TRUEQUE // Design Research / Information Architecture / Design Strategy / Storytelling


When the risk of not keeping kids motivated to go to school results in a lifetime scavenging through a landfill.

We do Trueque.


Trueque is an intervention that is born out of a need from the community of Duquesa in the Dominican Republic, to keep kids in school. Duquesa is a small rural community that lives in extreme poverty. Their livelihood comes from diving into a landfill that is a few miles away to sort recyclable material. This practice doesn’t discriminate age. At 11, kids help out their family by either cleaning sorted material in their homes or diving into the landfill themselves.

Finding the Problem, Identifying the Need

Kids in Duquesa have many pressures at a young age, resulting in them being most vulnerable to dropping out of school at 7th grade. As a consequence 30% of them never make it to high school. The risk of not finishing school basically ensures them a life of poverty scavenging through a landfill, impacting not only their quality of life but their health and wellbeing.

Through research I could understand that kids in this community stop going to school due to a lack of motivation. We have learned through diverse  research methods ranging from shadowing, 1:1 interviews, cultural probes, behavioral interventions, workshops and rapid prototyping that kids get demotivated by  5 unmet needs: 1) Kids feel they don’t feel they have a common ground to relate to one and other. 2) Kids from Duquesa have poor conflict management skills that often escalates into violence. 3) Kids lack the attention and recognition to feel noticed and heard in a class. 4) Kids worry about providing a financial contribution to their household. 5) Kids worry about helping their parents out financially, preventing them from focussing in school.

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An Opportunity to Intervene


Trueque is a program built on the belief that if these 4 needs are met, the intrinsic motivation that kids have to go to school will be increased, leading to higher school retention rates and less drop outs. The name Trueque is drawn from a Spanish word that means exchange of value, which is the essence of what this program does.

Trueque helps kids reach common ground on how they agree to treat each other, reinforcing through rewards kids’ intrinsic motivation to go to school. It involves: students, teachers & local business owners. Its aim is to create more favorable conditions for good education to happen by providing tools, coaching and incentives for kids.


Trueque is also interested in involving the community through leveraging local business which kids visit most. Kids can redeem their rewards in these local business. In our pilot we learned a lot, one of the most significant discoveries was that many kids started redeeming their rewards in the form of school materials, ultimately investing their earnings back to their education.

Trueque leverages native gathered data, behavioral science, education techniques & design for positive behavioral change can take place. Not only having as a goal to prevent school drop outs, but in it's effect deviating kids from a life working in the landfill.


 System Mapping the Intervention



The Process Book

The research, ideation, prototyping and pilot implementation of Trueque was a 9 month process. For a more detailed view of the work feel free to view the process book :