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Youth Participation Kit: Organisations

Last updated: 5/08/2016 12:46 AM
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The term ‘youth participation’ refers to the practice of involving young people in service delivery and decision-making in their communities. This publication is designed to assist organisations in understanding how they may benefit from involving young people in their decision-making processes and provides  a step-by-step guide to planning for youth participation.  

 

 

What is Youth Participation?

Resource 1

The term 'youth participation' refers to the practice of involving young people in service delivery and decision-making in their communities. A wealth of research exists about the theory and practice of involving young people in organisations.

Empowering young people

The overarching principle of all youth participation is that it empowers young people to take control of their own lives. This includes developing confidence, self-efficacy and a range of practical skills. Young people can then apply the skills with confidence to influence both their own lives and their wider community.

Youth empowerment is an important part of engaging young people in decision-making on matters that affect them.

A range of terms is given to activities that work towards youth empowerment. Understanding the difference between these will help organisations plan appropriate youth participation activities.

The ways and levels of participation will depend on your organisation's capacity and the type of project you are doing. The different levels of youth participation are explained below.

Youth participation

Youth participation empowers young people by giving them opportunities to be actively involved in decision-making and delivering services and programs. Young people can see that their actions have positive outcomes, and learn skills to support their own and the wider community's development.

Youth engagement

Youth engagement refers to a wider scope of activities that empower young people by involving them in their communities. While youth participation is focussed on action taken by young people themselves, youth engagement also incorporates activities provided to young people in community settings.

Youth engagement can also lead to the empowerment of young people, and may be a good stepping stone for young people into youth participation activities.

Youth development

Youth development includes actions taken to assist young people along their developmental journey. It includes all activities which assist young people to develop their skills and abilities to be part of the community—including youth participation activities. The term youth development is often used to refer to actions and projects which support young people who may be disengaged or require support.

Models of youth participation

There is a large volume of literature on the levels of youth participation. One of the most popular models is Roger Hart's 'Ladder of Youth Participation', published by the UNICEF International Child Development Centre in 1992. Hart considers the different amounts of decision-making power granted to young people along a continuum, as well as including three levels of 'non-participation' which may appear to be participation from an outsider's perspective. While the model suggests that the top level is the best form of youth participation, it is important to note that any level in the 'participation' category is valuable and empowers young people.

Table 1: Levels of youth participation (adapted from Hart's ladder)

Category Level Description
PARTICIPATION9Ideas initiated, designed and run by young people
PARTICIPATION8Ideas initiated and run by young people; decision-making shared with adults
PARTICIPATION7Ideas initiated and run by young people in full partnership with adults
PARTICIPATION6Adult-initiated ideas, with decision-making shared with young people
PARTICIPATION5Young people consulted on ideas, and informed of the purpose of their input
PARTICIPATION4Young people assigned specific role/s in an idea or initiative, and informed of the (usually limited) purpose of their input
NOT PARTICIPATION3Tokenistic involvement of young people, with no meaningful input or influence
NOT PARTICIPATION2Young people involved for decorative purposes without any input into the cause
NOT PARTICIPATION1Young people's ideas or participation manipulated to achieve adults' aims

 

You may also like to consider the information available on youthpolicy.org's webpage, including their Participation Models: Citizens, Youth, Online guide.  

Critical factors for success

There are a few key factors which are critical to successfully involving young people:

  • take it seriously
  • make time to engage well, even for small or short-term initiatives.

Young people involved in youth participation commonly report being frustrated by:

  • feeling ignored
  • having their ideas stolen by others
  • lack of respect and not being treated equally
  • feeling like they're not being set up to succeed
  • not being informed of the outcomes of their involvement.

These are the kinds of things that can occur when organisations don't take young people's involvement seriously—when the practice of involving young people doesn't lead to empowerment. Any youth participation initiative should aim to:

  • empower young people and support their development of skills and self-efficacy
  • provide purposeful and meaningful ways for young people to contribute
  • be inclusive of all young people.

The Youth Participation Kit resources provide guidelines on planning for effective and empowering youth participation.

Case study: National Youth Week Planning Committee

The Young People's Planning Committee plans and organises National Youth Week celebrations in WA.

The committee works to develop a diverse program of events for National Youth Week that will appeal to young people, as well as the concepts for theming, merchandise and promotional materials. Committee members reflected on their experiences:

"Being youth, we see what's needed for young people. So it's really cool to be able to organise events to meet those needs, like our 'Life Admin 101' forum—I need that!"

"Sometimes in the workforce we feel like we're not taken seriously because of our age, but on the Committee I've been able to do so much by myself and using my own ideas."

"We could walk into any other committee now and feel confident in ourselves that we know how things work and we can have a voice—the feeling of confidence and competence is great."

"It's taught us a lot more about the community and also how to be humble."

 "We're so lucky that we get the opportunity to be involved in the community, so to do something that will give an opportunity to someone else makes me feel really grateful."

"More businesses and organisations who provide products and services for young people need to have young voices, to get direction from young people they are servicing and find out how things are now. It makes sure that what they're doing is relevant."

"I feel like it's furthering my career options but also my personal development."

