On 7 September, Mentor’s Youth Insight team brought together people from a wide range of organisations to focus on youth engagement and participation in policy development.
Participants represented a diverse range of organisations and sectors, including local government, youth/community centres, young offenders’ rehabilitation services, education, employability, healthcare and citizenship services and various charities.
Many of the organisations represented in the room know, like Mentor, that youth-facing policies are more effective when they are more relevant to the lives of the young people affected – and that these policies are more likely to be relevant if young people are involved in the development and implementation of such policies.
There are many organisations who want to involve young people in their policy development, and many others who have already spent years trialling and testing various approaches to increasing youth participation in policy. This workshop aimed to bring together organisations interested in youth involvement in policy to share best practices, lessons learned and ideas for further expansion and cross-sector collaboration.
Empowering youth voices on healthcare and unemployment
The workshop featured presentations from two speakers. Susie Latta from the Democratic Society is part of the team leading NHS Citizen, a project designed to engage the British public in discussions to improve NHS services. Susie gave an overview of the project and introduced the group to the Gather site, where young people have a dedicated discussion board to provide feedback on topics such as young carers, transitioning from children’s health services to adult services, reaching youth networks – and the recently added topic of prevention services for young people.
There was ample discussion of ways to collaborate with schools and communities to empower young people in the review of NHS services and embed best practices: appointing Youth Ambassadors or Boards to give youth voices a place within existing processes; connecting young people with MPs with relevant experience of engaging people in healthcare discussions; supporting organisations and young people to facilitate stronger connections and sustainable collaboration.
The second presentation was given by Kenechi ‘KC’ Eziefula from Youth Employment UK, where their Youth Voice approach includes regular online contributions to their site’s blog by young volunteers – in fact, KC started out as a volunteer ambassador for YEUK before becoming an editor for the blog and eventually finding a place on the team as an employee.
YEUK recently launched the Youth Friendly Charter, a set of aspirational and fundamental principles for good youth engagement that replaced an ongoing national badge scheme to recognise youth-friendly organisations.
The Youth Friendly Charter is based around YEUK’s 5 Core Principles of good youth engagement. More than 230 organisations have signed up, making a commitment to support young people, be part of a community of youth-friendly organisations and share best practice methods in youth engagement and employment programmes.
Universal principles for cross-sector youth engagement
Attendees worked in groups to brainstorm ideas for embedding best practice as well as how to scale good practice and opportunities for collaboration after each presentation. A number of common threads began to emerge as we started to identify core principles for good youth engagement.
Here are some of the universal principles of youth participation highlighted by the group discussion:
The group also identified some important challenges to bear in mind when creating an environment for youth participation: making services youth-centric can be difficult, especially when trying to fit young people into existing power structures. Co-design is an important part of the process, both as a means to an end and an end in itself – it gives young people a voice to help shape the space they will operate in.
Another challenge is trying to bring lots of different young people together when an organisation is trying to work across different geographical, cultural and socio-economic groups. Lowering barriers for participation is key – it is important for organisations to “go to the young people where they are” and make it as easy as possible for them to contribute, rather than only working with those with increased mobility or technical accessibility.
Youth participation in policy encourages a deeper engagement with the issues that affect young people, as well as helping them become active and empowered members of a democratic society. Increased engagement reaches across communities to benefit governments, schools, families and society as a whole, providing young people with a voice that is heard by those in power as well as the skills to participate in democratic processes.
Another key advantage of such inclusion: evidence suggests that increased youth engagement in schools, communities and wider society reduces the kinds of social exclusion that can lead to harmful or detrimental behaviours, including the misuse of alcohol and drugs, risky sexual behaviour and criminal activity. As a prevention charity, our work is about reducing future needs and helping to build young people’s resilience and ability to be agents for positive change.
Mentor has an established history of working with young people to develop tools to help organisations and individuals working in prevention and education. The London Youth Involvement Project’s efforts culminated in the creation of the Youth Involvement Toolkit: a set of guidelines to ensure genuine, effective youth participation in drug and alcohol prevention.
Future iterations of this toolkit may resemble the Youth Friendly Charter, offering organisations working in prevention and related policy areas to adopt a set of core principles for youth involvement that ensure lower barriers to connect young people and policy makers, as well as sustainable long-term engagement by young people with the policies that affect them.
Mentor is determined to continue leading work in enabling young people’s voice to be a huge factor in the development of effective policies and services. Services for young people work best when they have had a say.
A huge thank you to everyone who joined us at the workshop!
Want to get involved?
If you’d like to be kept up to date with the progress of the toolkit (as a contributor, editor, case study or in another capacity) or if you are interested in working with us to enable youth participation please contact Mentor at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Youth Policy Involvement”