UNICEF Kid Power Research & Design Workshop

UNICEF Kid Power Research & Design Workshop

Project / Behavior Change

Exploring Ways to Increase the Impact of a Pro-social Engagement Program

UNICEF Kid Power is a website-enabled program active in schools across the country to empower 3rd to 5th graders to get active and save lives. The program connects kids’ everyday activity – like moving, dancing, playing and learning – to real-world impact around the world and in local communities across the United States. By participating in Kid Power, kids unlock therapeutic food packets which UNICEF delivers to severely malnourished children worldwide. Kids also earn Kid Power Coins, a virtual currency-for-good, which they get to give to the local causes they most care about, be it delivering meals or planting trees.

“It’s lonely saving the world by yourself.”
— Kid Power User

UNICEF Kid Power

UNICEF Kid Power launched in 2014 as the world’s first Wearable-for-Good® and quickly became one of the largest ed-tech programs reaching underserved US elementary schools. Kid Power had reached over a half a million children, but the reliance on hardware was preventing the program from scaling further. In 2018, the program underwent a shift to a fully web-based option, in order to increase access and impact for entire classrooms of kids and their teachers, who may not have activity-tracking wristbands but still want to get active and save lives. The new version of the product uses videos in the classroom to get kids up and moving and participating in these video experiences gives whole classrooms the ability to unlock the food packets and earn coins together.

As that shift took place, the UNICEF team was interested in exploring how they might maximize the program’s motivational power and its effects on the prosocial empowerment and social-emotional skills of the kids exposed to the program. In November 2018, the UNICEF team engaged Hopelab in a two-day research and design workshop in which we shared learnings on the benefits of help-giving and the power of prosocial motivation, ideated ways to boost potential empowerment and social-emotional effects of the Kid Power program, and mapped research approaches to evaluate its effectiveness.

Hopelab gathered members from our research, strategy, and design teams to convene with the Kid Power team for a sprint-style workshop. The team focused on simplifying the product offering and amplifying the sense of purpose created through the product experience. Here are some of our most compelling moments from the time we spent together.

The Power of Mattering

Hopelab shared the research on the incredible effects of feeling like you matter, that you are making a meaningful contribution to the world and especially to other people, on our health, wellbeing, motivation, and sense of community. Even young kids benefit from seeing how they can contribute and use their gifts, talents, and energy to make a difference for others. The science calls this “prosocial behavior” and the evidence is clear – it’s a powerful source of health and motivation. The Kid Power team knew they were already tapping into this energy with their product. As a teacher in Texas shared, “I had a student who was homeless, living in a shelter. He kept a tally of all the food packets he unlocked in his notebook and would share with his family every night. He felt empowered and developed a sense of self-worth by helping others.

I had a student who was homeless, living in a shelter. He kept a tally of all the food packets he unlocked in his notebook and would share with his family every night. He felt empowered and developed a sense of self-worth by helping others.

As another teacher in California shared, “I am from a very low-income area where 100% of my students are eligible for free lunch. We have regular sessions to discuss the dangers of joining gangs, and last week a student came up and said, “I’m not going to take lives, I’m going to save them, and I already am!

But what was really powerful was the insight that core academic, and life success skills like teamwork, empathy, and persistence could all be potentially enhanced though Kid Power’s ability to connect kids’ every day actions and learning with the real ability to do good in the world and make a tangible difference for kids just like them all around the world. So how might we harness this in easy to use content for teachers so that classrooms get double the “bang for the buck” – improved social, emotional and academic skills for kids AND empowered, inspired young people who are experiencing the power of their efforts to make a difference in the world? This was a lightbulb moment for our group – and a lens through which we could focus our approach to the Kid Power product evolution.

I am from a very low-income area where 100% of my students are eligible for free lunch. We have regular sessions to discuss the dangers of joining gangs, and last week a student came up and said, “I’m not going to take lives, I’m going to save them, and I already am!