How to involve young people

Table 2: Step-by-step guide to involving young people

Step 1Set goals for what you want to achieve by involving young peopleSee Resource 3
Step 2Choose a method of involvementSee Resources 4 and 5
Step 3Develop a plan for involving young people, including a plan for evaluationSee Resources 3, 6 and 7
Step 4Recruit young peopleSee Resource 3
Step 5Put your plan into actionSee Resource 6
Step 6Monitor your initiativeSee Resource 6
Step 7Evaluate your initiative and store the lessons learned for future initiativesSee Resource 3

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Why Involve Young People?

Resource 2

Organisations can benefit from young people’s energy and creativity by involving them in decision-making and opportunities to influence change.

The rationale for involving young people

Young people represent about 20 per cent of our community. They participate in community life, use community services and resources, and have ideas and opinions about the community. Harnessing their ideas, energy and innovative thinking can help to shape the future of Western Australia and your organisation in new and exciting ways.

This is particularly relevant if your organisation provides services to young people. Under the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child young people have a right to express their views in all matters affecting them (Article 12).

In addition, young people also receive many personal benefits from participating in organisations and the community.

How your organisation may benefit

There are many ways your organisation may benefit from involving young people.

  • Young people are good at coming up with new ideas and projects, and are often capable of creating and managing them with minimal support.
  • Young people have unique knowledge and experience and can be a fantastic resource for many aspects of your organisation.
  • Young people can adapt to and use new technology, and can use technology to improve organisational efficiency.
  • Youth participation enhances your organisation’s understanding of this large, diverse section of the community.
  • Involving young people increases the diversity of your organisation’s engagement with the community.
  • Input from young people will keep your organisation informed of current and emerging issues.
  • For organisations that provide services to young people, involving young people will increase the likelihood that your initiatives will be relevant and effective.
  • Young people involved in your organisation will become great community advocates.

Why encourage young people to participate?

Young people who participate in organisations engage in practical learning and develop skills that will help them in their own lives. The experience helps them understand the world around them and gives them realistic expectations as to what they can do in their community. Participation:

  • teaches strategic decision making, problem solving and negotiation skills
  • shows how organisations work
  • gives young people a sense of social inclusion
  • provides experience and grounds them in the real world
  • connects young people and the community
  • empowers young people and increases their confidence.

Case Study: Engaging young leaders on aged care and community boards

The Engaging Young Leaders on Aged Care and Community Boards program aims to create a world class aged care and community sector by creating age diversity on boards. This is achieved through an annual training program for emerging leaders in governance, a series of 'unconventions' and a best practice online toolkit.

"Young Directors are beneficial not only on youth organisations but for a wide range of community organisations including aged care". Alicia Curtis, Program Coordinator

The program demonstrates that engaging the perspectives of younger leaders has many positive outcomes for organisations. These include:

  • championing collaboration between the aged care and youth sectors
  • accessing an untapped resource to assist with the challenges of the aged care and community sector
  • strengthening the succession planning of organisations as many boards are filled with 'Baby Boomer' Board Directors
  • improving the diversity of boards and ensuring better conversations, representing diverse interests and perspectives.

The program is an initiative of Southcare in a unique partnership with a number of community organisations, which was started with seed funding from a Department of Local Government and Communities' Social Innovation Grant.

For more information visit their website.

Useful tip

There are a number of resources available to help organisations with youth participation initiatives. Resource 9 includes a list of some of these resources.

This Youth Participation Kit is also available online at the Department of Local Government and Communities website.

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Planning for Youth Participation

Resource 3

Like any new initiative, involving young people in your organisation requires planning. This resource provides a step-by-step guide to the planning process, and outlines a number of key factors to consider.

Set your goals

What does your organisation hope to get out of involving young people? As a first step, identify the type of involvement you need from young people, and then develop strategies to get them involved. The type and depth of involvement required, and the resources available, will shape youth participation in your organisation.

Young people can be involved to:

  • help develop ideas from scratch
  • provide feedback on a project that is partially or well developed
  • provide input into the organisation's work or projects on a more regular basis.

The engagement of young people may consist of:

  • one-off consultations with young people for a particular project, for example focus groups, surveys or forums
  • ongoing involvement of young people in the organisation's planning, for example through advisory committees and boards.

Working with young people provides organisations with an opportunity to get creative and try new ways of doing things—particularly when developing a new idea or a new project. For ideas on engagement models and techniques, see resources 4, 5 and 6.

Plan ahead

There are a number of things to consider when planning the involvement of young people.

Costs

The costs will vary depending on the engagement approach, and may include:

  • food
  • transport
  • hiring venues and/or equipment
  • training for staff and young people
  • staff hours to manage the initiative
  • recruiting a facilitator
  • funds for gifts, incentives, prizes or celebrations as thankyous for participation.

Young people are giving up their time, so make sure the experience is enjoyable. Providing food, compensation for travel and out of hours participation (especially school hours), and offering access to developmental opportunities are good incentives, and show young people that their contribution is valued.

Feedback

Showing young people that their participation is valued may be critical to the success of your initiative. Plan to provide them with ongoing feedback throughout their involvement and formally recognise their work. Inform them of the outcomes of their participation, how their contribution will be used, and the outcome. This will also encourage them to keep contributing and to provide ideas for other projects.

