Power of Youth Explained

The Power of Youth Explained is a six-part series of short interactive, digital articles curated by #iwill partner organisations and Ambassadors. The series aims to bring together research, experiences and resources that not only develops the readers’ knowledge and understanding of youth social action, but helps them turn it into action. They are also designed to help your organisation put your Power of Youth Charter commitments into practice.

ARTICLE 1:

What makes high quality youth social action, why & how should your organisation prioritise supporting it?

A LETTER FROM THE CURATORS:

Hello and welcome to the first article of the #PowerOfYouth Explained series!

Often people aren’t sure what we mean by high quality youth quality social action so we’re getting right back to basics and trying to answer that question. There is no ‘one’ way to do youth social action but we’ve set out some key things to think about and principles to include. We also address the question of ‘why should your organisation promote it?’. 

The curators – Premier League Charitable Foundation, Centre for Youth Impact, and #iwill Ambassadors Claire and Katrina – have drawn on our experiences as young people and within organisations to highlight some of the reasons why you should promote youth social action. The rest of the series will give you some more advice on how to go about doing this, covering everything from youth voice to accessibility. So do read on, and any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out!

WHAT IS HIGH QUALITY YOUTH SOCIAL ACTION?

Six Quality Principles

The Six Quality Principles for youth social action were developed right at the start of the #iwill campaign, and have stood the test of time. It’s still true that really high-quality youth social action displays elements of all six of these principles, and should be considered when you a designing and delivering your opportunities. What we’ve learnt over the years is that it can be difficult to hit all six, so it’s worth viewing this model as a development tool rather than a checklist.

Take a look at this article from the RSA with reflections from teachers on how they’ve implemented the six quality principles – they said they found ‘youth-led’ the hardest, what do you think?

Other Frameworks for Quality

There are other useful frameworks, including some that consider youth engagement and participation more generally than just for youth social action, such as the 7 ‘Golden Rules’ of participation produced by the Children’s Commission Scotland. Many of the elements that make up those frameworks can be drawn upon when creating, or quality assuring youth social action opportunities.

Impact Accelerator

The Confidence Framework is a self-assessment tool which focuses on the organisational behaviours and processes that support the design, delivery, evaluation, and improvement of high quality youth provision. This framework was initially developed by the Dartington Service Design Lab, and has subsequently been iterated and refined by the Centre for Youth Impact, for use within the Impact Accelerator. The self-assessment process sits alongside a package of training, consultancy and coaching to help organisations to use the tool to inform and drive their improvement and learning. Read more about the Impact Accelerator in the pop-out box to the left.

WHY DOES QUALITY MATTER?

The National Youth Social Action Survey uses ‘meaningful’ as a proxy for ‘high quality’ – in this case it means social action that is frequent, takes place over a substantial amount of time, and crucially the young person not only recognises a benefit to themselves, but also to those they are helping, be it other people, wildlife or the environment. The impact that high quality youth social action has on young people is clear:

Community belonging increased: 90% of young people who have participated in meaningful youth social action agree that they feel they belong to their community, compared to 67% of those who have never done social action.

90%

Agency is increased: 88% of young people who have participated in meaningful youth social action believe they can make a difference in the world compared to 56% of young people who have never participated.

88%

Engagement at school: 70% of pupils who have taken part in meaningful youth social action agree that their ideas are taken seriously at school, compared to 28% of pupils who have never taken part.

70%

KEY THINGS TO CONSIDER

Here are six things to consider when you’re thinking about developing high quality youth social action opportunities.

Decide as an organisation how you will think about quality. Consider how can you embed the processes for reflections from staff and those taking part in the opportunity. Check out pages 9 & 10 of this report learn how the Impact Accelerator works with organisations to do this. You can also take a look at the Asking Good Questions framework to get your brain whirring.

If you want your opportunities to be meaningful, and for young people to feel they are meaningful, consider how they will contribute to your organisational purpose and your strategy as a whole. The opportunities need to be a part of the whole cake, not just the sprinkles.

Think about what you will do to shift the balance of power, letting young people steer their own youth social action opportunities.

Consider how you can form an ongoing relationship over time – if it’s a one off engagement, it’s unlikely to be meaningful, and can at worst seem tokenistic.

Accessibility is key. Accept you will likely not have all the answers when you start, so put structures in place to that allow you to support young people, and learn how to adapt that support as you work with them.

There is no right way to do this and it is important to try to continually improve what you are doing and continue reflecting. There are, however, important principles to consider when working with young people, including essential safety and safeguarding requirements. Lots of helpful frameworks, checklists and other tools to help you think about this can be found in the recently published NYA Youth Work Curriculum. More guidance can also be found on the Youth Work Support website.

WHAT’S THE WORD ON THE GROUND?

Check out these two case studies from organisations delivering high quality youth social action.

Student Hubs
Lapage Primary

At times you will need to be confident that you can deliver high quality opportunities, flexibly (during a pandemic for example). We have two resources for you which will be helpful:

Safe Spaces online
Developing Relationships

WHY SHOULD YOUR ORGANISATION PRIORITISE YOUTH SOCIAL ACTION?

A Perspective from #iwill Ambassador Katrina Lambert, writing for YouthLink Scotland:

Youth engagement can sometimes seem like a daunting concept. How do you reach young people? How do you support them? Is it even worth it? And when talking about it on a global and national scale, the task seems even more momentous.

Luckily, as someone who has engaged with processes at a national and international level from the age of fifteen, let me tell you this – if you commit to doing it properly, global and national youth engagement is absolutely possible.

