsten said. This was achieved  by turning the needs into questions by asking „How might we…. find a way to increase the fleixibilty of the labour market while at the same time provide adequate security and rights to the workers?”

When reaching step three, participants had to handle transitioning from defining to ideating. Without any limitation, they gathered ideas about how to meet the needs they had identified. Sizing down the number of possible projects helped to sharpen their focus. „Put as many of ideas as possible on the table and filter out the golden ones!“, Andreas encouraged. Throughout the process, participants were allowed to switch topics and groups as they liked in order to access most of their creative potential.

For step four, the groups returned to the shared table, which now had a collection of bizarre objects on it: Glue, tape, feathers, glitter, paper and much more were distributed to build prototypes. Design Thinking is all about early prototyping and losing the fear of failure. Tom and David Kelley of IDEO note, “The reason for prototyping is experimentation—the act of creating forces you to ask questions and make choices. It also gives you something you can show to and talk about with other people. … A prototype is just an embodiment of your idea. It could be a skit in which you act out a service experience, such as visiting the emergency room at a hospital.”

The most important goal of rapid prototyping is to get feedback from users of the final product, service, experience or system. It is the feedback from these users that will generate the data necessary to find the “right” solution to a question or challenge. That’s why participants presented their prototypes to the rest of the group.

The final step five is all about testing the prototype and redefining it. Combining all knowledge from the prior four steps, this step refines and iterates on feedback to create a model that can be tested and implemented. In this phase, the prototype is put into action. Failure should be expected because as with any iterative process, things are not typically perfect at first try. Nevertheless, it might be the first step to redesign Europe, as you can see in our report about the results of the Academy.

If you want to learn more about Design Thinking, you can take a crash course here.


Exit Germany – One way of dealing with right-wing extremists

Just this weekend, the weekly magazine “Der Spiegel” reported that the number of incidents of racist violence had risen twofold in comparison to this time last year (German article). The German government was reportedly concerned about the extreme right’s increased openness and willingness to use violence. Founded in 2000, Exit Germany is one example of dealing with the extreme right – simply by providing a way out. The project was introduced at FES Autumn Academy.

Continue reading

How to save Europe, Laura?

With participants from eleven countries all over Europe, the Autumn Academy brings together young people from many different backgrounds. In a time where the EU is mostly associated with crises, we ask some of them for their take on how to save Europe.


“Right now, Europeans don’t really feel that their actions in their countries affect other people – but the reality is, it is all interlinked. So, I think you need to bring together young people and show them what they have in common in their lives with other Europeans. If they understand how commons laws affect all their lives, they would understand that they need to do something together. If you collaborate, you feel responsible for other people. I want to create a space where young people can collaborate. So, the prototype of that collaboration – in a sense of exchange – is the Erasmus Programme. It is so sad that in countries like Spain the funds have been cut now. It such an easy tool to give people the opportunity to connect with other Europeans. I think we should prioritise that. I dream of united federal states of Europe. Because they way how it is right now, it doesn’t make any sense: We are affected by common policies, but then we only have our own countries’ tools to medicate the effects. So, it’s like saying: Everyone should get on the same level but with their own money. Of course, that creates inequality! In this way we are creating a common framework, a common shell, but the insides are still unequal. I think, people who are sceptical of Europe, they have a point. We should either go back to seperate countries or really unite the countries. I hope that everyone then sees, that returning to national state concept is unreasonable.”

Laura, 23, Anthropologist, Hamburg, Germany

Pros & Cons of the Youth Guarantee

fes_aa_berlin_53When visiting the German Trade Union DGB, participants of the Autum Academy learned a lot about the Youth Policy and the current situation of young workers in Europe. Florian Haggenmiller, National Youth Secretary of the German Trade Union, highlighted how they organised the international trade union youth work and said: „One the biggest topics we are dealing with is the Youth Guarantee.“ Continue reading

Not economic losers, but losers of globalisation

In 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen, then leader of the French Front National, was the first right-wing candidate to reach the final round of France’s presidential election, people were shocked. He ended up losing to a coalition of voters from the two established parties. Twelve years later, the Front National has radically changed the way it is perceived – in huge parts thanks to the new party leader, Marine Le Pen. The daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who would deny that the Holocaust had happened in a talk show every now and then, plays an entirely different game from her father. Since she became party leader in 2011, the Front National has become respectable and seemingly tame without actually abandoning any of its rightwing attitudes from before.

Continue reading

How to save Europe, Kostas?

With participants from eleven countries all over Europe, the Autumn Academy brings together young people from many different backgrounds. In a time where the EU is mostly associated with crises, we ask some of them for their take on how to save Europe.


First of all it would be nice to see that Europe is not all about politicians wearing suits and passing legislation. But how to save Europe, I really don’t know. I don’t feel so much like a European, rather Greek. I was working on the topic of extremism in this workshop. And I have some small ideas I want to tackle, like this one for example: We have this project in Greece where homeless and unemployed people take you on a guided around the city. It’s not abut sightseeing, it’s about the places that mark their lives. This a very emotional tour, you become very empathetic with these people. And I was thinking: Why not do such a tour with people who left the extremist scene? Like the participants of the program called Exit that we learned about in this workshop. I think it is important to focus more on the social factors that push people into an extremist direction. And we all need to develop understanding for that.

Konstantinos, 21, chess teacher in Athens, Greece.

How to save Europe, Miruna?

With participants from eleven countries all over Europe, the Autumn Academy brings together young people from many different backgrounds. In a time where the EU is mostly associated with crises, we ask some of them for their take on how to save Europe.


We need to start with individuals, because they are the core of Europe. The most important thing is to make European citizens understand this complicated European framework and the meaning it has for our life. For example, we could have an awareness campaign to explain which benefits the EU has offered us until now and introduce a subject about Europe in school. We should probably focus on young people – in Romania, I think that young people who do not study European studies do not really understand how the EU works. When I started studying five years ago, after Romania had entered the European Union in 2007, everyone was very positive about it. Now, because of all these problems and the democratic deficit, some people are more eurosceptic, so now is the time when we need to react.

Miruna, 23, Student (European Studies)

What even are European education politics?

Rainald Manthe from the German initiative “Was bildet ihr uns ein?” joined the Academy’s participants to discuss European education politics. Manthe’s initiative focuses on inequalities in the German education system, but for this occasion, he tried to provide an overview of education-related policies on a European level.

Providing such an overview is tricky: Education policies on a European level are few and far between, since education is not part of the areas the EU can legislate in – rather, responsibility lies with the member states. While many prominent educational programs are EU-led or funded, implementation still relies on member states, which was one of the participants’ main criticism. At the same time, experiences with standardisation through the Bologna Process also meant that none of them thought that organising education centrally in Brussels would be a good idea.

Continue reading