Evaluation

Before approaching young people to become involved, develop a project evaluation plan that will include the engagement strategy used. This will help you to seek feedback on what was done well and what needs improvement. For example:

  • Were the set goals achieved?
  • Did the engagement strategy provide you with the information you were after?
  • Did the young people enjoy their experience and would they do it again?

Make sure that the evaluation is done from the organisation's and the young peoples' point of view. Where youth participation is ongoing, regular evaluations can demonstrate how young people are making a difference over time and highlight any areas that need attention. For help developing an evaluation tool see the My-Peer Toolkit.

Recruiting young people

Once your organisation has set its goals and decided to engage young people, the next step is to invite young people to get involved.  Below are some of the things you may need to consider.

Finding young people

There are many ways to recruit young people:

  • Tap into your organisation's existing networks, such as clients and partner organisations, and young people who are already committed to your organisation.
  • Contact other organisations that regularly engage with young people, such as the Department of Local Government and Communities 'The Panel' and the Youth Affairs Council of WA.
  • Contact organisations that work with and support young people. Your local government's community or youth development officers may be able to inform you about local youth organisations.
  • Advertise through online databases such as Volunteering WA, GoVolunteer and Seek Volunteer.
  • Advertise through local schools, training organisations and universities. Some universities have dedicated volunteering support offices.
  • Promote through community and youth newsletters and papers.
  • Establish an online and social media presence, and ensure that webpages are appealing to young people.

Also consider the 'reward' for young people who participate, and include this in your promotional materials. Rewards may be material (e.g. free pizza, chance to win a GoPro camera); however non-material rewards can also be effective. These include the opportunity to make a difference, develop new skills, meet new people and help the community.

Diversity

When it comes to youth participation, encouraging diversity is important as young people are not a homogenous group. The kind and number of young people your organisation engages with will depend on its objectives or the project. Try to provide opportunities for the participation of as many young people as possible.

Some groups of young people miss out on opportunities to be involved, including:

  • young people with disability, including mental and physical health issues
  • young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people
  • young people who are carers
  • young people in care
  • young people who are homeless or experience housing stress
  • young people who live in regional and rural areas
  • young people who identify as being of diverse sexuality or gender
  • other disadvantaged young people.

Engaging with local organisations that provide services for disengaged groups may help you to reach these young people.

Ethical considerations

When planning for youth participation, effective strategies to address ethical considerations such as harm, privacy and consent, need to be in place. The list below, while not comprehensive, can help you get started.

Harm

Young people must be protected from risks of physical and emotional harm. This includes:

  • providing a safe location and safe transport to and from the location
  • ensuring all staff working with young people have been appropriately screened (they may be required to hold Working with Children Checks by law)
  • taking special care when talking to young people about sensitive issues.

If you are dealing with issues that may cause emotional harm, use trained staff and consider offering free access to counsellors.

Privacy

When conducting a consultation, you may collect information that can identify the young people involved, or which may be considered sensitive (such as ethnicity, religion or political views). It is the organisation's responsibility to protect this information, and to inform the participants why the information is needed, what will happen with it and how it will be protected.

It is the right of all participants to be able to access the information at any time, and ask to have it removed. Establishing a privacy policy, and making sure that all the participants have read and understood it is a good starting point.

Consent

It is important that all young people give their informed consent before they get involved. Informed consent means that the young person knows their role, their rights and what will happen to the information they provide.

Consent is usually obtained by asking participants to fill out and sign a form. Sometimes this is not practical. For example, it is reasonable to assume that registering interest or completing a survey is indicative of consent. If this is the case, ensure that this is clearly stated and that the participants have the information they need.

When working with children and young people under 18 years of age, consent should be obtained from their parent, guardian or carer. If you have any concerns, refer to the Commissioner for Children and Young People Western Australia's webpage on child safe organisations.

Case study: GOZYAC

The City of Gosnells Youth Advisory Council, GOZYAC is a group of young people who represent their peers and actively participate in community activities. The group is supported and facilitated by the City of Gosnells Youth Services team, whose goal for the group is to give young people the space and tools to set their own goals for community events, activities and advocacy.

GOZYAC was formed in the late 1990s and is one of the oldest YAC groups in WA. The group is conscious of having a wide range of young people represented, and actively seeks diversity by promoting membership through other youth services in Gosnells, other young people's groups, and by engaging with school councillors at local schools.

The group runs an annual leadership camp which is open to all young people in the area and acts as a great recruitment tool.

"You have to make sure you recruit a good cross section of young people, who can come together to get things done. We aim to support the group to set achievable goals—small goals and small successes keep the group motivated." Chris Woods, City of Gosnells Youth Services Coordinator

The group starts each year with an annual planning session. Its annual schedule includes running events, helping with other community events (including fundraising stalls) and leading projects. Past projects have included consulting with local schools and creating a local youth services directory.

At the end of each year GOZYAC reflects on its activities through a group evaluation session, creates an annual report which can be shared with the Gosnells Council and other groups, and holds a dinner to celebrate the group's achievements.

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Conducting One-Off Consultations

Resource 4

This resource describes some of the most common methods used to collect feedback from young people in a one-off or short-term manner.

