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 5:

How can your organisation best understand and celebrate the positive impact youth social action can have?

Nickael Briggs, the Lead teacher of First Give at Ark Acton Academy

A LETTER FROM THE CURATORS:

Welcome to Explained: Celebrating Impact!

Celebrating and recognising the impact young people are making is a crucial part of creating successful and high quality social action opportunities.

But getting this right often comes alongside a lot of questions – how do we differentiate between incentives and celebration? What about celebration for celebration’s sake? Who are we actually celebrating at celebration events? Do we even need celebration!?

In this article the curators – First Give and #iwill Ambassador Lizzie Beale – have drawn on their knowledge and experience to give you food for thought, practical guidance and case studies to help you explore this knotty topic. This is article 5, so make sure to check out the rest of the Explained series to give you more advice on everything from youth voice to accessibility. Enjoy, and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out!

VIEWPOINT: Celebrating Who?

#iwill Ambassador Lizzie Beale

Before we know how we can celebrate the difference youth social action is having, we need to ask ourselves why this is important, and what do we want to achieve by doing so. Knowing the answer to those two questions will help us to understand whether we’re celebrating the individuals (through awards, certificates, presentation evenings), or we’re helping to bring recognition to the impact a cohort of young people are having to a movement or cause (through reports, social media, press releases).

My social action journey began in school, I didn’t embark on it knowing there was any kind of reward I could receive for doing so. I started because a teacher inspired me, and made me believe, I had the power to make a difference. She clearly believed in what young people could achieve through social action. Not everyone in my life, was quite as convinced as her though.

As I switched my Monday evenings during secondary school, from socialising with my friends, to attending youth cabinet meetings, my dad didn’t quite seem as convinced at my choice of what I was doing with my time. My volunteering contributed to receiving my DofE award, as well as a number of other pieces of recognition from school and organisations. Dad was very proud when I received recognition. Those awards didn’t motivate me, but they helped me to explain to others, that what I was doing was valued and important. And this didn’t stop at my dad, as I’ve embarked on my early career, whilst you talk about the experiences you’ve gained through social action, employers are interested in the accolades. I don’t know whether that’s right, but it’s true. In my experience, genuine and appropriate recognition of a young person, means you are giving them a secret weapon to allow them to articulate the contribution they’ve made to their community. And when we recognise a cohort of young people, or a movement, or promote a cause young people are fighting for, we give them a platform to shout louder from. We amplify the change they’re able to make, and that can never be a bad thing.

But I chose my words carefully, and it’s essential to give proper thought to what ‘genuine and appropriate recognition’ means.

TAKE A LOOK AT THE LANDSCAPE

Findings from the 2020 #iwill partner survey show that three quarters of organisations are already celebrating young people, however the National Youth Social Action survey gives us more insight into how young people might be viewing and receiving this celebration. Take a look at the below:

76% of #iwill campaign partners say they are celebrating the impact young people are making.

76%

In 2019 , a decrease was noted in the proportion of young people who agreed that they were recognised for the difference they made by taking part in social action.

The 2019 National Youth Social Action survey also suggested that young people from affluent backgrounds are more likely to strongly agree/agree with the statement ‘I was recognised for the difference I made, for example through a ceremony, certificate or award’ than those from less affluent backgrounds.

ACROSS THE SECTORS

Being accessible and inclusive is crucial regardless of which sector you’re in, check out the below examples and resources to see why and how:

VIEWPOINT: Incentivisation vs. Celebration? Confronting the Knotty Topic

Isaac Jones, First Give

We’ve all been in that meeting where we plan our annual celebration event. In most cases we do what we’ve always done. Probably try to emulate an Oscars Award ceremony. See if we can get a celebrity involved. Almost certainly cherry pick some of the young people who have been involved in our work to showcase as examples. A significant investment of the organisation’s time and resource is poured into the planning of a glitzy evening for funders to celebrate! 

Obviously these events have other, very necessary purposes. But it makes me wonder what we actually mean by celebrating young people? 

To my mind there are two main pitfalls that we can drop into when we try to celebrate the young people we work with and for. The first is the risk of incentivising participation with extrinsic benefits, like certificates, awards or even prizes. The second is that we celebrate and lift up a small number of individuals to the detriment of the many others doing great work. 

