Consulting with young people involves gathering information from individuals or groups about their opinions or experiences. Consultation can take place in various ways – including forums, focus groups, reference groups, workshops, surveys, interviews and peer research. However young people are consulted, they need to feel their contributions are valued, respected and acknowledged.
Consulting with young people isn’t simply asking young people to approve a youth project or service. Young people have broad interests and concerns. Just like other any community members, young people will have opinions on all issues that affect their community – not just on ‘youth issues’.
Consulting with young people – about a range of relevant issues – will help you:
Successful consultations are well planned. Involving young people in the planning – right from the start – will make the consultation more engaging and accessible for other young people. Read the Planning great stuff for young people article to help you plan.
You’ll need to decide who will be the best person - or people - to carry out the consultation. Will it be someone from your organisation or someone independent? Could you partner with a youth service or agency? Can you support young people to lead the consultation?
Whoever you choose, they must enjoy working with young people, treat them with respect and communicate effectively with them.
To make sure the consultation is inclusive and accessible, take some time to think about how you can respond to the needs of participants and really support young people to be involved.
Be aware that young people’s previous experiences might impact on the consultation. Will the consultation bring up personal or potentially distressing issues? How will you store young people’s data? Thinking about ethics, safeguarding and consent will help you plan how you’ll respond if a participant tells you something about their wellbeing or safety that you should act on.
There are a few different ways you can carry out consultations. They can be structured or informal, with individuals or groups. The best method for you (or combination of methods will depend on your circumstances.
For more detailed information about each of these methods, read pages 38-54 of YACVic’s handbook, Taking Young People Seriously: Consulting Young People About Their Ideas and Opinions.
A group facilitator should direct conversations within groups, and make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to speak. Think about how you’ll word things so young people and the community will understand. To make young people feel safe and comfortable during the consultation, work together to establish clear ground-rules from the start – like ‘everyone has the right to be heard and respected’ or ‘this discussion is confidential’. It’s important to build trust between the consultant and the participants, and between participants, so keep the atmosphere light and informal as much as possible.
For consultations over a long period, think about strategies to keep young people engaged. Provide regular updates, celebrate participants’ efforts and recognise any gains, no matter how small. Broaden young people’s roles so they’re engaged at different levels. Consider training participants to carry out further consultations with other young people.
Incentives can encourage young people to participate in the consultation or recognise them for their time and effort. You might offer a prize for a randomly-drawn winner, offer to pay young people’s travel expenses, or compensate young people with payment or a gift voucher. Any incentives shouldn’t weaken the overall purpose of the consultation – young people’s focus should still be on the issue, any prize or payment should just be a bonus.
Create opportunities for participants to debrief after the consultation, especially if personal or potentially distressing issues have been raised.
It’s really important to feedback to young people and acknowledge their contributions. Explain to young people how the information they provided will be used. Show participants the outcomes of the consultation. What real impact have their contributions made? Provide them with a copy of a report, or similar evidence that demonstrates outcomes. And a thank you email or letter will always be well received! :)
Avoid over-consulting with the same young people. There are lots of young people out there, who have differing views and ideas! If you need help to find them, get support from your local youth service.
Boards or committees – like Boards of Directors or Youth Action Committees – can be a great way for young people to share in…