A visit to: Beatfreeks

Free Radical are part of the Beatfreeks Collective – a Birmingham-based movement which supports people to empower themselves and change the world in which they live through harnessing their creativity.  The Collective campaigns, organises, democratises data, innovates and supports their members to do the same. They’re great.

The Listening Fund is supporting Free Radical’s Brum Youth Trends survey.  The survey gives young people in Birmingham a chance to tell politicians and businesses what they want, what they need, and how the city must change if it is going to better serve, engage with and represent its young people.

After a pilot in 2017, 2019 will be the third iteration of the survey and last week the team at Free Radical shared some of the key lessons they have learned to date:

One – if you want to hear the thoughts and opinions of different groups of young people, it is essential that you offer a variety of opportunities and means through which they can express themselves.  The team behind the Brum Youth Trends survey already has a strong grasp on how to involve and amplify voices who are often not heard, but they want to do better. On reviewing the data from 2018, the team realised that despite the success of peer-to-peer surveying, focus groups, digital and manual input options, using existing networks and institutions whilst also creating new ones, some groups were still not present in the data.  So in 2019 they are making additional efforts, including working with Mencap to develop some bespoke tools which will enable young people with complex needs to contribute to the survey.

Two – that there is a genuine interest in and enthusiasm for listening amongst some individuals and organisations with power, but that holding them to account remains a challenge.  At the Brum Youth Trends Summit in October 2018, attendees made a series of pledges to improve how they support and interact with young people. Beatfreeks is now working with its Youth Steering Committee and the Brum Youth Trends Leadership Team to determine how they can help businesses and statutory bodies to realise these changes, how they can challenge them when they don’t live up to their pledges, and how the team can report on developments to the thousands of young people who completed the survey.

Three – that becoming an organisation who listens well requires considerable investment of time and energy. Part of the reason for the success of the Brum Youth Trends survey is Beatfreeks’ track record of working with and involving a wide variety of voices from across Birmingham. Founded in 2013 with a firm belief in the young people with whom they work, and a commitment to putting those young people at the heart of the collective, 6 years later Beatfreeks now has more connections with different communities and groups in Birmingham, greater knowledge of how to gather their insights and opinions, and a wider variety of skills to understand the responses they receive. Beatfreeks would be the first to admit that this remains a work in progress (see point one!), but their efforts to date mean they are uniquely placed to undertake the Brum Youth Trends survey.

Despite the constant refinement required, the challenges in accountability, and the time and energy involved in becoming a good listening organisation, Beatfreeks are confident about the importance and impact of being heard – the young people tell them so.

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