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Idea Houses

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In order to promote civic participation and engaged citizenry among youth, develop skills, and provide an opportunity for youth to interact within a local community, IDEA would like to develop Idea Houses in selected locations throughout its network and in new countries. In order to accomplish this goal, IDEA would like to partner with its members, develop new partnerships and cooperate with interested communities, which have identified increasing youth participation and providing opportunities to youth as their priorities.

The concept of an Idea House is comprised of a few vital components: it is a safe, accessible place for young people who choose to meet and socialise in an informal setting; it provides opportunities to participate in discussions and debates on the issues affecting the lives of young people and their communities (through public debates, round-tables, open community forums, etc.); it offers opportunities to develop skills and confidence through a variety of youth centered interactive programs (adapted and developed to meet the specific needs of young people) as well as positively affecting change in the local community.

Idea House will operate a number of programs for young people with a special focus on disadvantaged youth and communities (often minority youth). The main focus of the programmatic activity would be debate and Idea Houses will provide training and instruction in debate to young people and support organization of regular public debates. In addition to debate education and training Idea Houses would also operate additional programs and services for youth and their communities that would include:

1. Educational programs: Training and capacity building for youth looking to make the transition to employment - vocational training, etc.

2. Life-skills programs: Providing information on a variety of different issues (e.g. HIV/AIDS prevention, drugs, career choices, etc.)

3. Juvenile justice: An important aspect of these centers will be providing youth with information and access to legal resources.

4. Financial Management and Business Education: Micro-finance and credit for social entrepreneurship.

Idea Houses would have internet access with a program encouraging the creation of using ICT to produce traditional and new media - streaming radio, pod-casts, etc. (with training being available for youth to take advantage of these opportunities).

In order to achieve sustainability, apart from fund raising (institutional and corporate), Debate Houses will be engaged in revenue generating activity (cafe, Internet centre, membership fees, etc.)
Although similar, in some aspects, to different forms of youth centresIdea Houses place a greater priority in the following areas: one, linking young people with the community in which they live; two, establishing and maintaining a dialogue between different members of the community aimed at addressing the very issues challenging local communities; three, providing youth with argumentation, debate, and communicative skills. It is expected that Idea Houses will become meeting points for different generations, ethnic groups, and professional groups to congregate and engage one another in a friendly and stimulating environment for the development of the community.

The involvement and initiative of young people in Idea Houses is crucial for the success of the projects and special emphasis must be placed on young peoples participation and ownership of the programs and projects operated by the each facility. The main principle should be that Idea Houses are supported but_ not_ led by adults with the young people given the opportunity to design their own programmes and activities whilst developing a sense of community and participation.


Idea House is based on a strong belief in the power of young people and communities in which they live to affect positive change from within. This principle is further articulated and elaborated in the following set of values:

  • Principle of SELF-DETERMINATION – members of local communities can best determine what they need and want and that, to the greatest degree possible, they should be involved in making such judgements;
  • Principle of LOCALIZATION - services, programs, and events that are brought closest to where people live have the greatest potential for high levels of public participation and that, to the greatest degree possible, all such activities should be decentralized to locations of easy public access;
  • Principle of SELF HELP – members of local communities are best served when they have the capacity to serve themselves and that people should be encouraged to assume ever-increasing responsibility for their own well-being, thereby building independence and interdependence rather than dependence. This principle also incorporates the notion that leadership development is an essential and continual outcome of the community education process as it functions in communities;
  • Principle of INTEGRATED SERVICE DELIVERY - organizations and agencies that operate for the public good can better utilize their limited resources, meet their own goals, and better serve the public through the proactive involvement of their respective constituencies and close working relationships with organizations and agencies with related purposes;
  • Principle of MAXIMUM RESOURCE UTILIZATION - physical, financial, and human resources of every community must be utilized to their fullest, if the diverse needs and interests of communities are to be met;
  • Principle of TOTAL COMMUNITY - the segregation of people by age, income, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or other factors inhibits the full development of a community. It also suggests that, to the fullest possible degree, programs, activities, and services provided within communities should incorporate the broadest possible cross-section of community residents, regardless of ability to pay;
  • Principle of INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIVENESS - all public institutions have been created to serve people and that such institutions have a responsibility to develop their respective programs and services around the continually changing needs and interests of their constituents as defined in concert with these same constituents;
  • Principle of LIFE-LONG LEARNING - people learn throughout their lives and suggests that formal and informal learning opportunities should be provided for people in a wide variety of community settings.

