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Redefining engagement: For youth. By youth. With you.
Why are the voices of youth not included, when making major policy decisions for the communities we live in? Is it because youth are perceived to be inexperienced? Is it because youth are perceived to have little to no interest in the systems that have authority or hold decision-making power?
Imagine if we lived in a world where youth were involved at all levels? What if youth, who are essential to building strong communities, social structures, emerging markets and a skills economy, were given the opportunity to meaningfully participate in making decisions affecting our collective future? What might that future look like?
If you’re looking for an example, look no further than Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old climate activist, who in the last year influenced millions of youth around the world to join her school strike for climate initiative, now known as Fridays For Future. Greta’s voice and platform has inspired millions around the world to also use their voice, and together they’ve successfully brought a sense of urgency to climate action.
“We can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. Everything needs to change, and it has to start today” she said in a recent Tedx talk.
As a society, we need to be more action-oriented in the ways we tackle social, economic, and well-being challenges with youth — through developing better platforms of citizen engagement and citizen participation.
I’ve been lucky to work with organizations who genuinely want to engage with local youth in their initiatives and others who want to implement youth engagement strategies.
By getting youth involved, we can begin to co-create new experiences, roles, relationships and establish a new form of power and change within society. Here are five best practices to consider when engaging with youth — or when offering your opinion as a young person to any organization, leader, facilitator who wants to know how best to connect with you.
1: Clear purpose
You must first decide if your engagement is about informing, gathering information, or discussing the subject matter with youth. You might also be looking to form new relationships or give opportunities for youth to participate in the efforts long-term. Have a sense of this before you engage!
It is important you share adequate information with the target audience. Strong engagements are able to inform the audience of any data and analysis relating to the subject matter. Sources may include reports, household surveys, or data collected by youth themselves.
Consider inviting youth to the planning, development and design meeting and giving them an opportunity to have direct input before you launch your engagement. You could do this by reaching out to youth in your community or asking for input through online mediums. Have you considered establishing a youth advisory council or board within your organization? Or is there a local youth think tank you can engage with?
Solid youth engagement requires a multi-faceted approach, you must rely on different offline and online channels to engage. Go to where youth are! Libraries, Schools, Community Centres and yes SOCIAL MEDIA!
Be ready to articulate what will result from engaging with youth. Youth often won’t participate in your engagement, if what you’re proposing will have little or no impact on their future. Make it tangible!
Governments, organizations, and communities that strive to be connected, dynamic, open, curious, inventive and playful are including the very people who exemplify these qualities in their planning and decision making process. Society will be better, when it learns to embrace the limitless potential of youth, the wisdom and the characteristics that come with it. Youthful governments, organizations and communities are open, resilient, entrepreneurial and growing. Does this sound like a better society?
Alfred Burgesson is a supporter of placemaking activities, an advocate for improving community well-being and quality of life, and a youth basketball coach. Connect with him @hfxcollective.