The Young Engagement Impact Study  aimed to “understand participant experiences and the perceived outcomes for participants and policy making”.  Are young peoples voices heard and acted upon?  ‘Evidence from stakeholders and the document review suggest the programmes influenced local and national government policy and decision making’. However ‘participants wanted more opportunities to meet with ministers (over policy officials) and suggested a need to improve feedback on the outcomes of their policy recommendations.‘  YVH comment: ‘We need more impact reports like this to build our evidence base and learning for youth voice and influence. They help make the case for better quality and support for #youthvoice initiatives. This study not only confirms the benefits of meaningful engagement but highlights the need to implement all of the elements of good practice in getting young voices heard and acted upon –  access to relevant audiences with power, and specific feedback on the difference their voices made”.

The “Young Engagement Impact Study” shared this month (July) via the DCMS website , was commissioned by the Government (Civil Society and Youth Directorate, DCMS) to assess the work between 2021-2023, of its grant-funded youth engagement initiatives, namely, the UK Youth Parliament and the Youth Policy Development Group. The full report is a recommended read by YVH (see below for extract, links and our comment). The study was  led by ECORYS UK in partnership with Participation People and used the ‘Lundy’ participation framework as its reference point. .

The report 1/ draws “conclusions on the strengths of the UK Youth Parliament and Youth Policy Development Group (YPDG) to enable effective youth engagement and participation, influence government policy development and facilitate positive outcomes for participating young people” and 2/ summarises “stakeholder suggestions to enhance programme processes to add further value to future delivery and participant experiences, support even more inclusive approaches to participant reach and maximise opportunities for youth-informed policy making”.

The study used the Lundy model for child participation based on Article 12 of the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child, which Governments should support a child’s (or their representatives) “right to express their views on all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously” . Lundy articulates and expands this into four inter-related elements: Space (to express a view), Voice (facilitated to share it), Audience (relevant to hear it) and Influence (to have it acted upon). See Resources for more detail and examples of others models.

The report concludes with a number of recommendations and calls for more research. (scroll down for YVH’s comment and call to action)

“Conclusions and recommendations

UK Youth Parliament in the House of Commons

Policy makers noted that both programmes were important mechanisms for promoting the voice of young people in local and national government policy decisions. Participants generally reported positive programme experiences. They enjoyed the activities on offer, and reported personal, social, and vocational benefits of programme participation. The programmes have supported and informed local and national policy making decisions across several policy areas and government departments.

The Youth Policy Group – Training Session

Feedback across the study offered improvements and suggestions to make the programmes more representative of wider demographics of young people and further improve the value they add to policy processes.

1/ Firstly, both programmes could benefit from greater promotion, particularly amongst young people and in areas that are currently less represented.
2/ Both programmes should continue and do more to reduce barriers to participation, including continuation of a hybrid delivery and covering the costs of transport to events.
3/ The UK Youth Parliament could benefit from a more consistent approach across the localised
delivery model, to ensure that all participants have equal access to all opportunities available through the programme. Local youth voice infrastructures are critical to the success of the youth
engagement programmes, and therefore need to be supported and maintained.
4/ The UK Youth Parliament programme could better support alternative voices to be heard, like right-leaning MYPs or those from devolved nations.
5/ Topic areas which the YPDG were consulted on had variable levels of interest from participants. To
support meaningful representation of youth voice, participants recommended that, where possible,
roundtables should match the interests of both policy makers and young people.
6/ There could be greater awareness and use of the programmes from local and national policy
officials. Participants across the programmes also felt that both programmes could benefit from
more regular activities that engage policy decision makers, such as ministers.”

The report includes the DCMS ‘s new Theory of Change (informed by evidence collected in the study)

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YVH Comment

“In a western democracy getting your voice heard by local, devolved and national government, is a mix of formal processes (voting, representation, lobbying, consultation) and non-formal means (campaigning, protesting, reporting, social media). Getting your youth heard to influence the policy making framework will have similar opportunities (except younger voters under 18 or 16 depending on what elections or where you live in the UK).

The programmes supported by the DCMS’s Youth Engagement Grants programmes are an attempt to offer representative opportunities to young people to  engage with democracy. The Youth Engagement strategy and funding seeks to support quality space,  facilitated voice, access to a relevant audience, and a willingness to be influenced.

However, much of the commitment and expectation linked to these Government grants is targeted at  mobilising youth voice to meet the needs of the policy makers agenda, though practice can vary at a local level and in some Government departments, when both young peoples agenda and decision-makers align. Whilst the expectations of  delivery partners is clear and contracted the Governments matching  side of the ‘contract’ is less clear in terms of offering access to relevant audience, giving feedback on impact and being willing to entertain subjects that are not part of their public policy agenda. There were good intentions such as an assurance that the YPDG could include youth-led topics for discussions, but this was dropped in favour of meeting the requests for ‘consultation’ by Government Departments. They were not, however, designated as  ‘formal consultation’ which would have triggered much more robust, visible and evidenced feedback.

Young leaders and activists have, for decades, wanted to make a difference, to see and hear that their views on what matters to them, are heard and acted upon. They campaign and lobby and have their own agenda of priority topics. An early prototype of the Youth Policy Dev Group (The Youth Scrutiny Group 2011/12) had equal time for both young peoples and the Governments agenda, and were chaired by a coordinating Minister.  The work of the Youth Select Committees  was able to call Ministers to give evidence,  and relevant departments promised and delivered formal written responses to the Committees recommendations. Evidence hearings were open the the public, televised, and notes recorded in Hansard.

Going forward, having parity of agenda, greater transparency, and enshrined feedback, will ensure the good work that the study does highlight is built on with confidence. For example, this report includes a new Youth Engagement Theory of Change produced by the Civil Society Youth Directorate. This embeds the concept of consultative policy round tables with officials and ministers that will hopefully last beyond a change of officials, ministers and government. As the work of both initiatives produces more ROI for Government departments, confidence will grow in the process and hopefully will be matched with greater investment once evidence demonstrates value for money.

Finally – I would welcome and look forward to annual impact reports to map ‘actual’ influence rather than the ‘perceived’ and a include evidence of attributable impact rather than just ‘suggested’. (You Said -We Did)

Ed JC 170723

Young Voices Heard is a campaign call for best practice in listening, acting upon, acknowledging and celebrating the power of youth for good, calling on supporters and stakeholders to publish impact showing where and how young peoples voice and action makes a difference. 

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