Having a ‘Youth Participation Quality Mark’ is one way to indicate that #youthvoice is being heard AND making a difference to your organisation. Having certification, or an award, will indicate the degree to which youth-participation is a) ‘taking place’, ranging from consultation to participation in decision-making and scrutiny, and  b)’meaningful and fit for purpose’ 

“Register your interest and feedback to info@youngvoicesheard.org.uk with your name/role/org recommending good practice examples and sharing a #youthvoice view for what quality looks like”.

That’s why Young Voices Heard is launching a Quality Assurance project that will lead to a new set national standards for engagement, participation and impact. Working with a network of independent young advisors, including #iwill ambassadors, #democracychampions and #youthparticipation specialists, we intend to research and review the traditional existing benchmarks, to produce a new framework that is accessible to both organisations and young participants, verified with accreditation from a independent youth panel. The goal is for any third party – user/visitor/funder of service or organisation, can see the extent of its commitment to youth participation in practice by looking for a Quality Mark and/or checking a central register of practice. For example, whether an organisation recruits young trustees to its board.

Having young voices heard and participating in decision-making are key to empowering young people to effect change in society. This vision and action research towards a youth-led national quality framework/mark, is part of our response to the #iwill campaigns Power of Youth Challenge, to empower greater youth voice in, and leadership of, social action in organisations. We want to rise to the challenge of ensuring empowering is meaningful and measured.

The resulting framework would apply to the public, private and voluntary sectors. We know quality youth participation matters to young people – to know whether they views are being are being valued and making a difference. Its no longer enough to be heard, or for young views to be taken into account, nor is it enough or be hailed as the leaders of tomorrow – why wait? Young people want action today. However – how are they and others to judge the level and quality of participation?

Not all young people want to participate within organisations. Some want to lobby from the outside, to campaign for those responsible decision-makers to ‘step up’ so that they can get back to being children. But for those who want to do more, to contribute and be part of the solution, taking part in design, decision-making and governance, the ‘leaders’ of today, there needs to be a widely recognised mechanism and quality mark that ensures youth participation activities are genuine and go beyond being interesting and educational, and that they are definitely not window dressing, transitory or without impact.

It is becoming part of our culture to reference user-feedback, reviews and star-ratings, particularly if they are benchmarked and independent.

We propose that there are two steps to a Quality Mark 1. A internal self-assessment tool, with external verification and comment, and 2. An external assessment, using evidence from users and stakeholders, highlighting impact and quality. This is not intended to replace any existing qualify assurance frameworks used by some youth services, but to incorporate and build on them, and to particularly record quality against standards that young people prioritise and define as meaningful.

For Example:

The Young Trustees Movement, hosted by the Social Change Agency and supported by a progressive alliance of funders, aims to promote greater participation of young people onto Boards. This is a brilliant idea – bringing together pledges and resources, networking champions together in a common cause. However, going forward, how do we distinguish between well-meaning tick box inclusion that is ineffective and age-diverse parity of participation. Are young people recruited as part of a quota, or as part of a holistic governance strategy with a diverse range of complementary skills, experience and networks on a board that is fit for purpose?

Multi-level participation:

Participation can take place at different levels -such as having an input into recruitment; service design; and delegated decision-making on grants, budgets, policy and procedures? Young people can get involved in one off activities – such as being especially recruited to judge awards (pictured). You dont have to be on a board to be influential. In a few, but growing number of examples – an organisation is entirely youth-run. I’m aware of at least five promoting youth participation in society and citizenship, that have been founded by young people aged under 25, since 2014.

Example: Children Young People Now magazine recruit young people to be judges of it annual Awards. Their votes have equal weight to those of the adult panel.

Transparency – information about how participation is taking place, and it impact, could be more transparent and published in a way that is accessible to those whom young people. For example the British Youth Council publishes who and how it recruits to its Youth Select Committee inquiries, which are held in public, transcribed in Hansard, and broadcast on Parliament TV. Their website shows all the written evidence submitted and the final report, along with the Governments response is made public online and to the media. Another example, by comparison, is where the Government, at DCMS, introduced a Youth Policy Steering Group to inform and influence policy, as part of its Civil Society Strategy, in a one year pilot from April 2019. However its unclear how often it met, what was discussed and what impact it has had on whom. Hopefully, evaluation will be shared later in 2020, so that we can learn is those taking part found it effective what lessons we call all learn and how best the model can be updated and continue.

To sum up – greater youth participation sounds like a great idea, but ‘greater’ must mean more than just “more of it” , but ‘greater’ as in great quality verified by transparent scrutiny. It is increasingly recognised that ‘participation’ must be accompanied with words like ‘accessible’, ‘inclusive’, ‘decision-making’, ‘feedback and accountability’, ‘transparent’, ‘making a difference’ for it to be ‘meaningful’. These, I would suggest, are the foundations on which a quality mark will emerge.

Young Voices Heard is looking for backers for this project, as well as young people willing and able to contribute to it? Please contact us a info@youngvoicesheard.org.uk referencing this article / James Cathcart

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