Youth engagement openings in governance and policy at a glance
Including youth in decision-making about programs or the organization helps agencies make better decisions.
Indicators of success:
- Youth are equitably represented in governance structures (Board of Directors or parallel structures).
- Youth are engaged in the co-creation and implementation of policies and procedures.
Youth can play an important role in the governance of organizations, including making decisions, co-developing policies and procedures and influencing issues that affect their lives 1. For youth-serving organizations, engaging youth in governance provides an opportunity to get direct feedback and insight into the effectiveness of services, strengthen the relationship between the agency and the community it serves 2, and develop young people’s leadership skills 3; 1. For this to work, adults will need to appreciate the assets that youth bring and share the decision-making power.
Youth are equitably represented in governance structures
Engaging young people on the board of directors is one way to include youth in governance; but it’s not the only way. Young people can also influence decision-making through parallel structures. While there are benefits to including youth on the board, these parallel structures tend to be more youth-oriented and don’t involve the formalities of board meetings or the range of legal responsibilities and potential liabilities that directors must take on. Both staff and the board should be trained in youth engagement and youth trained on decision-making processes. Consider obtaining input through a parallel structure where adults and youth split into separate groups (e.g. youth council). Each group first discusses something with their peers before coming back together as a whole.
Youth are engaged in the co-creation and implementation of policies and procedures
Tips for including youth in governance based on the Halifax Regional Municipality indicators of successful youth governance (2006):
The Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa worked together with the youth in their youth engagement program to co-create a policy that outlines the framework and processes of their program. Take a look at their youth engagement policy.
- Inclusion. Include a diversity of youth voices from different cultural, economic, and geographic backgrounds. If there is going to be youth representation on the board, designate more than one youth position (ideally two or three)
- Barriers. Address barriers. Youth may require transport and flexible scheduling to participate.
- Adult capacity. Provide training to support adults in better understanding youth engagement, youth culture, and the different skills needed for working in partnership with youth.
- Youth Capacity. Provide opportunities for young people to build skills. Youth may not have experience working in a governance role and require training around leadership and decision-making processes. Pairing young people with an adult ally who can sit with them at meetings and provide explanations can help increase their confidence to participate actively.
- Continuity of youth participation. Given that youth are in a period of transitions and that their lives and commitments change, engage in ongoing recruitment and succession planning to ensure that youth voices are always available.
- Meaningful contributions: Provide opportunities where youth feel that their voices are heard, that their tasks and projects are influential and their decisions have an impact. It’s important loop back to youth to let them know how their input made a difference.
- Recognition. Think about how you will recognize youth for their time and expertise.
- Good public relations. Reach out to and build positive relationships with the local media. By doing this, you can eventually invite media to cover stories about how youth are contributing to their communities through governance. You might also consider lobbying for a weekly column on youth in the local newspaper or a show on TV/Radio.
- Stable environment. “Effective youth participation needs a comfortable and protected environment in which it can continuously develop”4. It is important to have a budget dedicated to support youth initiatives and operations if possible. If a dedicated budget is possible it is a good idea to ensure this funding over the long-term (at least 5 years). There should also be a consistent, paid mentor supporting youth in the organization and youth should have access to material and the human resources department.
- Evaluation. Engaging youth in governance is a learning journey. Create opportunities for youth and adults to provide feedback on their experience and evaluate your progress. You may have to shift and adapt as you strive to make youth engagement in governance even more meaningful for everyone involved.
In their report, Working with children and youth in challenging contexts to promote youth engagement, Wisdom2Action describes the importance of understanding youth engagement as central to any best practice intervention. Valuing youth engagement puts the focus on the positive contribution that youth make to programs and their effectiveness, which moves programs from being done for youth to with youth.