Norwegian high schools have high dropout rates. Dropout has negative consequences for young adults' health and labor market participation and can contribute to long-term social exclusion. Additionally, the large differences in employment between ethnic Norwegians and immigrants can be explained by differences in education. Mentoring programs, which connect youth (mentees) with volunteer adults (mentors) in a supportive relationship can act in a preventive fashion. For example, several meta-analyses from the United States suggest that youth mentoring programs can have positive, although modest, effects on a range of academic, health, and psychosocial outcomes. Nevertheless, such programs have few traditions in Norway. A scoping literature review completed during this project indicates there has been little research on mentoring for immigrants, individuals outside the labor market, or youth at risk of dropout in Norway. Additionally, there is a paucity of research regarding the development, implementation, and use of technology to support mentoring interventions.
The objective of this project has been to develop and pilot test a digital platform to support mentoring and the development of social capital among multicultural youth participating in mentoring programs. Strong social capital is associated with better health, positive educational outcomes, and employment. As part of this, we assessed user experiences and needs for digital support in the context of mentoring. Additionally, we wished to examine user experiences with the developed platform via a pilot study. Meaningful user involvement has also been a key goal throughout the project, as the project name "By and for young people" suggests.
Interviews and focus groups with mentoring program participants (mentors/adult volunteers and mentees/youth) were used to assess their experiences and needs within the context of mentoring. Respondents reported needs such as facilitating connections with other people and aligning expectations between mentors and mentees. Both mentors and mentees expressed a desire to share their experiences and exchange advice with their peers. The mentees indicated a wish for support in achieving their personal goals. Respondents also emphasized a desire for high levels of IT security, due to unfortunate experiences using social media. Additionally, they underscored that any digital support should not replace the mentoring relationship but should only be used to supplement and strengthen it.
Based on these needs and experiences expressed by program participants, a digital platform to support mentoring was developed. Main elements in the secure virtual environment included: 1) a timeline with dates for program meetings and events, 2) a toolbox with articles and exercises, and 3) a peer support forum for mentors and mentees, respectively, to share experiences and offer support. This first iteration of the developed platform was pilot tested among three groups of program participants. Analysis of platform use data, interviews, focus groups, and survey data indicated a need for additional adjustments, particularly in light of usability. Other user experience challenges identified included language barriers and an initial lack of clarity in the purpose of using the digital platform. These insights were utilized to inform new iterations of digital support for use in mentoring programs with multicultural youth.
This project has been led by the Department of Digital Health Research at Oslo University Hospital. Partners include Catalysts, Fretex, Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV), Norwegian Center for eHealth Research, Halmstad University (Sweden) and NORCE-Norwegian Research Centre (Social Sciences).
Prosjektet har bidratt til mentoring som forskningsfelt via publisering og foredrag. I den samarbeidende mentoringvirksomheten har prosjektet bidratt til kompetanseheving. Det ble økt forståelse for forskningens betydning. Partneren har fått et mer forskningsbasert program og har tatt i bruk surveyinstrumenter utviklet i prosjektet. Utvikling av en digital plattform har også bidratt til læring. Både med tanke på hvordan det kan støtte rekruttering, opplæring og oppfølging, men også når det gjelder hva det ikke kan løse i relasjonsbygging. Erfaringene har åpnet for nye samarbeidsmuligheter for organisasjonen, der plattformen er en del i utviklingen av nye prosjekter for å fremme mangfold i næringslivet. Gjennom prosjektet har involvering av ungdommene vært en viktig målsetting. Mange av de har bidratt med innspill, og noen med bloggskriving, samt planlegging og deltakelse i konferansepanel. Dette bidro til økt forståelse og interesse for forskning, også som en mulig karrierevei.
Alarmingly, young people with mild or moderate mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression constitute the fastest growing group on welfare benefits in Norway. Since several of these conditions worsen with inactivity and social isolation, school dropout and/or early phases of sick leave due to poor mental health are increasingly characterized as 'disability traps' that are hard to reverse. Only 65% of youth with minority background are in schooling or employed compared to 86% of ethnic Norwegian youth.
Our proposed cross-sector innovation Resiliency at Work (R@W) targets youth at risk before sector-specific labels - diagnosis/health, unemployment/NAV, drop-out/school - take hold, or at least immediately thereafter. We merge state-of-the-art e-health research and tools with the social entrepreneurship models Catalysts and Fretex to support three youth groups; minorities, refugees minors and ethnic Norwegians. R@W combines three components in a secure virtual environment: mentoring, peer-support, and a tailorable self-help toolbox. R@W; 1) incorporates e-health, Appreciative Inquiry, and resiliency research into its content and functionality, 2) applies emerging technology and design approaches (e.g., positive computing, persuasive technology, gamification) that can boost user engagement and learning, 3) facilitates links to community, and 4) explores models whereby young people themselves can increase the scalability of R@W as a social entrepreneurship initiative within the broader community. Our long-term aim is to show that programs designed to promote skills and employment among at-risk youth are more effective when augmented with R@W than when they are not.
This 3-year project is led by Center for Shared Decision Making and Collaborative Care Research (CSDM) at Oslo University Hospital. Partners include Catalysts, Fretex, the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV), Norwegian Center for eHealth Research, and Halmstad University, Sweden.