Designing for Social-ecological Resilience with/for Unaccompanied Migrant Youth

Unaccompanied migrant youth (UMY) have to cope with adversities before, during and after their flight to Austria without any adult relatives. Psychological resilience describes the process of adapting in the face of such adversity. Mental health support could contribute to promoting resilience in UMY and help them to cope with their adverse situation. However, there are many barriers for UMY to accessing available mental health services in their host country. While there is increasing evidence that technology could make mental health interventions more accessible, there is a lack of knowledge on how to design technology-enabled resilience support for this population who have to deal with difficult and unstable circumstances.

This project explores how to potentially support resilience promotion in UMY with the help of technology. I use qualitative and design methods to (1) gain a deep understanding of the context of UMY in Vienna, Austria; (2) identify pathways to integrate technology-enabled resilience support; and (3) explore possibilities to design support for this space. Specifically, I interviewed UMY and professional and volunteer support workers to gain an overview of the local situation, the different actors, challenges and opportunities. To deepen this understanding and explore design opportunities and requirements, I conducted co-design workshops with two key groups of actors in this context, namely with one essential support group of UMY — their mentors — and UMY themselves. I analyzed the empirical data using thematic analysis and built a theoretical understanding of the context.

The findings of this project point to the importance of a social ecology consisting of different support groups which influence the resilience promotion in UMY. As part of this social ecology, one support group — namely volunteers acting as mentors — plays a key role in promoting resilience. However, they lack support and skills and struggle with the complex situation and support needs of their mentees. In addition, due to the political situation and resettlement policies, UMY are under extreme pressure and stress, and lack an environment and possibilities to build their individual resilience. Based on these findings, I propose a shift away from viewing resilience development as a responsibility of the individual towards promoting resilience from a social-ecological approach in this context. This social-ecological focus is in line with the social-ecological model of resilience which proposes theoretically how different systems need to work together to create a social-ecological environment facilitating resilience.

Based on the theoretical and empirical understanding, I developed a map of the social-ecological context that sets out the different social actors, physical and temporal factors, and the policies, and how these together interplay with the resilience promotion. This map provided the basis for a design framework that articulates how to integrate technology-enabled support into this context. I further developed and detailed the design framework by focusing on two main pathways to integrate technology-enabled support for UMY in this context — through direct technology-enabled support for UMY and supporting resilience in UMY through their mentors.

Watch the video presentations of related publications:
Supporting the Supporters of Unaccompanied Migrant Youth: Designing for Social-ecological Resilience:

Unaccompanied Migrant Youth and Mental Health Technologies: A Social-Ecological Approach to Understanding and Designing:

Read more in:
Tachtler, F., Michel, T., Slovák, P. & Fitzpatrick, G. (2020). Supporting the Supporters of Unaccompanied Migrant Youth: Designing for Social-ecological Resilience. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’20). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 1–14. DOI:, Honorable Mention (Premier HCI publication venue according to Google Scholar, Acceptance Rate: 23,8%)

Tachtler, F., Talhouk, R., Michel, T., Slovák, P. & Fitzpatrick, G. (2021). Unaccompanied Migrant Youth and Mental Health Technologies: A Social-Ecological Approach to Understanding and Designing. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21), May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 19 pages. DOI:, Honorable Mention