For over a decade Gendered Intelligence (G.I.) has been working to increase understanding of gender diversity. They specialise in supporting young trans people and work both directly with the trans community and also with those who impact on trans lives – schools, colleges, universities and employers, providing awareness training and educational workshops.
Their application to The Listening Fund focused on ensuring that young trans people had the opportunity for greater involvement in G.I., giving them platforms to influence not just the youth work provision, but the entire organisation. To realise these ambitions, G.I. planned to support two or three young people onto the Trustee board as well as creating other mechanisms to listen to young people’s opinions and expertise. However, that plan changed.
There were two reasons for this. Firstly, at a convening of TLF partners in March 2018, Jay Stewart and his colleagues realised that there were some significant flaws in the way they collected information about how young people used their services and what they thought of them. They felt it was important to address these issues before trying to deepen their listening.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, G.I. received a strong steer from young people that they weren’t actually particularly keen on becoming Trustees. Whilst they certainly wanted to be more involved in the organisation, and better heard, the young people at G.I. faced significant challenges in their own lives and were content for adults to hold the various legal and financial responsibilities incumbent with running an organisation.
G.I. listened to this input and rather than stubbornly pushing forward with their original plans, they have spent the last 18 months making substantial improvements in their more rudimentary listening practices. Jay and his team have put considerable thought and effort into improving their surveys, making them quicker to complete and more fun, reflective of their youth work. As a result, they are receiving more feedback from young people and are better able to identify the different needs of different age groups.
G.I. have also worked with their entire staff team to develop a more listening-focused culture, openly discussing the merits of the organisations being more youth-led, identifying practical barriers to better listening (including time and the nuances of different relationships) and making adjustments to overcome these e.g. reducing the frequency with which surveys are completed and improving how the collected data is shared with all staff.
The improvements to listening at G.I. mean that both the organisation and the young people who use its services are now interested in taking their listening further, and will soon launch a youth board – giving young people greater say over the organisation’s direction and decisions, without the responsibilities of full Trusteeship. The youth board will meet three weeks before G.I.’s full board and discuss the same agenda items as Trustees. The meetings will be chaired by G.I.’s Chair of Trustees, helping to strengthen the flow of information between the two bodies, but a youth worker will also attend, acting as a facilitator and using inventive techniques and age-appropriate approaches to get young people’s ideas and perspective on the different agenda items.
There will be challenges with the youth board. For example, G.I. are conscious that their services are used by a broad range of the population and they want to ensure that attendees reflect that diversity. The length of young people’s engagement with G.I. also varies considerably, so it is likely there will be high turnover with some young people only attending one or two meetings. However, both the organisation and the young people who use its services are excited about the increasing depth of G.I.’s listening, and envisage the youth board as a testing ground for even greater involvement of young people in shaping the future of the organisation, its services and policies.