Youth are ideal co-creators for policies, practices and programs that affect them in the workforce.
As experts on themselves, youth are ideal co-creators for policies, practices and programs that affect them in the workforce. To reap the full benefit of their unmatched insight, youth engagement and the co-creation process needs to be meaningful to them. When it’s not, authentic engagement is an unintended casualty and the output will fall far below what is possible.
Here are seven tips to help stay on the right path:
1. Create a Shared Vision.
As early as possible, ensure everyone has a shared vision and is on the same page with a common understanding of why youth are engaged, what their role is and the intended outcome. It’s also important to establish timelines to manage expectations. Establishing a shared vision early and reiterating it often can avoid misunderstandings that result in disengagement and negative perceptions.
2. Prioritize Psychological Safety.
No one wants to hear “no” all the time or have their input diminished. Youth are no exception. To increase engagement and foster effective co-creation, ensure they feel seen and heard and know their contributions are valued. This can be achieved by welcoming new ideas, giving words of affirmation, asking them what you don’t know and avoiding defensiveness if opinions differ.
3. Be Collaborative.
Be mindful not to confuse collaboration with consultation. A common error is asking youth for insight and ideas and then deferring to adults for decision-making. Instead, value young people as equal partners. The sense of ownership that comes through authentic collaboration will encourage youth to meaningfully contribute and later become active advocates.
4. Offer Learning Opportunities.
Within the co-creation process, create opportunities for participating youth to gain new skills that will benefit their professional development and look good on a resume later. This can include skills in facilitation, advocacy, problem-solving or communication. Build in learning.
5. Make it Easily Accessible.
Eliminate barriers to youth participation as much as possible. After all, meaningful engagement is impossible if they are not where discussions and decisions happen. For example, youth may be unavailable for a midday meeting because they’re at school or need to perform their workday duties. Schedule meetings in the evenings or on weekends. Similarly, meet in a location that is easily accessible by bus, bike and other modes of transportation for youth who may not necessarily drive.
6. Express Gratitude.
Yes, youth co-creation results in a better product for, well, youth. But, truth be told, they don’t have to participate. So, when they share their time, effort, energy and wisdom, express gratitude for it. Doing so fosters a supportive and welcoming environment, creates positive interactions and generates goodwill, thereby increasing meaningful engagement.
7. Evaluate Early and Often.
Once the work is done and the thing that was co-created is out in the world actively impacting youth, follow up early and often. Schedule regular check-ins to solicit ongoing feedback and identify opportunities for improvement. Once youth have a real-world interaction with the policy, practice or program, they may suggest tweaks and adjustments. The sustained connection signals a commitment that results in ongoing meaningful engagement.