Surveys

Surveys are useful for getting information and opinions from young people on a range of issues and topics. You can use surveys to collect demographic information, as well as quotes from young people which may give greater insight and can be helpful to present alongside statistics.

Surveys can be conducted on the phone, in person, by mail, email or online. The most effective ways to get young people to participate are with online surveys promoted through social media.

Short surveys conducted in person in areas where young people congregate may also be successful. There are some small risks with this approach, such as young people not being there or unwilling to participate on the day.

Tips for writing survey questions:

  • Create questions that align with your goals.
  • When developing questions, try not to guess the answer you'll receive as this often leads to biased results.
  • Think about how you want to present your results (e.g. percentage, a graph or a pie chart), as this will help you design the questions and select response format (e.g. rankings out of 5, short answer, yes/no).

There are a number of platforms for creating and designing online surveys. When designing an online survey, make sure it is:

  • short and user friendly
  • accessible for young people with disability or who have low levels of English language proficiency.

See resource 7 for tips on promoting surveys through social media.

Useful tip

There are lots of online resources that can help with surveys. These include the popular SurveyMonkey platform, as well as others that allow for different kinds of input such as Doodle and Tricider.

Interviews

Interviews involve sitting down with a young person and discussing an issue. They can be structured or unstructured, using either set questions or a more open approach.

Some tips for good interviewing:

  • Have a set of topics or questions to keep the interview on track and to help present your results.
  • Be open to responses you didn't anticipate. Sometimes this can be very useful information.
  • Using a trained interviewer can help get the most out of participants.
  • If you want to record the interview (audio or video), tell the young person before you start and get their permission.
  • Try to use plain English and simple terms, and avoid using acronyms or jargon (unless appropriate).

Focus groups

Focus groups allow a group of young people to openly discuss a topic. They are a good way for young people to interact with a facilitator and each other to explore an issue. They also enable you to collect a range of opinions in a single session.

Facilitating focus groups can be challenging. It is important to make sure everyone is respected, their opinions are heard, and that no one voice dominates the group. It can be more challenging when dealing with sensitive issues.

It can also be difficult to keep everyone on track when there is an opportunity for open discussion. Using a trained facilitator can help. The Youth Affairs Council of WA may be able to help you to find a facilitator experienced in working with young people.

Focus groups can also be held online using platforms such as Tricider and All Our Ideas. However, when selecting a platform be aware that young people may not participate if they are required to have a login for the site. You could also use existing social media channels, for example, a question and answer session could be arranged for a certain time or day on your organisation's Facebook page.

Forums

Forums can bring young people together with a range of stakeholders to discuss a given issue. The aim of forums is to briefly establish a shared body of knowledge on an issue (through presentations) and then resolve the issue and/or make recommendations (through discussion).

Forums require resources and planning. Using a skilled facilitator can ensure that young people have the opportunity to contribute without being intimidated by the structure, or the presence of many stakeholder groups.

The Speak Out for Change: Youth Voices on Youth Issues Summit is a recent example of a successful youth forum. More information is available from the Youth Partnership Project website under 'publications'.

Youth panels

Youth panels are useful in situations where other methods will not produce the level of feedback or careful decision-making required.  For example, many youth organisations in the United Kingdom engage young people on recruitment panels for youth workers.

Panel members are provided with information about the options, and are given the opportunity to ask questions and seek additional information before coming to a decision or making recommendations. It is good practice to inform the panellists whether their decision will be the final decision, or if it will be taken as a recommendation.

This process can be very empowering for young people when done correctly, and gives them valuable insight into and experience in decision-making processes. While the thought of giving young people decision making powers can be daunting, it can result in good outcomes for the organisation and young people involved. The Participation Works Partnership has a list of resources that provide guidance on how to do this well.

Embedding youth engagement in your organisation

The above methods are a good starting point for engaging young people. However, the best youth consultations are often those led or designed by young people themselves. Consider creating a youth reference group to guide youth consultations. See resource 5 for more information on running reference groups.

Case study: The Panel

The Panel is run by the Department of Local Government and Communities to connect young people aged 12 to 25 years to opportunities to influence decision-making. The Panel members are invited to participate in surveys, discussions and workshops focused on youth issues, and to help shape events, programs and policies for young West Australians. Organisations and government agencies can submit surveys and invitations to the Department for distribution to members of The Panel.

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Regularly Involving Young People at your Organisation

Resource 5

Involving young people in your organisation on an ongoing basis is a great way to harness their ideas and energy, and to ensure your services meet community needs. A variety of models exist for doing this.

Young people's input can help organisations develop more effective policies, programs and services, and increase the organisation's relevance to young people.

The young people involved will learn valuable strategic-decision making skills and understand how organisations work. This can help them in their personal lives, as well as allow them to explore future career options. Working with an organisation is also empowering, giving young people opportunities to build their confidence and self-esteem.

Youth reference groups

Youth reference groups comprise young people with an interest in a particular issue. The group usually provides advice to the organisation on their area of interest, and may also lead or be involved in projects such as consultations (see resource 4), events or developing resources such as strategies, policies or promotional materials.