Extrinsic benefits vs intrinsic benefits 

The #iwill campaign’s research and experience emphasise the “double benefit” of participating in social action. The benefit for the community and the benefit for young participants. According to the #iwill Learning Hub report on Youth Social Action and Outcomes for Young People, benefits of participation can include character development; increased civic participation and of course positive employment outcomes. Those of us who work with young people see these benefits every day. Young people growing in confidencedeveloping key skills for their own future and in some case improved mental health.  

The Overjustification Theory suggests that intrinsic motivation decreases when external rewards are given for completing a task. I wonder whether in our enthusiasm to celebrate young people, we sometimes promote opportunities to participate with unrelated external benefits. Is there a risk that we are ultimately decreasing the intrinsic motivation to participate by shifting perception of the benefit to that external reward?  

Celebrating individuals 

As per my introduction to this article, quite often organisations plan awards ceremonies as a way of celebrating young people. The result, of course, is that one young person “wins”. This winner is lifted up as a paragon of youth social action. In most cases the young person in question probably does deserve this. They tend to be passionate, engaged and hardworking. 

However, I suggest that there are many, many other passionate, engaged and hardworking young people who are not being recognised in this way. This approach of choosing a winner surely limits the number of young people that we can celebrate.  

How can we celebrate young people? 

Hothen, should celebrate young people? A couple of suggestions: 

  • Promote youth social action opportunities using the intrinsic benefits. According to the 2018 National Youth Social Action Survey, there has been a decrease in the proportion of young people recognising the benefit to themselves of participating in social action. Maybe if we help young people understand the intrinsic benefits of participating from the beginning, we can also create ways for them to celebrate when they see those benefits for themselves. Train your frontline team to recognise and acknowledge these things in the day to day and explicitly reflect on the intrinsic benefits with young people themselves. 
  • Celebration doesn’t have to be public. We don’t have to think of celebration as always being public displaySimply having our efforts and achievements acknowledged by someone we trust is a powerful encouragement and motivation. Ultimately the relationships we build will allow us to celebrate every young person’s participation in a more meaningful way. 
  • Build a culture of celebrating the small moments. Recently I was told about The Magic Moments report created by Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Sciences. In this report care home staff gave short, single paragraph testimonials about simple moments which had meant something. Creating a collage of our own “magic moments could be a powerful way to celebrate together and not in a way that focuses on one person or group, but instead builds a picture of the impact young people are having. 
  • Facilitate opportunities for young people to celebrate each other. There could be real benefits to building a culture in which young people themselves recognise and celebrate each other’s achievements. What structures could you create that would enable young people to do this? Making celebration part of your day to day and allowing young people to highlight and celebrate their peers achievements.  

So, what do we mean by celebrating young people? 

Ultimately the pitfalls come about if we haven’t reflected on why we are celebrating young people and what we mean by celebration. 

Celebrating shouldn’t be seen as an incentive or a reward. Instead let’s reframe it as acknowledging the achievements of our young people on a day to day basis. Let’s see it as a communal practice based on relationships with and between the young people involved in our work. 

FIVE TOP TIPS

Make celebration an intrinsic part of what your organisation does so that it becomes habitual. Check out what First Give does!

This will help ensure you understand what works for young people and  will help you to communicate success. This will also allow you to amplify young people’s voices in celebration of the impact of your work. Check out this practical guide on how to do this from the HeadStart.

Find opportunities to publicly celebrate the small things that people don’t often see, not just the big achievements. This report from Magic Moments in Care Homes has some brilliant ideas on how to do this that could easily be translated into a setting working with young people.

This could be internal or external. Creating space and a structured opportunity for young people to highlight and speak about their peers’ successes. It could be as simple as building in a reflection at the end of each session, or it could be creating a buddy system so that people are actively looking for opportunities to celebrate each other.

All good people managers praise in public and provide structured feedback privately. Praise and celebrate young people’s social action projects on social media; through case studies and in the press.

PRACTICAL GUIDANCE AND OTHER RESOURCES

KEEP UP WITH THE POWER OF YOUTH EXPLAINED

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2021-02-24T19:06:49+00:00
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