Genuine youth participation means youth partnership and leadership
11 May 2021 at 8:33 am
If organisations want to make a difference to the future of those who come after them, they must allow young people to design and lead the solutions, writes Kelsey McGowan, reflecting on her experience organising the upcoming Reshape Our Future Youth Forum and Sector Conference.
As both a young person and a youth worker, I’ve seen what the sector calls “youth participation” from both sides. Youth participation is the idea that young people are actively involved in the decisions that affect them. I’ve seen different organisations do this at varying levels.
Some places do it pretty poorly. Unfortunately, a lot of organisations treat youth participation as a “tick box” exercise, where they might consult a few young people on an idea but don’t really listen to what we want or need. Sometimes it feels a bit superficial, and a bit tokenistic. Sadly, these are the services that fail the young people they work with.
On the other hand, there are some organisations who do it really well; co-designing programs and events with young people, hiring young people on their staff, having young people in positions of leadership or on their boards, having (and actually listening to) youth advisory groups or steering committees. By having young people actively decision making and directly influencing the services they use, means that the service provided is genuinely beneficial. It’s useful, relevant, interesting, and important to us.
Ever wondered why the program/service/event/policy/workshop you spent so long planning and putting together didn’t really work out like you hoped? Did you start by involving the target audience in your planning? Did the people you created the program/service/event/policy/workshop for, help you to create it?
Young people know young people and we know what we need, better than anybody else. This generation of young people is powerful. As the leaders of tomorrow, we want to live in a world that we have proudly shaped for ourselves, not one that was forced upon us by older people with often, outdated perspectives.
This year I have been working alongside other young staff at Youth Affairs Council Victoria to organise Reshape Our Future, a one-day Youth Forum and two-day Youth Sector Conference.
The Youth Forum, being held across six different locations (including online) on Monday 31 May, has been entirely designed, planned and developed by young people, for young people. With our own lived experiences, we will deliver an event that will celebrate and empower young people who are (and want to be) leading and advocating for social change.
To achieve this, the steering committee started by developing five key principles which underpin the Youth Forum:
- Accessibility and equity at the forefront.
- Empowerment and value for young people.
- An event that is inspiring, creative, bold, relevant, and motivating.
- An environment that supports connections and belonging.
- A safe and inclusive space for young people of all lived experiences.
These five principles have steered the entire planning process and been a guiding light in our decision making. From these principles, session topics were decided on which we know are important to young people today and will continue to matter as we go into our future.
The Youth Forum will provide a space for young people to learn from one another, to have their voice heard, to share their hopes, goals, visions and dreams, to talk about their worries and passions and most importantly to feel supported, connected and empowered to lead, to advocate for change and to reshape our future. This will be a real and important opportunity for young people to talk about what matters to us and to create genuine change in the areas that are important to us (not what older people think is important for us!).
If organisations want to make a genuine difference to the future of those who come after them, the simplest and greatest thing they can do is allow young people to create, design and lead these solutions.
Youth participation needs to move beyond meaningless consultations. We need events, programs and services that are co-designed by and with the people they are for. Young people are experts in the experiences they have lived through and if we truly want to shake up the social change sector, now is the time to let young people lead the way.
This article is part of a monthly series, Youth Matters, a collaboration between Youth Affairs Council Victoria and Pro Bono Australia to inject the voices of young people into the social change sector.