When AI makes it possible to explore the aspirations of young people: a look at the Youth Talks project


Young people around the world have a role to play in the face of the major challenges facing our societies, from climate change to growing inequalities, including the collapse of biodiversity and political instability. However, 76% of tomorrow’s young leaders believe that the older generation ignores their vital interests, and 50% of senior leaders share this opinion .

If we wish, together, to build a more just and sustainable future, it becomes essential to understand the aspirations of younger generations, their fears and their hopes.

With this in mind, national or international initiatives, public or private, have sought to better understand these young people through various surveys. We can cite those of The Conversation , the Montaigne Institute , the European Parliament , the World Economic Forum , Deloitte , UNESCO … These studies often shed new light on different issues, and the robustness of their results is based on the participation of a large number of people (between 1000 and 27000) but the responses of the participants are based on a predefined framework since they can often only select one choice from a series of proposals, and/or give their opinion via graduated scales (called Likert scales , such as “Disagree at all” – “Agree completely”).

To capture the words of this generation in all its nuances and complexity, the Youth Talks study adopted another approach with the use of advanced technologies based on AI. A look back at this global initiative which makes it possible to bring out all the richness and diversity of their perspectives.

Renewing qualitative surveys on youth with AI

Youth Talks, a project of the Higher Education for Good (HE4G) Foundation , brings together more than 55 partners, including the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and the Club of Rome (at the origin of the famous Meadows – Les report limits to growth ), as well as leading universities, global youth organizations and political institutions. Nearly 2,300 young ambassadors from all regions of the world actively support and promote the project in their communities.

Thanks to these multiple collaborations, the first edition of this consultation received nearly a million contributions from more than 46,000 young people in 212 countries and territories, in different formats of expression (text, images, soundtracks or videos), which which makes it today the largest global consultation of young people (15-29 years old) based on open questions. Also, to give voice, body and face to these multiple young people, a series of 80 interviews was carried out around the world.

Participants map. Study Youth Talks , Provided by the author

Obtaining this type of data, at this scale, represents a certain challenge, which cannot be met by a traditional qualitative research approach. A specially dedicated massive collective intelligence platform was developed, which was able to address three major challenges:

  • ensure that multiple functions remain simple and accessible to promote inclusion;
  • manage a very large number of simultaneous connections;
  • manage multiple linguistic characters (Latin, Chinese, Arabic).

But the real innovation lies in data analysis, which cannot be based on traditional methods either. Thus, numerous artificial intelligence algorithms allowing automatic natural language processing (NLP), image recognition, conversion of audio data into text, and semantic analysis have enabled the identification of different themes and subthemes. This analysis was supervised and finalized by a team of experts.

Finally, the consultation uses so-called convenience sampling: it is the accessibility, capacity and willingness of people that enabled their participation. However , various statistical analyses , led by a dedicated scientific committee, made it possible to validate the representativeness of this sample. This provides a degree of confidence that the ideas and trends revealed by this consultation are not mere artifacts of a self-selected group of participants, but reflect a broader sentiment among the world’s youth.

Diversity and tensions: key results from Youth Talks

The results, available online , provide insight into the aspirations and fears of the world’s youth. One of the dominant themes highlighted by Youth Talks is the importance that young people place on understanding and learning human values ​​(respect, solidarity, open-mindedness, empathy). They want this learning to be at the heart of education, which remains very far from current practices. The youth of the world challenge today’s educators to transform what they teach, to focus on the need to relearn how to live together and interact harmoniously with each other.

When asked what they wanted for the world of tomorrow, the priority of young people, wherever or almost they are, is peace. Environmental protection comes next, especially in certain regions of the world such as Africa and South America. Young people want fewer wars, less violence and more harmony. When asked, mirror-image, what worries them most about the future of the world, war and armed conflict also come out on top, just behind environmental deterioration.

A clear and significant divide between young people in the West and their counterparts in the rest of the world on some key issues was also highlighted. Young people in the West seem more anchored in material concerns, while those in the rest of the world seem driven by the fear of unfulfilled dreams and unfulfilled aspirations. Their financial situation is the main concern of young Westerners: around 30% of them mentioned it as their priority, compared to only 10% of other participants.

Although young people appear willing to make many sacrifices for society to progress in the direction they want, Youth Talks revealed significant disparities in the scale and nature of the sacrifices they want. are ready to consent. Young Westerners appear less willing to give up material comfort to enable broader social progress: 25% of them mentioned it as something they were not ready to give up, compared to less than 5% of participants elsewhere in the world, who are more afraid of having to give up their ambitions, their identity or their family and loved ones.

Furthermore, in Europe, if 40% of participants say they are ready to reduce their material consumption, 28% firmly resist the idea of ​​such a sacrifice. These tensions within our societies are important and cannot be ignored by decision-makers.

Of course, these few lessons are only a simple overview of the richness of Youth Talks results. Making full sense of it requires caution and humility, and requires a multidisciplinary scientific approach. We therefore appeal to researchers around the world to make the most of the unique opportunity represented by the wealth of data that has been collected so that they contribute, through their work, to build a future that meets the expectations of today’s young people.

Author Bios: Yoann Guntzburger is Professor of Management and Marine Hadengue is Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship both at SKEMA Business School

Kristy Anamoutou is the CPO & COO of the technical partner of the Youth Talks project, Bluenove, participated in the writing of this article