Meaningful Youth Participation
Ten top tips for organisations looking to promote youth voice, participation and leadership.
As part of our research at Young Voices Heard we have been making space for young people to inform and influence good practice with their advice on planning or improving the way in which organisations embrace youth voice and participation. In this post, James Cathcart pulls these together into a list or series of steps. It’s part of a project to contribute to the Power of Youth Series of resources which your can listed on our Resources page. What would you add? What other resources would you recommend? Please send us your suggestions through the link at the end of the article.
“Dear Chair/CEO/Head: Why do you want to listen to young people? How can they help you to better achieve your vision, mission and purpose?”
Your answer to these questions is your starting point. Young people tell us that they would like to be involved in the conversations as early as possible, if not from the start. Everyone needs to be clear about why they are being involved if they are to share and meet expectations. If your intention is to use young people’s views to make a difference then make sure you build in evaluation that measures impact as a result, and provide feedback to those involved. Young People might want to add to the agenda, ask questions and make proposals. Be clear whether you a just consulting or working together. Finally – think carefully before you use the phrases “youth-led” and “youth-participation” explaining exactly what they mean and who is setting the terms and taking the final decisions. When you say that ‘young people are at the heart’ of what you do explain exactly what this means in a way that the young people your are referring to will recognise and verify. Your good practice will be evident when young people are visible and there is information supporting your commitment in your communications and annual report. Would a first time visitor, potential funder or interested young person, see youth participation in action and the difference it makes? Will they be able to easily hear first hand accounts, learn about opportunities to participate or support it?
Ten Steps to Good Practice
Here are ten steps that I have collated based on what young people have been saying about their priorities for meaningful youth participation.
1. State the purpose and intended impact of youth participation on your organisation – why are you doing it, what is the end goal, what will look and be different? With a clear vision everything else you plan and do should always point t.
2. Plan and work together – including youth views from the start by making space for young people to input or lead your strategy and goals. Whats the plan – from operations to board level – who is going to do what and when to achieve your goals – and how will you review it. This plan will address the other points below – and should be visible to your stakeholders. “Work with us as partners-work with us to make a difference – RA”
3. Be transparent and visible about how, when and what youth voice, participation and leadership activities and opportunities are. Young people, as one of your stakeholders, need to see and understand your commitment to participation in a visible format they and other stakeholders, in and outside of your organisation, should be able to access Make your work easy to find.
4. Offer a range of roles and opportunities – to young people and staff to deliver the plan. These will be inclusive, diverse and accessible, progressing from consulting young people to allocating opportunities for them to be in positions to make decisions or govern. Examples include representation on boards, committee, steering groups, recruitment and grant giving panels.
5. Delegate authority, share power to young people – to take decisions and deliver projects, campaigns, decision-making, grant giving, recruitment, and project management within your structure. Delegation develops skills and confidence – empowering and enabling young people to progress to higher levels.
6. Inclusive and Accessible – counting every voice – including those with special needs or on the margins. Participation needs to be equally available where barriers to participation are addressed, targeted to reflect a range of minority representation so that inclusion of every young voice is possible.
7. Resource the work and reward the participants by allocating a budget and staff to provide support, training and skills. Ensure young people are in voluntary or paid roles equivalent to adults doing similar work. Reward can be innovative with recognition, remuneration and investment in their proposals, with support from designated staff, champions on the board and accredited skills training.
8. Give feedback to young people about the impact their views and leadership are making. This is also part of “valuing” and “respecting” young people’s input, and its important its visible and shared so that others can be encouraged. Feedback is a reassurance against tokenism.
9 Review and refresh your practice by being innovate. Self-assess your practice and refresh your goals and methods, so that you are always looking to move to the next level depending on your starting point and relevant to your vision and purpose. Are you taking account of changes in environment, technology and the market place? Are you guarding against tokenism? As young people themselves grow in their roles with experience and skill, and are regularly part of the review process, they will keep bringing fresh ideas to the table to spot and address the opportunities or risks that you face.
10. Evaluate impact and celebrate achievement not just giving feedback but publish how you achieved your purpose, lessons learnt and whether young people felt they were heard – on your website/social media/to the board/funders and in your annual report/accounts.
[This additional step has been sent as part of feedback to the first draft of ten by one of our young advisors. If you have additional suggestions please contact us using the form at the bottom]
11. Be Open to scrutiny and criticisms and have a clear way to put things right . This could be through an ongoing feedback/suggestions process or part of a review. It you are committed to listening to young people then this will be great of example of how you take all their views seriously. We can always improve.
Top Tips to add flavour …
1/ Have an informed discussion at board level, informed and if possible, in dialogue with those young people already available to you, or in your network those who are already engaged by others, about the purpose, benefit and impact of promoting youth voice, participation and leadership in your organisation – making sure you are clear you distinguish between listening to and engaging young people in roles. Revisit regularly and be open to external review/scrutiny and benchmarking.
2/ Refer to other organisations good practice, read good practice guides, talk to staff and young people in organisations you know, or commission advice and research what works. Invite existing youthvoice pioneers to take part in your training of staff and your #nextgen of youth people.
3/ Appoint a youth voice/participation champion on the board and in your staff team, and be careful not to stereo type this role to a young person.
4/ Customise your plan to your needs relative to you starting point. Don’t try to do everything in one go, and follow a logical sequence of steps that prepares, equips and empowers young people to succeed in their roles. Take your time and embed this as normal as inclusion and diversity policies. It’s a commitment not a project.
5/ Beware of tokenism and window dressing. Focus on change not just process. Be wary of not being just “seen to be participating” – but record and publish content, commitments and results. ‘Meaningful participation’ should be full of meaning to those who participate and to the organisation that uses it.
6/ Involve young people early, not after you have decided why what and how, or, if you are starting out with a trial/pilot ensure that young people are empowered to question, review and amend.
7/ Address barriers to participation – from travel to time – taking feedback from young people on what these barriers are and ways to overcome them. There are some great ideas around digital participation, co-production and peer-to-peer mentoring.
8/ Be transparent and communicate externally about what and why you are doing it, including new opportunities and, most importantly results. Remember what the purpose was – to help the organisation, to address issues, to benefit young people who are beneficiaries, to help young people in the participation process.
9/ PLEASE don’t claim that “..young people are at the heart of everything we do” – without going on to say what that means exactly and whether it includes them being heard by the brains as well as loved by the heart. #heartfelt AND #headheard
10/ PLEASE “… when saying that a project, campaign or organisation is Youth-Led – please explain exactly how and what that means. What are they leading? Policy, Programme Design, Operations Delivery? Do they have power? #Youthledmeans
11/ Be open to scrutiny and invite young people to give you feedback, criticism or suggestion on how to improve your methods of youth participation. You could use a self-assessment tool that they contribute to – but its even better to commission an independent evaluation (Young Voices Heard Quality Assurance Review) which takes independent feedback from the young people you are engaging. Its a good way to guard against tokenism and complacency.
Young Voices Heard offers an assessment and review service,, whether you are new, emerging, or an established ‘listener’ to young voices. We will help you customise your level of participation, working alongside young people from the start of the process, and offer support along the journey to meet your purpose. We will benchmark the outcome to a set of best practice standards. \From mentoring to governance – Contact us today for a quote.