Reference groups are useful when an organisation has a commitment to a particular issue, for example mental health. To be successful, the organisation must commit to listening to the reference group and giving them meaningful ways to contribute.

Reference group membership requires a significant commitment from the young people involved, and also provides them with opportunities to develop skills and learn about how organisations are run. Having a reference group can help you to establish good relationships with young people in the community and encourage future youth participation. Members of the reference group may also become great ambassadors for your organisation in the community.

When running a reference group, you should consider:

  • Creating a terms of reference or charter, in conjunction with the reference group. This is a good way to show young people that your organisation is serious about hearing their views, and also provides an opportunity for the group to establish some ground rules for how they will operate.
  • Allocating specific roles, responsibilities and tasks to group members gives them an opportunity to contribute and develop skills. It will add to the group's accountability, including following up on actions agreed at meetings. It also helps young people to record their contribution, which is useful for their resumes.
  • Providing training and other support to reference group members is a good way to develop young people's skills, and their ability to make the most of their roles.

Youth advisory committees

Youth advisory committees (commonly known as YACs) are similar to youth reference groups, but are usually focussed around a geographical area and run by local governments. YAC members contribute to decision-making that affects young people and the community. YACs also organise local events and activities for young people to increase youth participation and engagement in the community. Some local governments make resources available for their YAC to pursue and deliver activities.

The Department of Local Government and Communities can provide advice and information to local governments about YACs.

Offering board positions to young people

As board members, young people can contribute to an organisation's strategic directions, offering new perspectives and ideas. They may also bring a different skill set that an organisation can benefit from. For example, young people are often more aware of new and emerging technologies and social trends than other community members.

If your organisation provides services to young people, having young people on the board can help to ensure service delivery is relevant. Board participation also helps young people learn how decisions are made and how organisations work. Through this process they will feel valued and that they are making a valuable contribution to their community.

When engaging young people on boards, keep in mind that:

  • In a legal sense, all board members have equal responsibility and liability for the board's decisions. Young people are often not aware of a board's functions or of the level of legal responsibility, and should be informed of this at the outset. The organisation also needs to be committed to supporting young people in their board role.
  • Training will be crucial to helping young people understand their board role and the wider picture of running an organisation. Where possible, provide the opportunity to attend training courses as soon as the young person joins the board, or even before they formally sign up. The Australian Scholarships Foundation often offers scholarships for board member courses, which may be suitable for young people.
  • Young people may not have experience in formal settings such as the boardroom. Ensure they are provided with relevant information that is written in accessible language (avoid using jargon, technical language or acronyms), and make the meetings as welcoming as possible.
  • Advising young people in advance of what to expect, how things work and what processes are used will help them to feel less intimidated and more willing to contribute.
  • Consider appointing an experienced board member as a 'buddy' or mentor to young board members, to give them guidance and to answer questions they may not be prepared to ask at formal board meetings.
  • Young people's schedules can be inflexible and you may need to work with the board to schedule activities around educational and extracurricular commitments.
  • Consider providing transport or reimbursing travel expenses, as some young people may face challenges getting to and from venues.
  • Treat young people with respect and value their contribution.

The case study in resource 2 provides more information about young people on boards.

Case study: Youth Focus Youth Reference Group

The Youth Reference Group (YRG) is a group of young people who provide advice to Youth Focus to ensure that the organisation delivers quality services to young people. Members act as advocates for youth mental health internally and in the community, run their own projects and events, and attend training workshops. They are also often consulted by other services and researchers to share their expertise. The group meets once a month.

Youth Focus actively supports the YRG members. They have a comprehensive application and interview process to ensure that the young people who become members will be able to participate fully. This process includes an online application, interview, attendance at a trial meeting, a commitment to the group for at least one year, and signing Youth Focus policy documents. Staff also work with individual members to create an annual 'Wellness Plan', which involves setting goals for participation in the group, making plans for personal development opportunities, and planning how Youth Focus can support the young person's ongoing wellness to ensure their emotional, social and physical health is looked after.

YRG members see lots of benefits from their involvement:

"Everyone has an opinion on everything these days, but getting out and doing something with your opinion feels great."

"When we get a response [from Youth Focus or external groups] about where our feedback has gone it reinforces that we're working in a real partnership, it's not just tokenistic."

"When people see the YRG on my resume they're really interested. Being involved has given me lots of useful skills, like learning to talk professionally."

You can find out more about the YRG on the Youth Focus website.

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Tips for Engaging with Young People

Resource 6

There are many things to consider when setting up and running a youth participation initiative. This resource covers some of the key things to consider for the best chance of success.

Understanding young people's needs

Participating in the community creates great outcomes for young people; however it can also be a stressful and frustrating experience. The following points provide suggestions to make the experience enjoyable for young people.

