1) Enlist youth workers
This may seem obvious to some but you’d be surprised how many people get lost on the way to this very effective engagement tool. Youth workers are professionally trained in youth engagement; they are the experts in the field! For those who haven’t encountered their local youth worker yet and aren’t quite sure what it is that they do, Wikipedia seem to have a fairly good crack at defining it here. Following that, call up your local authority and they should be able to provide you with the details of their services as well as those of the voluntary providers locally.
Youth workers can meet young people (and could invite you to join them…) on street or in youth clubs, they can arrange youth meetings and often have an online presence which helps when sharing links etc.
This method does come with a caveat – youth workers are often busy people with funders and commissioners to please. Your way in may be in aligning your priorities or offering some resources…
2) Consider accessibility
Trying to get young people to an event or meeting? Think about these things:
Timing – You’d find it funny how many times I’ve had service providers ask me to bring young people to their 5-hour event on a weekday morning!
Be where young people have ownership (if possible) – I have seen some excellent examples of organisations increasing accessibility for young people – In West Sussex a few years ago the Council wanted to include young people in their discussions around the potential closure of a youth centre in order to build an Academy on the site. The Council had their meeting at the youth centre, paid for local youth bands to play before and after and had live video links from the meeting room to TV screens in other parts of the building. When the item came up they offered, in a reassuring manner, for young people to speak if they wanted to. It didn’t stop the centre from closing but I was impressed with the lengths they’d gone to nonetheless.
Boredom – Many community meetings, with the best will in the world, are just boring. The format is boring, the agenda is boring and the language used is inaccessible and, thus, boring. If it has to be an adult meeting then could you play a little energiser with some human bingo or something? It’s a great leveller for people who are perceiving power differentials. Could you arrange a 3-way meeting with the Chair beforehand to help everyone feel at ease? At least put the part that is of interest to young people at the top of the agenda so they don’t have to sit through hours before they need to do their bit.
Language – Language mediates everything! Keeping it in plain English without being patronising is a skill worth practicing.
In my experience young people are extremely perceptive. The honed teenage nose can smell bullshit a mile away. Be upfront about agendas and what everyone is getting out of it. Put the positive spin on it of course, but be yourself and be truthful.
Every good youth worker has this as the mainstay of their youth-engagement arsenal. 99% of the young people you meet will appreciate that you bought them pizza. Shop-bought or takeaway – if you’ve got the time why not buy bases, tomato sauce and some toppings for them to create their own – any which way pizza will win points. Plus, of course, Maslow would have you believe you’re meeting some fundamental physiological needs, required before the young people could move on to tackling other, more conceptual matters…
5) Carry the young people with you
Give credit where credit is due – Is there a way to publicly thank the teens for their time and effort? An article in the local newsletter? A ‘biggup’ at a community meeting?
I’ve had a lot of experiences where the time young people give is taken for granted. If you have needed to enlist their help it is because they are experts in what it is like to be young most likely – credit and reward should surely be due – 1 survey complete = 1 lollipop even? Would it break the budget to offer something?
It will put you in good stead for future work and the young people involved will feel valued and be more likely to engage positively in future.
I hope these have offered food for thought. Feel free to comment on other strong tips …and good luck!