Ethnic Minority Immigrant Youth as Information Mediaries

About InfoMe

Ethnic Minority Immigrant Youth as Information Mediaries:

Teen Design Days, Youth Survey, Train-the-Trainer Workshops

Karen E. Fisher, Professor, University of Washington Information School (
Philip Fawcett, Principal Program Manager, Microsoft Research (
Ann P. Bishop, Associate Professor, University of Illinois (
Lassana Magassa, PhD Candidate, University of Washington Information School (

InfoMe is an innovative research program that explores and facilitates how youth, especially ethnic minority, help other people with everyday life situations through information and technology.  InfoMe grew from our past work, funded by the U. S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which showed two-thirds of people (n=45,000) used library computers on behalf of someone else in the past twelve months (Becker, et al., 2010).  These InfoMes (Info-Mediaries) tend to be young, non-white, non-native English speakers, suggesting ethnic minority youth are key for understanding the information needs of their respective populations, passing on needed information to otherwise hidden users (especially non-English speaking, non-library users), and identifying the greater range of how libraries help.  This finding—meaningful in the U.S., immigration context where one in nine people are foreign born (Census, 2010)—also holds global import as people move by choice or are displaced through crisis and disaster.  For society, while diversity brings incredible richness, it also belies responsibility for helping immigrants participate fully in a new life. However, the needs for help with everyday life, particularly through information services, are acute (Burke, 2008), due to an influx of immigrants from new countries, settlement outside traditional gateways, and more complex language, cultural, social, physical and financial barriers.

Youth are keys to providing information and technology assistance to others, especially older kin; however, little research and design activities have explored this experiential role. We use mixed methods to understand InfoMes and how their crucial community work can be supported by information literacy initiatives and other means. The research is both inductive and iterative, pulling in frameworks and methods from information behavior, social network analysis, human-computer interaction, and youth development.  It premises research as fun and the youth as active participants, co-researchers, in the research and design process.  The goal is to develop theoretical understanding of the InfoMe phenomenon from a broad network perspective and forge new methods in the process, while creating InfoMe tools with and for youth and community providers and tracking long-term impact.

Teen Design Days (TDDs): Supported by the IMLS, Microsoft Global Community Affairs, Microsoft Research, University of Washington, builds on our 2011-12 pilot with Somali youth. Modifying Meyers, Fisher and Marcoux’s (2007) Tween Day Methodology, it comprises multi-day workshops called “Teen Design Days (TDDs).” Through multi-day, audio-video-recorded workshops, we learn how and why immigrant and refugee youth act as Info-Mes within their social networks, especially their ethnic communities, and how they can be supported through technology and information services.  During TDDs (Fawcett, et. al., 2013; Fisher, et al., Forthcoming; Fisher, et al., 2013) we focus on how:

  • Youth surface the needs of others, communicate/provide information and technical help, and how they create, remix, and manage information;
  • Elders and others engage with youth and benefit from provided assistance; and,
  • These behaviors can be uncovered and integrated with design thinking, in order to translate their InfoMe experiences into ideas for information system and service design.

TDDs are held at libraries and community centers where youth reflect on their InfoMe behavior using social network mapping tools and cultural probes involving storytelling, images, and dramatic play. The Design Thinking premise of inspiration-ideation-implementation, along with smart phones and other devices and applications, is used to devise ways of facilitating teens’ current and future InfoMe behaviors. TDDs are framed around meeting teens’ developmental needs for physical activity, competence and achievement, self-definition, creative expression, positive social interaction, structure and clear limits, meaningful participation in cross-culturally and gender appropriate ways that highlight new experiences, great food, respect and fun. TDDs end with a community showcase where the teens share their experience with their parents, project funders, instructors, case workers, and city staff, who select designs for further development.

InfoMe School Survey: A paper-based, in-person survey conducted in classrooms selected in 6 King County and Tukwila schools via stratified random sampling with over 500 youth (ages 14-19) to generate a broad, generalizable understanding of InfoMe behavior builds on our TDD findings. The survey questions are designed around immigrant activities-of-daily-living (ADLs). The survey findings, in turn, will be used to conduct follow-up TDDs and include paper prototyping of info mediary designs and services, and focusing on public library-community agency innovation. Of 9,214 public library systems in the United States, 75% serve patrons from over 30 countries, some up to 200 nationalities. Libraries are thus poised to provide solutions and local leadership that can benefit entire immigrant communities and affect policy making.  InfoMe thus seeks to empower youth through information literacy, computer and Internet services and other innovations at public libraries.

Train-the-Trainer TDD Workshops with library and community organization staff, faculty, and students on designing services for info mediary youth in local and international venues is a key feature of the InfoMe program. We provide training workshops and consulting where participants implement ideas using their own contexts, and our online Toolkit will be soon available.

InfoMe is forging an innovative, integrated understanding of the relationships among information, technology, design, and empowerment in youth populations. The study can make a meaningful difference to people, locally and globally, by: (1) expanding the current paradigm of information literacy to reflect both informal information flow across social relationships and how library expertise can support inherent behaviors, especially around information needs, creating, sharing, and personal information management; (2) increasing our understanding of the information worlds of today’s immigrants, particularly regarding service and policy implications; (3) elaborating on our theoretical understanding of how and why people engage in Info-Me behavior and its inherent micro-behaviors—little systematic examination has addressed it; (4) adapting the Tween Day methodology to teens, with distinctive socio-demographic and developmental characteristics; (5) conducting Train-the-Trainer TDD Workshops, and developing specifications for tools for library and community organization staff to use in support of immigrants and other users; and, (6) suggesting design specifications for prototypes and applications to support InfoMes.

Partners: King County Library System, Seattle Public Library, Horn of Africa Services, Vietnamese Friendship Association, YMCA of Greater Seattle; and University of Washington Survey Development Research Group (Consultant).


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Burke, S. K. (2008). Public library resources used by immigrant households. Public Libraries, 47(4), 32-41.

Census of the United States (2010).

Fisher, K. E., Bishop, A., Magassa, L., & Fawcett, P. (2013). InfoMe @ teen design days: A multi

variable, design thinking approach to community development. ICTD 2013: International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Development. December 7-10, 2013, Cape Town, South Africa. ACM.

Fisher, K. E., Bishop, A., Fawcett, P., & Magassa, L. (Forthcoming). InfoMe: A field-design methodology for research on ethnic minority youth as information mediaries. In D. Bilial & J. Beheshti (Eds.), New Directions in Children and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research. UK: Emerald.

Fawcett, P., Fisher, K. E., Bishop, A., & Magassa, L. (2013). Using design thinking to empower ethnic minority immigrant

youth in their roles as technology and information mediaries. ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Paris, France.

Meyers, E. M., Fisher, K. E., & Marcoux, E. (2007).  Studying the everyday information behavior of tweens: Notes from the field. Library & Information Science Research, 29(3), 310-331.