Last year, I, alongside fellow human rights defender EJ Carroll, broke records as the youngest person ever to present evidence to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva, highlighting Scotland and the UK’s breaches of children’s human rights.

Following on from this experience, as well as working with the Scottish and UK government on issues relating to gender based violence, period poverty, and most recently the youth sector and Covid-19, I have been able to witness first-hand the impact of having young people’s voices at the centre of global and national decision-making.

The value of youth engagement cannot be underestimated. As well as the fact that our generation are ‘future’ leaders who will be massively affected by decisions being made today, it is important to recognise the unique contributions of young people, as young people. We experience the world in a different way, for example with heightened links to technology, which means that we bring innovative solutions and ideas. We are being affected by issues here and now, with a youth mental health crisis across the globe and inequalities often hitting young people the hardest. On top of all this, young people are often shut out of conventional lines of participation; voting being the most obvious example. With the age of 18 generally accepted as the global standard this leaves swathes of the population unable to have their voices heard by those in power.

So, if you’ve recognised the benefits of youth engagement (those mentioned above are just the beginning!), where do you go next? Here are a few key ideas to think about when it comes to global and national youth engagement:

  1. Opportunities must be meaningful – Young people must be brought into spaces where their voices will be truly valued and their opinions will be respected and taken on board in decisions. Youth engagement becomes meaningless the minute young people are in a room but have no real influence.
  2. Don’t be afraid to shift the balance of power – When engaging with young people, don’t be afraid to let them be the ones in control. In fact, you should strive for this. Let young people steer the discussions around a particular piece of policy, rather than come to them with a set of specific questions and an idea of what answers you want.
  3. Engagement is not a single event – Keeping lines of communication open is absolutely essential. Young people must know why their views have been taken on board and how action is being implemented, or if not, an explanation of the reasons for that.
  4. Be accessible and provide support – Interacting with global and national structures and organisations can be pretty intimidating, so young people need appropriate support to ensure that they are able to be free to voice their ideas. This doesn’t mean putting words in our mouths, but simply acting as a support to ensure that we are fully informed, prepared and able to express our concerns. For example, when I spoke at the UN I knew that I had the support and advice of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland every step of the way.
  5. Be brave – for many global and national entities, youth engagement is often a very radical and new concept; whether that’s the UN, EU, national governments or charities and health bodies. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is absolutely key – you might not get youth engagement absolutely right the first time round – in fact I’d debate as to whether there even is one single ‘right’ way – but only once you take that first step will you be able to reflect, improve and benefit from the voices and experiences of young people.

I do sincerely believe that youth engagement is something moving into the forefront of global thinking, but we absolutely need to keep pushing. To young people: we need to keep being loud. We are the leaders of global movements combatting racism, climate change and more. And we’re not stopping any time soon. We need to continue to demand our seat at the table that we have every right to. To decision makers: give us that seat at the table. If for some reason that’s not possible, time for a new table. One where young people are included, listened to, and at the heart of global and national discourse.

Over 40% of the world is under 25. We’re a force to be reckoned with. If we want to make the world the best place it can be, both globally and nationally, youth engagement is absolutely necessary.

A Perspective from #iwill Ambassador Claire Muhlawako Madzura:

Globally, the views of young people have been misrepresented, filtered and altered into perceiving us differently. With the rise of COVID-19 cases, we’ve seen that in that UK especially, young people have been blamed for things that represent youth of a different time.

It’s essential more young people are given authoritative roles so that our voices can be accurately heard. Our passions, our strengths, our goals.

In November 2018, I had the privilege of being a part of the Co-op Foundation’s panel from the Building Connections Fund Youth strand. I had the opportunity to decide where £4.2 million of funding went towards building a more welcoming environment for youth. 

Since then, I have continued to help design different projects such as LonelyNotAlone and encouraging others to take part in decision making.

Both young people and organisations benefit from this symbiotic relationship. Personally, I’ve developed so many connections with people within the Co-op Foundation’s teams. Whenever my peers ask about the youth social action that I’ve taken part in, I always start with my work with the Co-op Foundation. That was the beginning of an active and conscious effort to do social action, outside of any place of education.

In fact, if I hadn’t been given the amazing opportunity of representing the youth voice in such a panel, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have even considered being an iwill Ambassador or met some of the most caring and hard-working people in the network.

I’m very thankful for every organisation who has made a commitment to working with young people. It really teaches you many things about yourself – you learn a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses! I’ve been growing up so much both mentally and physically; I feel even more ready for adulthood.

So please, amplify the voices of more young people and inspire others too.

HOW IS IT BEING PRIORITISED ACROSS SECTORS?

Organisations across sectors are already leading the way in prioritising youth social action as part of their culture and practice. Take a look at the below, and follow in their footsteps:

HOW CAN YOUR ORGANISATION PRIORITISE YOUTH SOCIAL ACTION?

Based on insights gathered from organisations supporting #iwill and the #iwill Ambassadors, the Power of Youth Charter provides a framework for your organisation to prioritise youth social action. It can help you empower more young people to shape decisions, take social action and make a positive difference. For more practical tips and tools on how to put your commitments into practice, keep following along with the Power of Youth Explained Series (that’s what you’re reading!).

Find out more

PRACTICAL GUIDANCE AND OTHER RESOURCES

KEEP UP WITH THE POWER OF YOUTH EXPLAINED

This is the first article!

Read the next article