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Social scientists and game designers team up to get the environment on young people's agenda

30 June 2015

Sociologists, psychologists and game designers at Abertay University are teaming up to take part in a research project that will help get young people across Europe interested in – and politically engaged with – environmental issues.

The €3.09 million project (€201,850 of which has been awarded to Abertay) is funded through Horizon 2020 – the EU’s largest ever research and innovation programme – and will be an international collaboration between 13 different organisations in nine countries across the continent.

The EU believes that it is essential to get young people engaged with environmental policies, and the project – known as STEP (Societal and political engagement of young people in environmental issues) – will offer an innovative new way in which to improve it.

The project will create a platform (web, mobile) aimed at young people aged 18-29 and will be piloted in five municipalities in Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Once it has been tested, it will be made available to young people across the continent – as well as those right here in the UK.

Each project partner will bring something different to the table, with Abertay using its expertise in user-research, co-design, game design and evaluation to help turn the platform from a concept into a real tool that can be used to get young people across Europe thinking about the environment.

In addition to the pilot municipalities, Abertay will be working with SMEs in Sweden, Greece, Spain and Turkey who will use their technical expertise to build the mobile platform; one other research institute – The Centre for Research and Technology Hellas in Greece; and the Youth and Environment Europe (YEE) association based in the Czech Republic.

Dr Stefano De Paoli, Lecturer in Sociology at Abertay who will be leading the University’s involvement in the project, explains:

“Our role in this project at Abertay is to carry out research with the user prior to and during the development of the new software so that we can define what they would want and what they need in order to be able to use it successfully.

“As well as having this expertise in user-research, we also specialise in co-design, which is where the people who the software is aimed at are involved in the design process. It is a way of empowering the user.

“The five municipalities involved in the project will act as the pilot regions, so it is mainly the young people and policymakers in these areas that we will be speaking to and working with.

“The information we gather will be used by the partner SMEs to start creating the platform, but we’ll be involved here too, as this is where the co-design element comes in: we’ll bring the designers together with the young people they are building the platform for and get them working together to create something that is truly usable and properly informative.

“We’ll also be involved in making the platform more engaging. This is where we’ll bring in our expertise in game design and gamification. Gamification is where you bring elements from game design into applications that aren’t traditionally seen as games, for example the use of badges to foster learning and recognition of skills as in the Open Badges project.

“We’ll share our expertise in this area with the designers which will mean not only that the app is more fun and engaging, but also that the SMEs involved in the project will be able to take this new knowledge away and use it in other areas of their work.”

The final element of Abertay’s involvement will be in evaluating the project at the end. This will determine how successful it has been – how engaged the young people have been in the process and how engaged they are in using the platform they have helped to create.

Once this has been established, it will be possible to launch the platform across the EU.

The project will run from June 2015 to November 2017.


For media enquiries please contact Kirsty Cameron T: 01382 308935 M: 07972172158 E:

Notes to Editors:

  • Five academics from Abertay will be involved in STEP: Dr Stefano De Paoli – a sociologist who has expertise in user-research; Dr Ken Scott-Brown – a visual perception psychologist who has expertise in co-design; Professor Gregor White and Dr Euan Dempster who both have expertise in game design.

Dr. Paula Forbes – an expert in user-research – will be the postdoctoral researcher working on the project.

  • STEP - Societal and political engagement of young people in environmental issues (No 649493) has been funded under the European Commission’s Young Society branch of the Horizon 2020 programme: YOUNG-5b-2014.
  • The total budget for the project is €3.09 million with the EU contributing €2.56 million.
  • The consortium coordinator is DRAXIS Environmental S.A. in Greece.
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