connect / 2019



Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Novelly

We are currently developing Novelly, a reading app that doubles as civic education for young people. We use relatable and engaging young adult novels as a starting point for discussion and action with young people around some of the most challenging and pressing issues affecting them and their communities. Over the next year, we will partner with schools, libraries and youth-serving organizations in order to pilot the app with 5,000 young people across Los Angeles County.

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

Since 2015, our Founder and CEO, Anna Gabriella Casalme, has been captivated by a simple idea: reading stories sparks empathy and critical thinking among youth with regards to complex issues. This, combined with spaces for dialogue and action, can spark social change. This is rooted in her undergraduate honors thesis, which found that Wonder by RJ Palacio can generate thoughtful and critical discussions on disability among middle school students in the Greater Los Angeles Area. In her work with schools, she noticed how fiction can make it easier for us as a society to talk about tough topics with young people, giving her immense hope. She wondered how she could find a way to have these conversations with thousands of young people. Now, four years later, Novelly is building an app, so that any young person with access to the internet can also access virtually unlimited opportunities for civic education and civic engagement from their phones.

Which of the connect metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Attendance at public/open streets gatherings
  • Rates of volunteerism
  • Total number of local social media friends and connections Angelenos have

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to connect?

Novelly is a free web app that provides civic education directly to young people. It is a pipeline to genuine civic engagement that young people can participate in at their own pace, on their own terms and on their mobile phones and computers. The Novelly app catalyzes the civic engagement process for youth through the following features:

*Read a young adult fiction story that touches on a social issue

*Complete embedded learning activities critically engaging with the story from the lens of the issue

*Participate in community discussions

*Respond to calls to action from partners

*Organize in-person with their peers

Every quarter, the stories and issue themes available on the app will change, ensuring that our young users will always have access to dynamic content and community.

First, we will partner with authors, publishers, and other content creators to produce original stories for the Novelly platform or make existing published content temporarily available for that quarter. This content will reflect a diverse range of backgrounds, perspectives, and issues. Second, we will partner with existing non-profit organizations, initiatives, and influencers whose work is related to the quarterly theme to share calls to action, co-create educational content and moderate discussions on the app.

By bringing these partners with a vested interest in an issue and in youth together in a single platform, Novelly can create a unique civic education experience for young people. By starting with entertainment, Novelly can first connect social issues to young people’s lives and communities, then connect them to a community of peers and opportunities to take action. Through the app, users can do all of this without gatekeepers, daily and over a sustained period of time.

Over the course of the 2019-2020 academic year, we will pilot the app with 5,000 young adolescents ages 13 to 15 in Los Angeles County.

As young people who grew up in Los Angeles, we remember hanging out at the school library or spending summers in the local library. We remember how books inspired lively and deep conversations when we were kids. We believe that technology can amplify the power of reading to connect young people to each other, their communities and issues that they care about. According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, adolescents in California who are civically engaged (have high civic efficacy, are involved in social impact clubs or organizations, and volunteer) are more likely to have better health, better grades and greater motivation to attend college. Beyond the benefits of civic engagement to individual young people, there is the far-reaching and long-term positive impact on the vibrancy of communities.

The Novelly app will make LA the best place to CONNECT by increasing rates of volunteerism among young people, increasing attendance at public and open streets gatherings, and increasing the total number of connections that Angelenos have.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Pilot project (testing a new idea on a small scale to prove feasibility)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

We will be piloting the web app with students in schools in libraries during the fall and spring semester of 2019-2020 school year in the Greater Los Angeles Area. By the end of this grant period, we are successful if we achieve the following milestones: (1) pilot the web app with 5,000 adolescents, (2) collect data from the pilot on the efficacy of the web app, (3) refine the web app and integrate new features based on the pilot, and (3) launch the web app so that any young person can access it. We are also successful if the data from the pilot shows that students who use the web app over the course of the semester demonstrate improvements in their skills, knowledge, and motivation as they relate to civic engagement. Based on the UNESCO framework for global citizenship education, we will measure progress in the following global citizenship competencies for students ages 13-15: (1) empathy (2) critical thinking/problem solving (3) ability to communicate and collaborate with others (4) conflict resolution (5) sense of security and identity (6) shared universal values (7) respect for diversity/intercultural understanding and (8) recognition of global and local issues as well as their interconnectedness. User engagement with the app will be measured by the number of daily active users, retention rate, and contribution rate. User engagement with the issue will be measured by the rate at which users: complete the novel, complete embedded learning activities, participate in discussions, engage with partner content, and complete calls to action.