  • Provide meaningful inclusion and avoid tokenism. Make it clear to young people that your organisation and its staff appreciate the time they have given up to participate. Ensure all contributions are appreciated and valued, even small contributions such as a 10 minute online survey. Young people sometimes feel that their participation is just about making an organisation look good.
  • Consider opportunities for handing over control and allowing young people to do their own thing. This may be difficult to manage, but could produce amazing results. When young people see that their actions are critical to the success of a project, they show more commitment and have a greater sense of achievement when it has been completed. Being in control allows young people to work with their own strengths and gives a greater sense of satisfaction.
  • Take time to explain the role of young people in your organisation and how they are going to make a difference. Explain the outcomes of the feedback they provide as evidence that their comments were used.
  • Make sure that the ideas and suggestions made by young people are given the same weight as others. It is frustrating for young people to see their idea trivialised or stolen. This does not encourage creativity or meaningful contributions.
  • Young people need relationships with adults that reinforce their value. This means relationships built on equality and respect. Young people typically feel disempowered by their age and inexperience, and may be hesitant to ask for information and resources for fear of being seen as incompetent. If you provide them with adequate resources and information, they will feel valued, respected, more confident and effective in their participation.
  • The Workplace Health and Safety, Privacy, and Equal Opportunity laws set requirements for organisations around engaging with volunteers and service users. An organisation has a responsibility to keep young people safe and to protect them from harm.
  • Young people don't always understand how organisations work, or how decisions are made. They may find processes frustrating and slow moving and this may need to be managed by keeping them informed.  Minimise processes where possible, and manage young people's expectations where it isn't. Try to respond to the ideas put forward by young people in a timely manner.
  • The words you use when talking to young people, and about their ideas, will shape how they perceive your commitment to their participation. For example, it is important to avoid referring to them as "kids" or "teens"; instead use "young people" or use the name of their group.
  • For long-term involvement, young people will need ongoing training and support. This will help them to be more effective in your organisation, as well as improving their own skills and experience. Providing training, even informal training where young people share skills with each other, is always valuable. Similarly, there should be a staff member at your organisation who the young people can go to for advice, to talk through issues, or to raise any concerns. You need to choose the right person for this job to make sure the young people will go to them if they need help.

Promoting innovative thinking

Young people are often willing to stretch their imagination and challenge everything. This makes them the ideal drivers of innovation, which is about developing and implementing new, creative ideas.

There are a few things that can help to foster creative thinking:

  • Give young people total control of the processes and the project.
  • Make the environment fun and inspirational for creative thinking.
  • Give young people details of the goals of the project, resources available and any important background information they need to consider, then ask them to start brainstorming.
  • Keep young people involved in the project during development and implementation by providing regular feedback and encouragement.
  • Consider using techniques like those described below, which can be used in one-off or ongoing initiatives.

Useful techniques for encouraging creative and innovative thinking include:

  • Deliberative consultation
    Deliberative consultations involve giving young people pre-reading material on an issue. They are then better informed to discuss the issue at a meeting and come up with a solution. This approach allows young people to push the limits of what can be done within the organisation's set boundaries. It also facilitates those 'aha!' moments.
  • Design workshops
    A workshop where relevant stakeholders provide young people with the information they need to know about an issue. The young people are then given the opportunity to design a solution as creatively as possible. For example, they might use magazines to create a collage, annotating it to explain what is appealing from the images selected, or work in groups to create a diorama-style scene with children's toys to show how a new service might work and then explain their scene to the organisation.
  • Appreciative inquiry
    A creative technique that builds on what is working well, rather than focusing on what is not. Participants first look at how similar issues have been successfully addressed, which becomes the inspiration for imagining creative solutions to other issues. Stories are shared and a single proposition is formed by the group. This can become the focus of future workshops, in which the proposition is developed into a strategy.

Case study: Youth Affairs Council of WA

The Youth Affairs Council of WA (YACWA) is the peak body for youth in WA, advocating for young people and running a range of projects to share and celebrate young people's voices.

YACWA strongly values and advocates for youth participation, and commits to having youth input into all aspects of their work. There are two positions on the YACWA board specifically for young people, and the organisation's advocacy work is informed by consultations with young people that take place through online surveys, workshops and other methods.

"We're committed to listening to young people—if we're going to advocate for young people, we need to be guided by them." Ross Wortham, Chief Executive Officer

YACWA engages young people using a range of forms across different projects, in order to ensure that the participation model is suited to the project and its target audience. For example the:

  • Youth Educating Peers project is a peer-to-peer sexual education program which is organised and delivered by a team of young volunteers.
  • Home is Where My Heart Is project works with past young participants each year in the planning for the next year's project.
  • Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network is guided and advised by a team of multicultural young people, who have been empowered to create their own initiatives including the three day Catalyst Youth Summit held in 2016.
  • Aboriginal Youth Services Investment Reforms initiative is a unique government-led reform in which YACWA has supported young people to participate, both at the highest levels through membership of the steering committee and on-the-ground work with agencies.
  • Music Feedback project uses music and popular culture to promote youth mental health, encourage help seeking, and reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. The project is guided by a steering committee made up of sector representatives and young people.

"You have to support young people to understand the context and reality of the issues they're discussing. There's a difference between listening to young people's experiences—which is a legitimate form of participation in itself—and then taking the next step to help them to formulate ideas and do the 'reality checking' to shape those ideas into practical opportunities to make change. 

"This is particularly important with the young people who are the most disenfranchised and disempowered, where you need to have a continued amount of energy and focus to maintain a connection and draw out their contributions. It takes more work, but it has a huge impact in empowering and enriching the lives of those young people." Ross Wortham.

