5 Time Factors to Consider when Engaging with Youth
We all know that engagement is a necessary and powerful tool to build trust, consensus and transparency into the complicated processes of city planning. However, not all engagement opportunities are timed strategically to capture the various voices and people that make up the intricate fabric of the city — especially when it comes to youth.
Engagement for youth differs from typical engagement because youth operate on different timelines from those of professionals and projects. In order to unlock the full potential of youth engagement, we must consider these five time-related factors when engaging with youth.
- Time of Day
Let’s face it. The priority for most youth at their stage of life is school. Weeknights are dedicated to homework and extracurricular activities. Workshops and public meetings scheduled on weeknights will likely lose the battle when it comes to schoolwork and upcoming tests. So how can we balance their needs? The magic solution isn’t necessarily hosting the events exclusively on weekends and we can then sit back and expect the youth to come. Rather, consider incentivizing reasons for youth to attend on the weekends, where there are clear wins as to what they can gain by being there in the first place such as volunteer hours, learning workshops or networking opportunities to name a few.
2. Time of Year
Youth timelines operate on the school semester cycle. Key milestones to be aware of are exam seasons, midterms, March break and summer holidays to name a few. During the summer, take advantage of opportunities to provide volunteer hours for students looking to fill their volunteer requirements. During the fall, look to students beginning university applications to provide opportunities to expose them to a variety of topics and professions outside of what is traditionally taught in school. During the winter, consider hosting events which can actually take advantage of the weather, such as participating in winter festivals or indoor gatherings.
3. Time in the Project Cycle
As mentioned in our previous blog post, youth engagement is not a PR stunt and thus should not be treated as such. Timed correctly, youth engagement offers valuable opportunities to gather meaningful feedback that can influence the overall project delivery from a fresh perspective. It is critical that engagement is embedded into the project process, where feedback can be meaningfully integrated into the project design.
Other factors to consider include the timeline for project implementation. How is the feedback going to be integrated into the project delivery? What level of transparency is expected from the project to report back to the participants? Engagement is a two-way street.
4. How Much Youth Time?
It is critical to understand the time commitment expected from youth engagement depending on your project type, scale and scope. Time commitment for engagement can take many forms, ranging from only a few minutes, a few hours a semester, to an entire weekend, or even a semester long project. Consider the outcomes expected from youth. How much time is expected from them to spend on providing feedback and coming up with solutions? Depending on the spectrum of anticipated participation, ranging from information to empowerment, the time commitment inevitably increases.
Through research and experience, Urban Minds has categorized youth engagement strategies into 4 different levels, known as the Four Levels of Youth Engagement. Beginning at the bottom of the pyramid, the levels of engagement range from the most basic, 1-way engagement to most interactive, 2-way dialogue.
At the level of Awareness, the engagement strategies focus primarily on promoting events, projects, initiatives using tools such as social media and merchandise. The dialogue at this level with youth is unidirectional, where the goal is to inform and provide information. The time commitment at the awareness level for youth is minimal.
At the level of Education, youth engagement can take place in the form of workshops, conferences or school curriculum. Educating youth in a familiar learning environment allows them to feel more comfortable in engaging and asking critical questions.
Need-finding begins to address the key questions and concerns of youth through traditional strategies such as surveys, focus groups and interviews. Depending on the type of exercise, the time commitment required from youth can range from a few minutes filling out a survey to a few hours engaging in empathy mapping.
Co-creation is the highest level of youth engagement, and accordingly also requires the most time commitment from youth. At this level, Co-creation involves activities such as design conferences, hack-a-thons, or youth-led student groups to name a few. Allowing youth to have a strong voice will empower them to begin manifesting changes in their own communities.
5. How Much You Time?
There is no such thing as a free lunch. As the expected level of input and time dedication from youth increases, so too does the time commitment expected from you. In many cases, engagement for prolonged time periods can yield deeper and richer outputs. It would not be possible to meaningfully engage and empower youth through a semester long project without active mentorship, oversight and guidance. So how much are you willing to put in? How much time are you able to dedicate a week to mentoring youth? The quality of the input will inevitably affect the quality of the output from the engagement.
Bonus factor: External forces that affect timing
Up until this point, all of the aforementioned time considerations are factors within your control. However, it is also important to consider the timelines of factors outside of your control — things such as election cycles, shifts in policy, or acute shocks affecting the target community (e.g. natural disasters or a tragedy in the neighbourhood) which inevitably can affect the engagement process.
In a nutshell, youth engagement seems simple in theory, but is often difficult to execute. Youth are flexible, dynamic and unapologetic in the way they think, feel and choose to see the world. We as professionals, have a duty to meet the youth where they are and ensure that they feel empowered to participate in the city building process.
It’s about time we gave youth a voice in their city.