The above principles form the core of the philosophy and operation of Idea Houses and should be realized and implemented through daily activities of each House.

Starting an Idea House

There are many things to consider prior to starting a debate house within a community. First of all it has to be decided whether there is a need for a debate house, what type of house, the purpose of having a debate house in the community/neighbourhood, and how to obtain help and the practicalities of getting started. The following need to be taken into special consideration when developing a debate house:

Communitys needs (with a special focus on young peoples needs)

It is important to establish if there is a need for such an initiative in the area and researching the community/neighbourhood will show if the need exists. It is important to involve young people in the local research, so that they are fully involved in the planning and development of the debate house. Young people will also feel valued and part of the community, if they are involved in finding out about the area in which they live. It is also true that other members of the community may be more supportive, if they see young people taking an active constructive role in developing the debate house. A survey and interviews with local community members may be useful in conducting research and the following groups may be targeted: young people, parents, local government, schools, church and community leaders, representatives of community based organizations, and local businesses.

It is important that the process of initial needs analysis is followed by rallying support for the establishment of the Debate House among the youth and members of the community. This is the stage of the process of establishing the Debate House where a group of enthusiasts has an opportunity to involve others in their project -- young people, their parents, local government and members of local community. From among these groups, the debate house will recruit its Board Members, its members of committees, its staff and volunteers, and its members and supporters.

Finding a location for a prospective debate house.

Debate house needs physical premises that will meet the needs of its programs, as well as its participants. Ideally, a debate house should be centrally located, offering easy and safe access to young people and members of the public, while also providing space for various activities. The debate house should serve as a meeting place (e.g. a hall or cafeteria are desirable), and as a location for trainings, workshops, consultations, public events, and other activities. In order to accommodate its various members and representatives of the public, the debate house should be opened at regular hours (usually after regular classes at school are over - including evenings) as well as on weekends.

Provisions should be made to ensure accessibility for disabled persons (in terms of access and facilities).

When establishing a debate house, it is important to consider the financial implications of renting such premises and its sustainability. It may be possible to host Debate Houses in donated spaces, sharing the costs of maintaining the premises with other organizations, etc.

In addition to obtaining a space for the operation of the Debate House, it is important to assure that the house is equipped with adequate facilities – computers with Internet access (ideally a debate house should have an Internet center/Internet café), printers, photocopying facilities, and audiovisual equipment; cooking facilities (if the house would like to provide snacks and refreshments to members and the public), etc.

Providing the Idea House with a legal identity (registration)

Idea House will need to be a legal entity and its form will depend on the local requirements. It is advisable, however, that the debate house is registered as a not-for-profit entity and that it makes provisions for decision-making by the members of the House (young people, etc.) in its governing structures. A possible governance structure may involve the creation of a Board of Directors that will oversee the administration of the House on behalf of the members. In addition to registering the House with the appropriate authorities (including revenue authorities), it is important to develop a set of legal rules determining the operation of the House – e.g. a constitution and/or statutes. Organizers of the House should involve future members of the House in discussions of the constitution and organize a series of consultations in the local community, involving potential members and supporters (including representatives of legal profession). Some of the positions involved in decision making in the Debate House may include: Board members: Chairperson, Vice-chairperson, Treasurer, Secretary; young peoples representatives, committee members, Co-opted members, Ex-officio members, etc.