YACWA also maintains social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter) to allow for a more casual dialogue with young people in the community. 

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Engaging with young people online

Resource 7

The online world provides many opportunities for organisations to engage with young people. Understanding social media and other online platforms will help you to make the most of these opportunities.

Working with social media

Social media is an ever-evolving medium and provides valuable tools for working with young people. Most young people access social media platforms regularly, and do so from a range of devices. Businesses and organisations also use social media regularly as it is free to use, provides valuable two-way communication opportunities with the community, and allows contact with people who may be difficult to reach in-person due to geography, accessibility or language barriers. In addition, because young people quickly and simply share information they find on social media, it is a powerful resource when used effectively.

Social media is a great tool for contacting young people, as well as engaging them in your organisation's work. Some organisations hand over some or all of the responsibility for running their social media channels to young people, to ensure the content is appealing to their intended youth audience and to give young people a meaningful way to contribute.

Useful tip

The SocialMediaNews.com.au website publishes monthly statistics on social media use in Australia that you may like to look at when planning your strategy.

Planning your social media strategy

To use social media well, you will need to have a strategy. The strategy will explain:

  • Your goals for social media use (eg. inform community about initiatives, seek feedback from service users about potential changes, develop affinity with your brand).
  • The 'voice' you will create for the page. This includes the 'look and feel' components and will guide your choices of content and language.
  • A rough guide to the kind of content you will post. Some organisations create a daily guide to plan the week and make use of social media trends such as '#tbt' ('throwback Thursday', where you post old photos).
  • Procedures for who will post content and when.
  • The rules for use, which you should post somewhere on each channel's page to tell users how you expect them to engage with it. This is particularly important as there are some people out there who use social media to bully people or 'troll' (starting arguments with people just to be a nuisance).
  • Procedures for moderation of the channel, including allocating an individual to check all comments and respond, in line with the rules for use.
  • Summary of the resources to be allocated to the strategy, including staff hours.
  • Plans for evaluating the usefulness and effectiveness of your efforts. Most platforms now provide 'insights' functions which you can use to measure your channel's performance.
  • Plans for reviewing the strategy in order to keep up with emerging trends and new platforms.

You should seriously consider engaging young people in the development of this strategy (either through a one-off consultation or consulting an existing youth resource at your organisation), especially if you intend for young people to run the channel.

Tips and tricks

The 'most popular' social media platform is always changing, and organisations need to adapt their strategies accordingly. However, there are some tips organisations can use that apply across all social media platforms.

  • If you want your page to speak to young people, you must ensure that the content you post is informed by young people. Use their advice to keep up with trends, and understand things like memes and hashtags.
  • Hashtags are like hyperlinks to an index which contains all posts which contain that hashtag on that platform. For example, if you make a post containing '#sunshine', anyone who clicks/taps on #sunshine will be taken to a page showing all of the posts containing '#sunshine'. You can use this to your advantage – you may be able to make posts including a hashtag that is popular with your target audience (as long as your post is relevant) as a way of reaching a new audience, or you can ask attendees at an event to use a particular hashtag so that they can see what others at the event are up to.
  • To keep people interested, your page or your feed must be updated regularly with relevant and meaningful information that engages people's attention. Some social media sites prioritise posts depending on how frequently you post updates, so you need to post regularly in order for your audience to see your content.
  • Take the time to understand the channel being used. Some platforms (such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr) use a 'newsfeed' model where what a user sees depends on the type of content, frequency of posts, and how much the individual has engaged with posts previously, while others use a 'timeline' model which presents posts chronologically (such as Snapchat). Similarly, each platform tends to have its own theme which you will need to understand (for example, Snapchat is very informal whereas Twitter tends to be more professional). Understanding these factors will help you shape your strategy.
  • Social media is a two-way communication tool. You need to allow comments if you want people to engage with your channel, and you must ensure that you moderate the site appropriately and respond to any queries or questions promptly.
  • Put thought into your brand recognition, across cyberspace and into the 'real world'. Choose something that is easy to search for, and try to use the same 'handle' (name) across platforms—be careful though as once you choose a name, some platforms do not allow you to change it.
  • While each platform has its own theme and feel, you can often save time by posting the same or similar content across platforms. Some platforms allow for simple cross-posting (for example Facebook integrates posts from Instagram and YouTube seamlessly), or you may like to use apps and online tools which allow you to post to multiple channels at once.

Online accessibility for young people with disability

When designing an online space, it is important that it is as inclusive as possible. Young people with disability can have trouble using and navigating sites if they aren't designed well. You can make your site more accessible by:

  • providing text alternatives to pictures and videos
  • including a caption that describes images and pictures
  • including captions on videos (you may like to investigate YouTube's subtitles guide or Easy YouTube Caption Creator for help creating captions)
  • providing links to accessible portals, such as Easy Chirp  (Accessible Twitter)
  • using high contrast colours and larger text
  • using clear and concise text with limited abbreviations.

Case study: Doing it right

The following social media channels are good examples of organisations that have been successful in engaging young people (please note: some may contain explicit language and/or adult themes):

  • Reachout.com, on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
  • Youth Affairs Council of WA on Facebook and Twitter
  • Foundation for Young Australians on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
  • ABC Heywire on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Planning Engagement with Children

Resource 8

The ideas and techniques throughout this kit can be used effectively when involving children. However, when children are involved, there are some important things to remember.

