Data and Dialogue: The Mix’s Journey to inclusive listening

Data analysis

Italia Jenson and Bohdana Dock, The Mix

What we do

The Mix is the UK’s leading digital charity for under 25s, reaching over 6 million young people each year. Whatever issue a young person is facing, The Mix is always there for them – via our website, over the phone or via social media with free, confidential, and anonymous support. We connect young people to experts and their peers to talk about everything from money to mental health, homelessness to jobs, break-ups to drugs and more. 

We aim to put young people at the centre of everything we do; we use our service data and collaborate with under 25s to inform every aspect of our services and our wider work. We use youth voice work to share a platform with young people and put their views and experiences at the centre of the conversation.

Our journey to inclusive listening

The Mix is dedicated to being guided by both data and the voices of young people across all areas of our work. In unifying these elements, we have created a cohesive listening approach that shapes our organisation.

Our reach, exceeding 2 million young people in 2018 and now extending to over 6 million annually, underscores the need for a listening framework that accurately mirrors the diverse range of issues faced by the young people.

Ensuring that every young person not only has an opportunity to be heard but that our services and digital products cater to their needs is vital to developing a responsive and inclusive service.

In 2016, we initiated our cycle of digital innovation, a process which guided all our digital and strategic development. This cycle incorporates intensive listening practices involving young people’s lived experience, experts, and data. Consequently, we defined two branches of work: Data and Insights, and Youth Participation.

Though these listening techniques differ in practice, their significance in shaping our strategic and digital product development has now been equally weighted. However, it has not always been that way. Over the years, we’ve progressively aligned these two strands of listening: creating a comprehensive practice that forms the backbone of our organisation.

A transformative shift occurred when we reframed data as an integral component of our listening practice, significantly influencing our decision-making process.

A common critique of youth voice work revolves around self-selection bias, given its voluntary nature. This bias results in the representation of only those young people who see themselves fitting the mould; leaving out others who lack the means or self-belief to take part in shaping services.

Leveraging data allows us to bridge this gap and listen to the voices of those who are often unheard. Drawing our insights from large samples also increases our confidence that the insights we are generating reflect young people in general, while enabling us to focus on cohorts of interest to better understand their specific experiences, preferences and needs (e.g. ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+, men, women, professionals etc).

Narrow listening and wide listening

This approach allows us to engage in two types of listening: narrow listening and wide listening.

Narrow listening is the type of listening we conduct through youth steering groups. This involves a smaller number of people and offers valuable, in-depth insights that are indispensable. As relationships with young people are nurtured, and their skills developed, their contribution to the organisation deepens. However, relying solely on this form of listening has its limitations.

Despite efforts to diversify these groups, they cannot fully represent the views of the 10 million young people across the UK. While prioritising young people’s lived experiences is crucial, it’s equally imperative to cultivate a culture within our youth voice groups that encourages advocacy for experiences different from their own.

Wide listening is facilitated through data. This enables us to routinely listen more widely to a larger group of young people through surveys (acknowledging the inherent self-selection bias) and by examining our service data. Through this practice we aim to understand challenges young people face, their needs, preferences, why and how they are using our services, with what outcomes and experiences, and how we can improve. It also enables us to uncover trends and explore differences by characteristics such as age, gender or length of engagement. Alongside collecting internal data, we also scan or collect external data to better understand the picture on the national level or trends for particular groups or topics.

Bringing data and youth voice together

For an extended period, The Mix engaged in both narrow and wide listening, separately integrating their approaches on rare occasions to deliver on particular aims. However, recognising the powerful benefits of integrating both approaches led us to integrate them more systematically.

Now, through an iterative process, we assess both data and youth voice side by side. This involves sharing data with young people to inform their decision-making and helping our youth voice groups to broaden their perspectives. At times, we engage young people first, such as when forming surveys, to ensure that we are asking the right questions. Other times we share existing data with young people to inform our decision making. This iterative process adapts to the nature of the work we are doing, be it strategy development, digital design, or other initiatives.

Improving engagement rates in counselling

A significant example of our integrated approach is seen in our work on counselling. Having identified a trend of young people signing up for counselling sessions but not attending their first session or disengaging only after a few sessions, we used service data to identify the scale of the problem, created user surveys and conducted research to understand reasons for disengagement and to identify strategies to promote engagement. The research revealed that uncertainty and anxiety about what to expect from a counselling session were key reasons for non-attendance.

Taking this information to a group of young people with lived experience of using digital services—we co-designed a series of solutions.

These included: Giving young people access to counsellor bios ahead of the first session; new website content focused on pre-session anxiety and what to expect, with videos and real-life testimonies from former users; and digitalisation of the counselling contract to give young people a greater understanding of The Mix’s policies.

The steering group co-produced these outputs from the idea’s inception through to scripting and voiceovers. We regularly analyse our data to track progress and provide feedback to youth voice groups on the project, with the data showing a significant decrease in disengagement. We also continue to analyse new survey data to help us identify further strategies to promote engagement, as disengagement is a complex issue requiring a wide range of approaches to address the multitude of reasons behind it.

In this way, our journey at The Mix exemplifies how the power of integrating these two approaches together enables us to utilise their strengths, ultimately resulting in a more robust approach. 

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