Youth Engagement In Practice — Part 2

What we heard, and what we learned, from our summer research project.

I’m Federico Palacios, graduate student at Ryerson University, back again with Part 2 of our youth engagement series. My work with Urban Minds seeks to explore youth engagement in practice; read on below for more on our current research project. If you’ve been waiting patiently for the second part of this blog series, here it is!

If you’re new to the blog, or to the field of youth engagement generally here’s a little context. This summer, I was brought on by Urban Minds to complete a research project exploring how youth are being asked to participate in the city and community building processes. It stemmed from an understanding that some municipalities understood the value of youth engagement; even going so far as to craft tailored frameworks for this. However, we wanted to dive deeper and hear real examples of how these frameworks are being used, on real projects, with real youth.

To do this, I talked one on one to a wide range of folks, 11 in total. These professionals came from various backgrounds; the group included planners, arts professionals, grassroots organizers, and engagement specialists. Our cohort of interviewees were based in municipalities across south-central Ontario, as well as one based in the City of Vancouver. We decided to use a semi-structured virtual interview over Zoom. This allowed the conversation to flow naturally and it left room for participants to chat on their topics of expertise and/or interest. This work led to the creation of a report on youth engagement, read on for more information & look out for the complete report later this fall!

Central to my work was the need to highlight existing problems in youth engagement. Although we knew youth engagement was no simple task, it was eye opening to hear about these challenges from professionals in the field. We wanted to build this into our report so that professionals could visualize the challenges of this work, and maybe work towards generating new solutions. Of note was the evident lack of engagement literacy; that is, a gap in how citizens understand and find opportunities to participate in the engagement process. Planners and other professionals can combat this by building engagement processes that build capacity and skills. This includes engagement literacy for youth and engagement design/delivery skills for professionals.

Urban Minds Leaders Lab workshop

The interviews also allowed me to highlight a few guiding principles; ideas that Urban Minds believes should frame all efforts to engage with youth. The report outlines these ideas, generated through our interviews and insights from our respondents. A key guiding principle is the need to involve youth meaningfully throughout the lifespan of a project. Some of our respondents spoke on how they have gone about creating inclusive working groups, allowing younger participants to directly influence the shaping of various projects. The development of strong partnerships was also identified as an important guiding principle. To this regard, respondents explained how, through their work, they have managed to create strong partnerships with other organizations, which have allowed for them to create more vibrant and diverse engagement processes.

Beyond the challenges and guiding principles, I wanted to get real examples of how planners are putting youth engagement into motion. We asked each respondent to tell us about specific tools they had used when engaging with young people, and all around we got some pretty awesome responses! The report highlights plenty of tools, with case studies throughout to really bring them to life. Examples included things like arts-based programming: where youth are encouraged to create while building community, or the creation of youth navigator positions: paid jobs where youth can support other young people in engaging with local governments and accessing the services they need most.

Art Starts is non-profit that uses art to encourage social change through community arts programming. Image credits to Art Stats TO.

Urban Minds undertook this work, as the entire team wholeheartedly believes in the benefits of youth engagement. Benefits not only for youth communities, but for all others; we think that youth input on planning and development has the potential to generate inclusive spaces for all! This report aims to support planners and other professionals as they explore new ways to work with youth, and use their input to shape their work. We hope that this report will add to the field of youth engagement in a practical way. We cannot wait for you all to read it and to hear your thoughts on our summer project!

On a final note, I want to sincerely thank all participants for their time. Thank you for sharing your expertise with me and thank you for the impactful work you all do in youth engagement. Urban Minds is grateful for your contributions to this project.