Things to consider

  • If the involvement of children is to be ongoing, you may need Working with Children Checks for staff and volunteers. See the website for more information.
  • You have a duty of care to the children you are working with. Have emergency contact numbers for parents, guardians and carers.
  • Children require the same information and feedback as young people when they are involved in your organisation.
  • Use pictures and diagrams to communicate ideas. Use simple words, pictures and lots of colours to produce child friendly agendas, minutes and reports for children.
  • Children will understand complex ideas better through the use of pictures and communicate more confidently. This also helps when working with children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who may have a limited understanding of English.
  • Give children the opportunity to be involved in planning and running activities. Giving them some control will make it more fun, give them a sense of accomplishment and encourage them to participate more.
  • Have your meetings in a secure, safe and child friendly location. If you are having regular meetings, changing venues can make it fun.
  • Build trust with children by making sure they interact with the same staff members each time. Start each session with fun activities to break the ice.
  • Have more frequent breaks to relieve boredom, and to allow them to go to the toilet and get a drink. You can use meal breaks too.
  • Make sessions shorter, and make them fun. Try incorporating games and physical activities to break sessions up, recapture their attention and make sure children enjoy the experience.
  • Be prepared to be flexible and adapt to suggestions made by children, and to cope with changes in their energy and mood. You can plan activities for these situations. Prioritise what you want to achieve so you can change your schedule easily and still meet your goals.

Activities that work well with children

Good, bad and funny

Have children write down things that are good, bad and funny about an idea, and put them in a hat. These can then be read out to the group for discussion. This is a good evaluation technique for child participation.

Getting creative

Children can draw or paint a picture, or make something that reflects their idea. They can explain their idea using their artwork to the group.

Brainstorm

Have an open discussion on a topic, and have someone—this could be a child—write all the ideas on a piece of paper or board.

Cardstorm

Similar to a brainstorm, have children write or draw ideas on pieces of paper and stick them on a wall. Get them to sort the ideas and group ideas that are similar.

Democratic decision making

Write a list of ideas on a large piece of paper—these could be taken from a brainstorm. Children can stick a smiley face or sad face next to ideas they like or don't like.

Create a matrix by listing ideas vertically, and the things you want children to consider about each idea horizontally. Children can put stickers in the squares they agree with.

Case study: The Commissioner for Children and Young People's Consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children

In 2014, the Commissioner for Children and Young People embarked on a project to consult with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children across WA. Through the project, 1,271 children provided feedback about what was important to them, what they hoped to do in the future, and what help they needed to get there.

The Commissioner partnered with seventeen community organisations across the state to facilitate consultations. This encouraged more children to be involved as the consultations were held in familiar settings and with familiar adults. A variety of fun and innovative consultation activities were used, including making videos, creating art, and singing and writing songs together. Young people were also asked "if you were the boss of your town, what would you change?" to facilitate discussions.

You can learn more about this consultation (and the Commissioner's other consultation projects) on the Commissioner's website, and view videos of some of the songs created through the project on the YouTube channel.

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50

Useful Resources

Resource 9

You may find some of the below resources useful when planning youth participation activities.

General guides to youth participation

Commissioner for Children and Young People Western Australia (2009).
Involving Children and Young People – Participation Guidelines

Government of South Australia Office for Youth (2015).
Better Together: A Practical Guide to Effective Engagement with Young People

My-Peer Toolkit (2010).
Youth Participation Resources
A range of guides and information about youth participation.

New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People (2012).
Citizen Me! Engaging Children and Young People in your Organisation

Participation Workers' Network for Wales (2014).
Blast Off! Guides to Increasing Participation of Children and Young People

Queensland Government (2011).
Engaging Queenslanders: A guide to community engagement methods and techniques

Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (2013).
YERP: Young People Making Change
Includes guides for both organisations and young people.

Guides for specific involvement of young people

Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (2014).
Young People Creating Change Training Toolkit
A guide for training young people to become advocates in their communities.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Western Australia (2013).
Improving Legislation and Policy for Children and Young People
A guide to help assess the impact of legislation and policies on young people.

Participation Works Partnership (2009).
How to Involve Children and Young People in Recruitment and Selection

Other useful resources

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015).
Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2015 (Cat. No. 3101.0)

Department of Local Government and Communities (2016).
Grants Directory

Media Access Australia (2012).
Social Media for People with a Disability

National Health and Medical Research Council (2007).
National Statement of Ethical Conduct in Human Research

Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner (no date).
eSafety Commission website

Youthpolicy.org (2012)
Participation Models: Citizens, Youth, Online
Overview of various theoretical models for youth participation.

For more information, please contact:

Department of Local Government and Communities
Gordon Stephenson House, 140 William Street, Perth WA 6000
GPO Box R1250, Perth WA 6844
Telephone: (08) 6551 8700 Fax: (08) 6552 1555
Freecall: 1800 620 511 (Country only)
Email: info@dlgc.wa.gov.au  Website: www.dlgc.wa.gov.au
Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) – Tel: 13 14 50