The statutes required for the registration of the Idea House may be later expanded in order to comprise a more developed set of by-laws, standards, and guidelines for the operation of the Debate House and they may take a form of a Policy Manual that may contain the policies and/or regulations set for:

  • Creating Programs
  • Facility Use
  • Supervision
  • Financial aspects
  • Constitutional aspects

Hiring staff (involving adults)

Following the registration of the House and setting up its governing structure, it is important to look into hiring appropriate staff for day-to–day running of the Debate House. Not all the staff needs to (and can) be hired at the same time. Many additional staff members may be added to the team following the development of the program and not all the staff members will need to be full time employees. The main positions will need to include: Debate House Director, Programs Director, management assistant, etc.

From the very beginning of its existence, the Debate House should develop a reliable volunteer base composed of young people and other members of the community.

It is also important to involve young members of the Debate House in recruitment of its staff- e.g. by involving them in the interviews with prospective candidates.

Developing the Action Plan and the Program(s)

An Idea House should provide its members with the opportunity to participate in a youth centered educational program, as well as services that meet the needs of young people and their community. Some suggestions concerning the program of Debate House are provided below, in the later sections of this document. When designing the program for the Debate House, it is important to bear in mind that it should directly respond to the needs of young people and their community, by offering high quality instruction which employs modern and innovative training approaches and methodologies.

The process of developing the program of the Debate House should involve the members of the Board of Directors, Management, members, and general public, and the program development process should have a form of extended consultation, which will result in development of a plan for the operation of the Debate House. The plan should include the following elements:

  • A description of the existing situation in the community (following the 1st stage –please see above)
  • A statement of the vision (mission of the Debate House), shared by all members of the core group
  • An assessment of the needs of the youth and other potential participants
  • Achievable objectives for three years
  • An action plan
  • Identification of program supports (sustainability)
  • A financial plan
  • A monitoring and evaluation process

When developing the program of specific activities and preparing for their implementation, the following should be taken into consideration: selection of instructors and coordinators for operating programs; selection of time to run programs and activities, course and activity preparation.

Promotion of the Debate House- involving youth and local community

An Idea House should develop a clear strategy for promoting its programs and activities and involving not only the young people, but also members of the local community. The success of debate house will depend on the level of activity that will be determined by the level of interest in the program by the members of the community and the realization that their needs are met. In addition to providing participation, local involvement is also an important component of the sustainability of the Debate House (see the sections below).


An Idea House can offer a number of programs for young people and the communities in which they live and they can be divided into a few categories which may include: 1) indoor vs. outdoor programs; 2) community actions and interventions; 3) courses and trainings; 4) services. It needs to be reiterated that each Debate House should determine its own program based upon the needs analysis of its main target audiences. Hence, the following list is only a suggestion of possible activities, in order to illustrate the potential scope of the program:

Indoor vs. outdoor programs

An Idea House may organize programs inside of its premises, but also projects that will take participants to other localities. Such programs may include excursions (trips to museums, exhibitions, nature reserves, etc.), exchanges, etc.

Community interventions and actions

An Idea House can support a number of participatory events by involving young people (e.g. members of the House and trainees from the educational program) and the members of local communities. The participatory events may include, but need not be limited to, the following: community festivals, concerts, exhibitions, open days, briefing workshops, charettes, community planning forums, community profiling, etc.

Public debates may be one of the main activities offered regularly by Debate House. Public debates can be organized by members of debate club(s) operated by the Debate House that provide a forum for young people to meet and discuss important issues affecting their lives. A debate club(s) at the House can be run by a debate instructor(s), or a group of young debaters, and they can promote organization of public debate/discussion that will invite people from local community to come to the Debate House regularly (weekly, bi-weekly, etc) and participate in public debates. The audience should not only be listeners, but they should be provided with opportunities to voice their opinions and audiences should be encouraged to respond to the debaters/panelists directly, by offering their comments during and at the end of a debate/discussion.

Public debates can invite famous speakers, such as politicians, representatives of the media, academics and intellectuals, etc.

