Involve Young People

Taking Part:

Young people on boards and committees

Boards or committees – like Boards of Directors or Youth Action Committees – can be a great way for young people to share in decision-making and use their skills to benefit others. Young people’s knowledge and fresh perspectives can make services, events or decisions more relevant, appropriate and effective.

A healthy democratic society needs everyone to engage in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. Involving young people on organisational boards or local committees benefits everyone, especially because it builds social connections for younger and older people.

By including young people on boards and committees, we:

  • recognise the need to be accountable to young people, and the responsibility they have to provide space for young people’s input in decision-making
  • make better decisions by accessing the knowledge and skills that young people can offer
  • provide young people with an opportunity to learn more about the community or organisation, and develop skills through their participation.

While there are many benefits to involving young people on boards and committees, there are also important responsibilities. If young people’s contributions aren’t respected, or a committee structure is not inclusive, participation can become a really disempowering experience. So careful thought needs to be given to the reasons why young people are asked to take part, and how a board or committee can be inclusive, empowering and purposefully engaging for young people.

Remember that young people are active, engaged members of a community – they have an interest and stake in as broad a range of issues as other community members, and have valuable contributions to make to more than just ‘youth issues’.

Boards and Committees – what exactly are they?

A board is an organisation’s highest level of accountability. It’s typically responsible for making sure the organisation meets its legal requirements. Boards appoint, and monitor the performance of,  the managing executive officer. They approve the budget, and make general decisions about the strategic direction of the organisation. Many boards also play a role in the fundraising elements of the organisation.

Boards are usually quite formal in the way they work – though they don’t have to be, it’s up to the people who are on the board! Whether a board's style is formal or informal, all baords have a set of rules they must stick to. These are normally set out in an organisation's constitution.

Examples: Board of Management, Board of Directors, Board of Governance.

A committee is a group created to steer, advise on, or complete a project. Committees can take a few different forms, but they’re mostly concerned with more specific tasks than boards. A committee can be formal or casual.

Examples: Youth Advisory Committees, Project Steering Committee, Finance Subcommittee.

Planning a board or committee

If you’re thinking of starting a new board or committee, or refreshing an existing one, here are some ideas for different ways they can work:

  • A mix of younger and older people

Suits any situation that young people have a stake in – which is pretty much any whole-of-community issue!

If young people will be a minority on the committee, involve at least two young people. One young person on their own might find the environment intimidating and unfamiliar, especially if they have limited or no experience on a committee. In this situation, it’s really important to provide personal support such as mentoring and information.

  • Young people as the majority

Usually used when young people have equal or most power in making decisions about the delivery of a youth program or service. It can be a particularly useful way for young people to learn to interact with more experienced committee or board members.

  • Young people as 100% of committee, with/ without older people as support

Typically used when a project or organisation is youth-driven and young people have complete decision-making power. They may still be receiving the support of other community members.

Support levels can vary and will depend on the role of young people. The support worker’s role can also vary: working as a connection to resources or power, or as administrative support.

If the committee is attached to an organisation, it needs good communications channels, a clear purpose and resources to work within that structure.

  • Create your own model!

There’s plenty of room for creative variations of the models above. Any committee needs to find a way of working that meets its own needs and purpose, and a committee model should reflect the unique identity of its members.

Flexibility is good – it may be that the committee changes the way it operates over time. A committee may start with a formal structure and break that down into a more casual way of operating, or the other way around. Involving young people in determining how the committee will operate will mean it’s more likely to suit their needs, reflect the type of structure they would like to be involved in, and give them some actual ownership over what happens.

 Tips for planning effective boards or committees:
  • Give young people real, valued roles so that their participation influences outcomes
  • Create a vision or mission statement that’s negotiated by the committee, outlining core values and goals
  • Share decision-making among younger and older members
  • Negotiate common processes, don’t just expect young people to fit into ‘adult’ structures or expectations
  • Empower younger members by providing resources and support for their personal and professional development (see below).
Providing support

Ensuring that young people receive the support they need to get involved and stay engaged in a board or committee will make it inclusive, empowering and purposefully engaging.

  • Trust and familiarity

Make time for committee members to get to know each other socially before they get down to the serious stuff. Short, fun warm-up activities can help everyone relax before the serious agenda.

Building familiarity is not just relevant to young committee members. It can be a useful way for older committee members to challenge any preconceptions they may have about young people’s participation. Induction packages or processes can also help members to know what they’re expected to do and when to do it. Make sure that all the information provided is easily understood.

  • Personal and admin support

A mentor can be a useful anchor and reference point for young people, particularly if they’re not familiar with this type of committee. A support worker can provide admin support (e.g. arranging subsequent meetings, completing action tasks, etc.) to all the young people involved.

  • Structured skill development

Being involved on a board or committee is a great way for young people to learn new things and develop new skills. To support this, consider arranging some structured skill development sessions or workshops outside of meetings. Some examples could be communication skills or public speaking.

Read more about how to really support young people.

Acknowledging young people

Being acknowledged confirms the value of young people’s contributions. It’s important to:

  • Take time to acknowledge individual contributions.
  • Publically recognise board members or committees of young people for the work they have done, or the information they have provided.
  • Help young people see the outcomes they’ve affected – it’s a great motivator to their continued involvement.

 Young people can be involved at various levels of decision-making, and many will jump at the chance to participate in in formal ways. But if they are not interested in attending board or committee meetings, what other ways can you offer them input?

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