Interview with Emily and Vincent - two 18-year-old participants discussing authentic youth engagement following an Urbanthinkers workshop in Oakville, Ontario.
Arthur: Very often, government organizations are required to involve young people in community discussions. What can organizers do to make sure that they are planning an authentic youth engagement event?
Vincent: if they want us to feel like we are taking part in something authentic, there needs to be more involvement from the municipality or businesses - not only a facilitator who is a ‘youth worker’, but town councillors, planners, upper management – the decision makers who would build from our input.
Teenagers have a lot of ideas but unless they are refined, discussed and expanded they can be dismissed as not really having any real input. But, by having people from government show up allows our ideas to flourish with reality and get refined into what is needed - before we leave the room. That’s the only way the youths’ ideas or projects can make it off the drawing board.
Emily: Another way of getting youth to feel more willing to give advice is to give it some monetary value (i.e. an honourarium) for being involved. And to get youth engaged there needs to be some kind of feedback report showing how the youths’ involvement was actually used.
Arthur: What would a great youth engagement meeting look like – one that teenagers actually want to participate in and get a sense that they are actually contributing to the improvement of their community.
Vincent: To get youth involved you have to identify how the topic is an actual issue that affects their life – something that will help make their life easier/better/healthier in some way. As with the first question, get more decision makers and municipal staff to attend so it shows the youths that ‘they’ are taking time to actually come and meet the youth because we are being taken seriously.
Arthur: Can you think of examples of youth engagement meetings that went wrong, or turned out to be a bit of disappointment?
Vincent: Youth engagement meetings are critical but if the youths are not interested then nothing good will come out of it. I’ve seen many youth meetings and the ones that don’t work out all have one thing in common: the speaker was not able to grab our attention at the very beginning.
If the speaker is unable to do that then they lose the attention of the youth automatically and possibly ruin the whole meeting. They need to create a comfortable environment where input is welcomed and where youths feel they are able to say what’s on their mind and be taken seriously.
The facilitator has to be able to engage the youths at the beginning and be able to hold the meeting with relevant activities and discussions.