When done right, youth engagement can lead to more relevant programs, better outcomes, and inspired leaders. If done wrong however, it can lead to disillusionment and demotivation as well as a missed opportunity for communities and organizations to utilize the innovation, unique perspectives and leadership young people have.
The infographic below shows the different degrees of engagement. For engagement to be meaningful we need to consider how we are supporting the HOT side where initiatives are initiated and directed by young people.
How do we ensure we are practicing meaningful youth engagement?
Restless Development, a global development organization, asked young people how to make meaningful youth engagement practical. Their query and 31 years of evidence in youth-led development, resulted in this bullseye. While this model is based on meaningful engagement in the development sector, its principles are easily applied across the board.
In order to hit the bullseye, four main things need to be kept in mind.
A young person in the room is not meaningful. Having young people involved or present in a program is not engagement. Young people need to be in the far side of the continuum for engagement to be meaningful. This includes having clear roles, taking ownership, share decision making and lead the work.
Youth Engagement does not happen without relationships. The way in which the relationship between adults and young people is structured determines whether the relationship is meaningful or not. Creating inviting spaces and developing the capacity of young people is instrumental to meaningful engagement.
Youth Engagement cannot be the only goal. Youth engagement is a process. The research of Restless Development showed that having youth engagement as the end goal can be disempowering, especially if they are not able to articulate what they are working towards. For engagement to be meaningful for young people, they need to be involved in the entire lifecycle of a program from inception to monitoring and evaluation.
Meaningful youth engagement is hard. It takes time and commitment. As adult allies we need to ask, listen, trust, be transparent and be in it for the long term.
For more information check out the Restless Development Bullseye here.
What do you think? As a young person, what does meaningful engagement mean for you? As an organization, how have you intentionally practiced meaningful youth engagement?