Our partners’ top lessons in listening to young people

Two young people chatting in library lounge

As the grant period for our first cohort came to a close, we worked with a few of our partners to reflect on their learning journey in listening to young people. We dug into what inspired them to deepen their listening, the different approaches they had put in place, the benefits and challenges they experienced along the way, and what they have learned that others could benefit from. 

We have just published the first three Learning Journeys from Carefree Cornwall, Foyer Federation, and The Mix, and encourage you to read them all. We have also summarised the key lessons learned below. 

One – Tailor your approach to the  young people you are working with 

      To design valuable experiences for young people you need to understand what matters to them, why they want to get involved, what will be interesting to them, and what they will need in order to be able to engage fully. 

      With some young people having low levels of trust in institutions, start by building positive relationships, explaining how their involvement will work, and letting them know the difference they can make.

      Both between staff and young people, and within groups of young people, trust is key to success (and safety). Making activities enjoyable gives people an opportunity to connect and build relationships within a group. 

      Remember that what suits one young person or group of young people may not suit another – which is why all the Listening Fund partners are doing listening differently. Even within your own organisation, and as the young people you work with move on, you will need to revisit your approach to adapt to the needs of new young people you are working with.  

      Two – Provide a range of opportunities for young people to engage 

        Engaging and maintaining engagement with young people who are leading busy and changing lives can be difficult. It can be useful to consider engagement points and pathways to ensure young people can engage on their terms. You may want to create a variety of ways they can participate, be flexible, make activities accessible, and use communications methods that work for them.

        Three – Ensure you are appropriately resourced 

          To listen well and ensure a positive experience for the young people you are listening to takes time, money, and staff skill and experience. It is important to think through the purpose and process properly at the outset, and check you have the resources you need to support them well. Focus on quality rather than quantity of opportunities for involvement and make sure you have enough time allocated – including for learning and reflection. 

          When staff believe in listening, they prioritise it – so recruiting and retaining staff the right people within your organisation is also important. Relationships underpin good listening so if staff move on then there can be setbacks.  

          Four – Be clear about purpose, expectations and parameters

            It can be beneficial to let young people know that they are not expected to solve every problem or represent all young people, as that will help them not put undue pressure on themselves.  As an organisation, clarity on the purpose of a listening activity will help you remain focussed when young people bring their ideas and energy into the room.

            Five – Embed a listening culture in organisational processes 

              Develop a clear strategy and plan for listening or youth engagement, and embed your organisational commitment to listening in job descriptions and appraisals – including investing in dedicated staff time and skills development in listening. You can also revisit organisational values, principles and strategy to support a sustained cultural shift. 

              Six – Keep learning and adapting 

                Keep checking in on your listening practice and document your learning. All of the organisations who participated in the learning journey exercise have invested time and resources in the reflective process. Some key questions to ask within your organisation include:

                • Why are we listening?
                • Who are we listening to?
                • What have we done?
                • What difference has it made?
                • What have we learned? 
                • How have we adapted?

                Find the full learning journeys on our resources page, and for more about how to involve young people in learning and evaluation see this practice paper, and listen to this podcast.

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