If you’re running a community consultation or creating a Neighbourhood Plan, it’s essential that you include the views of as many different groups of residents as possible – including young people.
Eden Education Team member Bran Howell shares his advice on how to make this task easy, rewarding and useful.
Top tips for including young people in neighbourhood planning
Many of these suggestions work for people of all ages anyway – because we all like to be engaged in creative ways!
1. Avoid a classroom layout in meetings
If you meet where people are comfortable, you’re far more likely to get a better picture of their opinions. Stuff like making sure all the chairs are at the same height and – although it’s a cliché, I know – setting the room out in a circle, really works.
2. Don’t have too many adults in the room
Young people mustn’t feel that they have to say what adults want them to say and, if the adults are strangers, it can be intimidating having them looming over their shoulders.
3. Bribes and free food are always good
Biccies and cake work particularly well. So do interesting activities. When consulting about play provision I took the young group on a tour of top playgrounds in the area for them to ‘research’ – by playing on them.
4. Be creative
Avoid clipboards and questionnaires if you can. Asking young people to make a film, a play, draw a mural or make a model will engage and enthuse young people far more effectively. It might take more time, but you are more likely to empower young people to speak from the heart. These sorts of approaches are especially appropriate if the outcomes of your consultation aren’t likely to become tangible for a while.
5. Arrange a fun event
Activities, rather than meetings, are a great way to spend time with young people. You can use the time to find out their views. Find out what the group of young people you want to talk to are into and then arrange something to appeal to them, for example a skating competition. Remember that all young people are very different though, so you won’t be able to engage all groups or ages in one go.
6. Ask young people what they would like to do rather than what they would like to have
This avoids you ending up with a huge shopping list of ‘things’. People often get carried away making huge lists of kit, equipment and resources rather than thinking about what it can do for them. Questions like ‘Okay, what do you want?’ often produce unhelpful responses such as ‘Disneyworld’ or ‘an Olympic swimming pool’.
7. Be clear about their role in the process
Explain your role in the consultation, too, and how much their views might (or might not) be taken into account. Young people (especially teenagers) expect to be let down by adults, society and the world in general, so make sure you aren’t promising something that is not in your gift to deliver. Manage expectations and be honest about the project and point out all the pitfalls before you start; they will appreciate your honesty.
8. Avoid tokenism
Young people make great photos for local newspapers, but make sure that isn’t the only reason they are invited. They’ll see through this sort of ‘rent-a-crowd’ project very easily and it’s much harder to rebuild trust once they have been let down.
9. If you can’t get young people to come to you, go to them
They are also much more likely to open and honest in a situation where they feel at home. I heard about a great example where the residents group chatted to young people at the bus stop while they were waiting to go to school – brilliant!
A few golden rules on how to engage with young people
Here are a few things I’ve picked up over my 16 years working with young people and adults, which will help you engage with them in a natural and inspirational way.
- Be yourself
Treat all groups as you would your friends; smile, be friendly and respectful. Only change your language if it’s appropriate.
- Don’t try too hard
Being ‘down with the kids’ isn’t cool, and they can see through it immediately. Being cool only happens to people who don’t try too hard.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously
Be prepared to laugh at yourself. And to admit you are wrong sometimes. Of course it’s also good to appear confident, nothing beats a well-planned event. Knowing your subject well isn’t essential, but it helps.
- Enjoy yourself
When you’re running these events, remember that if you appear bored and fed up about missing your favourite TV show, then how must your audience feel?
- Enthusiasm rules
We can listen to anyone as long as they are full of enthusiasm. I had a friend who had a PhD in marine biology and he was a real star on rock pool rambles. I didn’t understand all his big words, but his enthusiasm meant that young people followed him into the deepest muddiest corners of the beach.
These tips were put together as part of the Planning Camp which took place in February 2012, arranged through the Building Community Consortium. See a creative diagram of these top tips, to give you more inspiration.
Get free advice and access inspirational case studies for your neighbourhood planning on the Eden Project website.