Play that Works

This was where the magic really started to come together. The Hopelab team shared key learnings from our own work with kids, classroom teachers, physical activity, and play-based interventions. We knew, for example, from our work on Zamzee, that to get kids more physically active, it was key to tap into intrinsic motivation and kid-driven fun. And from our time working directly with public elementary school teachers and classrooms in South Carolina, we knew: that in order to be successful, any approach must be part of the ecosystem for teachers so that it’s not thought of as an “add-on” but as something that fits into the existing SEL and curriculum goals the school already has. And, perhaps most importantly, it must solve problems for teachers, rather than create them. Which means, if teachers are looking for brief moments to help them make transitions, “get the wiggles out” before focusing a class on a math lesson, or creating opportunities to work together effectively, a successful classroom product needs to solve those, while delivering on its social, emotional, and academic skills goals. If the product can achieve those things, it will be a success. And it turns out that moments of thoughtfully-designed “play” can achieve all this and more. And Kid Power happened to have these moments squarely in mind.

As the Kid Power team shared more about the product and the idea that the physical activity videos could provide needed “brain breaks” during the school day, a lightbulb went off for the Hopelab team. We immediately saw the synergy with Brain Games, an intervention designed by Dr. Stephanie Jones at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to engage moments of play to build and practice executive function and self-regulation in the classroom. Brain Games are designed to be fun and easy-to-play games that teachers can do at interstitial moments in their day and can more easily fit into what are often packed schedules for teachers and students. Hopelab had worked with Dr. Jones on refining and studying Brain Games in 2015 and found that teachers did want “brain break” tools but that these needed to be very simple to implement and integrate into daily practice. We shared those learnings with the Kid Power team and validated their instincts that short, easy to use videos might be particularly appealing and useful to teachers.

“I felt very focused and energized after our session where we talked about the ingredients of our product and did exercises to see what we could do to bring them out in different features.”
— Kid Power Team Member

The AHA Moment

After a full first day of discussions, the Kid Power Team had an AHA moment about the need to simplify the product offering and to focus on its most important and promising elements. The Kid Power team realized they needed to refine their product offering to do just a few core things, and do them extremely well. The Kid Power team showed up to Day Two with a revised product road map, vastly simplified, but that doubled down on empowering kids and making them feel like they were making a difference through short simple “brain break” activities. It was clear that the team had thought about the need to give teachers a tool they could use in the moment and with ease, but that also had tangible and observable benefits for their students and their classrooms.

Both teams spent the second day of the workshop honing in on the features that really might help make the product a success, and the metrics and research designs they might pursue to validate its effectiveness.

Partnering for Impact

A valuable outcome of the two-day workshop was the connection made between Dr. Stephanie Jones and the Kid Power team. Brain Games is a set of 27 short, adaptable games that fit easily into the regular breaks in a school day. Early research suggests the games help effectively build critical executive functioning skills like paying attention, working memory, and following directions. And like the brain breaks the Kid Power team was experimenting with, Brain Games builds on a strong evidence base linking physical activity to improved social, emotional, and academic outcomes.

We were all excited about the potential synergy. Soon after the workshop, a connection was made between the UNICEF team and Dr. Jones, resulting in a powerful conversation that validated the direction of the Kid Power project and strategically moved it forward.

What’s Next for Kid Power?

Over the course of the last 18 months, the Kid Power team wrestled with leaving behind a product users loved and the only revenue model they had, but through a pivot, they have a massively scalable service which can deliver empowerment to children in America. Now the team will begin work figure out a revenue model and are at work with tech companies to integrate the Kid Power mobile experience into their hardware and streaming platforms as well as exploring ways to leverage payment platforms as the back-end for the Kid Power Exchange – a new feature that’s the world’s first kid-directed giving platform.

The Kid Power product has empowered 750,000 kids across the U.S. and saved the lives of 75,000 children around the world and they are looking to increase their impact even more with a strong partnership with WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).

Check out some of the content they’ve co-produced as part of the brain breaks content module.

Dance with No Way Jose (WWE-Kid Power)
What Are Your Values? (WWE-Kid Power)
Dance like Fireflies (Les Mills-Kid Power)
Wishes for the World


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