Youth Participation FAQ
When considering whether and how to involve young people in decision-making, there are many questions to consider (and often many objections to overcome). We have created the following list of frequently asked questions to help.
While it is true that young people do not have the experience that comes with age, they do have a lot to contribute. Young people have made important contributions to the work of school boards, local governments, foundations, international NGOs and local planning initiatives around the world. This website provides a number of examples. Young people are also very good at making work fun, which can help the adults feel more energized about their work. Often adults in youth-serving agencies and organizations--including those who were initially reluctant to work with youth--report that their work with young people gave them a renewed commitment to those they serve. Young people can contribute ideas that older decision-makers might not have considered, such as new ways to use technology and social media; they possess a willingness to challenge established practice, to innovate. And young people can help get their peers and families involved in an organization.
Again, there are many examples of young people around the world taking their decision-making responsibility seriously, some of which can be found through this website. Young people will rise to your expectations. If you make the experience a positive one, ensure that everyone (adults and youth) understands what is expected, provide young people with the training and support they need to succeed and throw in a little fun now and then, young decision-makers will meet and possibly exceed your expectations.
Young people will need training, not only in how the decision-making body works but in what the organization does. Rather than dropping young people into governance roles with little prior experience with your organization, begin with simple ways for them to participate, offering greater responsibility as they gain familiarity with their roles, their colleagues and the organization. As you move them into formal governance roles, match them with a mentor--an adult or even another experienced young person.
No. Neither can one or two adults represent the interests of all adults in the community. But you can help young people find ways to reach out to other youth. You can augment the direct involvement in governance by a small number of youth with strategies that engage larger numbers of young people who are not directly involved, such as public events and social media.
Yes. Your organization's leadership must decide whether youth participation is important. If you decide that it is, time and resources must be committed, especially in the beginning. But once youth participation becomes a standard part of your community engagement efforts, many tasks will become routine. As young people get used to participating they can also help you recruit, train and mentor newer participants.
Every state has its own rules about who may participate in governance, and the rules may differ for different types of organizations within a state. But even where young people are legally prohibited from participating (such as in employee disciplinary or compensation hearings), this does not necessarily mean they cannot participate in most other decisions. For example, a nonprofit board can allow minor members to offer arguments on an issue even if the young people are barred from voting. A board can even decide to include minor members in all votes but not count those votes if they change the outcome from what it would have been without the youth votes.
We don't have the time or resources to support an ongoing youth participation process. Can't we just do it once?
There are different levels of youth participation, and your organization will need to find a level that you have the capacity to support. But keep in mind that different kinds of participation also have different outcomes for your organization, the young people and the community. One-offs can be very useful as a first step or for certain kinds of processes, like participatory budgeting. But the relationships and trust that develop between young people and adults working together over time, as well as the experience and knowledge they gain about the organization and their roles within it, will enable young people to make more meaningful contributions. If you do choose to do a one-time event, make sure that the young people who participate are prepared to do so--that they have the necessary information and understanding of the issues to make educated decisions.
Often organizations find that the insight provided by young people can save time and money by helping ensure during the planning stages that programs meet the needs of the young people they are meant to serve. In the United Kingdom most local government agencies and public sector social service providers must establish advisory councils that include members of the population served by that agency--including youth. In addition, foundations and other funders seeking to ensure accountability to stakeholders may be more attracted to programs that engage young people.