Courses and training

Idea House can offer a number of specialized courses and trainings for young people, as well as other members of the public. These courses can include, but need not be limited to: general education and '''soft skills (communication, debate, critical thinking, organizations, team -work, etc.), employment and vocational training (e.g. being at work, looking for work, training schemes, types of work, unemployment, voluntary work, etc.); IT (using basic programs, computer programming, web-design, etc.), home economics (family budget, managing money, saving, benefits, etc.); family and relationships (childcare, family and personal, finding support, love and sex); health (reproductive health, diet, drugs, health matters, health services, mens and womens health, mental health and relaxation); arts (photography, music, drama, etc.)


In addition to the trainings and courses, the Idea House can also offer specific services to young people such as: legal counselling (informing young people and members of their communities of their rights and assisting them with legal matters); psychological counselling, career counselling.

The Idea House could also provide the following services to young people and members of the local community: Internet café, snack bar/cafeteria, library/resource centre/reading room, etc.

Training of trainers component

The quality of the offered training programs is one of the most important factors determining the success of Debate House and each debate house should have a person of their staff overseeing professional development and qualifications up-grading. Each House can adopt different models of training and include different components, which may include: selection of Master Trainers, developing training methodologies and schemes for trainers, and mentoring and peer training. Involving most active trainees (young people) in the process of training others is an important aspect of insuring continuity, as well as involving youth in the process of operating Debate House.

Evaluation and Monitoring

Evaluation and monitoring is an important aspect of the activities of Debate House. Each House should develop both internal and an external evaluation procedures, which will include both quantitative and qualitative evaluation components.

It may be useful to incorporate the process of initial research and needs analysis into the evaluation – i.e. collecting baseline information against which future ongoing evaluations will be measured. The baseline information may/will include information on the what is level (in terms of services at the local level for youth, unemployment figures, programs offered, etc.)

Internal evaluation

Internal evaluations can provide the Debate House management with general information about programs and policy. They will answer questions such as: Were the objectives attained? Were the goals appropriate? Was the plan of action operational (attainable) or at fault? How can it be corrected? This information will help the management to set new or different goals and policies and initiate additional programs.

External evaluations

External evaluations can be conducted by an independent agency appointed (costs may be an important consideration). Such evaluation can be conducted after the first and third years of operation of the Debate House.

Types of evaluation procedures used in internal and external evaluations may include both quantitative as well as qualitative data:


  • Number and type of Houses resources (human and physical) used
  • Utilization of facilities by community groups (especially young people)
  • Type and number of courses and programs offered through the House
  • Extent of community agencies involved and/or cooperating
  • Number of participants and trainers/instructors involved in the programs
  • Number of volunteers involved
  • Extent of facility adaptation
  • Extent of involvement in community issues


  • Questionnaires designed to survey community and participant satisfaction with programs, goals, and to measure whether objectives are being met. The questionnaires should be developed as the program progresses. The questionnaires could be directed to young people, instructors, participants in recreational programs, people who could be served by programs, but have chosen not to be, staff, participating non-governmental organizations, etc.
  • Informal evaluation and feedback through personal interviews and discussions could also contribute to the total evaluation procedure.


Each Idea House should develop a detailed sustainability strategy and make sure that the strategy is updated regularly and subject to review following changes in other strategies (e.g. programming, etc.)

An Idea House should use resources from both inside and outside of the community (with emphasis on the former -- being a true community-based organization) and also rely on the members support. Although the main goal of the Debate House is to provide services to young people, young people should be required to participate in supporting the House (e.g. through membership fees and course fees as well as volunteering). Each House should, however, assure that a persons financial situation does not exclude him or her from participating in the activities.

Different components of sustainability strategy for Debate Houses may include:


  • institutional (e.g. local government, central government, international governmental donors – e.g. EU)
  • corporate (local businesses, national corporations, multinationals)
  • individual support (e.g. parents, members of community)


  • membership fees
  • course and training fees

Revenue generating activity

  • renting of rooms and premises
  • internet café
  • organization of events

In-kind donations and volunteering

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